Composition: A Note on Flow

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A static image can easily become a boring image.  There are three ways to add motion to your photographs.  The first is through motion blurs, either as a result of actual motion in the shot or as a result of digital editing.  The second is to capture an image that implies imminent or inevitable motion.  If your subject is captured frozen in mid air, your audience is aware, thanks to Sir Isaac Newton and a basic elementary school education, that it must be in motion.  We can picture the subject continuing along its path.  The motion is not visible, but it is inevitable and therefor imaginable.  The same could be said of a figure windmilling their arms and poised at an impossible angle over a drop.  The figure is frozen in time.  If the shutter speed was fast enough, we cannot even see the motion of the arms.  However, we realize that the subject must fall.  Both of these methods lend motion to an image as well as adding interest.  We feel the need to follow the imminent path of the object with our eyes and explore the image.

Mochi Notice the images to the left.  The hammer is blurred, implying motion.  In addition, we know by the man’s stance that he is in motion.  He is off balance and could not stand in that position for more than an instant.  Finally, notice that everything around the subject is in perfect focus.  Motion blur is far less effective if it is accompanied by camera shake.

The third way to add motion to an image is through composition.  In this case, you are not adding actual motion as you are in the previous two examples.  What you are adding is more accurately described as flow.  If the lines (both actual and implied) are arranged properly within a photograph, the viewer’s eye will follow the path of these lines.

Downstairs The lines created by the wall, the signpost, and the ladder prevent the viewer’s eye from leaving the frame.  Every time one of these boundaries is reached, the eye is redirected back toward the center of the image.

The most important thing to avoid is allowing the viewer to stray from the image.  It is all too easy for someone to walk right past an image without giving it the time your work deserves.  Don’t give your viewers an excuse to blow past your photographs by including lines that will lead them directly out of frame.

Incheon The lines in this example also restrict and direct the eye.  However, rather than redirecting the eye back into the center of the image, the lines pull the viewer’s eye through the image.  The eye is drawn down the stairs to the green pillar and redirected along the second set of stairs and then out of frame.  None of the lines draw the eye out of the frame without first directing attention through the image.
The actual and implied lines within a photograph draw the eye of the viewer.  Our eyes follow these lines subconsciously.  Some lines direct the eye, others restrict the eye.  Learn to use lines to your advantage to attract your viewer’s attention.

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About Author

Brent recently left the United States Navy and is working as a software engineer in New England. His photography is on display in small galleries around Massachusetts and online at Brent Mills Photography. He also shoots portraits and weddings across New England on a semi-professional basis.

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