Division of Frames in Landscape Photography

Division of Frames in Landscape Photography

  • The horizon is the fundamental compositional division of the frame, but in most landscapes there are other boundaries or lines that split the picture into distinct areas. Rivers, roads, walls, paths and tracks are obvious examples, but some divisions are more abstract than these: around the end of the day, the sun creates a sparkling line of reflections on water, cutting the frame vertically. Other divisions of the frame are entirely imaginary, but equally important to the composition. For instance, when two similar objects appear in different parts of the picture, the viewer's eye will draw a line between them, and this divides the image as surely as any wall.

  • Lines partly or totally surrounding a landscape element create a frame that encloses and isolates part of the picture. Natural frames abound: the shore of a lake, for example, separates water from the land, and a mountain casts a slowly-moving frame on the landscape in its shadow.

  • Where there's no natural frame to enclose the part of the subject you're trying to emphasize, you can create one yourself. When you stand behind a rock arch, in the mouth of a cave or in a doorway, the solid edges form powerful borders holding together and integrating the picture. Frames needn't be this complete: often you need only enclose the image on two sides, relying on other unconnected lines to bridge the gap. The trunk and overhanging branch of a tree, for example, make a strong frame in conjunction with the physical borders of the picture and the ground beneath.

  • Certain divisions and proportions have proved in the course of time to be especially pleasing to the eye. Compositions that incorporate these proportions have a natural sense of order and symmetry.
    The most widely used proportion is the golden mean, or the golden section. This is a number derived by dividing a line or area so that the ratio of the smaller part to the larger part is the same as the ratio of the larger part to the whole. The golden mean is roughly equivalent to 8:5 or 1.62:1.

  • Other pleasing divisions of the frame lie close to the value of the golden mean. For example, try cutting out from paper first a square, then a rectangle with one side the same length as the square, and the other side the length of its diagonal. However many times you cut this rectangle in half each fraction has the same proportions as the whole, 1.41:1. This perhaps seems like a transparently simple property, but try it with a rectangle of any other size.

  • An even simpler division is the so-called "rule of thirds", which suggests that dividing the frame in the ratio of 2:1 provides a satisfying composition.

  • These formal rules are useful if you are trying to decide where to place the horizon or some other important element of the picture, but remember that they are only guidelines. A photographer who applies the golden section unthinkingly to every picture will succeed only in producing images that are boring or, at the very least, predictable.

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