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If you’ve ever taken a photograph and felt like it was “floating” or missing an element that connected the subject to the environment around it, you might be forgetting to anchor your photography. Anchoring, completing, connecting, sitting and a dozen other words to describe it simply mean to show the connection of a subject and it’s supporting limbs or structure to the rest of the photograph.
It’s why you’ve always heard to never cut off a person at the ankles in a photograph. When you show the ground they’re standing on, you anchor them to the environment and give them the visual support they need in an image. Here are a few to watch out for and think about the next time you’re framing up a subject.
If you’re photographing a mug of beer on a table top, a bowl of soup, or a perfume container for a product catalog, always make sure you show where that product hits the ground. On a textured background this can be pretty obvious. On a white background it’s usually accomplished by creating a slight shadow. That little shadow gives the ground below on a white surface some tone and grounds your object. The exception here is if you are asked to shoot for white seamless, meaning you want to eliminate any shadows so that your subject/object can easily be floated and placed onto any white background.
If you’re shooting for a company and they ask for images “on white” be sure you know first if they want that shadow or not. Many smaller companies or individuals don’t know industry lingo and they could say one thing but really mean another.
If you’re wondering why some of the family photos you have taken just “don’t seem quite right” it might be because you’re cropping your photo at the shins or ankles. Essentially, you’ve forgotten to give your subject a leg to stand on! At a certain point down your legs your mind wants to mentally complete a person. It subconsciously knows there’s more to that appendage, and if you’re chopping it off in a photo your mind rejects it as incomplete. That point is generally at or below the knees. The very same principle applies to arms. Arms cut off at ¾ length or at the wrists feel incomplete. Try watching what you’re framing up while composing a shot. Make sure you’re completing all your limbs, or at least cropping at the appropriate places.
All this translates to objects and buildings as well. How many tourist photos have you seen of the Eiffel Tower, and they’re missing the top of the tower! Your mind instantly wants to reject this image because it’s also seen so many images of the building complete. Be careful where you chop the top off of any building, or if you decide not to capture the ground below it and anchor it. The ¾ rule for limbs works well here too. If you’ve got most of a structure in there, be sure to finish it or crop even shorter on some details.
Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course there are! And many people have been able to break it to great effect. However, before you start breaking the rules you really need to know them and why for the majority of your images they’ll hold fast and true. So be sure in the next set of images you’re taking to anchor your subject and visually complete it.