THE SEARCHLIGHT MESSENGER
Arts and Photography
What helps make a good picture? Try
this activity, and you'll find out how to take better photos yourself.
Do you like to preserve a moment with a photo or tell a story with pictures? It
can feel very rewarding to capture an experience in a compelling photo; it can
also be disappointing when the image does not convey what you were seeing or
what you had in mind.
You might wonder what makes some
photos mesmerizing and gripping, whereas others look dull, empty or less
appealing. It might be easier than you think to create those effective
Some easy composition rules, such as the "rule of
thirds" and the "golden mean" have been around for centuries. Do
compelling photos follow these rules or does it take more than rules to create
an impressive composition? Could applying these rules improve your photography?
Do other art forms, such as drawing or painting, follow similar rules?
In this science activity you will
browse through some famous works of photographic art and investigate how often
these follow some basic rules of composition.
Photography classes provide students with easy to follow rules on
composition to help them create visually interesting photos. One of the most
popular rules is the rule of thirds. To apply this rule, look through the
viewfinder of your camera, divide the image frame into thirds, both horizontally
and vertically, and place the important elements you want to capture either
along these lines or where the lines intersect. Some cameras even show these
horizontal and vertical "thirds" lines in the viewfinder.
A less famous but still practical
rule of composition is referred to as golden mean. This rule puts more emphasis
on the diagonal. To use this rule, mentally imagine a diagonal line drawn from
one corner of the frame to the opposite corner and that two dots divide that
diagonal line into three equal parts. Then connect these points to the
remaining corners of the frame. Here again, you place the main elements along
these lines or at the intersection of these lines (the dots).
Now that you know two main concepts
for composition, you are ready to look at some published photos and investigate
whether or not these follow some of the photography rules—and in what cases
good photographs might stray from the rules.
- A photo book (Preferably use one that includes work by
many different photographers using different styles; or if you would like
to focus on a particular photographer, you can use a book of his or her
collective work. You could also choose a particular theme, such as nature
pictures or close-ups. If you cannot find a photo book, try magazine
photos or a picture book, such as those by Mo Willems.)
- Two different-colored permanent markers
- Two transparency films or clear sheet protectors
- A ruler
- Paper and pen
- Select a photo size that you would like to focus on. It
should be smaller than the size of your transparencies and occur
frequently in your book or in your selected photos.
- Use a permanent marker to draw the outline or frame of
a photo with the selected size on the film.
- Draw two parallel, horizontal lines within your
outline, such that they divide the frame in three equal horizontal strips.
These lines will be used to test if the photo follows the horizontal rule
- Add two equidistant, vertical lines to your outline,
dividing the frame vertically in three equal strips. These vertical lines
will be used to test if the photo follows the vertical rule of thirds.
- With a different-colored permanent marker, color the
dots where the horizontal and vertical lines you just drew intersect.
These dots will be used to test if the main elements are placed on one or
more intersections of the vertical and horizontal thirds lines. This
completes the template to test the rule of thirds.
- Now use a permanent marker to make a golden mean
template on a different transparency film. First draw the outline or frame
of a photo with the selected size on the film.
- Draw one diagonal line by connecting one corner of the
outline with the opposite corner. Why do you think you need only one
diagonal line? Rotate your frame; does that make a difference? Now flip
it; does that make a difference?
- Find the two points on the diagonal line that divide
the diagonal line's length in three equal parts. Mark these points as dots
with a different-colored permanent marker.
- Using the first color of permanent marker, connect the
dots you just drew, each to the closest remaining corner of the frame.
This completes the template to test the golden mean rule.
- Create a table in which to record your observations:
Using a piece of paper, make a column for the following five categories:
Horizontal Rule of Thirds; Vertical Rule of Thirds; Horizontal and
Vertical Rule of Thirds; Golden Mean; No Rule.
- Browse through the photo book. For each photo that is
the size of your template frame, see if you can guess which rule it might
follow. Are there strong horizontal or vertical lines present in the
image that are approximately at one third of the frame's horizontal or
vertical size? Is the main subject placed on a horizontal third, a
vertical third or on an intersection of both third lines? If so, the
photo probably follows the rule of thirds. To see if the golden mean rule
is used, look for a strong diagonal line. Is the main subject placed at
one-third sections of the length of this diagonal line?
