As children, most of us were taught to color by staying within the lines. When we opted for paint brushes instead of crayons, paint by numbers dictated what color to use and where. If you just followed the rules, you were almost guaranteed to create something worthy of hanging on the refrigerator. It was art minus the risk of failure.
Today as photographers, we must be vigilant to avoid being lulled into this same mentality. In most of the popular photography books and magazines you'll read about the benefits of using the rule of thirds. We are told that by placing the subject in the upper, lower, left, or right third of the frame, our image will be more successful. Newer DSLRs even have grids to guide you in this direction. Truth be told, if used properly, this approach does have real benefits. However, I believe there is a real danger to staying within the confines of your camera's focusing points all of the time. Every so often, we need to break the rules and play outside the lines.
In this spirit, I've developed a theory called "ten and ninety." Instead of relying on the camera's prepackaged focus points, it asks you to explore and experiment visually. Here's how it works: Frame your subject in one of the outer ten percent areas of the viewfinder. It could be the right, left, top, or bottom.
Since there are no auto focus points on the outer 10% of the frame, the only option is to focus manually. If you're using a tripod and have Live View, I would encourage you to try it. With Live View, you can see your subject in the LCD screen at 10x magnification. While looking at this magnified image, you are able to manually focus with incredible precision. Using this technique you can create tack sharp photos without relying on autofocus. If you're handholding, Live View won't work too well, so you'll have to trust your eyes.
The overall philosophy behind "ten and ninety" is to expand the possibilities of composition and break free from the tired methods we routinely use. Like all art, this is a matter of personal preference. The technique could work very well with some subjects, and not be the best choice for others. The only way to know for sure is to experiment.
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