My passion is for mixed-media stories; tales told by alternating mediums. Two of my current projects, Allyson Darke and Phantom Hearts, both alternate between novel-like prose and fully rendered image sequences not unlike fleshed out storyboards. I will talk more about this process later. As I explore what it means to tell a visual story, I’m reminded of a couple basic but incredibly important rules of composition.

Please note: Rules are made to be broken, but only for a specific reason in a specific place.

The Rule of Thirds

RuleOfThirds-SideBySide” by Tadrart01.JPG: Pir6mon
derivative work: Teeks99 (talk) – Tadrart01.JPG. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Rule of Thirds says that “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.”

This is especially important when using images to tell stories. Use these intersections to draw the eye of the reader to the most important parts of the scene. Play important characters, hidden secrets, and action here.

Here is a really great intro to the Rule of Thirds from Cambridge In Colour

Or, if you’d rather, here’s a video: from .

Balancing Elements

“Placing your main subject off-centre, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo, but it can leave a void in the scene which will make it feel empty. You should balance the “weight” of your subject by including another object of lesser importance to fill the space.” (From Photography Mad)

A well balanced composition does two things for a story scene: it gives the reader a sense that things are right and it draws the eye to a main point of action. However (this is one of those break the rule things), you can also unbalance scenes when you want the emotion to carry a sense of disarray or danger or set the reader at edge.

Digital Photography Tips Online has an article with everything you ever wanted to know about balance.

Other Composition Elements

Here is a great list of 10 Composition Guidelines from Take a look through them all. How can these guidelines be used to tell visual stories?

Comment below please.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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