- In the next steps you will classify each photo you
analyze in one of the columns of your data table. Be sure to make clear
references to your photos; you might want to come back to one of them
later. A clear reference might include the page number in the book, the
title, the date on which it was taken and the photographer.
- Lay the rule of thirds template over the photo. Is
there a clear indication that the image follows the horizontal rule of
thirds, the vertical rule of thirds or maybe both? Note that it is
enough if one strong horizontal or vertical third line is present to
classify it as following the horizontal or vertical rule of thirds. If a
main element in the photo is placed at an intersection of third lines,
classify it as following both the horizontal and vertical rule of thirds.
If you found that this picture follows a rule of thirds, note it in the
appropriate column of your data table. Once a photo is classified, you can
skip the next two steps and go to the next image.
- Lay the golden mean template over the photo. Does it
match this template, indicating that the image follows the golden mean
rule? Do not forget you can flip this template to see if the diagonal
matches in the other direction. If you found a match, note the photo down
in the golden mean column of your data table. If you classified this
photo, skip the next step and instantly go to the next one.
- If you conclude this photo did not follow one of the
basic composition rules, classify it in the "No Rule" column of
your data table.
- Look at more photographs, analyzing and classifying
them as you go. Collect as much data as possible. More data will give you
a more accurate idea of whether or not published photos follow one or more
of the basic composition rules.
- Once you feel you have gathered enough data, count the
number of photos listed in each column of your table and write the total
at the end of the column. Do your numbers show a clear pattern? Is one
type of rule more common than another?
- Add up the totals for all four columns, indicating a
basic composition rule was followed. How does this total compare with
the total number of photos you classified as not following a rule?What
would you conclude; are these rules strong ones that need to be followed
to make a compelling image or are they really just guidelines, helpful
hints that can create balanced compositions? Maybe your data indicates
that photos are creations of art that do not follow any rule.
- Extra: Make
a bar graph or pie chart showing the total number of photos you classified
as following a rule versus the number not following a rule. Do you find
it easier to draw conclusions from the visual representation than from a
number comparison? Would you be able to guess which fraction of all the
photos you analyzed follow/do not follow a rule from the graphical
representation? You can also make a bar graph or pie chart of the
number of pictures that follow each different type of composition rule. Do
you find this visual representation easier to understand or faster to read
than the list of numbers?
Use a camera and try some of these rules for yourself. Do you think using
one of these rules will change the way your photographs look? You can also
use a photo-editing program and reframe your photos digitally using the
crop function. Does following a composition rule make your images more
expressive, more pleasing to the eye and more balanced?
This activity focuses on the main elements in the photos. Photographers can
use different compositions for the background, the foreground and the
subject of the picture. Can you find these composition rules applied to
different subsections of some images?
Study whether or not these rules are more often followed in particular
styles of photos. Do you think these rules are equally effective for
different types of images such as landscapes, portraits, close-ups or
The rule of thirds and the golden mean are well known in photography. Do
you think other art forms use these rules to create balanced and pleasing
compositions? Find out by browsing through some Web sites, picture books,
paintings or drawings. You can even look at sculptures, architecture or
objects in nature.
Observations and results
Did you find photos following one of the basic composition rules and others not
following any of them?
Proportion is an important element
in composition, and an excellent tool to help create balanced, appealing
photos. But it is not the only one; shape, texture and color are just a few
other elements to consider. Knowing this, you can see that the rule of thirds
and golden mean, although handy guidelines, are not unbreakable rules. It is
always up to the photographer to decide what works for a particular case.
You might have noticed that these
basic composition rules work very well in some types of photos, such as action
shot and landscapes. These rules often do not work as well in other areas.
Close-ups or photos where symmetry is important often work better with the
subject placed in the center and often don't follow the same composition rules.
More advanced photographers might
use a composition rule based on the golden ratio to lead the eye and create
visually pleasing compositions. The golden ratio and golden spiral can be seen
in many art forms, and even in nature—like the whorls of a shell. Search
further and see if you can find the golden ratio in famous pictures or in other
Posole (Hominy Stew) is easy to prepare, can be ready to eat in 4 hours, and tastes
really good. Well, that is, if you like spicy Southwestern New Mexican style
cuisine. This is actually my Mom’s recipe, which is modified for those of us
who appreciate good kitchen engineering, but are constantly on the move,
working, going to school, and on a regular workout at the gym. Yeah, really
busy all the time.
