beachwalker2008 PRO 8:54pm, 8 February 2008
Inspired by the discussion in this thread visual tension can be created in an image by deliberate composition or cropping "against the rules".

"Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk."
- Edward Weston

"The so-called rules of photographic composition are, in my opinion, invalid, irrelevant and immaterial"
- Ansel Adams

Looking at my own images I realize that I compose and crop very predictably - give space in the direction of travel or look - active space.

Here is one where I wanted to emphasize more were the duck "came from" rather then where it is going:
duck with escort

Same here:

on the march...

This shot was full frame (3:2 ratio) with space for the pelican to fly into - until it was suggested to me to crop it (now 5:4) and increase the visual tension.

Off we go.... - Orton

Here are some more and better examples from the above mentioned thread:
"Rain or Shine?" by ahuntingwwgo [?]
Rain or Shine?

"Back 2 Back" by s*ong [?]
Back 2 Back
"Side Ways" by s*ong [?]
Side Ways
melepix 9 years ago
This shot has something funny with the elements all pointing in different directions. Maybe it creates a certain tension.
As the World Goes By
s*ong Posted 9 years ago. Edited by s*ong (member) 9 years ago
Dieter: Your third pics illustrate how action/active subject and visual tension by composition works really well together.

Judging from the water spray, I believe the pelican in is about to take off. But is feels more like a landing to me. In this case, tilting the horizon other way would enhance the tension even more. Instead of a slide, it would suggest a struggle to avert a pending crash.

Melinda: inspite of the louging by the beach and smooth sailing activities, this shot is actually quite dynamic. Very nice.
Cyrus khamak PRO 9 years ago
"Judging from the water spray, I believe the pelican in is about to take off. But is feels more like a landing to me. In this case, tilting the horizon other way would enhance the tension even more. Instead of a slide, it would suggest a struggle to avert a pending crash."

This is almost exactly what i told Dieter over an IM conversation !

beachwalker2008 PRO 9 years ago
OK, I could bring myself to level the trace - somehow having it go uphill doesn't look right to me:

mmmee 9 years ago
This is a rather new concept for me. I guess I just never thought about it before. In going through my photos there are very few where I find my heart rate increasing when view them.

Dieter's 'in your face' landing pelican makes me almost hold my breath waiting for it to touch down. I wonder if having the tops of the wings missing adds to the tension? I like the space leveled.

The duck landing is serene by comparison to the pelican. Just glad the duck missed the two birds while sliding in. Nice water trail though.

Ann's little girl ... is it because she is close to the frame on the right, that there is tension? Because we don't know if its going to rain and neitther does she?

Scooper's action shots are full of .. well action and therefore tension. I am a bit distracted by the background in the back to back and so lose some of the impact of the back to back referees. I have no idea why they are in that position, so that causes some consternation and makes me look at the scene longer to try to figure it out.
In the bowling one, I think the bit of motion blur adds to the perception of action/tension. Hiding the path of the ball that has been thrown but showing the other lanes with standing pins is really rather ingenious.

On Melinda's it gives me the serene feeling. I guess I just associate with the people in the chairs relaxing. I might wonder why that big sailing ship is so close to the shore, but I would not be too worried about it. Nice story telling shot.

In this old shot of mine, I was going back to my car with groceries. That dog was right beside my car. I made my way to the back quite quickly with the groceries. The blue eyes were just too much ... I had to snap them.

This is My truck
beachwalker2008 PRO Posted 9 years ago. Edited by beachwalker2008 (member) 9 years ago
The concept of visual tension is kind of new to me too - and I have been trying to find some information on the web regarding composition, visual balance and visual tension - here is a bit of a discussion that touches on the difference between emotional tension and visual tension and here another example of ignoring the ‘Active Space’ Rule for Moving Subjects.
ahuntingwwgo 9 years ago
Maggie, as a total newbie to this, I will say what my photo is trying to represent and what tension means to me...others can tell me if I'm right or wrong.

In mine, She's out for a walk, but is it rain or shine? She's prepared with her umbrella, but the limited span in front of her almost makes it look as if she may turn back and go home the way she came. And then is that because it's raining or was she looking for a walk in the rain w/ her new umbrella and it's NOT raining, so she'll give it up? So, it's supposed to make one really think about it.

I understand tension as the unexpected that provokes thought or emotion in a photo, or maybe just frustration.

