ALTHOUGH we are concerned in this chapter entirely with what are generally spoken of as the "laws" of composition, we must warn the reader, at the very beginning, against the danger of overestimating their importance. A short time ago, at the conclusion of an address upon this subject, the President of a photographic society dolefully declared that in future he should be positively afraid to take a photo for fear of breaking the "laws" we had referred to.

Let us say, then, emphatically, that no work of art can be produced in blind obedience to law, however good such laws may be. "Laws were made for slaves." If, after much practice and many honourable failures, you do not come to know what to do instinctively, without thinking about any laws, you might as well turn your attention to some other subject better suited to your natural abilities or, at any rate, pursue photography for purposes other than pictorial. Besides, many if not all the laws of composition are being constantly broken with complete success, while pictures made in abject fear of the rules always look it - trammelled, conventional, made-up.

Mr. Craig Annan's picture, "The Waterfall," is a capital case in point Astonishingly beautiful, it treats all the rules with perfect contempt. Its qualities wholly depend upon Mr. Annan's powers of perception and taste. Very few artists, with their almost unlimited opportunities of rearranging the subject, could have expressed so much sheer loveli-

In Fig. 28 one of these lines (the upright one) is repeated. All the lines are the same length and upright. They are at equal distances from one another and that distance is equal to the length of the lines. That is the. simplest possible form of repetition. There is order, if nothing else.

The Laws Of Pictorial Composition Photography 40

Fig. 28.


But the eye quickly tires. It always begins by associating like things; then it looks for differences. It desires variety as well as repetition. In Fig. 29 the want is somewhat satisfied. There is just as much repetition as before, but in addition we have an alternation of long and short lines, and the distance between the lines is different from the length of either. Without any return to disorder an increase of interest has been created.

Variety Photography 41

Fig. 29.


In its turn this, too, fails to satisfy. It is weak and inconclusive. Fig. 30 does something to remove that impression. Variety is intensified into contrast. The differences are more decided. With no loss of association or interest there is a gain in strength.

Contrast Photography 42

Fig. 30.


Once more interest is short-lived. The pattern lacks purpose. It might go on for ever without any object. So Fig. 31 brings into the composition the great unifying principle, Concentration:

Concentration Photography 43

Fig. 31.

All the lines now converge, so that, if produced, they would meet at one point. That is their purpose - to direct the eye to a point of rest.

The Laws Applied

Now to apply these principles to landscape. The accompanying sketches illustrate what we mean. Fig. 32 is about as helpless and unpicturesque as could well be imagined. The four "lines" - viz. the contour of the hill, the path across the field, the trunk of the tree, and its shadow on the grass, all go in different directions. The result is complete confusion. The eye cannot rest anywhere, because it is being constantly dragged away from any one part to nowhere in particular by one or another of these disconnected lines.

The Laws Applied Photography 44

Fig. 32.

If nothing else can be said for it, Fig. 33 contains some evidences of order. The same kind of tree is repeated, and their direction (upright) is also similar, thus repeating the upright sides of the picture. The distant parts of the landscape now consist of more or less horizontal lines, repeating top and bottom of the picture : there are two almost parallel paths, while the outlines of the shadows have a good deal of similarity. The differences in the sizes of the trees mean the inclusion of some variety. Hut the improvement of Fig. 33 over Fig. 32 is almost entirely due to repetition. Still, the result is decidedly dull.

The Laws Applied Photography 45

Fig. 33.

Fig. 34 is undoubtedly better. There is a deal of difference in the shape as well as the size of the trees. The principal one is not so near the middle of the picture. The horizon has been lowered, so that the two parts of the picture which it divides are less equal. The background has been lowered to give a greater effect of distance. All this, together with the introduction of several and varied clouds, give a distinct effect of interest, movement, and vivacity. Such is the influence of variety when allied to repetition.

The Laws Applied Photography 46

Fig. 34.

In Fig. 35 everything is sacrificed to obtain the most powerful effect of contrast. The principal tree has been made much larger, and, together with the strip of dark foreground, stands out in bold relief against the rest of the picture, which has been made relatively small and faint. The horizon has been lowered still more to give most positive difference between the size of sky and ground, and to make the tree look higher and more imposing. Undoubtedly the effect is striking, but the game is given away - all the means by which the result is achieved are evident at a single glance. The picture has only one thing to say, and says it with a shout.

Fig. 36 combines all the foregoing principles without making any one of them unduly prominent, and is clearly superior to any of the other sketches. To use a phrase common among artists, it has been "pulled together." Everywhere there is a sense of arrangement without it being too obvious. The large tree is still the most prominent feature at the first glance, but the real centre of attraction is the little group consisting of a sunlit cottage and trees enclosed by light clouds. To this part all the lines of the picture are directed - in particular the paths, the wedge-shaped mass of trees on the left, and a branch near the top of the large tree. The great change which has been brought about is due to concentration.