In December 2022, Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) featured a story on the political rivalry between the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. The article is interesting, but what makes it stand out is the photograph that illustrates it, and how this photograph interacts with the graphic design of the newspaper.
The article was published on SvD’s website on December 1, 2022, and in the print edition on December 4. The photograph is interesting because of its composition, and how the perception of the composition changes because of the differences in graphic design in print and on the web.
Using an instructional YouTube video by world-leading photographer Steve McMurry, Vice.com has broken down into nine parts what makes a good photographic composition.
The first thing to consider is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds in photography means that the main subject of the image should be placed either in the left or right third of the image. The photograph published by SvD adheres to this rule: Vitali Klitschko is positioned in the right third of the image. But the photograph also breaks the rule of thirds, because in the left third of the image we find Wladimir Klitschko, as famous as his older brother but not the subject of the text.
The rule of third is broken to an even greater degree, when the article is accessed through the SvD app, where the newspaper is made available in digital form with the print edition’s layout. As you swipe through the app, you view one page at the time without a preview of what is coming next.
Therefore, the first page of the article is the screen cap you see below. Focus is on Wladimir Klitschko in the left third of the image, while Vitali Klitschko is represented by his elbow. The image works as a stand-alone photograph because of the rule of thirds.
Not until you swipe to the next page does Vitali Klitschko appear, but now Wladimir Klitschko is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we have a new symmetry where Vitali Klitschko’s right hand holding his cell phone is aligned with President Zelensky holding his right hand to his mouth. Zelensky’s face at the top of the page is aligned with two more images with Vitali Klitschko’s face below.
Put the two pages side by side, as you would if you read the physical newspaper, the composition changes once again. Notice how the image in the printed edition is cropped closer than the image on the web, which confuses the eye further. Who is the most important person here? The one on the left, the one on the right, or the one in the middle?
The second thing you need to consider when composing a photograph are the leading lines. Leading lines in photography are visible or invisible lines that draw you into the center of the photograph and guide your eye to where the photographer wants you to look. Once again, this photograph breaks the rules because there is no clear center. The eye naturally falls on the blurred branches behind the people in the photograph. The lines lead you to a place where there is nothing to see.
The third thing is the use of diagonal lines. The photograph of the Klitschko brothers is dynamic. The photographer has clearly captured the two men while they were on the move. But we do find diagonal lines here. Wladimir Klitschko’s head is slightly tilted, creating a diagonal line between his eyes. Meanwhile, Vitali Klitschko’s elbow forms a diagonal line that runs in the same direction of the line of his brother’s face. Finally, the horizontal lines on their jackets breaks the diagonal symmetry of the eyes and the elbow.
If we return to the image as it is seen in the SvD app, the rule of thirds, leading lines, and diagonal lines are the reasons why the image of Wladimir Klitschko on his own works as a stand alone photograph. Here, as stated earlier, Wladimir Klitschko is positioned in the left third of the image. Leading lines focus the eye on the blurred background between him and the unnamed man. Diagonal lines create symmetry between the angle of Wladimir Klitschko’s head and Vitali Klitschko’s elbow.
The fourth thing is framing. The framing of the photograph of the Klitschko brothers differs depending on which edition of SvD you are reading. In the print edition, the image is focused on the Klitschkos, who frame the image with one of them on the left and the other on the right. In the web edition, there is a red truck and a soldier in the far right of the picture, which frames Vitali Klitschko’s left arm.
The composition of the photograph consequently creates an ABAB symmetry where you see Wladimir Klitschko, unnamed person, Vitali Klitschko, unnamed soldier. This symmetry emphasizes the two Klitschkos in the foreground while simultaneously placing Vitali slightly ahead of Wladimir, and in doing so fulfills the four remaining criteria of what makes a good photograph in one fell swoop:
Figure to ground, where you need to find a contrast between the object of the image and the background.
Center the dominant eye, which in this case is the left eye of all three people whose faces we see.
Patterns and repetition where the pattern is broken. In this case, blurred background, Wladimir Klitschko, blurred background, unnamed person, blurred background, Vitali Klitschko, red truck, that is to say ABABC.
The photographer who took this photograph is Ziv Koren, a renowned photo journalist who covers areas of war and conflict. In the literal blink of an eye, Koren created two images in one that follow the rules of what makes a good photograph while simultaneously breaking all of them at once.
In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.
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