Combining Compositional Elements

The combination of multiple visual elements creates the most dramatic photographs from an aesthetic point of view. The concept of compositional balance refers to the placement and relative visual impact of objects in the picture (Wildi, 2006). Most pictures consist of a main subject and secondary subjects arranged within a less conspicuous background. In general, the main subject should not be located at the geometric center of the photograph. The main subject should be offset toward the top, bottom, or one

FIGURE 5-15 Oblique view of autumn foliage with red and golden colors. Oak forest and small lake in the Chautauqua Hills, Kansas, United States. Helium blimp photo by SWA and JSA, November 2007.
Aerial View Circular Fountain

side—following the rule of thirds—to create a more dynamic image. In some cases, no main or secondary subjects exist, for which repetition of similar elements leads to visual balance. The following examples demonstrate the potential of multiple visual elements to create striking images.

The vertical photograph of a formal rose garden depicts strong diagonal and circular elements (Fig. 5-16). The straight diagonal walkways intersect at the circular fountain, which forms the visual main subject, and which is offset below the geometric center of the image. Most of the scene is medium green lawn grass with strong contrast between the bright paved walkways and dark tree shadows. Red and yellow rose flowers form tiny dots of color in the otherwise green, tan, and gray scene. Shadows fall toward the lower right corner, but obscure little of the ground area. Smaller pattern and texture elements include the rectangular lattice of arbors, arrangement of individual rose plants, and faint mowing lines in the lawn. A few people stand in random positions on the walkways or in the lawn. Finally, sun glitter from waves in the fountain adds a sparkling touch.

The portrait format of bicycle riders emphasizes the curving path of the trail and stone wall leading the eye from the near right corner to top left edge of this scene (Fig. 5-17). Most of the picture consists of neutral gray, green, and tan colors. Brightly colored wind-surfing kites stand out prominently, and shadows are perfectly

FIGURE 5-17 Low-oblique view of recreational park and bicycle path. Foster City, San Francisco Bay, California, United States. Kite aerial photo by SWA and JSA, October 2006.

proportioned to depict silhouettes of the bicycle riders. Sand, rocks, vegetation, and water waves display a rich variety of textures and small pattern elements.

Sun glint from waves on the water surface forms distinctive, intersecting curved patterns in this view of a small lagoon (Fig. 5-18). Most of the picture consists of nearly monochromatic gray and green-gray colors with high brightness contrast. The linear dock with right angles extends from the upper left corner toward the scene center, but without reaching the center. The dock also has neutral gray colors, except for a tiny splash of red clothing on a person, and shadows fall toward the bottom of the view. The juxtaposition of artificial linear and natural curved elements creates a visual conflict that draws the eye back and forth between the two patterns.

Linear elements of different qualities are overlaid with an irregular punctual pattern in this vertical photograph of a wide gully cutting into a near-flat glacis d'accumulation in Burkina Faso's Sahel (Fig. 5-19). Small rills forming dendritic networks unite in progressively broader fluvial channels; the course of the main drainage line roughly mirrors the slight curve of the dirt track running alongside the gully. The comparatively homogeneous glacis area on the left side is delimited by the cauliflower-like outline of the gully edge. From left to right, the size and density of bushes and trees dotting the scene increase. The position of the gully, whose shape is suited by the 3:2 format of the image, respects the rule of thirds with both the main drainage line and its left edge.

The sinuous boundary between lake and land is the dominant geometric element that leads the eye from the near edge toward the background, and the distant horizon enhances the visual expanse of this open prairie landscape (Fig. 5-20). The curved lake shore is reinforced by a single, parallel line of small trees that cast shadows toward the right. Most of the scene consists of neutral gray, green, and tan colors. The lake displays considerable variation in water color with subtle wave patterns. Most of the land has mottled vegetation textures, but agricultural fields can be seen in the distance. In the left foreground, the overturned boat with red bottom, although small, is a critical human element in this composition.

Raised bogs may display spectacular autumn colors (Fig. 5-21). The bright green, gold, and red colors represent various species of Sphagnum moss, which contrast with dark water pools and dull gray-green dwarf pine trees in this Estonian bog. This scene lacks a main subject; rather it is composed of color, pattern and textural elements that are repeated throughout the image more or less uniformly in distribution. Shadows fall in the lower right direction. Nothing of human origin is visible, and no objects of known size or shape are present; thus, the photograph has no scale reference. This image demonstrates the remarkable spatial complexity of a completely organic, natural environment.

FIGURE 5-18 Low-oblique picture of lagoon and fishing dock. Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana, United States. Kite aerial photo by JSA and SWA, March 2004.
FIGURE 5-19 Vertical view of gully erosion near Gorom-Gorom, Province of Oudalan, Burkina Faso. Kite aerial photograph by IM, JBR, and K.-D. Albert, November 2001.
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