Creating impact using subject bleed

As photographers we can sometimes miss opportunities to add visual impact to our images by how we choose to compose them. This short article discusses creating impact using subject bleed.

Subject bleed is a very simple composition technique where we purposely use very tight framing on the main subject in our photograph and purposely cut some of it off – i.e. have it ‘bleed off’ the edge, or edges, of our photograph. This has the effect of directing the viewer’s eye where we want it to go while looking at an image. For example, if we create a subject bleed on the right hand side, it will force the viewer’s eye to the left. Creating a bleed on the bottom will force a reader’s eye upward. Let’s have a look an at example.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 55mm, efov 148mm, f/4.5, 1/25, ISO-3200
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 55mm, efov 148mm, f/4.5, 1/25, ISO-3200

The main subject in the photograph above has a bleed on the bottom edge only. This forces the reader’s eye up. Space has been allowed around the clown’s arm to create visual relief and encourage the reader’s eye to follow the upward motion of the image and the right to left sweep of the clown’s arm. Unfortunately this image was shot with extension tubes which makes it difficult to achieve good depth-of-field and the clown’s hand is out of focus. There are also some distracting out of focus items on the left hand side of the frame that weaken the photograph.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 41mm, efov 111mm, f/5, 1/20, ISO-3200
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 41mm, efov 111mm, f/5, 1/20, ISO-3200, extension tube

The same subject was photographed using much tighter framing, a slightly different angle, and includes subject bleeds on the top, bottom and right hand sides. These bleeds force the reader’s eye towards the clown’s face. The tighter framing has also eliminated the distracting elements on the left hand side of the frame. Overall, this second photograph has far much visual impact than the first one.

Using subject bleeds can be especially effective when photographing animals and flowers.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-2800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-2800

The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is usually photographed with its spectacular head plumage visible. I purposely framed this specimen much tighter and used a 3-edge subject bleed to help draw the viewer’s gaze into the bird’s eye. Then, by choosing a shooting angle that lined up the bird’s eye, beak and curve of its breast, a smooth line to accentuate the bird’s eye was formed further drawing the reader’s eye into the image.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-200
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-200

The photograph above uses a 2-edge subject bleed on the bottom and right hand side. These bleeds push the viewer’s eye up and to the left which helps to accentuate the directional gaze of the bird. Some care was taken with the shooting angle to allow for some ‘breathing space’ underneath the chin of the bird. This helped to minimize the potential distraction from the darker, out-of-focus shapes in the background, and also helped accentuate the curve of the bird’s neck.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-1600
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-1600

Two edge bleeds are very commonly used when photographing close ups of animals as you can see in the image above and below. In both cases the left and top edge bleeds force the reader’s eye down and to the right.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 204mm, efov 552mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-3200
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 204mm, efov 552mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-3200

The green iguana photograph below incorporates a 3-edge subject bleed. These help to force the reader’s gaze towards the face of the lizard. Similar types of subject bleeds can be used with portraits and street photography in cases where you may want to create additional drama with your images of people.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-1800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-1800

Subject bleeds can also be very effective when shooting flowers and plants. When doing close-up work 4-edge bleeds are often used in combination with depth-of-field emphasis.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 46mm, efov 123mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-800, extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 46mm, efov 123mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-800, extension tubes

You can see the use of a 4-edge bleed in the above image. These pull the viewer’s eye into the middle of the frame. Focus is centred on the stigma and stamen of the flower which further accentuates this portion of the photograph.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-640
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-640

Another common use of 4-edge subject bleeds is when photographing something with strong parallel lines, like the leaf in the above image.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-6400
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-6400

4-edge subject bleeds can also be very effective with nature photographs. This is especially true if the overall composition has a strong feeling of movement or has a circular shape as in the bird image above. In these cases a 4-edge bleed can help accentuate the shaping while drawing the viewer into the image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 77mm, efov 208mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1600, extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 77mm, efov 208mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1600, extension tubes

Our final example is a photograph of a blossom using a 2-edge subject bleed. As you can see the bottom and left edge bleeds force the reader’s eye up and to the right. This brings them to the tip of the blossom. The darker, out-of-focus background also helps bring the reader’s gaze toward the blossom.

Consciously thinking about how to incorporate subject bleeds into your compositions can help enhance the overall impact of your images.

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7 thoughts on “Creating impact using subject bleed”

  1. Hi Tom,

    I’ve noticed over the years that you often crop very close in to your subjects, with great effect. A byproduct is that the subject details are also very much clearer than if the whole subject is included in the frame, which helps to overcome the limitations of the small Nikon 1 sensor.

    It is useful to now understand the concept of subject bleed, thanks for doing so.

    Regards, Dave R

    1. Hi Dave,

      You are correct that I very often frame my subjects in very tight, this can add some drama to the image as well as utilize more pixels than if I cropped images after the fact.

      Tom

  2. Tom:
    Thanks for explaining the precise meaning of “subject bleed. ” Using this technique allows for viewer involvement in the photograph in more dramatic ways than if there were space completely surrounding the main subject of the photograph. I am one who usually likes to capture the whole subject in framing the composition of an image but with your encouragement I will try to be more creative using “subject bleed” However, I won’t tell anyone that I am deliberately trying to get my subject to bleed (they would totally misunderstand what I am doing -LOL).

    1. Hi Ray,

      Thanks for adding your experiences to the discussion! Composition is a personal choice and using ‘subject bleed’ will suit some folks better than others. It is fun to experiment trying new approaches nonetheless!

      Tom

    1. Hi Joni,

      Thanks for the positive comment – always appreciated! I agree that cropping images can improve them overall. Rather than crop images I often shoot different compositions of the same subject using a range of ‘subject bleeds’ and framing. I do try to avoid cropping my images if at all possible. I’m working on an article about this subject and will likely publish it sometime later this month.

      Tom

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