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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Compose with Odd Numbers (Don't Ask Me Why)

You probably wouldn't think it would matter how many of something you have in a particular photo, but whenever you're composing a group of things, whether it's pears, people, polar bears or pretty much anything else, compositions seem to work best with odd-numbered quantities. None of the composition books I have seems to offer a really solid reason why that's so (file it under "minor mysteries of the human brain"), but I think it's a good rule to follow. Whenever I'm arranging objects in a found still life or composing a landscape (three trees, five horses, etc.), I almost always seem to gather things in groups of three or five. There were about 50 sailboats in the harbor when I took this shot, clustered in little groups, some odd, some even, but the groups that looked best in the viewfinder always had odd numbers in them. Strange, isn't it? I think part of the problem with even-numbered groups is that the eye can easily divide the subjects into pairs and it starts to divide up the frame on some subconscious level. But whenever there are threes or fives, for example, they seem to adhere to one another in a way that unifies them. Try it sometime. Photograph groups of apples on your kitchen table and see if you like the odd groups better than the even ones. And if you figure out why the odds look better, let me know.


Mike said...

I know what you mean about this. My wife watches a lot of decorating shows on TV and they always stress putting an odd number of objects in any centerpiece or arrangement. Now we notice often on TV sets(TODAY show). It must be something with the eyes and brain that an odd number captures our interest.

Lucas said...

That is interesting. I think it has something to do with the fact that with odd numbers, you always seem to focus on the one in the middle, with even proportions to either sides.
Even numebrs always seem to have a gap right at the centre