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Why One-Point Compositions Are So Important to Have in Our Toolkit

Published: 30/07/2019

Jim from Montgomery, AL writes:

"My favorite part of PFRE is the monthly photo contests and all the great comments made on the photos. I’ve noticed though that all but one of the winning photos this year has been a one point composition. I would love to be able to take great one points too like those winning pics. Any suggestions?”

Thanks Jim, and yes, a well-executed one-point can be very special. Indeed, pretty much everybody loves a good one-point! To execute them well, it’s important to keep in mind the interplay between height, width, and length. Specifically, a one-point composition requires that the vertical lines (indicating height, of course) and the horizontal lines (indicating width) are straight and parallel, respectively. When these two variables have been taken care of, then, as you can see in the photo attached to this article (click on it for larger view), what makes a one-point, a one-point, is when the lines associated with depth, converge at one point on the horizon line--hence the term: one-point perspective. By the way, the horizon line is typically at or around our eye-level.

A vast majority of the one-point compositions that we tend to see in our world are taken with the camera placed in the middle of the space being captured. We see these “centered one-points” so frequently that we presume that “being centered” is a requirement of this composition type. In fact, it’s not. As long as the criteria stated above are met, our camera can be positioned off-center in the space. That said, the fact remains that a great many one-points in our field are centered, so if that’s what you want to do, the question becomes how do we make sure that we have precisely centered our camera? This sounds easier than it actually is and can often cause us fits! It’s been my experience though, that the space/room will give us “clues” that we can use to accurately center the camera. For example, in many spaces, the base plate for the light fixture is placed dead-center of the room, so I often use it as a reference point by which to center my camera.

The Value of One-Points

I believe there are at least two key reasons why there is so much value in knowing how to nail down a one-point composition. First, is my sense that many of our competitors don’t do them. Indeed, almost everyone of my coaching clients tell me that most of their competitors work in a business model driven by volume and thus, have to move very quickly through the house in order to stay on schedule, as they have other houses to shoot. As such, they don’t have the extra time that doing a good one-point often requires. Instead, they shoot corner-to-corner, which is a little easier to execute; and while there is certainly nothing wrong with shooting this way, many real estate agents who might be accustomed to getting these corner-to-corner images will not be used to seeing a good one-point. As such, Jim, I personally believe that if you do one-points well, it will help you in distinguishing yourself from many of your competitors.

The second reason is more for those real estate shooters who aspire to work with interior designers or architects (a topic that I’ll be doing a multi-part series on, at some point in future). For these clients, executing a one-point composition is a non-negotiable, as it can be so helpful in highlighting a sense of balance and proportion within a space--elements which are often at the heart of great design. In fact, I will share that in every shoot that I've ever done for an interior designer or an architect, I've always delivered at least one or two, one-point compositions.

So, what are some other suggestions you can share with Jim to help him in his quest to do great one-points?

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.

8 comments on “Why One-Point Compositions Are So Important to Have in Our Toolkit”

  1. My advice would be to first locate the point on the far wall that you want your one-point centered on. Then locate a line on the floor or ceiling that comes out from that point at a 90 degree angle and line up your camera with both that line and desired point. Level your camera, tweak the left right rotation and this should get you pretty close. I'll often use the align tool in Lightroom and do some additional cropping in post to make sure it's perfect.

  2. I have the grid pattern on my camera set to the higher number of lines. (I think its three horizontal and three vertical.)
    This places one line on the vertical center of the frame, as well as one on the horizontal center.

    Then, when I have the camera close to centered on the point I want to be the center of the one point, I use the zoom of the lens to get a horizontal line at a significant horizontal line in the image. Also a vertical for a significant vertical. This gets it close in camera. Still best to confirm while editing in Lightroom or Photoshop.

    I've also played around with using a prominent edge, like the edge of a kitchen island, as a true vertical in a single point. This often moves the image off center relative to the room but it works if it creates an interesting composition.

  3. I also love those perfect one-point compositions. I always find the center point of the composition I have chosen. That means moving the camera around a bit left and right. But you also have to have the plane of your camera exactly paralel with the plane of the far wall of your composition. It takes some time and some leeling, moving and the like to get it right.

  4. I just did a RE shoot and 50% of my shots were decently executed one-points but the agent did not accept the images (100% satisfaction guarantee). I think when working with regular RE agents - standing in the corner is needed just as important as the artful OPP. #lessonlearned

  5. @Brent. Totally agree... it does depend on the client and what they are trying to achieve. The nice part about corner shots is that they provide more opportunity to include elements that are important to the "story" for smaller spaces. In many cases of REP there's just not enough room to backup and get a decent one point. They work great for designers and architectural shots, not so much for a typical home with smaller spaces.

  6. In my view, SP, like other compositional techniques, has to be used appropriately.
    For every room there is a "best" perspective that creates a good composition while also offing a good visual depiction of the room.

    As we improve at our craft one skill that improves is being able to see the composition that is most effective. Then executing.

    As with any composition, there are times when a SP results in a bad composition of visual elements.

    I think the point of this article is to reinforce that SP is a compositional technique that raises one's level in the craft of photography.

  7. Thank you all for your comments and contributions!

    @ David Ward - thanks, in particular, for your last comment. You perfectly captured my intention in writing this article ... couldn't have said it better myself!

  8. @David Ward, Yes, it's another tool in the toolbox and very effective where it works. Before this article thread, I wasn't taking note of when I composed SP or 2P. I just did it. I'm sure I'll improve by paying more attention. My customers are always very happy with the images I provide them and even though I continually ask for feedback on anything that isn't working for them, I never hear a negative comment. I certainly don't hear back that they don't like the single point images and for me to stop doing them as happened to Brent. Odd, that.

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