Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Photographer's Eye

Hello lovely people.

So regular readers may remember a recent post here about a book that I received from Marc for Christmas, and how I'd like to work through it in order to gain a better understanding of the art and design aspects of photography.

The Photographer's Eye  by Martin Freeman, is not a technical manual of photography. It's more an exploration around the idea of how a digital camera has enabled someone like me to have greater control over the composition of  a photograph, especially in post production. He argues that a knowledge of the principles of design are a necessary tool, and as digital photography has restored control on the final image produced so the ideas and principles of design are more valid.

I'll be honest, it's quite a challenging book for me to read and absorb. I guess I'm not in my comfort zone. But I kind of enjoy the challenge of it too. I don't think that this kind of book is for everyone, and I still enjoy wandering around with my camera in tow and clicking what I see. I don't want to be dictated to or start to worry that what I am doing with my camera is "wrong." And I don't want to intellectualise something I get pleasure from. (I studied D H Lawrence for A Level English Literature. Man we pulled him and his novels apart, and I can't read anything by him purely for pleasure anymore. Such a shame). However there are some interesting ideas and explanation in the book, and I'd like to focus on them in any future posts.

The Image Frame

The first chapter of the book looks at the image frame. When we look through the viewfinder we are already framing the image we wish to create. It plays a dynamic role and encourages you to make a design choice that feels good at the time of taking the picture. Although we can crop a picture later, we still feel the need to compose our photograph right up to the edges of the frame.

Most of our photography is taken horizontally. We have binocular vision which means that we see the world horizontally. When we use our eyes we scan the overall scene and pay attention to local detail. So when looking at a photograph we will scan across and then hone in on points of interest. We tend to take vertical pictures for the standing human form.

I was struck by this idea, because as I have felt more at home behind my camera I am aware that I use the frame as a tool in itself. I often find myself positioning my camera, so that the frame has a stronger influence on the image itself. It can help to draw the eye or give a more balanced view.

I took this picture of Olly looking at horses in a field. It is a vertical shot, as befits the human form. The Buddliea and the bottom bar of the gate is aligned, which gives the photo a sense of geometry.

This photo taken at Marazion has the sea wall aligned with the frame. This gives a sense of dynamism to the image leading the eye along the edge of the frame and drawing the eye into the picture.

This picture taken on Porth Kidney Sands has diagonal movement which creates a tension with the rectangular frame itself. It is the frame that allows the movement to be apparent in the photo.

The author goes on to explain some of the different influences over the image frame. I was particularly interested in the following sections:


I often crop the photographs that I take. I find it a useful editing tool to enhance the overall effect of a photo. The author is wary of cropping, but I like that I can explore different ways of presenting a photo. It allows me to make a photo more abstract, or I can adjust the horizon levels to give a different feel to the overall picture.

I took this picture yesterday while out for a walk at Gwithian. I saw the weather roll in from the sea over St Ives in the distance, and was struck by the light and shade of what I saw and experienced. I pointed, clicked the shutter and went on with my walk.

When I looked at the photo at home, I thought that the bottom of the frame looked kind of scrappy. Honey is just in shot, as is a small depression in the grass. I thought that it detracted from the light and shade element of the picture, and ruined the overall effectiveness. So I used PicMonkey to crop it.

I prefer this photo to the one above. It is a more harmonious picture, and the light and shade is more apparent. It's a personal choice, but I love the movement created by the waves, the marram grass and the changing colour of the horizon.


I quite often intuitively 'place' my subject within the image frame. I take so many photos of stuff - gates, front doors, plants, rocks, and so on. The author argues that placing the subject in anywhere but a natural position needs a reason. I'm not sure that I ever consciously thought about placement, but it does make sense. The success of  my photo depends upon whether there is some purpose behind it.

This photograph was taken in 2012. It was a lovely morning and Olly and I were eating our breakfast outside in the garden. I went inside to get my camera and when I came back, Olly was perched on the table and scoffing his strawberries and yogurt. Snap. I guess I could crop this photo, so that it shows a close up of Pops. But I think it looks much more effective having Olly placed to one side of the frame and allowing the viewer to see the table. A little boy on a big table. The plants in the background stop the photo being too drab, but do not dominate the scene. Closing in on Olly would miss the point of the picture.

When I took this picture I was sat in the dunes looking down along Porth Kidney Sands and towards Godrevy Lighthouse.I never tire of that view. It appears before me as I travel down from the footpath to the top of the dunes. The colours and romance of the place enchant me every time. I feel like this beach is my secret, even though it's a popular spot for dog walkers and holiday makers too. I placed the grass the right of the frame, and when I look at the picture now I am reminded of my feelings for this 'secret' place of mine. Without the grass, it would just be a blurry beach picture. With the grass, the beach becomes something stumbled upon shimmering like a precious jewel.

