Visual Literacy
How do I make meaning


Composing a picture

How you set up the camera to film the arrangement of elements in your picture is very important. A picture is successful when the elements of light, colour, tone, form and spacing all work together. This is called composition and the changing of any of the elements can alter the meaning of the image for the viewer. For example a person placed in the centre of the picture can have more impact than someone situated in the corner of the image. A balanced composition is generally more pleasing than a chaotic one.

This image of Brett Whitely’s sculpture Almost Once is a balanced image. The sculpture is in the centre of the picture and viewer’s eye is drawn towards the middle of the picture and then moves upwards. This points to the large scale of the sculpture. The form (or shape) is reminiscent of the rectangular outline of skyscrapers. This view shows the negative space (i.e. the space between the matchsticks and around the sculpture) of the sculpture well. Something which eventually catches the eye is the small white square on the bottom left hand side of the picture. This is distant sculpture in the Art Gallery gardens called Mobius Sea.
When the photo is taken from a side angle the negative space is not as evident. The matchsticks still dominate the picture and the background shows part of the cityscape. Centrepoint Tower appears to be at an angle and this distracts the viewer from focusing on the sculpture. Tucked behind the unburned matchstick is a rectangular skyscraper.
Taken from another angle the background includes the tree as well as part of the Art Gallery building. While the matchsticks still dominate the picture, the composition has been altered with the rectangular roof of the gallery matching the base of the sculpture. This is to indicate that the sculpture, while outside, still belongs to the gallery. Neither matchstick is perpendicular to the edge of the picture. This could also distract the viewer from focusing on the sculpture.