Dominant mass is a term coined by William Mortensen in his book “The Command to Look.” He suggests that having a huge subject in the middle of the frame, that fills the whole frame is one of the key photographic compositions that captivates the whole audience.
Probably the most common composition. The one that Kodak used to tell us to avoid. Something about not putting the main subject in the exact centre of the frame. Actually the perfect centre of the frame is a magical spot, but we will leave that for another time.
Dominant Mass filles the frame. It minimises negative space. You can’t get past the dominant mass to the rest of the photograph. It is up front and centre.
If the negative space becomes integral to the photograph it probably isn’t dominant mass.
It is so strong and large it bullies you to keep looking at it. It dominates the image.
Which of the photographs bellow are dominant mass? Which ones use other compositional techniques to make them work? Comment on this bellow.
Ok, so now it’s your turn.
Photograh the same subject and vary the size of the object in the frame and find the tipping point. It is probably different for each of us.
Craft and create a photograph with a dominant mass, and post it. Now increase the negative space around it and see if you can find the tipping point. Now go way past the tipping point and see where it falls apart.
Post three photographs. One definitely Dominant Mass. one that works but is near the tipping point. And one that fails on Dominant Mass.
Be careful as the image may succeed because of other reasons. It may still be a great photograph but not be using dominant mass. For me the clue is the background. If the background is an important compositional element then it’s not dominant mass. My example above is the Lyre Bird. The tree has to be balanced and geometrically interesting for the photograph to work.
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Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2019