How-To: Tilted Compositions

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#1 FiveRings on 9 years ago

[U]How-To: Tilted Compositions[/U]

I will preface this write-up as I do a lot of other things: I am not a professional. I have been shooting for a relatively short amount of time. I do however, do a lot of research and learning. If you find this tutorial useful and would like to see me write more, please rate the thread using the "Rate Thread" option in the upper right. If you think this article is useless, please leave a comment as to why and how it could be better. All comments and civil discussions are welcomed!

[U]Tilted Compositions[/U]

This is something that I think a lot of photographers do without knowing why they do it. It's been a pet peeve of mine so I wanted to dig into it a bit more. Every time I see it done, it makes me tilt my head so I can see the picture normally. It's also a sign of a lazy photographer. If you're not actively looking for the best angles, moving around your subject, then you're just being lazy. Tilting the camera 30 degrees does not magically make a photograph better. You have to understand what it is about a tilted composition that makes it work.

[U]When it doesn't work:[/U]

When there is a horizon - If there is a horizon line in your shot, it should be straight. Pictures taken at the beach with the ocean in the background should always be straight. If there is a skyline or tall building, it should be straightened.
[B]
When there is a distinct horizontal or vertical object[/B] - Again, shots with tall buildings should generally be aligned so the building is straight, even if there is no horizon line. Shots with tall trees or walls and buildings should usually be corrected.

[U]When it does work[/U]

When there is no horizon or distinct up/down - Overhead shots come to mind. If there is no horizon line, there is nothing to correct for. If there is no straight vertical object, there is nothing to demarcate to the viewer that there is a vertical alignment.

When there are other alignments in the composition that follow the vertical or horizontal - This is difficult to explain so I'll show you a picture. [url=http://neilvn.com/tangents/images/Marie_205-colour_.jpg]THIS IMAGE[/url] works because of the alignment of the subjects main features. While there are still distinct vertical features, the focus of the image follows the left 1/3 vertical line (rule of thirds) and keeps the image balanced so that your subject doesn't just look like they're about to fall over.

Rules of composition should always be considered guidelines and not hard coded rules that you are forced to follow. There will always be exceptions to these rules and images that work despite not following them. It is art. It is subjective. But if you keep these things in mind when composing your shot, you'll be much better for it. If you have any other questions, feel free to send me a PM as well.

Thanks for your time!

#2 Surfsama on 9 years ago

#3 Jim3535 on 9 years ago

I'm not so sure it's cut and dry that it's lazy to tilt the camera. Sure, it can be a gimmick that some use on just about every image. However, it can also be used to good effect.

Angled lines tend to create a sense of energy and or motion in an image. Often, tilting the camera in an action type shot can enhance this feeling.

This is one example of a shot with plenty of horizontal and vertical lines; yet, for me, the tilt makes the shot:
[url]http://www.flickr.com/photos/hexlord/2359092391/[/url]

Hexlord has tons of other examples of very tasteful tilted shots. In fact, he inspired me to experiment with tilts whereas I had always tried to shoot level before.

I have noticed that tilts often work when:
[LIST]
[*]it gives the subject more room to 'look into the frame'
[*]The subject fits better in the frame
[*]close-ups with non-distinct backgrounds
[*]You want to do action shots
[/LIST]

That's still no guarantee, though. Good composition is often tricky; and there's no easy button.

Disclaimer: I don't pretend to be any kind of zen-master when it comes to photography or composition.

#4 FiveRings on 9 years ago

Thanks for the feedback so far.

I should clarify that those aren't the ONLY situations where a tilted composition works or doesn't work. It's more of a basic guideline and there are many more situations where it applies or not.

I do stand by the fact that it's the mark of a lazy photographer. I don't think you're looking hard enough for the shot if all you did from the previous shot is tilt the camera without thinking about what the different elements in the image do when they're tilted.

I should also clarify that what "works" for a tilted composition should be read as "does the tilt add anything to the image". Like Jim said, if you reframe an image based on the tilt, it may improve the image. In general, I say it's lazy because the vast majority of photographers don't consider these things when they tilt. They tilt because they've seen it done somewhere and it look good at the time, without looking specifically why the tilt was done. So if you compare the same shot with and without the tilt, you have to stop and ask yourself what does the tilted image add? And I don't think a lot of photographers do this.

[QUOTE]Good composition is often tricky; and there's no easy button.[/QUOTE]
Indeed, but there are things that generally work and things that don't.

