As photographers we can sometimes miss opportunities to add visual impact to our images by how we choose to compose them. This short article discusses creating impact using subject bleed.
Subject bleed is a very simple composition technique where we purposely use very tight framing on the main subject in our photograph and purposely cut some of it off – i.e. have it ‘bleed off’ the edge, or edges, of our photograph. This has the effect of directing the viewer’s eye where we want it to go while looking at an image. For example, if we create a subject bleed on the right hand side, it will force the viewer’s eye to the left. Creating a bleed on the bottom will force a reader’s eye upward. Let’s have a look an at example.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
The main subject in the photograph above has a bleed on the bottom edge only. This forces the reader’s eye up. Space has been allowed around the clown’s arm to create visual relief and encourage the reader’s eye to follow the upward motion of the image and the right to left sweep of the clown’s arm. Unfortunately this image was shot with extension tubes which makes it difficult to achieve good depth-of-field and the clown’s hand is out of focus. There are also some distracting out of focus items on the left hand side of the frame that weaken the photograph.
The same subject was photographed using much tighter framing, a slightly different angle, and includes subject bleeds on the top, bottom and right hand sides. These bleeds force the reader’s eye towards the clown’s face. The tighter framing has also eliminated the distracting elements on the left hand side of the frame. Overall, this second photograph has far much visual impact than the first one.
Using subject bleeds can be especially effective when photographing animals and flowers.
The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is usually photographed with its spectacular head plumage visible. I purposely framed this specimen much tighter and used a 3-edge subject bleed to help draw the viewer’s gaze into the bird’s eye. Then, by choosing a shooting angle that lined up the bird’s eye, beak and curve of its breast, a smooth line to accentuate the bird’s eye was formed further drawing the reader’s eye into the image.
The photograph above uses a 2-edge subject bleed on the bottom and right hand side. These bleeds push the viewer’s eye up and to the left which helps to accentuate the directional gaze of the bird. Some care was taken with the shooting angle to allow for some ‘breathing space’ underneath the chin of the bird. This helped to minimize the potential distraction from the darker, out-of-focus shapes in the background, and also helped accentuate the curve of the bird’s neck.
Two edge bleeds are very commonly used when photographing close ups of animals as you can see in the image above and below. In both cases the left and top edge bleeds force the reader’s eye down and to the right.
The green iguana photograph below incorporates a 3-edge subject bleed. These help to force the reader’s gaze towards the face of the lizard. Similar types of subject bleeds can be used with portraits and street photography in cases where you may want to create additional drama with your images of people.
Subject bleeds can also be very effective when shooting flowers and plants. When doing close-up work 4-edge bleeds are often used in combination with depth-of-field emphasis.
You can see the use of a 4-edge bleed in the above image. These pull the viewer’s eye into the middle of the frame. Focus is centred on the stigma and stamen of the flower which further accentuates this portion of the photograph.
Another common use of 4-edge subject bleeds is when photographing something with strong parallel lines, like the leaf in the above image.
4-edge subject bleeds can also be very effective with nature photographs. This is especially true if the overall composition has a strong feeling of movement or has a circular shape as in the bird image above. In these cases a 4-edge bleed can help accentuate the shaping while drawing the viewer into the image.
Our final example is a photograph of a blossom using a 2-edge subject bleed. As you can see the bottom and left edge bleeds force the reader’s eye up and to the right. This brings them to the tip of the blossom. The darker, out-of-focus background also helps bring the reader’s gaze toward the blossom.
Consciously thinking about how to incorporate subject bleeds into your compositions can help enhance the overall impact of your images.
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