This was my first attempt at tension, and I still don't know if it hits, but it does make me look longer because I want so badly to have the middle of the rose in focus. (It may just be poor photography, but at least I was GOING for tension with it.) :)
rose 4

Edit: Dieter was giving links while I was typing...I'm sure there's a better explanation there. :)
Bruce Lemons PRO Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Bruce Lemons (member) 9 years ago
Really fascinating discussion. I guess my thought is that successful tension still needs a balanced composition. Maybe good tension is thrust or weighting inherent to a particular subject's behavior or qualities, not the overall composition. For example, a photo of a moving animal cropped tighter to one side can work well...if there is compositional balance such as water splash to the opposite side. Of course negative space can be a balancing element as well, demonstrated by a strong black space balancing a portrait/head shot in a very horizantal format where the head is way over to one side.

Ann's umbrella shot seems to me like it works great because compositionally it is still balanced. The converging path/horizon lines make a very strong counterbalance to the umbrella, but the behavior of the girl.....jammed against the frame edge and facing outward, is interesting tension. If the grass and walk were darkened a bit, a "squint" test would show a pleasingly balanced abstract composition. Awesome shot by the way!

Unfortunately, looking through my work, I can only find "bad" examples, (which very possibly points out that I don't know what I'm talking about).

If you can keep from cringing at all the technical shortcomings in these....

Here's one where the pup is pushing towards, and moving facing outward from one corner of the frame, but the splash and background dog almost balance the image compositionally if the splash was just a little bigger and bolder.

This one's just the opposite. The dog is at one corner but pushing inward, exploding into the negative space. Compositionally it doesn't really work so well because the dark area in the opposite corner isn't strong enough, and the diagonal converging lines aren't dominant enough.

Well...those are the thoughts of this clearly unqualified amateur anyway....but maybe it will spur additional informative critique. :) Fun topic!
lightyear105 Posted 9 years ago. Edited by lightyear105 (member) 9 years ago
does this create any visual tension?


or how about this?


does it always have to be an"action" or a "movement" in the image to make it visually tense, or can a stationary pose create visual tension?
ahuntingwwgo 9 years ago
Bruce, nice water shots and I do like the composition of the top one much better like you say. Good point in that you can have a good photo without tension, but you can't have one without good composition. -And thanks, I like the umbrella shot too.

Orhan, for me your turtle shot is great tension! Or at least you can feel the tension in the air for this poor little fellow. :) As I understand it, it does not necessitate movement at all, movement is just one way to achieve it. Others might know more.
lightyear105 Posted 9 years ago. Edited by lightyear105 (member) 9 years ago
Thanks Ann, you know, the alligator and the turtle were in their natural habitat when I took the picture from the other side of the pond. This was not a capture of a confrontation (or a prey). They live together :) feel better :)
Bruce Lemons PRO Posted 9 years ago. Edited by Bruce Lemons (member) 9 years ago
That's a good example of a type of tension that wouldn't have occured to me Orhan. And yep, motion is definitely not a prerequisite for tension. Ann's umbrella shot is the perfect example.

Before you brought up the "conflict" tension example, I guess I would probably have categorized tension types as:

"thrust or line of movement" tension,
"look" tension (where subjects sight line pushes out of frame),
"teetering" tension (like someone balancing precariously on a wall),
or "mass" tension (where an object is cropped unevenly, excluding a key part of it's form).

The more I think about it though, the more I'm not sure if maybe I'm missing Dieter's whole point. Maybe the point is.....can a photo work if It is COMPOSITIONALLY unbalanced. I would have said no...but maybe it's a matter of layers, i.e. compositionally unbalanced in one respect, (massing for example), but balanced in another, (edges for example).

Ha I'm more unsure than ever. I don't know what I'm talking about.
ahuntingwwgo 9 years ago
Oh, I'm relieved about that turtle. :) Despite that, I still find lots of tension in a docile little thing in front of a large gnarly predatory animal, facing head on.
Al Hopkins Photography [deleted] 9 years ago
I think this might be in the "tension" realm with the awkward feeling that the "plunge" might follow..or it at least shows impressive toe strength!

Hangin' E
melepix 9 years ago
Very nice thread and I like the links you added Dieter. Good thinking material. Al's squirl is a good example of wondering what will happen next. mee the blue eyed dog is sure leaving me feeling suspense.the croc and turtle are a bit too far away to get emotional about.Bruce the top dog with the ball is nice as the dog in the background adds a question to the shot where is the dog racing and why is the other one looking that way. this is a composite I did a while ago and I was trying to learn texture.
Collision Course
melepix 9 years ago
This man is just a master.
Loopsta 9 years ago
Thats a real fun shot
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