#5 TykeJack on 9 years ago

[QUOTE=FiveRings;3434165]
When there are other alignments in the composition that follow the vertical or horizontal - This is difficult to explain so I'll show you a picture. [url=http://neilvn.com/tangents/images/Marie_205-colour_.jpg]THIS IMAGE[/url] works because of the alignment of the subjects main features. While there are still distinct vertical features, the focus of the image follows the left 1/3 vertical line (rule of thirds) and keeps the image balanced so that your subject doesn't just look like they're about to fall over.[/QUOTE]

The photo you linked to as an example of a "good" tilt, is not following the rule of thirds, it is boresighted (vernacular). Boresighting is when you place the subject in the center of the photograph. The subject in that picture is the woman, and if you look at the margins from the subject to the edge of the image, you'll see that the left and the right are about equal and you'll see that the top and the bottom are equal. Boresighting breaks the rule of thirds, but can be fine if you want to put emphasis just on the subject. Generally the rule of thirds helps create a balance between the subject and the environment they are in. Boresighting takes away focus from the environment and basically puts it all on the subject.

I also agree with a lot of the feedback you've received so far. You can't say if an image is just being tilted for the sake of the photographer being lazy or if the photographer actually has some meaning behind it. I doubt most of the photos on this site have any meaning behind the composition and are just for the sake of showing the costume. Regardless, I don't make it my concern to track down every person who's composition I question and find out if they have meaning behind it or if they don't, and I doubt you do that either. Therefore, why have any opinion on whether a photo is tilted or not at all, since you'll never know the original intention until you speak to the photographer?

If you want to have some fun, you can pick any tilted pictures from my collection on this site and I'll tell you exactly what the tilt brings to the photo. However, in exchange for every one you question, I get to pick a photo from your collection and ask you about the meaning behind composition. We can do it in pms if you'd prefer as well.

#6 Surfsama on 9 years ago

[QUOTE=TykeJack;3435171]If you want to have some fun, you can pick any tilted pictures from my collection on this site and I'll tell you exactly what the tilt brings to the photo. However, in exchange for every one you question, I get to pick a photo from your collection and ask you about the meaning behind composition. We can do it in pms if you'd prefer as well.[/QUOTE]
Good idea since we get past the "tilt" and into the artistic and mechanics of the shot.

#7 FiveRings on 9 years ago

[QUOTE=TykeJack;3435171]The photo you linked to as an example of a "good" tilt, is not following the rule of thirds, it is boresighted (vernacular). Boresighting is when you place the subject in the center of the photograph. The subject in that picture is the woman, and if you look at the margins from the subject to the edge of the image, you'll see that the left and the right are about equal and you'll see that the top and the bottom are equal. Boresighting breaks the rule of thirds, but can be fine if you want to put emphasis just on the subject. Generally the rule of thirds helps create a balance between the subject and the environment they are in. Boresighting takes away focus from the environment and basically puts it all on the subject.[/QUOTE]
[url]http://fiverings.net/images/third.png[/url]

While the mass of her dress is mostly centered, you can see with this overlay that the focal points fall along the left third line. Her face, which is the primary focal point, falls at the top left intersect. The image overall follows the rule of thirds very well. One could also say that the tilt is what actually makes it fit the rule of thirds.
[QUOTE=TykeJack;3435171]I also agree with a lot of the feedback you've received so far. You can't say if an image is just being tilted for the sake of the photographer being lazy or if the photographer actually has some meaning behind it. I doubt most of the photos on this site have any meaning behind the composition and are just for the sake of showing the costume. Regardless, I don't make it my concern to track down every person who's composition I question and find out if they have meaning behind it or if they don't, and I doubt you do that either. Therefore, why have any opinion on whether a photo is tilted or not at all, since you'll never know the original intention until you speak to the photographer?[/QUOTE]You are correct in that most of the photos on this site are for the showing of the costume and not meant as examples of great composition. But that only serves to support my theory that people don't think why they're tilting. I'm more looking at the photos shown in the photoshoots section which should be better examples of photographic composition and artistry. There are many tilted photos in which the tilt simply doesn't add anything to the image.
[QUOTE=TykeJack;3435171]If you want to have some fun, you can pick any tilted pictures from my collection on this site and I'll tell you exactly what the tilt brings to the photo. However, in exchange for every one you question, I get to pick a photo from your collection and ask you about the meaning behind composition. We can do it in pms if you'd prefer as well.[/QUOTE]I don't feel that doing this will add anything to the conversation. You are absolutely welcome to pick any photos in my gallery and PM me about it, but I won't be doing the same. Likewise, Surfsama.

