Triumphs and turmoils: rules of photography

So far, I’ve written a lot about my personal struggles throughout my life. Last week I began to give a few tips on photography. I’d love to continue that this week, as that has been my main intention with this blog. In order for you to understand me on a deeper level and know who’s talking to you I felt it necessary to tell you some select stories of hard times I’ve had in my life. I have been wanting to share some knowledge I’ve gained through photography, and in particular, automotive photography. As I said last week, I am going to go more into the rules of photography in this edition, using automotive photography examples.

The rules of photography are a list of guidelines to help ensure consistent, higher quality photos. The main rules, in no particular order, are Rule of Thirds, leading lines, fill the frame, framing, simplify, don’t cut off limbs, watch the background intently, symmetry/patterns and depth of field. As mentioned previously, I am now going to explain these rules a bit more in depth, one at a time, and give some examples.

The Rule of Thirds is a “rule” of thumb that proposes that your image should be imagined to be broken up into 9 perfectly equal parts (you can use a grid in your viewfinder to make visualizing this easier). This is effectively done with 2 parallel horizontal and 2 parallel vertical lines evenly spaced out. Placing your subjects on these lines or their intersections can create much more drama and interest in your photo, and make it easier to tell the story you’re going for. For example, placing your horizon line on the top or bottom horizontal, or having a race car on the right vertical looking across the frame creates a sense of movement. This can be made even more dramatic by adding some blur in the shot.

Leading lines refers to a technique where the viewer’s attention is drawn, through use of strategically placed lines, to the main subject of the image. For example, a road or racetrack starting in the bottom right corner leading to the upper left intersecting lines, where your subject ultimately lies, drawing the eye across the whole image.

Fill the frame: Put simply, filling the frame refers to using the subject to fill the majority or the entirety of your image, or generally using up a lot of space with the subject. For example, taking up the entire right 2/3rds of the image with the rear end of a car and leaving the other 1/3rd empty space to be taken up by a background.

Framing: Framing refers to the use of elements of your image to create a “frame” around your main subject. For example, as in the attached image, using a chain link fence to capture your main subject - in this case, motorcycle racers.

Simplify: This is exactly what it sounds like. Reduce a composition to only the most essential elements that support the overall image. This helps avoid distraction. As in the attached image, a garbage pail right in front of the car, or a telephone pole coming right out of its roof, should be removed or reduced in order to maintain the vehicle as the centre of focus.

Don’t cut off limbs: As with simplifying, this is exactly what it sounds like. Don’t cut off limbs of people or animals in your image. For example, a motorcycle rider with a hand in the air celebrating victory should not be cropped down to the wrist, as you can’t see the hand and the big “1” they’re holding up with sheer joy and massive amounts of pride. Cutting off limbs can reduce the story in your image – which reduces the lasting quality of it.

Watch the background intently: Again, this is just what it sounds like. Check the background of your image for anything out of place, distracting or just plain wrong for the image. For example (no attached image for this one), a shot of the new Corvette Stingray rounding a corner on the racetrack is a beauty shot, but if in the background there is a person taking a poop in the woods, as funny as this would be it, this would distract from the main subject - the beautiful new Vette’.

Symmetry/patterns, also known as symmetrical balance (or formal balance), is having two or more identical or very similar elements of your image repeating (i.e. a vehicle on water or a very reflective surface and having the entirety of its reflection in frame.)

Depth of field is, simply put, the zone of sharpness that will appear in focus in nearly every image. There lies a zone, most typically, in front and behind the main subject (or area of focus) that will be blurry, the quicker it gets blurry the shallower the depth of field and vice versa. For example, a car on the bottom right intersecting lines that progressively blurs as you get towards the upper left corner will sharpen the focus on the vehicle.

Now, please, get out there and play around with these rules, heck break them if you want, and show me some of what you come up with - I’d love to see your shots! Like you, I’m constantly learning these rules and improving through my failures and shared knowledge imparted from long time amazing, experienced photographers.

As a little bonus I wanted to give a couple tips on pan shots and how to improve yours. First off, if available, set up your auto focus on your camera to its quickest, constant setting. As for settings, a nice baseline to get some movement in the wheels, as well as blur the background while having your subject in focus, would be ISO 100- 320 (ideally 100) F11, shutter speed 1/100th. For some more blur and a heck of a lot more poor photos you’ll have to delete, bump that shutter down to something like 1/20th. Some other integral parts to a successful pan shot is having good footing, a tri or monopod, practice and patience. The good foot placement comes in handy when a bike flies past at 300 km/h and you basically break your neck trying to capture it in frame.

Shoot as much as possible. If you want any additional help or a friend to go shooting with, contact me by email at ​ or text/call at (289)385-3850. Stay tuned as I’ve got something special cooking for next week.

Your friend, in happiness,

Richard Hornby.