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Behind the Scenes: Principles of Design – Creating Active Space

It’s been a long while since I talked about principles of design the last time. So, today I want to discuss something that I’ve meant to share for a long time, and that is the Composition Principle of Active Space. Generally speaking, this rule applies to composition in photography and art, but today I’ll show you how it is useful to know about this principle in scrapbooking as well.

What Do I Mean With “Active Space?”

Active space is the space “in front” of the person/object; the space a person/object is moving or looking towards.

When you look at a photography, your eye usually will be lead through the image. If the composition is bad, your eye doesn’t actually know where to look, or what exactly to focus on, but if you have some understanding of composition, you can determine where you want the observer to look first, and how you want their eyes to move over your picture. This is where the principle of active space becomes important.

If the subject in your image is moving, naturally, the eye will move in the same direction as the subject. So, when you’re taking a picture, if at all possible you would want to make sure that the space in front of a person is larger than the space behind the subject. This creates active space. Take a look at this example:

When you look at this picture, your eyes probably will start with the two soccer players, and then move in the same directions as the two people running. This creates a sense of drama and anticipation in this shot.

Now, take a look of this photo:

Here, the eye doesn’t really know where to focus, and the movement away from the frame of the picture creates an imbalance, and a restlessness that causes the observer to quickly lose interest in this picture. The result: A bad photo! (Don’t worry, I took the pictures myself earlier this year during a soccer tournament at our university, so I’m criticizing my own work, lol!)

Now, the same principle applies to portrait photography. When you take a picture of a person, make sure that the person looks “into” the picture, not outside the frame. Otherwise the observer always keeps wondering: What are they looking at? What am I missing from this picture? In other words, if a person is looking in one direction, make sure you place them on the opposite side of the frame, so you give them space to look into. Again, this creates a balance, and allows the eye of the observer to flow and move along your composition.

How Does This Apply to Scrapbooking?

When it comes to scrapbooking, knowing about this principle can really help you improve your layouts. Basically, it comes down to this: When you place a photo, make sure you place it so that the direction the people are looking in, is inside the frame of your layout, not away from your layout. For example, using the picture of my friend above, you wouldn’t want to place that photo on the left side of your layout. Placing it there would mean that he is kind of looking away from what you’re creating, drawing attention to what’s outside the page frame, and therefore away from your page. And that’s exactly what you don’t want. Instead, it would be best to place the photo anywhere towards the right of your page. Thus, he will look in the direction of your page, drawing attention to whatever you’ve put together on your page.

If you’d place the above photo in the center or your page, then it would be good to make sure that whatever is most important to you on the page is placed right in the direction where the subject is looking toward, for example with the image above, to place important embellishments etc. toward the left bottom side of the photo. This creates balance, and your eye would flow naturally over the layout.

Here are some example layouts:

And here’s one bad example:

When putting this page together, I knew right away that it would be bad for the composition to have the people look away from the page, but I just hated mirroring the photos as well.

After having said all this, one last thing I want to point out: Design rules are meant to be broken, and it doesn’t mean that from now on you have to follow this principle on every single layout. My galleries are full of pages, where I didn’t apply this rule, and the pages still turned out well.

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