#8 brucer007 on 9 years ago

It is pointless to second-guess what was or wasn’t going on in a photographer’s mind when a photo was taken titled. Classifying it as “laziness” is over-simplifying the situation. Sometimes it could be done with intent, or by accident. Not all photographers have software to correct a photo that was tilted in the heat of the moment. Also, it does not always work as well as it was thought, when the photo was taken. It could be ignorance, or a just difference of opinion.

As you called it a “pet peeve, it is your personal feeling you get, which does not make it wrong for others to tilt their photos to your dissatisfaction.

I think tilted photos can add drama , conflict, or energy to an action scene. Diagonal lines can be quite an artistic treat from the horizontal and vertical lines. Low angles, looking upwards can often be a great opportunity for tilting.

I have many examples of photos which I think look better because I chose to tilt.
You be the judge:

Al Azif [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2134221/[/url]
Stair Fall [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2363306/[/url]
Hugue [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2277292/[/url]
Fight [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2346981/[/url]
Hat/Parasol [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/1854807/[/url]
Felicia [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2126237/[/url]
Transformer [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2316930/[/url]

#9 Access on 9 years ago

I think the folly here is the people who believe that there are such things as rules or standards for taking photos. The modern photographer can afford to experiment, at no expense whatsoever: it costs him no more to take five shots and throw away four than to take a single shot. There's so much downtime at photoshoots that experimentation doesn't really hurt anything. With so many photographers out there, and plenty of good ones too, it's important to be able to differentiate oneself from 'the pack'. Whether it's an off-handed candid, a unique focus, or an experimental shot that just happened to work right. People who over-think things or try to always stay within the rules, it ends up destroying the spontaneity of photography.

#10 oflight on 9 years ago

on a side note,
tilting can also be used to express a sense of movement/motion to the viewer. Similar to what you see with photo journalism. I see nothing wrong with tilting with horizon lines.

#11 TykeJack on 9 years ago

[QUOTE=FiveRings;3436362]
[url]http://fiverings.net/images/third.png[/url]

While the mass of her dress is mostly centered, you can see with this overlay that the focal points fall along the left third line. Her face, which is the primary focal point, falls at the top left intersect. The image overall follows the rule of thirds very well. One could also say that the tilt is what actually makes it fit the rule of thirds.[/QUOTE]

Though naturally we look at the face of a person when they are in a photograph, the subject of this photo is clearly the woman, and the woman is centered in the photo. If the camera was zoomed in more on her face and a large part of her body was cropped out of the image, then you'd have an argument that the subject is the face. However, this image purposefully shows the entire dress of the woman, and next to her is a bouquet of flowers. This combination of a woman, white extravagant dress, and flowers implies that this is a bride on her wedding day. Her face alone could not express this to the viewer, which is why it is not the subject. Her whole person is the subject and her person is not aligned using the rule of thirds. An easy way to test the rule of thirds is to draw a rectangle around the subject and see if it intersects the rule of thirds. In this image, she does not.

The rule of thirds, itself, is meaning less to a photo. What's more important is what the alignment of the subject implies about the photo taken. This is why composition is the single most important part of any photograph in my opinion. Focus, lighting, and other crap like that are just technical aspects of a photo, but composition is the only part that is subjective because it infers meaning. Tilting a camera just to achieve the rule of thirds (which by itself is meaningless) means that the point of tilting the camera is meaningless as well. Here are two pictures, both following the rule of thirds, both of the same woman running on a beach, but both have completely different meanings.

[url]http://photoinf.com/General/KODAK/photoProgramCompBig28.jpg[/url]

This image shows a woman running in the bottom right part of the image which contrast to the empty beach in the top left. This placement implies that the woman is running away from something, leaving something behind her like her past or history, is approaching the end of her journey, or is trying to escape. All of these meanings are similar and are derived based on the subjects placement.

[url]http://usera.imagecave.com/tykejack/runner.jpg[/url]

This same image shows the woman running in the top left with the empty beach contrasting her in the bottom right. This implies that the woman is starting a journey, working her way to some goal or prospective future, is looking forward to something that has yet to come, or that she is running towards something. This image has a completely opposite implication from the previous one.

Sometimes weighting an image doesn't have to have meaning but can just be to ground a subject with their environment. You might left align a person if you wanted to contrast that with their environment on the right. The image you linked to does not place any focus on the environment because the environment is evenly displayed on all sides of the subject. This is because she is centered and boresighted. On another note, generally you left or right align something in landscape orientation because it puts a greater emphasis on the contrast of left and right. The only time it is effective in portrait orientation is when you have a tall (or made to be tall) object like a skyscraper.

