Seeing Shapes -- Cedar Bonsai B&W
The rule of thirds applies in black and white photos as well. One key to black and white is that a photo should have nearly black and nearly white areas in any photo. This is the same as saying the photo has a long contrast scale. I believe this is a good idea for color photos as well, if possible.
Note how this tree twists and turns all directions. I placed it on the right of the frame with the trunk line along the left third line. The twists and turns are placed on the intersection points to the extent possible. To make the compositional placements, you must see the curves and twists in your subject. You will get better at this over time and it will become instinctive.
This ancient cedar bonsai is atop Goat Bluff in the Buffalo National River Park, a trail near the Cecil Cove Trailhead.
Curves and Compsition -- Timber Rattler
This picture of a timber rattler follows the rule of thirds, but it also illustrates the visualization of shapes in a composition.
Obviously a snake is a linear subject that creates curves as it moves. The trick is to capture the right combination of curves to create an effective composition. Note that this curved snake starts roughly at the lower left intersection point and ends at the upper right intersection point. The linear nature of the snakes body contrasts with the round rocks in this composition. The head is in sharp focus and the snake is clearly "in action" hunting. This is the story.
Dramatic Light and Curves -- Penquin on Fence
Here is a picture of one of our mongrel chickens, Penguin. He was fortunate to inherit both the shiny black of our Black Javas, and the reddish brown lacing of our Black Breasted Red Phoenix chickens.
This picture captures a highlight on his eye that is in sharp focus. The light on his feathers is indirect and captures the green casts that black chickens have. His head is placed outside the intersection point to the left and his body forms a curve to the outside right of the frame. The pipes of the horse corral provide an interesting contrast to the curve formed by his body.
Lines and Thirds -- Moonpie by Tree
This is our alpha Java rooster, Moonpie. He is a beautiful black bird. The challenge with this picture was both placement and light.
When you take pictures of a black subject one challenge is to capture the shiny surfaces of the hair or feathers. To get this right, you need to pick a day with good diffuse light and walk around the subject to find the right angles to capture the reflections. Here you can see the waxy feathers and the metallic greens common with black chickens.
Moonpie's red comb and head provides a natural focal point to place on the right intersection line. Here it is right of the right line which creates a bit of tension. The other dominant shape is the tree trunk that seems to form an arrow pointing to Moonpie.
This photo was selected as a magazine cover for the August/September issue of Backyard Poultry.
Dramatic Light in Color Photos -- Ivy on Log
This is one of those wonderfully lit photos of an ordinary subject. I think it is the ordinary subjects that challenge us most in our craft. I think it is also true that these ordinary subjects teach us the most about our craft if we get it right.
This whole picture is carried by two things. First, the leaves are organized in two groups of three (remember the odd number rule?). Second, the light is spectacular. The leaves are back lit, top lit, and side lit, and combinations of all three. The leaves have interesting curves, the light illuminates the veins in the leaves. This composition has it all. But most of all, the subject is very ordinary. Plain old ivy leaves.
This also demonstrates the thirds rule. The clusters of leaves fall right on the intersection points.
It also demonstrates another principle of compostion, repitition or rythm. The two clusters of leaves both repeat one another and counterpoint one another.
All these compositional features, coupled of a long tonal scale from bright to dark, led me to try this in black and white. (next picture)
Dramtic Light in B&W -- Ivy on Log
Well here it is in black and white.
A while back I uploaded this and the prior picture to a nature photographer's site and they could not agree whether the color or black and white version was better. This has to be the best compliment I could hope for.
Time to step aside and talk about one of my favorite exercises. I work at my craft and one of the things I do fairly often is tackle a totally mundane subject and try to make it beautiful photographically. I think it is easy to take beautiful pictures of beautiful things, it is another to move past your limitations and find beauty in the ordinary. Try it. Go to a fence row, or a ditch beside the road, and find the beautiful photos. They are always there. If you find them, you will find another level in your craft and learn a lot.
I have to confess something about these last two photos. They were the product of failure. I went to the Boxley Valley looking for nursing calf elk and could not find even one elk. In disgust, I headed back up the valley to the Ponca low water bridge and just parked and wandered aroud looking for something, anything. This was the gift for that day. I think there is a lesson in this. We must be opportunistic and expect to find something, we must absolutely believe it. I think it was Lincoln or Pastuer who said that "chance favors a prepared mind". Do the exercise above and you will be better prepared for these chances.