Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Rule of Five and a bit
Walter Murch, the Cartier Bresson of cinematic film editing, once established a set of criteria to define the ideal cut between two shots. His Rule of Six asserts that an ideal cut is one that satisfies the following six criteria all at once:

1 Emotion (51%) What do you want the audience to feel? Is it true to the emotion of the moment?
2 Story (23%) It advances the story.
3 Rhythm (10%) It occurs at a moment that is rhythmically interesting and “right”.
4 Eye-trace (7%) Concern with location and movement of the viewer’s focus of interest within the frame.
5 2D plane of screen (5%) Planar composition.
6 3D space of action (4%) Three-dimensional continuity of actual space. Spatial relationship of subjects within scene.

All six of these criteria need to be in place for a cut to be defined as an ideal one, but the percentile weighting attributed to each of the six criteria allows for problems lower down the scale to be obscured by satisfaction of criteria higher up the scale, and for a cut to still be as near to ideal as might reasonably be hoped for. Failing to satisfy criteria higher up the scale however can rarely be masked by perfection in tackling criteria lower down the scale.

Might a similar device be applied in evaluating the overall strength of a photographic image?

The Rule of Five and a bit

The ideal photograph is one that satisfies the following five and a bit criteria all at once:

1 Soul (51%) How the image affects the 'reader' before any analysis is applied to 'reading' the image. Does the image have a soul that speaks with the reader? Does it engage the reader emotionally?
2 Tone (18%) Appropriate use of tonal range and juxtaposition.
[2 plus the extra bit (in the case of colour images) Colour - appropriate combination and use of colour.]
3 2D composition (15%) Appropriate observation of compositional 'standards' such as Golden Section (eg: 'Rule of Thirds').
4 3D composition (9%) Appropriate use of depth cues within the image, defining visual anchor points for foreground, midground and background.
5 Technical qualities (7%) Appropriate precision in focus, depth of field, resolution (this can refer to clarity of optics as much as to its more modern association with digital technology), sharp capture/blurred capture of motion as 'demanded' by the context of the image, etc. etc.

All five and a bit of these criteria are important to the definition and creation of the ideal photograph but none so important as what's at the soul of the image itself and how that soul communicates with the image's reader. Use the best available optic in the World, the most fancy camera, apply the most accurate compositional strictures before triggering the shutter and all will come to nothing if the soul was not there in the first place.

What percentage of your time, attention and effort would you say you devote to the pursuit and development of each of these five and a bit criteria in your photographic work?

Opening image courtesy of the author's better half.

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