I once joked
that I’m so busy, if I could take in all my meals as a liquid drink once or
twice a day, I would do it. I guess at the time, I wasn’t really kidding. Thing
is, any doctor will tell you this is an unhealthy choice. We aren’t plants,
right? Although, I’ve met some people who act like house plants.
recipe will feed four people until they are stuffed. I’m not kidding. This is a
high protein and high calorie meal perfect for a cold winter’s day. This is an
old Southwestern meal, meant to be hardy, and stay with a hard working cow-hand
There are as
many recipes for posole, as there are for chile. And even though I say this is
a faster path to good posole, you’ll notice, it’s still work, but to any
culinarian, it’s really “play”, isn’t it?
So here it is. You’ll have fun making this dish while you’re
getting other “stuff” done:
You will need:
ground pork! Yep, I’m a vegetarian, but not when someone throws a bowl of
posole in front of my face! Make sure it’s fresh, and organic though. This is
hard to find in many places. Authentic posole uses pork shoulder which is
prepared as diced chunks, and seared first. You don’t have time for this. If
you can’t find fresh ground pork, just have the butcher grind a fresh pork
tenderloin, and you’re good to go.
Swanson’s Chicken Broth, the real stuff, not the “lite” nonsense. Organic,
and without MSG, is the best health choice.
water. You need this because the hominy gets thirsty.
frozen uncooked posole, thawed. Yeah, don’t use “canned” (48 oz.) unless
you are desperate. Authentic posole requires about 1 to 2 lbs. of hominy corn cooked and prepared until
the corn bursts. You don’t have time for this. You’ll be in the kitchen all
teaspoon crushed oregano.
tablespoons ground red chili. Yeah, “count em”, three. Authentic posole
must always have a good punch, and bite a little. This is a New Mexican recipe,
man! You can put in more if you like, but if it’s good red pod from Hatch, New
Mexico, three will make your brow sweat.
Throw a slow cooker liner in the slow cooker. Turn it on high. Crumble
the pork into the cooker. I know what you’re thinking. You’re not draining
anything. That pork fat is the flavor we’re looking for in good posole.
Toss in the chopped onions, minced garlic, oregano, and ground red chili.
Now pour in the chicken broth and water, then the salt. Always add salt to your
liquid, not the liquid onto salt. The salt will go into solution immediately
(that’s what we want). Now add the frozen posole that has been thawed. Stir it
Put the lid on the slow cooker. Clean and wash whatever you haven’t
already. Walk away. Go get something else done. You just engineered a brilliant
meal whose reward is soon coming.
Check it every hour and stir, then after 2 hours, turn the cooker down to
low, and stir. Keep checking, and stirring every hour until done. This depends
on how hot the “high” on your slow cooker gets. If it was boiling during the
first 2 hours when you turned it down, it should be ready to eat in 4 hours
from start to finish.
I have made this dish with black beans too, and many recipes call for
pintos or black beans,
but I think beans of any style take away the corn flavor of hominy.
I like to garnish my posole with combinations of diced tomatoes, diced
onions, fresh cilantro, and avocado with a splash of lime, or shaved lime and
Don’t forget the tortillas, and sopapillas.
I am often asked how I
draw water drops. Although my medium of choice is colored pencils, I do work
with watercolor, and watercolor pencils. But the technique remains similar in
all three of these media.
I generally start with
wax or masking fluid as demonstrated below, then work with pencil or colored
pencil in and around the borders. This is especially important in photorealism
Another great medium is tempera, or egg tempera, made famous by Leonardo
Da Vinci's water droplet technique. But watercolors bring a dimension of blending that is bright and easy to render once practiced.
Below are the general
steps utilized when we render these into our artwork. A well known American
artist, Birgit O’Connor, known for her great watercolors, demonstrates below,
how you can also draw or paint with this technique.
This is the first in
many visual art rendering techniques we will make available in The Searchlight
Messenger. Of course most people know that I work from photographs and very
patient models who sit for hours.
To practice, find a good close-up photograph
of water droplets to draw from, then have fun trying this technique. I think
you will be very pleased with the art you produce.
