“Odd” Photos

There are a lot of numbers that come into play with photography
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There are a lot of numbers that come into play with photography. Shutter speeds, f-stops, focal lengths of lenses, digital sensor multiplying factors, and fill flash ratios are some of the more obvious ones. One number that doesn't often pop into photographers' minds is the number of subjects in a photo. The importance behind this deals with composition. There's a compositional guideline that states—when including an even number of similar subjects, it is more difficult to create a successful composition than when an odd number of subjects appear. The obvious even number that comes to mind is two. Unless it's people, when two subjects are the primary elements in a photo, they tend to compete for attention. When the number of subjects is odd, the eye flows from one to the next rather than back and forth. This guideline dates back to the early painters and still stands today. Not that it's written in stone, but more often than not, it works.

With the example of two subjects, when one is on the left side of the frame and the other on the right, the eye bounces from one to the other and psychologically creates tension as to which one is the primary subject. The same holds true for subjects that are at the top and bottom of the frame. The exception is when you photograph two people in that it's natural to photograph couples, parent and child, a bride and groom, etc. With an odd number of subjects, there's a rhythm or pattern created by the subjects and the eye flows from one to the next and often winds up returning to the initial one that caught the viewer's eye. Getting down to basics, the simple odd number of subjects to photograph is one. Three creates a nice repetition. Five subjects create a pattern, as do seven and nine. Once you get past nine main elements, the importance of the number declines.

The three images that illustrate this article all have an odd number of subjects. In the first photo of a single pronghorn, imagine if there was another similar subject in the frame. Your eye would go from one to the other and you'd wonder which is the main one. For images with a single subject, use the rule of thirds to avoid placing it in the center of the frame. In the image of the three mountain goat kids, their interaction and connectivity allows the viewer to easily transition from either the top one down or the bottom one up. The eye flows to all three, whereas if there were just two, the eye would switch back and forth and try to select which one may be the prime subject. In the silhouette of the cranes at sunset, it becomes evident that with more subjects, the Odd number becomes less critical. There are in fact seven birds, but if there were an eighth, depending on its placement, it may have a small impact on the success of the photo. Keep in mind that the more subjects there are in the image, it's essential to avoid mergers. If mergers did occur wherein the wings of one touched the body of another, the image would fall short.

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