Composition: Values and the Rule of Thirds / by J. Logan Carey

Composition, as defined in this article, is “the term used to describe the arrangement of the visual elements in a painting or other artwork.” There’s probably a million other ways and angles to define it, but essentially what it breaks down to is how an image looks. When an illustration has good composition, it’s almost invisible, it just works. When it doesn’t have good composition, most people can tell that something is just off about it.

I’ve been learning more about incorporating composition in my own work. I’ve been taking Austin Batchelor’s Udemy course: The Digital Painting MEGA Course: Beginner to Advanced. In it, there’s an exercise to take ten movies scenes and separate them into light, middle, and dark tones. This practice helps you learn what makes a pleasing composition that also intrigues. It helps you see an image in terms of the three basic values so you can quickly dissect it and create one.

I also incorporated a study of the Rule of Thirds into each study. The Rule of Thirds is defined on Wikipedia as a “guideline that proposes an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.” So the basic premise is you break an image canvas into nine equal sections and if you place important elements as the intersections it will create more visual appeal. It's a visual concept that once you start looking for it is in EVERYTHING. TV shows, movies, advertising, art of all kinds. It’s literally everywhere.

So with that in mind I pulled key frames from ten movies to study the composition of value and the implementation of the Rule of Thirds. Give it a try with your own favorite scenes to see how they match up.

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

American Beauty

American Beauty

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Shining

The Shining

2001

2001

The Untouchables

The Untouchables

28 Days Later

28 Days Later

Alien

Alien

The Beach

The Beach

It’s amazing to see how many iconic scenes match up perfectly with the Rule of Thirds and have really dynamic composition. Probably no coincidence there. Back to practicing!