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Exercise 3.1: Illustrating Visual Space

This exercise involved creating interesting compositions and following on from my thoughts after my feedback for part 2, I wanted to be more playful with how I arrange my elements across a page, rather than my usual routine of grouping everything together neatly in the centre.

I was asked to find images of a tree, a building and a child walking or running using my own images or ones from online. I prefer to use my own photographs as references when I can, so I took a new photo of a leafless winter tree from near my home. For my choice of building, I dug through my collection to find an image I took a few years ago of Croxton Abbey. This ruined section of 12th century architecture stuck out to me as a slightly more unique shape to explore than a standard modern box house or skyscraper.

While looking through old family photos, I tried to find a clear picture of myself running or walking around in my early years, but I was surprised to find mainly carefully posed images where I was standing still looking at the camera. Action shots seem generally uncommon in my family albums, probably to make sure we didn't waste too much film before a holiday or event was over. As an alternative, I used Pixabay to find an image of a girl running or dancing that I could include in my work instead.

Next, I needed to prepare these images at different sizes to be arranged in a square format. In photoshop, I removed most of the backgrounds from each of the three images and resized them as duplicates to give me a wider selection of choices when printing them as black and white cut-outs.

Arranging my compositions using pre-made selections of different sized elements.

Although I would normally work on compositions in photoshop, using printouts this way made it much faster for me to trial my ideas. After moving elements around the page to find something that I liked, I tacked down the images into position and scanned each of them in, then swapping and rearranging different sized elements on the same piece of paper in a process that I repeated until I had formed a dozen different compositions. Some of these images used duplicates, such as multiple trees to add addition references for distance in the same frame.

When making my choices, I made efforts to stay away from my usual habits by venturing into placing elements that overlapped and pushed out of the frame. I avoided intentionally creating too much symmetry and sometimes I would drop a random handful of cut-outs onto the page to looking at how they naturally fell as inspiration. Towards the end of my experiments, I tried out a few surreal and "impossible" views where some of my objects would appear floating.

The 12 scanned compositions.

With a good number of studies now ready to analyse, the final stage of the exercise asked me to answer these following questions:


How does a sense of the image and its meaning change when the figure is smaller than the other elements?

Smaller elements close to the horizon line such as in compositions 6 can send them into the background, bringing the larger figure below the tree into the foreground.

The relative size of between the elements can also change the context of how the girl is interacting with her environment. In composition 8, she appears gigantic as she walks along the same plane as the smaller building and trees, whereas in composition 9 she looks more accurately sized proportionate to the building and its archways as she walks on top of the wall.

If the elements are at differing angles to each other and at an angle to the frame, what dynamic is suggested?

Skewing the angles of individual objects can simulate the movement of that element within the frame. In composition 9 all the elements are aligned vertically except for two; The horizon that forms a hill like structure for the image and the girl who looks to be rolling down the hill. In extreme cases having many elements at an angle can at times evoke a sense of chaos and disorder as seen in compositions 11 and 12 as objects seem to tumble and fly around the frame.

Having an unlevel horizon line where the objects are still vertically aligned to it can also suggest that the viewer is instead looking at a scene from an angled perspective themselves, as in composition 3. In photography and cinematography, this is often referred to as a Dutch Angle when the perspective of the viewer is tilted off balance.

If all the elements are completely horizontal and vertical in relation to the frame what dynamic is suggested? What is your opinion about this image and what sensation does it communicate?

These types of arrangements both communicate a sense of order and although I tried to avoid too much relative symmetry in my compositions when trying to break my usual habits, you can still see some of this in 5 where the vertical stack of objects suggests a clear path for the eye to follow as it follows the girls as she moves towards the tree and the building in front of her on the horizon. In picture 6 I placed the girl and the building either side of the tree to create some visual balance, but with the girl below the horizon line to suggest that she is much closer to the tree than the building.

Which is your favourite composition? Explain why it is the most successful.

Although I have a enjoyed making many of these, composition 4 is my favourite. Out of all of the others, I feel this one most naturally tells a story using a sense of scale and distance between the elements that reads easily at a glance. I see the girl in the foreground to be on a journey to the abbey along a path between the crop of trees. The space in the bottom right could include further elements, but I like how it creates some free space to contrast the crowdedness of the objects as they move into the distance. The free space could also make room for a title if this was a children's book cover.


I found this exercise to have a lot more depth than I first thought it would when I started. It was entertaining to play with the relationships between objects in ways that I don't usually think of when composing an image. As powerful as digital composition can be, I can see now that aligning elements using guides and symmetry isn't always the best way to go and I should freely explore my arrangements more often as I have enjoyed doing here.

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