This section is from the book "Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography", by J. B. Schriever. Also available from Amazon: Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography.
339. Following on this question of lines comes the question of the manner in which the subject should be presented. Every picture should have a story telling quality. Story telling pictures have long been decried by modern art critics, but the times are changing.
340. In a recent interview in Paris, Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke, of the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts, of New York City, was reported to have expressed the following sentiment: "They talk about tone pictures, which are all technique and nothing else. But what's the use of a picture if it does not tell a story or convey an impression? The painted picture, in order to show off technique, is on a par with making a chair which cannot be sat in. Neither serves a purpose, except it be to express the soul of the artist or cabinet-maker." There is much of truth in this sentiment, and the time has come for artists to get back to nature and common sense and tell us stories in their pictures that will yield present enjoyment.
341. American artists have been perfecting themselves in the rudiments of art. Americans, especially, are showing, not only here but in foreign schools, an inclination in this direction. They have vigor and character, while much foreign art, especially in France, is barren of originality.
342. Whistler was probably the first to declare himself against story telling pictures, but today the trend of art in picture making is decidedly in the opposite direction. Artists in the past, by their attitude in their works, have too often aided the notion that art is exclusive and not for the poor or the lowly.
343. Ruskin defines composition as "the help of everything in the picture by everything else." The effect of the whole in any picture will not be pleasing unless the elements that make up the picture are well composed. For this reason, the object selected, besides being beautiful in form, should be pleasing in association. If the picture is a group some thought must be given to the arrangement of the individual items. If arranged one way the group may be very pleasing, if arranged the other it may not be so pleasing. So, in studying the arrangement of any group, consider first the place of the principal object; second, the place of the subordinate objects; third, the figure made by the group; fourth. variety; fifth, repose; and sixth, unity of the group space relations between the objects. Both variety and repose contribute to the unity, but where unity is lacking, repose is always lacking too.
344. Placing one object farther back than another suggests distance in a picture, which is always pleasing, as it brings with it the idea of freedom and atmosphere. If one of the objects is placed so that its leading lines tend from you, it will also aid in producing the effect of distance. In fine, consider the general space relations with a view to enclosing the group in the picture so that it will hold well together.
345. Placing the objects in a picture is always a problem. Never place the principal object centrally in the picture. Do not place the other objects in a straight line with the principal object. The rendering of a group of objects, that is, the quality and variety of the lines used, should be such as to suggest the leading idea of the group. The addition of a background will often give a foreground, middle distance and background, which adds very materially to the construction of the picture and lends it importance. In addition to all this, there is also the question of light and shade, which includes the study of light and shade effects. These may be expressed by lines, varying according to the degree of shade and shadow in the picture. Examine the picture: The part toward light is of a different tone from the part away from the light. Thus, we have light on the part towards the light, shade on the part away from the light, and the shadow cast by the object. Three distinct conditions of light.
346. By half closing the eyes and looking carefully at the shadow on the subject, you will see what artists call the breadth of light and the breadth of shade in the picture - that is, the light side as a whole and the dark side as a whole. The shades and shadows will be different for each person viewing it, and each one must study this for himself. Note the relative tones of the lights and shades and the shadows cast; what is lightest, what is darkest, and what is the middle tone between these two extremes?
347. In taking up this question of the use of light and shade in picture making, it is interesting to note how the old masters have handled this subject. It is said that Rembrandt in his scheme of composition took a lens and cast the light through the lens upon the wall obliquely, so that the greatest light came out on the left hand of his picture and the greatest gray came on the right. Now, this will be the focus of the light, and the tail of the focus will come on the other side in the gray shadow. If you will turn this position up side down, you will see that it suggests the form of Rembrandt's best composition, viz., opposing the greatest light to the greatest dark, graduating towards the edges. It was his custom to pose a dark, swarthy head, or face, against a white cap and underneath. Then the highlight of the face graduated it as it came down, until it got off the line.
348. Another form that he used was to break the picture diagonally so that it made all one side dark, letting in light in some places, dark in others. These Holland painters posed the very darkest figures to the light in the center of their composition, and then graduated this shadow toward the edge. Thus they concentrated the interest by making the dark edge and the light edge meet. The eye is directed only to this point. They claimed that you look into the center of a picture at once. They said when you opened your eye that it naturally sought the floor line or the ceiling and then swung up onto the wall where the picture hung. If that be true, then the eye travels in a curve, or path, made for it by the photographer.