Dividing The Frame

I think that this was the most interesting part of the chapter as it deals with proportion within the image frame. Apparently there are rules. Put simply (and trying very hard not to plagiarise), during the Renaissance many painters realised that simple ratios - 1:1, 2:1 and so on - produced a more static division in their painting. A more dynamic division could be made by constructing more interesting ratios. 'The Golden Section' which was known to the Greeks, is the best known. It's all about Geometry - two parts are said to be in the golden ratio if the whole (the sum of the two parts) is to the larger part as the larger part is to the smaller part. I'm hopeless at maths, but I think I have an idea of what is more harmonious or pleasing to my eye. Who knew it was that complicated.

The most common photograph that divides the frame is the horizon. Living by the sea, I have a glut of these photographs. There is a natural tendency to place a horizon lower in the image frame if there is no other prominent features of interest, and higher is there some interest in the foreground.

 I photographed the harbour area of St Ives from the top of town, after I dropped Olly off to nursery last summer. I like the view of town from here. You could almost kid yourself that it is still primarily a fishing town from here. The horizon divides the frame at the top. The town divides the frame at the bottom. It gives the picture a harmonious balance.

This photo was taken in Bristol last summer. The horizon level (represented by the bridge) is lower in the frame. The prominent feature is of course the hot air balloon.


 Phew! Long and wordy post that. It's been a challenge to look back at my photographs and find some that fit the brief as it were. I've enjoyed putting my understanding down here. I realise that I'm not the world's best writer, but I hope you enjoyed it too. Did any of it make sense to you?  Thanks for staying to the end. Pure indulgence on my part!

Leanne xx


  1. It made a lot of sense to me. I'm very much an amateur photographer but I love it so much and I'm always trying to learn more. This post was interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing your photos and ideas. I will have to see if we have this book in the library.

  2. This is all very interesting Leanne, I know what you mean about the cropping, it is my favourite tool and if I cannot get close to something or frame it how I would like I just take the shot and then frame it by cropping later, I would rather get stuff around the edges that I can get rid of than miss the bit in the middle that I really want. I am very very much an amateur and beginner photographer, but enjoying trying to get better! This sounds as though it is a very good book, I hope that you are enjoying it and your photography too! xx

  3. Fascinating Leanne. Other Half would love this, he is very much into the technical art of photography, I just rely on intuition. Your pictures are lovely, you seem to have both!

  4. it all made total sense and great to see it highlighted with your photographs! xxx

  5. Very interesting, thanks for taking us through the learning process as well. I think improving my photographs will be my next focus (after the garden). At the moment all the pictures on my blog are taken on an old (retro) Nokia phone! But I'd love to learn more about composition and placement, especially as it is normally photos that attract me to people's blogs. It will be really good to see how your photos develop as well, they're so atmospheric already x

  6. Fantastic photos Leanne. I love that one of Olly eating his yogurt and strawberries on the table! I'm afraid I'm a point it and click it girl when I take photos. I have no idea what I'm doing !!!

  7. Thank you for giving us a review of the book s giving us examples form your photographs it was wonderful! I always enjoy how you seem to capture Olly so naturally. I using cropping too in my pictures I find it always seems to improve many of my pictures. Sarah x

  8. A really interesting post Leanne, with some of your beautiful photos. I've got the book too now, so I am looking at some of the tips. My photography is rubbish at the moment, I need to do better! Thank you for inspiring me. CJ xx

  9. Perfect sense, and interesting too ;) What beautiful images.

  10. fascinating post, well explained, brought it to life using your own photos. Thanks

  11. Fabulous post and so well explained. Love all the detail and so many fave photos here!! This books sounds really fascinating and one I wouldn't mind reading if I am honest, so I think it's time to pop it on my forever growing wish list. Speaking of books as I am just catching up with all your blog posts' sorry ive been a little slack of late, here new read looks fab and seeing I am also a Margaret Atwood fan, I am sure I will enjoy. I am still slogging my way through my sugar texts. It seems that life has been busy here and I do hope that you are all out of harms way. Need to know is that pic of Olly on the fence your garden?? Xoo

  12. An excellent review and I like how you've illustrated the points with your own photos. Seems you are doing very well.
    I bought 'A Photographers' Vision', which I have to confess I 've only glaced at, as it's more about the thought process behind making photos rather than the composition.

  13. Great review! You take a good photo. I like your beach landscapes the best I think, but they're all fab. I like the way you broke down the theory into something that was easily understood. Oh, and I am a big fan of a cropped image! x