PARIS--cartier bresson
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looking at images in a new way…

In my ongoing attempt to make money telling stories, I find that the first story I have to complete is my own. In other words, I have to figure out what I am about, what makes me tick–not very different from what I have to do when I’m making up stories with fictional characters. I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, what is the end of my story, or this chapter of it, at least? The fact that I cannot quite see where I’m heading is probably part of the problem I’m facing. Again, if you compare it to the act of writing fiction, no character can fully come to life if she is not fully formed. At least when it comes to career, I am far from fully formed.

But I persevere.

This past week, I’ve started writing fiction again, which is a good thing. Got a draft of a story done, and this weekend, I’ll start writing the second episode of a web series I will produce and shoot in March.  Because I will be shooting, I have been looking at a lot of images for inspiration and for tutelage. In fact, I’ve been trying to train my eye to look at images and figure out what I like and why. I’m doing this as I work through Ted Forbes‘ amazing podcast, The Art of Photography. Each show, he goes over a different aspect of the creation of images, and each week, I learn something.

Look at this picture, for instance: Cartier bresson's image of priests in Rome

It’s by Henri Cartier Bresson, who I was familiar with and whose images I love. But I don’t know if I ever knew why his images worked on a visual level. Now, after Ted Forbes’ podcast, I can see a couple things happening here that I did not realize before. The first is that this photo keeps to the Rule of Thirds, which sounds fancy, except that it describes what it is. If you look at a picture and divide it in thirds across and up and down, then the Rule of Thirds says that a point of interest should be close or on one of the intersections of these grid lines, which in this case is true with each of the groups of priests.

More interesting still, this pic also obeys the Rule of Odds. How many people do you see here? A ton, right? But if you group them, how many groups are there? You might think two, but look more closely. There are three groups. The old lady in the middle, she is a group of one. The picture divides into three groups. And for some reason, odd numbers are pleasing to the eye.

Now, I know you might be wondering if this isn’t just a bit too much overthinking. To which I would respond that if you have been reading me, then you should know better than to think you will get anything short of overthinking on this blog. That said, I don’t think this stuff is mental masturbation, either, which I can be guilty of, admittedly. I do think that these are subtle ideas about composition that have come down through the ages, and though there are probably as many wondrous images that do not follow these patterns as there are images that do, I would say that it’s a good idea for someone who is trying to learn how to tell stories in a visual vocabulary to at least know of them.

Something to think about as you drink your coffee this fine weekend.  Happy Saturday, all.

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