Star Wars Fan Awards Pro Tips: Advice for Photographers from Joel Aron

The VFX Supervisor for Star Wars Rebels breaks down the basics of bringing balance to your images.

The way Joel Aron describes it, good photography is a lot like the Force — it’s dependent on finding a balance, an awareness of the aspects in motion in the background, and based on some ancient teachings that still hold true today.

The Director of Cinematography, specializing in lighting and special effects for Lucasfilm Animation, started his career with ILM 27 years ago next week, working on Hook. Over the next few years, Aron worked his way up, a combination of utilizing his natural talents for visual storytelling and staying up all night teaching himself some of the tools of the trade. After a trip to Singapore in 2007 to help the production team working on the first season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Aron bonded with showrunner Dave Filoni and soon made the leap over to animation full-time. “We have a language that you rarely find,” he says.

When he isn’t helping to create the stunning visuals of Star Wars Rebels and other animated shows, Aron is often spotted roaming around the Lucasfilm campus — and on his off hours — with a Leica camera in hand to document the world around him.

This week, we asked Aron to give us a crash course in photography basics for everyone entering the category in this year’s Star Wars Fan Awards.

Here are his top 5 tips for a perfectly composed photo that truly catches the eye:

1. Use the golden section to bring balance to your photos.

There’s a science to creating an image that sings. The Rule of Thirds dates back to ancient times, a geometric breakdown that defines the perfect proportions for an image – a rectangle that breaks down into nine perfectly proportioned boxes, guiding the eye toward the four corners of the central section. “You can take this image and lay it over any Greek or Roman building and you will see the line up,” Aron says. “It’s in everything!” Although that was long before photography came into vogue, the tradition carried through other forms of art, including the most enduring paintings and later filmmaking. “The Mona Lisa is the most famous of all for the Rule of Thirds,” Aron says.

And photographers, from Aron’s favorite street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson to modern day shutterbugs of all levels of experience, still rely on this most basic tenet. How prevalent is the technique? When you snap a photo with your iPhone and zoom in to crop it, the squares that pop up form that perfectly proportioned grid, remade for the digital age. “When you go to crop, you don’t realize it but it’s actually giving you your Rule of Thirds.”

2. To take it to the next level, try a triangle.

The geometry lesson doesn’t end there. In visual storytelling, dividing an image into triangles and leading lines is an essential part of creating a picture that guides the viewer’s eye exactly where you want it to go within the image. “OK, I’ve got a balanced composition, but I’m now going to use a triangle of light or a triangle of shapes in the frame to make you look where I want you to look,” Aron says. He and Filoni are both fond of this principle, he says, so much so that next time you watch “Twilight of the Apprentice,” you may just see triangles everywhere. “That’s what we use a lot in Rebels,” Aron says. “Filoni and I are kind of addicted to that type of composition.”

This lesson also has a basis in science. “As a human, we look for repeating patterns,” Aron says, from the very start of life as infants trying to suss out which blurry and dark shapes form the faces of our caretakers. “Your brain is always looking for patterns.” It’s another visual cue utilized throughout Star Wars, from row upon row of stormtroopers lined up at attention to the familiar crossed design that gives the X-wing its name.

 3. Frame it!

We don’t mean a physical picture frame, although you may be so pleased with your work that you want to hang it on your wall. Aron’s advice is to look for objects that can provide a clean border around the subject of your photo, especially if the person or item you’re focusing your lens on is located off to one side. In other words, you don’t want the focus of your photo to be dead center. “If most of the meat of the image is on one side, then it’s better to frame it,” Aron says. “A classic example of this is if I take a picture of the television and someone is on the television, I have now framed them with the television within the frame.”

4. Don’t ignore the backdrop.

You’re focused on the subject of your photo, but too much clutter in the background can create a distraction that will pull your viewer’s attention on to other things. “This is a critical one because a lot of people don’t really look at that,” Aron says. “They’re so focused on getting the picture of the person, they don’t realize there’s a [delivery] truck driving in the background or your mom is taking something out of her purse and blinking. All these things are going to be in there that you didn’t realize because you were hyper-focused on taking a picture.”

5. No camera? No problem.

If you have a smartphone, you already have all the tools you need to get started taking pictures. “You can get the most powerful camera in the world with all the bells and whistles, but the reality is you are the one taking the picture.” Aron likens it to a baker. “You can get the most expensive oven in the world, but it is not going to make your pies that much better unless you know all about timing and ingredients….I can take just as great of a picture with my iPhone as I can with my camera. The reality is you can take a picture with a shoebox and still get something that looks amazing.”

For more advice from Aron, check out Pro Tips on The Star Wars Show at the link below!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.​ Enter contest between 7/18/18 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (“PT”) and 9/17/18 at 11:59 p.m. PT. Open to legal residents of the 50 U.S. & D.C., Canada (excluding Quebec), Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Puerto Rico who are 13+ at time of entry. Limit 1 submission per genre per person. There are 34 Star Wars prize packs available to be won (Estimated Value: US$200 each). See Official Rules {https://www.starwars.com/star-wars-fan-awards-official-rules-2018} for full details on how to enter, eligibility requirements, prize description and limitations. Void in Quebec and where prohibited. Sponsor: Disney Online, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521-7667.

Photos by Kyle Kao.

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!

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