O’Connor has been featured in Watercolor
Artist and The Artist’s Magazine, and continues to be a great
resource for those learning how to master the medium. Scroll down for one of
her quick tips on watercolor painting for beginners.
“Watercolor has always been
perceived as a very unforgiving medium that offers very little control,” says
O’Connor. “This can cause a lot of frustration. But the effects and luminous
washes possible with watercolor are unrivaled. In order to take advantage of
the way watercolor works, there are some basic things you need to know.”
Find the Proper Materials
Using brushes that are too small or a poor grade of paper are paths to
Instead of beginning with the darks and then adding the lighter colors, begin
with the lighter areas and then move toward the darker colors.
As a self-taught artist with years of experience, I have found that it is
most important to simplify. I have tried to convey this through my articles,
books and DVDs.
Use Enough Water
Once you have an understanding of how to really use water and color to your
advantage, the rest is up to you. The world is wide open.
There is a very simple painting
technique you can use to add water drops to a painting. A realistic water drop
creates a three-dimensional illusion and leaves a lasting impression on the
Get an idea of how this technique works by doing this simple painting exercise.
- Masking fluid
- 1/8 sheet Arches paper
- Large wash brush
- No. 8 and No.14 synthetic brushes
- Incredible nib or bamboo drawing pen
- Color: permanent alizarin crimson, indigo
Draw the drop:
Draw an oblong circle approximately 1 inch long, and then place a small
dot of masking in the upper left hand corner.
After the masking fluid has completely dried, apply a wash of permanent
alizarin crimson over the entire area extending past the drop approximately 4
inches (MM) on either side, leave enough room on the outside edges so the
effect is not hindered and the drop can stand out.
Once the wash has completely dried, reapply water only to the inside of the
drop, allow the pigment to soften then lift out the color from in the inside using
a No. 14 synthetic brush, you can vary the size and type brush (acrylic
brushes, q-tips and paper towels work), anything to lift color out.
Before adding the shadow allow the drop to completely dry again or the color
can bleed back in. You want a nice crisp line. Using a No. 8 synthetic with a
mixture of permanent alizarin crimson and a small amount of indigo, then add
the shadow just below the drop, tapering up the side to define the edge.
Add color to shadow:
Now remove the masking from the drop and lift some color out of the shadow.
This helps to show light refracting through the drop.
the highly competitive field of photography, being able to effectively
communicate during a photo shoot is one of the most important skills a
photographer can acquire. The better the photographer is at giving precise
instructions, the easier it will be to capture the unique perspective most
people are searching for in their photos. The photographer must demonstrate a
great deal of professionalism, keeping a positive attitude and actively
listening to their client. People are often nervous when being photographed;
therefore the photographer should empathize with their client by observing and
understanding the feelings they may be experiencing. Aside from location and
time specifics, proper compensation should be discussed prior
to the photo shoot, as opposed to during or after. If the
photographer can properly communicate with the client, the photo shoot should
is an important factor in any successful photo shoot. As a photographer,
experienced or amateur, a person must exhibit proper etiquette. In order to
make the subject feel comfortable, the photographer should make them feel as
relaxed as possible by offering calming talk when appropriate, and always taking
the time to listen when the client speaks. Arriving on time, coming prepared, and
choosing appropriate dress for the occasion is also essential. The personality
and behavior of the photographer may prove to be a deal-breaker in the future
of their business if professionalism is ignored.
In addition, showing empathy for the
subject is an important factor when trying to make a living in the realm of
photography. The photographer should observe the individual’s body language to
see how instructions are being perceived and understood. Synonymously, the
photographer needs to watch for cues to determine if he or she is coming across
as demanding, or seemingly trying to rush the job. If demeanor and body
language is not indicative of a state of total relaxation, the photographer
needs to step into the subject’s shoes for a better perspective regarding their
emotions. Remember, “Speaking in a moderately low-pitched voice at about 125
words a minute makes you sound pleasing and professional.”
