The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

No productivity post today… unless you are a photographer who uses Lightroom, or can think far enough outside the box to apply this to your own situation, or just happen to want to take better pictures for friends and family.
On Twitter I recently followed @Michael_Zelbel – and one item on his site was ‘10 things I learned about photography‘. It’s a quick read and worthwhile to see what others consider interesting, if only for the fresh perspective.
One item caught my attention; #8, the Golden Ratio. I’ve seen different takes on how to shoot with the golden ratio before, but not really applied it. Instead I’ve been stuck on the ‘Rule of Thirds’, probably for two reasons. First, it’s drilled into everyone, everwhere. A few years ago I found the headshots of Kevyn Major Howard and really liked them. So much that I analyzed them and found they are often EXACTLY rules-of-thirds shots, down to the pixel. But nice work nonetheless.
The other reason I think I’m stuck on thirds is the default Adobe Lightroom cropping grid. Yikes! My work has been inadvertently controlled by software! Let’s fix that!
Step 1: Absorb the Golden Ratio. Here a Google search is going to be your best friend, but a reasonable set of examples can be found here. Not earth shaking, but illustrative.
Step 2: Change your Lightroom crop grid!!! In the Develop module select the crop tool. Now press the letter ‘o’. To rotate the grid, press ‘Shift+o’ (that’s a captial ‘O’ for those of you quick on your feet… 🙂
Now, you can run right out and try to start shooting in the Golden Ratio, and see if you can work with those images in Lightroom with the adjusted grid…
…or you can look in your Lightroom library for shots you already have that maybe you didn’t consider winners before, but with this new set of grids show some promise. I know I’m guilty of choosing shots more easily cropped for thirds, so I wonder how many gems I’ve turfed over the years… more on that in a second…
As an instructional tool the value of doing this in real-time in Lightroom is fantastic. The very first shot of Heidi I chose to try with the new grid ALMOST fit! No wonder I liked it! Sure, there are possible tweaks to her pose are easy to see; a different hip-leg arrangement; more dramatic arm / head angles, more camera tilt… and the shot could be ‘better’:

Or could it? Maybe ‘better’ isn’t the right word. The title of this post is ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly‘, for a reason. Is this shot ugly because it doesn’t follow one of these rules exactly? I don’t think so!
Rules like the Golden Ratio, or Thirds, or whatever, should really be called ‘Guidelines’. Captain Jack was right, and rules are made to be ignored or broken. Guildlines… those can be followed if it suits you.
To be fair Lightroom doesn’t have ‘Rules‘ but does have ‘Guidelines‘… literally guidelines overlaid on the image by the crop tool. To call them guidelines is Good. To call them rules… that’s Bad.
Lastly, I wonder how many shots get dumped by everyone, every day, just because they don’t fit some preconceived notion of proportional guidelines or compositional rules, and get called ‘Ugly‘. That’s a shame, in fact I think that’s what is truly ugly!
So go ahead and compose for the Golden Ratio or Rule of Thirds to develop that ‘fresh perspective’, spend some time to apply them to past shots and learn to see alternate compostional rules, but don’t get too hung up… I think we still have more ‘guidelines’ out there to discover!

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