Saturday, February 18, 2012

Photography for Writers

Those who know me well know that I have two real artistic passions in life. The first one is obvious: writing. The second one is photography. What I've learned is that I can cross-pollinate my interests. I learn a lot about one subject from using the theories and lenses of another (you'll see this, for example, in my post about DJ/producer David Guetta and academics). In this case, I can use my knowledge of photography to improve my writing, even if it is only amateur.

My first SLR camera-- a Nikon 35mm N65
In this article, "10 Top Photography Composition Rules" from PhotographyMad's website, the (sadly) unnamed author reflects on the common notions of composition that help to create great photographs. The ten are:

  • the rule of thirds
  • balancing elements
  • leading lines
  • symmetry and patterns
  • viewpoint
  • background
  • depth
  • framing
  • cropping
  • experimentation
One can take these rules of photographic composition and apply them to writing.

The rule of thirds: In photography, it relates to top, center, and bottom, left, right, and middle. It breaks the picture into a grid of 9 spaces. A good photographer knows where these things are being placed on the grid to help create the best shot. A good writer can perhaps think about this grid of 9 in a different way: beginning, middle, end. Where do you want the most and the least information to lie?

This image is enhanced by the
balance of light and dark elements
Balancing elements: In photography, it's about balancing images, colors, and space. In academic writing, this could mean not overloading one paragraph and underdeveloping another. In creative writing, such as poetry, when the visual rhetoric is just as important as the writing, this could refer to the balance of the words on the space.

Leading lines: This is perhaps the hardest on to apply. The definition give by PhotographyMad is this: "When we look at a photo our eye is naturally drawn along lines. By thinking about how you place lines in your composition, you can affect the way we view the image, pulling us into the picture, towards the subject, or on a journey "through" the scene. There are many different types of line - straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, radial etc - and each can be used to enhance our photo's composition." In writing, one could consider this the focus of the paper, pulling the thread of an idea through, whether it be directly or indirectly. It should, however, be a conscious choice.

Symmetry and patterns: In creative writing, patterns are especially important because they add to the meaning of the piece. In academic writing, symmetry and patterns are tools for analysis.

Getting up close and personal
with Cluck via macro lens
Viewpoint: Photographers call it viewpoint; writers call it perspective or voice. The way a person sees an object is different depending on where they view it from. This can be literal-- a student sitting at the back of the class sees the classroom differently than the teaching behind the desk-- or figurative, more akin to a wordview-- a Green individual or a racist, for example. This plays into the way that we write characters, the way we describe things, and the way that we analyze ideas. 

Background: Background is important because it can emphasize a subject or, if the background is too busy, we can lose the subject all together. The same happens in writing. In academic writing, if we get lost in too much background explanation, our focus can become unclear. On the other hand, the right amount of background can help illuminate historical issues, illustrate theoretical foundations, or clarify the use of a term, changing the way a reader interprets an argument. In creative writing, too much background can make the story lag and lose our readers' interests, while the right amount can endear us to characters, create suspense, or paint a scene.

Depth: Considering how far we must pry into something for it to have an impact is important to consider for photographers and writers alike. In academic writing, depth tends to be the goal. We want to keep a narrow focus, but really "dig in deep." In creative writing (and I know keep making this binary for conversation purposes, but really I don't think the line is so black-and-white), we want to make sure to add depth only where it's needed. I don't need to have an in-depth analysis of every character in a novel, or I become overwhelmed. 

Framing: In photography, this refers to surrounding something so that it is emphasized. In writing, we refer to frames all of the time: frame of reference, frame narration, framing the scene. It is much the same as the framing photographers think about. 

Cropping: Photographers consider very carefully what should and should not be in a scene, what should be the focus and what should be cut out. This is the job of the writer, as well. We have to think about what information is necessary and what is fluff. We have to think about the parameters of argument, how much space we have to fill (you cannot say the same in 500 words that you can in 50,000), and how to focus in on the most important material.

Boring leather table + foam glowstick
+ slow shutter speed = cool picture
Experimentation: Aside from balance, this seems like the most important rule of composition to me. I think many of us fear trying something new. Think of how many novice photographers, for instance, take the same already-been-done picture of the butterfly landing on a flower and believe it to be their best work. The same is true of writers. We fear stepping outside the box, especially in academic situations, but many times, risk-taking leads us to our best work. New forms, odd angles, tapping into theories outside of discipline, talking about taboo subjects-- these can make great pieces of art, both in photography and writing.

1 comment:

The Torg said...

I think now that so much reading, writing, and thinking happens on a computer screen, it makes perfect sense that a writer would also be a photographer. Nice to live in an age where these passions of yours are so easily joined.