Why Rhythm Makes This Photo Rock! | Light Stalking

Why Rhythm Makes This Photo Rock!

Photograph by Kent DuFault

The Photograph (Above), Titled “Honey Champs”, Has Been Highly Regarded Wherever I’ve Shared It Online or in Photography Competitions.

I believe that the reason for this is the use of rhythm in the composition.
You might say to yourself, “Yeah! Self! There is obviously repetition here, and that’s what everyone likes…”
I am going to make the case that there is a difference between repetition and rhythm.
Think about that for a moment…
If you were sitting in your car, and a song came onto the radio, and the song played the same note over and over again, would you enjoy that song?

Probably not, and guess what, that would be repetition.

Humans love rhythm. From music, to dance, to marching bands, to synchronized swimming, (to all forms of visual art including photography) – rhythm fulfills a need within us. This is an absolute truth with photographs as well.
Viewers will respond more positively to your images- if you include a sense of rhythm in your compositions.

So… is just plain old repetition bad? No!
My point is- if you train your photographic eye to identify not only repetition, but also a sense of rhythm within that repetition- your photographs will excel.
Where is the rhythm in my photograph, “Honey Champs”? After much thought, I believe it is established with the varying shades of yellow within the bottles.

The Jar Caps Are a Repeating Pattern. They Initially Capture a Viewer’s Attention.

It’s just like a fantastic opening line in a novel.
You read that first line, it captures your imagination, and you must go further into the story. The publishing industry refers to this as, “the hook”.
The honey jar caps in this photograph are “the hook”.
The rhythm lies in the varying shades of color within the jars. It tantalizes the eyes. It creates thought about what, why, when, where, and how (aka story).
Going back to our novel analogy- this is the all-important first few paragraphs in chapter one. It will likely decide if a reader continues to move forward, or set the book down.
Finally, in the “Honey Champs” photograph, the eyes rest at the bottom- taking in the various award ribbons. An “ah ha” moment occurs. Our photograph now has a complete story.

This would be the final moments of a musical piece, or an “outro” as it is called. Or, in our novel scenario, it would be the “denouement”.
Photograph by Kent DuFault

I want you to grab a piece of printer paper…

This is great exercise. You’ll learn something that you’ll be able to use with your photography for the rest of your life.
Look at the “Honey Champs” photograph again. Using your paper, block off the bottom row.
Is the photograph as strong? Is the rhythm still there? Does the story play from beginning to end?
Now, take your paper and block everything to the right of the blue ribbon. Ask yourself these same questions.
Finally, take your paper and block everything from the blue ribbon to the far left edge of frame. Ask yourself the same questions.

There is no question in my mind that any of these changes disrupts the rhythm and removes the visual power of this photograph.

I believe that this is a secret ingredient that many photographers overlook.
From my own experience, developing a sense of rhythm, within a photographic composition, is a lot like going to the gym and exercising muscles.
The more you use the technique- the easier it will become. Starting out, it might feel hard- like you’re not sure what you’re doing. But you’ll get there with perseverance.
Does repetition and rhythm always have to occur together? I don’t believe so.
Imagine the rhythmic melody of a Korean Pop singer versus the guttural utterances of a coffeehouse hippie reading Haiku. They both have rhythm! It’s just very different.
The key to becoming the outstanding world-famous photographer (that we both know is hiding inside of you) is to identify your own sense of visual rhythm and apply it on a regular basis to your photographs.

What are some of the tools of composition that can help establish visual rhythm?

  • Patterns
  • Texture
  • Stacking
  • Dynamic Angle
  • Interplay of Light & Shadow
  • Spot Color
  • Focal Point

(Note– If you want to learn more about using these advanced tools of composition to create images that tell your story & express your vision, take at look at my guide, Advanced Composition)
This is an important point-

Rarely does a single element of composition create a memorable photograph. It can happen! However, typically your photographer’s mind must take in multiple elements, and organize them, to achieve greatness.