Tilting itself usually nullifies the rule of thirds because tilting is its own technique. Just like the rule of thirds helps to allow the photographer to infer one thing, tilting can be used to infer something else. Lets look at the geometry of it. In a 4x6 picture you have one line which is 4 inches and another which is 6 inches and this forms a rectangle. If we were to split the rectangle into 2 triangles, you'd then have a hypotenuse of 7.2 inches which is the longest line in the image. So, if you tilt a camera to place the subject in the foreground of the image (the front couple of inches of the 7.2 hypotenuse) and the background or environment in the latter part of the 7.2 hypotenuse then you'd have a greater exaggeration, and therefore more contrast, between the subject and the environment. Most people simplify this by saying it makes the image look more "dynamic" but it's important to articulate what that dynamic is.

I agree that many people tilt without meaning but many people shoot without meaning as well. Therefore, I see no reason to go after the "tilters".

#12 brucer007 on 9 years ago

I agree with TykeJack. The example of rule of thirds shown by FiveRings is centered, and does not quite follow that rule. Her face and body would have to be centered on the guide-lines Having a face fall near a guiding-line does not make it the same as falling on the line.

I disagree with TykeJack about tilting to achieve the rule of thirds as being meaningless. I say, anything we do to a photo has meaning, both to the one who took it and to those who look at it. Even if a photo is done point-and-shoot, it still shows what was important and what was unimportant to the photographer.

I also don't share TykeJack's opinion about composition being the single most important part of any photograph,...because it infers meaning. Sometimes, composition does convey a significant meaning, but other times it can be lower in importance than other aspects. I would not make a general statement that any one aspect has more meaning in any photograph. Content and context can have great meaning. Body language and facial expressions and location can have significant meaning. Lighting can draw the viewer's eyes toward or away from parts of an image. The colors of light and the location can convey a mood consistant or in oposition of the subject. Using the rule of thirds or choosing not to effect how we see a photo. Tilting or keeping photos straight will also affect the end result. Therefore, it is all meaningful.

#13 Jim3535 on 9 years ago

To be fair, I should add that not rotating photos to the proper orientation before uploading them is being lazy. (eg uploading portrait shots in landscape mode strait off the camera)

#14 brucer007 on 9 years ago

Well Jim, to be fair, it could be laziness, or lack of proper software/knowledge....It was good seeing you at SoCal Gathering!

#15 Vash_Fanatic on 9 years ago

[QUOTE=brucer007;3438080]It is pointless to second-guess what was or wasn’t going on in a photographer’s mind when a photo was taken titled. Classifying it as “laziness” is over-simplifying the situation. Sometimes it could be done with intent, or by accident. Not all photographers have software to correct a photo that was tilted in the heat of the moment. Also, it does not always work as well as it was thought, when the photo was taken. It could be ignorance, or a just difference of opinion.

As you called it a “pet peeve, it is your personal feeling you get, which does not make it wrong for others to tilt their photos to your dissatisfaction.

I think tilted photos can add drama , conflict, or energy to an action scene. Diagonal lines can be quite an artistic treat from the horizontal and vertical lines. Low angles, looking upwards can often be a great opportunity for tilting.

I have many examples of photos which I think look better because I chose to tilt.
You be the judge:

Al Azif [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2134221/[/url]
Stair Fall [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2363306/[/url]
Hugue [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2277292/[/url]
Fight [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2346981/[/url]
Hat/Parasol [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/1854807/[/url]
Felicia [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2126237/[/url]
Transformer [url]http://www.cosplay.com/photo/2316930/[/url][/QUOTE]Tilted photos DO add a dramatic feel and a sense of motion. The examples you showed (are gorgeous by the way) are full of movement, I hardly notice that the photo is titled. It goes with the flow of the action.

This example [URL="http://neilvn.com/tangents/images/Marie_205-colour_.jpg"]http://neilvn.com/tangents/images/Marie_205-colour_.jpg[/URL] is just terrible. It is a sign of laziness to me. The photo still could have looked beautiful if the photographer had kept the photograph straight. Just to make it "look" better in the photographer's opinion, he tilted the camera. I have seen various photos of my cosplays like this and I just don't like it for some reason. Unless of course I am in motion.

PS: Nice to meet you at SoCal Brucer and Jim. Thanks so much for the pictures Jim. :D

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