Photography Basics

How Kungfu Panda Teaches Composition in Photography

I am sure you have seen kung fu panda movies. It cracks me up every time I see it. Well, I guess it does that to anyone who watches it. But, as you may know, it’s not just about making people laugh. It teaches you a lot of other things, too: The first movie tells you to believe in yourself. It shows that there is no secret way to be successful in what you do. The only way is to believe in what you do. I hope you got this side of the movie. The second movie tells you to find inner peace and how to stay happy throughout your life. Isn’t it just amazing? How a simple animation movie teaches you good life lessons.
poster of kungfu panda movie --

You must be wondering why I am teaching you some philosophy now. Don’t worry. I am getting into the main topic of this post. Couple of days ago, I watched these two movies again. You know, just for a time pass. While I was watching the movie, one of the scenes struck my attention. That scene is beautifully designed (that’s one of the reasons why I like animation movies )and is a perfect example of how a landscape photograph should be composed. So, apart from teaching some life lessons, these movies teach you some very important lessons in photography as well. How cool is that! I know your patience is wearing thin. I am getting to the point.

Adding a sense of depth to a photograph

rule of thirds explained in a scene from kungfupanda movie

Adding a sense of depth to a photograph is very important since we see everything in 3D and photographic medium is in 2D. Let’s take a look at this scene from the movie. Here,  Master shifu is watching master ongu disappearing into thin air. See how the rock formation is placed in the frame. It’s not in the center or to the left of the frame; It’s on the right side. Why did the artist design the scene this way? Well, it’s not by random. And it’s not rocket science, either. He/she just followed the rule of thirds.
Let me give you a brief idea what this rule means. It is a rule to add a sense of depth in photographs (or painting). Here is how you should do it: Divide the scene into thirds and keep your main area or subject on any of the lines dividing the scene. Okay, so that’s one way the artist designed it. Another interesting (also an important) thing the artist did, for creating a sense of depth, was adding those mountains raising their heads above the layer of clouds.
If you don’t see how those mountains add a sense of depth in the photograph, try to visualise this scene without the mountains and the clouds. If there were no clouds or mountains in this scene, the sky does not seem separated from the foreground (where master shifu is standing). So, as you can see, it clearly separates the foreground and the extreme background which is the sky.
And the third point, you can learn from this scene, is how much is the background/foreground in the frame. It is pretty confusing to a beginner. You will be confused how much area of foreground/background to keep in a scene.There are several factors to be considered for doing that. Since explaining all that makes this post lengthy, I will talk about that in one of my future posts. But, let me give you a quick tip now: if you are confused, just make sure the interesting part will take up the most space.
For example, if you are photographing a scene with lots of clouds and just plain foreground, then fill the 2/3rd of the frame with the sky part. That would make the frame interesting and aesthetically pleasing. The reason is that those clouds add depth to the photograph.
This scene is another perfect example

composition in photography from kungfu panda movie

In this scene, the rule of thirds has less significance since a sense of depth is achieved by the mountains. You must be wondering why the first scene used rule of thirds, while this does not, eventhough both of them have mountains in it. Here, the mountains are of different sizes and Another way how depth is achieved in this scene is by decrease in color contrast from foreground to background

Here is another scene for you to analyse.

screen shot from movie kungfu panda movie
Sense of depth is achieved by color contrast
Find symmetry
This scene shows maintaining symmetry and following is important in photography. Symmetry is basically dividing an image (vertically or horizontally) into two similar parts. As you can see, the image shown below is vertically symmetric. Also, the artist included a pattern of wooden pillars which draws the viewers’ attention to the subject.
explaining symmetry in an artwork from kungfu panda movie
You seek symmetry, and you will find symmetry
Do you find symmetry everywhere? No. It is not like symmetry exists whereever you look. By the way, I am talking about visual symmetry here. Visual symmetry is easier to find out — you just have to observe your environment. You need to find the imaginary line of symmetry in a scene. How do you know if it is the symmetry line? Well, you will see the same elements on both the sides. It is not rocket science, you see. Horizontal symmetry is often seen in landscapes with reflections. Reflection is a great tool to add symmetry to a photograph. It not only adds an aesthetic sense, but also maintains a balance in the photograph. I have often seen photographs with half reflection or small part of reflections. I feel it is a great mistake people make since the visual balance is totally thrown off. So, either keep the reflection or don’t.

By this post, I don’t think I explained everything about composition in photography. The idea of this article is not to teach you everything about composition in photography, rather it is to tell you how to observe and find frames around you even if you are watching a movie. But, I am sure that I gave you some insights into photography composition. By the way, it is not that only animation movies have good composition in every scene; if you observe well, you can find these simple rules of composition in any [good] movies you watch. Another point I would like to make is that you can make good photographs using these simple rules of composition in photography. One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is that they don’t pay much attention to composition; the only see the subject and frame it arbitrarily. You should know that other elements in a scene are as important as the subject.

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Vidhu Soman

Hi, I am Vidhu Soman, Editor of Shutterstoppers. I have been doing photography since 2010, and I co-founded shutterstoppers community in 2012. I love photography, writing, travelling, and reading. If you wish to contact me, send a mail using our contact form.

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