This week in ds106, my class starts a week of looking at visual storytelling, primarily in working with their own photographs. For me, this is some of my favorite stuff since I love taking photos. I’d like them all to get better at taking interesting photos, moving from snapshot mentality to be composing in their mind. Many have already gotten bit as they are energized by the challenges of the Daily Create.

I know in the past is what happens is they start looking differently at the world around them, noticing the patterns of those paving stones on campus rather than just walking over them, looking up, down with their camera, looking for interesting shadows, and objects that are juxtaposed.

I am trying a new activity this week- as in years past, I have a collection of resources and shared suggestions on how to beocme a better photographer, I have been adding this to a storify I made last year and am eager to add more suggestions (tweet ’em my way!). Last semester, we had them use this as reference when they go about their week’s activities, but I want to notch it up some.

So for this week, they are to try at least 3 different suggestions, tips, from these resources, things as simple as

Change My Perspective By Changing Yours: Find different and unique points of view. Look down, up, lay down on the ground. Seek perspectives of lines.

And then they are to blog about these with examples showing examples where they tried the technique. But I want them next to take their one example that they are most proud of and add it to a Google Doc with a link to their post. The idea here would be that this doc would become a ds10 authored set of photo tips created by my class (and any other open [participant that wants to join in).

It’s a strategy I remember Cheryl Colan describing where she would have her classes collaboratively build shared notes in Google docs from their class sessions, so the students become responsible for making class resources, not relying on her as teacher to hand it out.

To that end, I hope to blog or tweet out some hints of things to try during this week. I wanted to start with probably the old sawhorse standby, the rule of thirds. I wont go into it, as it is explained in about 500,000 other sites. Digital Photography School or wikipedia cover it.

But whats curious is that I know it and practice the rule of thirds placement often om my composition or post editing cropping, I know often its without even thinking about it. Other times it is damn deliberate.

And for eveyr web site that explains it with diagram, I rarely find an explanation why it is effective. The best I recall came from TEN: Ten Ways To Improve Your Craft. None of Them Involves Buying Gear a $5 ebook by David duChemin. I don’t have it right here, but he talked about the rule of thirds being a means of balancing the weight of intensity of your subject, that it took that empty space or 2/3 of less intense detail, color to form a harmony with your subject.

That’s not to say you cannot do great photos by breaking the rule, that’s the fun of it. I was excited to read a few weeks ago in petapixel about this nifty browser bookmarklet Rule of Thirds tool. If you are looking at a web page with photos, clicking the tool activates a grid that provides an overlay on the photos in the page. This way you can look at any web page on the web, and see how the rule of thirds fits it.

This is really a fantastic tool for students. They can look at their own work and those of photographers they like, and just ask the question where is that balance? Why does that composition work (or not).

As a prime example of breaking the rule, another photo featured in petapixel (now becoming my favorite photo blog) An Incredible B&W Photograph of a Man Feeding Ducks and Swans. The photo is stunning for many reasons, it takes a moment to realize the scene, that it is framed that way (not photoshopped), but the wild balance of black and white contrast. It’s a fantastic study on many levels. But look, it pretty much is a bust on the rule of Thirds:

man feeding ducks thirds

How can that be?

That’s what rules are good for.

I did a few more looking at some of my own photos in flickr with the Rule of Thirds tool.

Here’s a metal sculpture I saw at Scottsdale Community College, the calipers of this thing fitting perfectly in the left third line. One might say the horizontal line pair is a bit too centered, but you have to look at the overall weight.

rule thirds

I find it is definitely what you want to do with portraits, so I am always placeing people in the side thirds, and you want them (usually) facing the open space. Here is my friend Sian at the event we attended at SCC. Her body is in that right most vertical, and her eye right at an intersection point. For portraits it rarely goes bad when you put an eye on that line.

rule thirds sian

This photo of bins of grain was less about the rule fo thirds and more about the colors of the bins and repetitive shapes. Not much of a rule happening here:

recycling no thirds

And not much happening on this shot of a power pole, I wanted to look right up the middle of it, and accentuate it with closing down my depth of field.

rule thirds pole

But another pole I definitely used that right side third for a placement, but played a bit with dimension by making the pole come in from an angle. But the key element, where the sound would come from this (its an emergency warning system thing) is right at that intersection point. It might have been better on the left third.

only a test

It’s kind of fun to look at photos and debate whether this “rule” is in play or not. Often it works really well. I find myself doing it in framing my shots without really thinking.

What’s your take on the rule of thirds?

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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