Thursday, December 8, 2011

Autumn Harmony

The clouds and hills followed the lines of the mountains so beautifully as the light danced on the newly fallen snow.
I love the photography class that I have the privilege of helping to teach.  It's inspiring to see kids understand concepts and to be able to improve the composition and aesthetics of their images by using the things we help them learn in the field and in post processing.  It's so much fun to create pictures alongside them, inviting them to move to the level of a tiny mushroom or bit of moss, to look at something from an extreme perspective, or to wonder at the beauty of a tree newly free of its leaves.  Then, when we download the photos to a computer, they relive the experience, and get to wow themselves and those around them by adding a little contrast or color vibrancy to make their pictures really even more stunning.

frost outlines each petal just so

 While we were away on vacation the students in our class were asked to make images demonstrating harmony.  Harmony is defined in Webster's dictionary as "a pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts."  This can be achieved in photography in many ways, including the use of the rule of thirds and the application of basic color theory.  

Fall is a wonderful season to do this because of its muted colors and filtered light.   Upon returning from Hawaii, I was impressed with how much simpler it is here to create a balanced exposure because of the cloud cover we have.  There is a gentle bluish gray to the light here, so different from the warm and vivid brightness of the tropics.  Color becomes unobtrusive as it fades.  We notice the shape and texture of things:  the way a tree curves to reveal the clouds and sky, the way frost makes its rough and sparkly way down a fence line.  We notice the beauty of single colors that remain, framing themselves against the earthy background of a resting autumn world.

the lupine leaves look like exuberant starbursts from a child's drawing

In the Rule of Thirds, points of emphasis fall on any of the intersecting points of 3 imaginary vertical and 3 horizontal lines placed in a grid over the composition.  Usually, if the subject is not in the dead center of the image, but instead off to the side, the composition is more pleasing to the eye.  We don't look at things dead on all day long, unless of course we are in a staring contest.  Thus, following the Rule of Thirds creates harmony because it shadows everyday life and also draws us into the image, asking our eyes to move around.  In a landscape image, we will find it interesting if the horizon falls in the bottom or top third of the image, rather directly in the center.  In this way, we are invited to examine either the sky or the earth as it is portrayed in the photograph.

Here is the mountain scene from the beginning of the post framed in a different way.  We can feel the heaviness of the cloud cover more intensely when it takes such a large part of the image.  The image is divided almost in half, creating some tension aesthetically.  It works well as an expressive image, but is certainly not very harmonious. The first image follows the rule of thirds well, with the line of the trees and clouds falling on the top and bottom horizontal line and the mountains offset a little to the right.

When using color theory to create harmony in visual art,  harmony can be achieved by remembering the 12 part color wheel.  When 3 colors sit beside one another on the color wheel, they will be harmonious.  The same will occur when 2 colors directly across from each other on the color wheel are together in a composition.  Nature is the embodiment of harmony, so if you're making images in nature, there will be an inherent harmony that resonates in your images.  Red/purple and green/light green are opposite on the color wheel and red and purple flowers are found often in nature framed by greenery.  Yellow and green are beside each other on the color wheel, and we all know how ubiquitous yellow flowers are!

coming up to the house from animal chores we noticed this beautiful sight.

If an image is just made as a snapshot and not well thought out, it is in danger of being dull and boring.  Harmony can do that.  There must be something to offset the comfort that is found in harmony.  This is why using things like leading lines, the rule of thirds and emphasis on a particular element in the composition can all create the balance that a great piece of art needs.  If we are careful to apply all the elements of composition we have learned, creating pleasing and balanced photos is very simple in nature and with a little thought, just as easy in the world shaped by man.  Just as a composer creates a feeling of peace with harmonious musical notes, so too can a visual artist evoke the sense of well being and rest that harmony creates.

Find more information on color theory here:

The clear defenses of a salmonberry stripped of its leaves
the delicious goo of pumpkin seeds, waiting to be hidden in the soil to become next year's vines....

While the deer is front and center in this image, the eye still moves as it looks at the light of dusk on the leaves in the foreground, then the green of the bed of grass.  This moment was fleeting.  I frightened the deer before I could get a better exposure.
I love the perspective that these clouds create
what's left of summer blossoms
A walk in the woods in the late afternoon light
moss growing on the tree the kids love to climb
A neighbor's field
The frost makes the summer plants succumb to rest
A leaf rake, left to languish in the leaf strewn yard

the beauty of her blue eyes and the memory of the lovely homemade pie...


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