May 15, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Composing a photograph for commercial purposes is balancing the needs of multiple audiences across a range of media. Even if a photo is expected to have a single application, it often is repurposed to further support a brand or campaign. With such a range of requirements and restrictions, here is advice that is almost always in service of those requirements and won't usually run afoul of those restrictions. Diagonals.

It's just a tilt to the left

The opening photo, above, shows the simple power of a diagonal. By tilting my camera to the left, the horizon is no longer horizontal and, as importantly, neither is the aircraft. The tilt of the image gives it energy that would be missing if everything were all squared up. Even though we can easily recognize this cheat, that it's not what the scene "really looked like," perhaps, that doesn't dampen the benefit of the effect. The image is more dynamic and, thus, more eye-catching. Step one for any image in the service of commerce.

Below we have three diagonals happening and the result is not only an initial burst of energy in the composition, but the viewer's attention will continue to bounce around the image: helo, highway, dirt road, helo, highway, dirt road. And more time spent viewing means a greater chance of getting your message across.

Next, a bevy of diagonals composed to move the eye and also expand the subject beyond mere beautiful image of an aircraft. The tail boom of the EC135 dominates, thrusting in diagonally, while the B407 comes in at another angle. The building is, of course, rendered as diagonals and the helipad markings are helping by zig-zagging through the frame (though, of course, that is more luck than planning on my part).

Notice how the three images, above, incorporate varying dimensions of diangularity (a word I made up, by the way). The first image is air-to-air, both aircraft at the same altitude, so there was little natural angle to the scene. The horizon was straight across, the aircraft is a bit nose-on, but is visually compressed because of the narrow-angle lens I'm using. The far river bank forms a bit of a diagonal, but not much. With but a single dimension to work with, I tilt the camera and, voilá!

The shot looking down on the aircraft, with the orange tractor-trailer (total stroke of luck, considering the livery on the aircraft, but I'll take it!), has the opportunity for two dimensions of angles and I made use of that opportunity; the aircraft is shown diagonally in the shot and the roads have their own, other, angles.

When I ducked under the tail boom of the EC135 I was taking advantage of three dimensions, courtesy of my being in the midst of the scene. The converging lines of perspective come into play, with or without aircraft, easily visible in the building, creating diagonals that are emphasized by my use of a wide-angle lens. Then, by composing the shot from under that tail boom I add a big dose of diagonal, while the Bell comes in on a different heading, providing a different visual angle and, as I mentioned, the zig-zag markings were a bonus.

Finally, this air-to-ground has a flurry of diagonal angles, which would naturally appear from this angle (no pun intended), but I include the example to illustrate how I also composed this to showcase the aircraft not by excluding other elements of the environment, but by including them, off to the side. All those brick diagonals of the buildings, and the windows and mechanicals and such are visually busy, so the clean, colorful aircraft sitting in a visually calmer spot in the photo provides our eyes a place to rest after they tire of evaluating all that busyness. The aircraft is where we want to focus, but placing it in its environment tells the broader story.

There you have it! Look for diagonals to capture in your images for more stopping power and greater loiter time. And if you don't see a diagonal, make it up by tilting the camera or changing your position. Your images, and viewers, will thank you.

P.S. Thanks go out to the management, and flight and ground crews, at the University of Tennessee Medical Center for their cooperation.


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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