Think about the “Honey Champs”. There were 5 tools of composition at work. They were: repetition, pattern, texture, interplay of light & shadow, and spot color. When we removed any of those elements the photograph lost strength.
Let’s take a look at some of these different tools of composition- independent of each other.
Photograph by Kent DuFault
The photograph above is titled, “Red & Yellow Leaves”. If you read my recent blog post here on Light Stalking – regarding the color “RED”- you would think this image would be wildly popular.
However, it’s never really garnered that much attention, despite the fact that it’s pretty, and it’s a subject that many people love.

This photograph definitely displays repetition and pattern. Does it have rhythm?

I don’t think so. I liken this image to having an entire orchestra sitting in front of you. Each musician picks up their instrument, and despite the fact that they are going to begin and play a piece of music in unison, each one chooses a different chord.
There is unity, but no rhythm.
There is nothing wrong with this photograph. I have a framed copy hanging on a wall in my house.
Think about this “idea” in terms of your photography. Why do certain songs sell millions of copies and go Platinum? Where others achieve some success and then languish. It’s because of universal appeal.

We photographers are artists. An artist can see their work one of two ways…

We can simply try to please ourselves, or we would like to see our work appreciated by the world at large.
We are either creating garage band music- or we want our work to go Platinum.
Most of us want to see our work go Platinum.
Incorporating “rhythm” is that hidden element that can give you success over your competitors.
When I say that, I mean, “finding your rhythm”, because each of us is unique in that sense.
Photograph by Kent DuFault
This is a relatively new photograph of mine, so I can’t judge it by the reaction of the world at large. After much introspection, and giving it the “paper test”, I believe this image does have a rhythm.

It feels like a refrain, a swirling melancholy beat, that signals something is about to happen, or something very dark already did happen.

The music, in my mind, (the rhythm), is established through the compositional tools of texture, light & shadow, stacking, and in this particular case- a focal point.
(You probably think I’m crazy? Right?)
I shared this photograph, and my feelings about it, because I would like to encourage to you open up your artistic nature. Explore your feelings about your world, your photography, and your choices in music, literature, artwork, movies, and theatre. All of things reveal your personal rhythm to you, if you’re listening.
When you embrace your personal rhythm- people will notice your photography.

I have one more example to share with you. Before I do, let me tell you a short story about myself.

When I first started my commercial photography studio, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew how to use cameras and lighting gear. I knew how to make a shot technically correct.
What I didn’t understand was how to apply myself, to the process, so that clients “wanted” to work with me – specifically. Discovering this took me years of frustration, learning, and just plain old being a hardhead and not giving up.
What I’m discussing with you today, in this article, is the lesson that took me years to learn. I finally discovered my own rhythm.
I used to do quite a bit of work for a national magazine related to the agricultural industry.
The graphic designer of that magazine would hire me on a fairly regular basis.
Over the years, I began to notice something. Whenever she called, the first thing she would say (after saying hello) was, “I need the Kent DuFault twist.”
“The Kent DuFault TWIST”…

My rhythm had developed, and she could SEE my music!

Photograph by Kent DuFault
The photograph of the bridge is very indicative of the Kent DuFault Twist, or what I now refer to as my rhythm.
I often see the world in angles and patches of color. For reasons, that I can’t even explain, my photographs often reveal triangles. That might seem like an odd comment- that I can’t explain it. However, I’ve been creating photographs for so long, it’s like I’ve been going to the gym my entire life, and my muscles are all bulging, and I can’t even feel the weights anymore. I’m also very drawn to spot color, and finally, I like to find a sense of a complete “story” in my photographs.
The bridge photograph incorporates dynamic angle, texture, pattern, repetition, and spot color to create my personal rhythm, (that hopefully), resonates with as many folks out there as possible.

I don’t worry about going Platinum anymore, but I do hope you feel the rhythm! I feel it, and that’s good enough for me.

I hope you take these ideas and explore your own personal artistic path.
If you would like to know more about rhythm and composition, click here.

You’ll get some information on my “Advanced Composition” eBook. It explores these in-depth ideas on art and composition.
It will help you produce images that tell your story & express your individual creative vision. If you enjoyed this article, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.

About the author

Kent DuFault

Kent is an occasional writer at our place, and also handles the weekly “Picture of the Week” contest. He has been involved with photography since 1974 and you can get to know him better here


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