What really matters: contrast & balance

Bohar snappers, Egypt

Bohar snappers, Egypt

The research for my new book (publishing date May 2014) led me to one firm conclusion about composition, which is that two concepts dominate the theory: contrast & balance.  Contrast extends beyond the traditional well-known ideas of needing light against dark to perceive shapes, and of opposites in the colour spectrum to catch the eye.  For a start, colour unpacks into an incredibly diverse range of ideas, including psychological feelings, complementary and split-complementary matching, monochrome…the list goes on.  But what fascinates me is a third category of contrasts developed by a philosopher within one of the old European art schools.  We see these contrasts instinctively, but often sub-consciously and the list is as long as your imagination.  In the book, I will set out what I have learned about these myriad contrasts and how they apply to the underwater world.

Balance is an even bigger idea that revolves around the size, shape, weight, colour and implied movement of each graphic element in a photographic composition.  It is most easily described as a concept of visual weight and relative positioning, which I deduce to be fundamental building blocks for composition.  I’ll be explaining in the book how to grasp this idea easily and how to exploit it in underwater photography.

After a really interesting day yesterday that included a speaking slot at Dive Show 2013 and a few sessions on the British Society of Underwater Photographers stand, I woke up to a nice surprise that involves contrasts.  I tried a rather extreme (for me) experiment in August by turning a half-decent colour image of schooling bohar snappers into a monochrome image with very high contrast.  In post-production I turned the blue water almost to black and the grey snappers much nearer to white.  It was not entirely to my taste, but it just picked up a ribbon from the Photographic Society of America (one of 6 honourable mentions) in an international photographic art competition that attracted over 5000 entries from 62 countries.  This is far from the best image that I’ve ever made, but I’m heartily encouraged to keep experimenting!

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