often starts off as a hobby and when people start to notice one’s pictures,
doors begin to open. A friend may want her child’s senior photos to be captured
by someone who has a good eye, or a jewelry maker may want her items
photographed to sell on her website. When frequent jobs are being offered, the
photographer may wonder what the proper compensation is for the amount of time
they put into the photo shoot. Overall,
a photographer will need to determine how much their time is worth and express
that clearly and confidently to the client. This includes, but is not limited
to, how much time is spent on the photo shoot, if any equipment was purchased,
travel costs, and prices of local competition. Well known photographer,
Caroline Thompson, indicated through her experience that step one in
determining fees, is to decide which type of photography service will be
conclusion, properly communicating with the client, and keeping an open mind,
can do a great deal for establishing a person’s reputation as a well-respected
photographer. If the photographer is
seen as patient, empathetic, and caring, the possibility for achieving a large
client base may present itself. In addition, separating themselves from fierce
competition by properly determining their self-worth, is something with which
many photographers struggle. In order to achieve the desired client-base, it is
essential to be reasonable and consistent. If the photographer can overcome
these obstacles that often stand in the way of even the world’s best
photographers, they will be well on their way to a successful career.
Guffey, Mary Ellen & Loewy, Dana. Essentials of Business Communication. (Vol.
9e). Cengage Learning, 2013.
Thompson, Caroline. “Photography Rates: What to Charge
for Photography Services.” Bright Hub. 3 Nov. 2012 <http:// www.brighthub.com/multimedia/photography/articles/47333.aspx>.
About the Author: Amanda Cornelissen is a local photographer in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a Health Information Management Degree candidate at Intellitec Medical Institute. Her portrait photography is outstanding. For more information on Ms, Corneliissen, contact The Searchlight Studios at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kieron Williamson, now seven years old, stunned the art world, last year with his beautiful watercolors. At the time, I wrote a lengthy blog post regarding this very talented young artist.
Last year’s newest art world sensation isn't a famous celebrity turned painter or an up and coming art fashionable man about town. Rather, the name rolling off the tongues of Britain's art connoisseurs is Kieron Williamson, a very young boy with a knack for painting spectacular watercolors.
Kieron, whose first show opened at Town Gallery in England one year ago, was lauded for having talent, well beyond his years. The young man’s paintings of harbor scenes, animals, landmarks, and rural vistas are rendered in muted pastel colors and shadow, baring a visionary depth until now, only found in the works of adults, moreover, the works of artists who are trying to draw you in emotionally. As a result, some media outlets are calling Kieron a "prodigy", placing him among a select group of children whose talents both awe the public and raise its suspicions. Kieron's paintings are not your usual kindergarten art projects. "I like painting because it makes me think of places I can't see," said the young artist to the press last year, and whose father is an art dealer.
Art didn't interest Kieron very much before he visited the coastal towns of Devon and Cornwall with his family. The boats and local landscape inspired the young boy to ask for paper and he began drawing. His mom describes those early works as typical of his age group. However, when family friend and artist, Carol Pennington, saw Kieron's work, she recognized his potential immediately and gave him lessons. Ms. Pennington owns the gallery showcasing Kieron's paintings. The young boy has already sent originals to Elizabeth II, Queen of England, and Charles, Prince of Whales. Interestingly and not surprisingly, Kieron’s paintings are garnishing six figures when sold, and that’s in Pounds Sterling, not dollars. Wow!
It seems child prodigies always become media sensations once discovered and sometimes the attention turns ugly. In 2004, here in the United States, we became taken with a four year old girl named Marla Olmstead, whose works were compared to those of Jackson Pollack. At the time, Marla's paintings were selling for as much as $24,000 and she was featured in a lengthy article in The New York Times. The overwhelming praise for Marla led 60 Minutes to video tape her creative process and show the footage to a psychologist specializing in gifted children. The psychologist, and other experts, were not impressed, casting a shadow on the authenticity of the prodigy from New York. Marla continues to paint today despite this ordeal. However the stigma to her family lingers. Hopefully at her young age, the shadow may never be truly felt.
Kieron will experience his third "gallery opening" this year. As the highly anticipated paintings make their debut, the world might do Kieron a service by holding back the "prodigy" label until the boy can deal with the accompanying stress this can stir in a child.
Having won art contests myself since I was four years old, I understand some of what this little man is going through, however, I can’t imagine what he is experiencing with world focus and all that cash. Good parents and an understanding extended family will be critical here. Personally, I want him to succeed enormously. This means allowing him to be a kid when he needs to be. You guessed it. Everyday, and most of the time.
Here’s to his success and continued good fortune as an artist, and as a young man.