Mama (with a camera) Monday: Part V | huntsville children’s photographer

Before I get started with this week’s lesson I feel obligated to ask, “did you have a nice Mother’s Day?”

Good. Me too.

(You did remember to hand the camera off, didn’t you???)

(Yeah, me neither.)

I also feel obligated to remind you that if you click on the “Mama with a Camera Monday” category link at the end of this post it will take you to a page that contains ALL of the lessons from the past five weeks. Revisit them if you’re just joining us. Just so you won’t feel left out!

We’ve been talking a lot about composition for the past several weeks and we’re going to continue with that today. This will be our last composition lesson before we move on to some more technical details next week. BUT don’t let your eyes glaze over as you read this post…this one is a biggie! This week I want to introduce you (or remind you, for you teacher’s pets who already know it!) to the Rule of Thirds. Or what I’d like to call Think Offcenter. Cause let’s face it…the middle is no fun. No one loves being a middle child (no offense), no one enjoys the middle of a book (oh yeah, well then why’d you read the last page first?), and no one likes a friend who stays in the middle of an argument (pick a side already!). Okay, I realize those are drastic overgeneralizations but all strong rules and statements are. The same is true of this Rule of Thirds thing but you MUST UNDERSTAND IT before you can go against it. Deal?

So let’s get started.

If you’ve spent much time looking at  painted art or photography or even just print ads you may have noticed a strong lean to the right (Or left. Or top. Or bottom.) when it comes to the strongest visual elements of the piece. This isn’t the act of an errant artist who missed the middle mark. It’s an intentional move meant to draw the viewer in based on the geometric form of the Golden Mean (here’s where my mathematician sister-in-law sits up a little straighter in her seat). If I were my sister-in-law I would explain to you what the Golden Mean is and how it came to be. I’m not her (although if I could be anyone else I might choose to be her…she’s pretty  great) so I can’t get all mathematical on you. What I can tell you is that the rule of thirds states that the most pleasing point of an image is where two lines of an image divided into thirds intersect.

For example, let’s look at this shot.   

Now let’s check it out with a rule of thirds overlay:  

Placing her eye at the intersection of the top and left lines causes instant impact for the viewer…even if you didn’t know you were looking for the rule of thirds!

Now that first example is more portrait-y than most of the shots I take of my own kids. But because I’ve studied the rule of thirds so much it took no time for me to find more examples in my folders…they were overflowing with offcenter images! Here are a few, both with overlays and without.

Now I’ll go ahead and warn you that when you start chopping heads the grandmothers in your family are not going to be happy.

You’ll start hearing things like, “that sure would be a pretty picture if you hadn’t cut his forehead off.”

But persevere. It’s all in the name of visual impact.  

But don’t bother explaining that to Granny. Just nod your head and smile.

As you’re looking at these images I want you to try to imagine what they would have looked like if the subjects had been situated dead-center in the frame. Would they have the same impact?

Or would they look, well, dead. Lifeless? Without interest?

The rule of thirds is certainly not reserved for portrait and landscape photographers. It lends just as much impact to the story you’re telling with your family snapshots as to Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night.  

So starting tonight (or tomorrow morning) shun the middle. Think Off center. Grab that camera and push your viewfinder off to the left. Or Right. Or Top. Or Bottom. Start thinking in terms of visual impact and intersecting lines.

And promise to still be my friend even if you’re a middle child. 😉

niki lovely photos!

Janie The comment about cutting off so-and-so’s head rings true in my family too!!

Becca Great lesson :-) I love your work!

TidyMom Thanks for this…funny you mention family comments. When I showed my mom one of the first set of shots I did for a family, I said I wasn’t overly thrilled with all of them….my mom said “yeah, most of them were off center” LOL…..not what I was meaning!lol

P.C. I love that rule…and that oh-so-cool fibonacci sequence! :)

Natalie Ironically, I was just talking to my cousin about this on Sunday.

Erin I love this new segment of your blog!!! You are an awesome teacher!

Aunt Lu Loving this blog…thanks so much :-)

Lorena Mora So true I’ve taken pictures of my little one’s or my cousins little boy and have been practicing and they keep telling I get too close and why are they not centered, LOL. We went to Disney and on some photos it’s obvious we are in Disney but in others I got close to them to show more their expression and not posed and they all complained that “Aidan wasn’t looking or why is Tristan in a side profile” they just don’t get it I guess, but I love them and am learning so much. Thanks Erin for taking time in your busy mommy / wife / photographer time to help us moms and dads with cameras.

Lauren Just found this blog from your other blog. I don’t have kids (yet) but these posts are great and so beautifully explained and illustrated, I can’t wait to get my camera out and start playing!

Gemma Hébert Love your work !

Shauna Gonzalez I love your photos!

purple melon Thanks for these great tips…and lovely pics!

Mama with a Camera | Cupcakes and Commentary […] this week’s lesson Erin Cobb discussed the idea of thinking off center. Which uses the idea of the Golden Mean from […]

Family Photography: Composition | A is for Aperture […] the points where the lines cross. If your utterly confused at this point check out the images on Erin Cobb’s blog post. You can enable this grid within most cameras or smartphones, making it easier to take better […]

Family Photography: Composition | Brent Fisher […] the points where the lines cross. If your utterly confused at this point check out the images on Erin Cobb’s blog post. You can enable this grid within most cameras or smartphones, making it easier to take better […]

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