The Tuesday Composition: Working your Borders

The edges of your image (the borders, not the edges within your image), play several important roles in composition.

Puffin and Distraction, Iceland
Puffin and Distraction. Iceland. Don't do this! (Or at least, crop the distracting bit of bird, right.)

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First, it’s easy for distractions along the border of an image to pull the eye “out’ of the image, and thus, they are usually undesirable. Highlights near the edges can be a particular problem. Edge distractions are best noticed and corrected for in-camera. One of the firm habits I have when doing landscape photography is taking a moment before shooting to glance around the edges of a photograph looking for distractions. If I find them, often only a very minor adjustment in camera angle or position is necessary to move the distractions off-stage.

Highlights aren’t the only sort of distraction you may run into. Objects which approach, but don’t quite reach the edge, or that just kiss the edge of the photograph, are just as distracting and should usually be avoided where possible. Yet another type of distraction I often see is the “partial object”–such as an unconnected branch from a tree that’s otherwise outside the frame. One of the many reasons to predominantly work with tripods is that it gives you time to critically look at your image framing for distractions like these.

Relics, Carrizo Plain National Monument, California
Relics. Carrizo Plain National Monument, California. There's modest burn-in of the edges here. Notice how the leading line from the bottom-right corner into the center of the picture, adds rather than distracts.

While various sorts of lines in an image can attract and direct our attention, lines coming in from the sides, or particularly the corners of a photograph are often not distracting at all, instead, they can often be quite effective. By giving the eye a path to follow along from the edge of a photograph into the center, these edges can pull the eye towards the center rather than away from it. Additionally, such lines can help create a sense of perspective and depth.

One common strategy for minimizing this sort of distraction (and I mentioned this a couple weeks back) is edge-burning. Edge-burning refers to the darkening of the image along it’s borders. This technique is ubiquitous, Ansel Adams sums up better than I can:

My experience indicates that nearly all photographs require some burning of the edges. The edge-burning must not be overdone, however, the viewer should not be conscious of it. –::amazon(“0821221876″,”The Print”)::, p.116.

Seaweed at Sunset, Sonoma County Coast, California
Seaweed at Sunset. Sonoma County Coast, California. Notice the lack of distractions around the edges. There's also a modest burn-in of the edges here.

A quick way of bringing a quick edge-burn into your images is to use the vignetting adjustment in your raw processing software. While these controls were designed to reduce lens-induced edge-darkening in images, most of them today will let you optionally darken the image instead of lightening them. Because these adjustments are so quick, it’s easy, too easy, to see them immediately after having made them. So, after making a vignetting correction, turn your head away for a moment and then look back to get a better sense of whether or not typical viewer would notice.

As you begin to become more aware of edges and corners in your photographs, your camera may be recording more than it’s showing you through the optical viewfinder. (Your EVF will be fine.)

Only the highest-end DSLRs tend to feature “100% viewfinders”, most DSLR viewfinders show closer to 90-95% of the captured image. No biggie, if an edge distraction sneaks by you because of this it will be easy to crop out in post-processing or when you mat the image for framing. Because your mats will often overlap at least a fraction of an inch of your image on all sides, you may occasionally need to leave a little more room around important objects in your photographs than you would otherwise.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. very helpful material 🙂 i didn’t think about highlights before

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