Douglas Kirkland on Photography: A Photographer's Eye
Illustration by John Hersey
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Composing an outdoor image


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Douglas Kirkland on Photography: A Photographer's Eye

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Video: Composing an outdoor image

What I wanted to show you here is the importance of light and form. It's midday. We were told, in front of the school you can't usually take pictures, good pictures of midday in the summer. Well, this is an exception, because the midday light is working beautifully for us. Look at the form of the architecture itself. Quite glorious! And it's intensified and glorified by the texture that we see. So then you have the deep-blue sky, the desert sky behind, and then up at the top we have this great palm, which is currently just starting to still cover the sun, so we don't have direct sun into the camera.
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Watch the Online Video Course Douglas Kirkland on Photography: A Photographer's Eye
41m 55s Appropriate for all Sep 29, 2011 Updated Oct 19, 2011

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In the Douglas Kirkland on Photography series, well-known photographer Douglas Kirkland explores a variety of real-world photographic scenarios, sharing technical insights and critiquing the results.

In this installment, Douglas discusses the importance of developing a sense of photographic vision: keeping your mind and eye open for photographic opportunities, and maximizing those opportunities through composition and other creative decisions. The course begins with Douglas reviewing images from his personal collection. He discusses the importance of observation and exploration for a photographer, how to see art in everyday situations, and why one should always have a camera nearby.

Douglas then goes on location to shoot in and around Korakia Pensione, a resort in Palm Springs, California. He explains his creative and technical decisions as he shoots, and describes how natural lines created by architecture and light can help make an effective photograph. The course continues on a hike through a Palm Springs canyon, where Douglas captures images in the field, working with moving water, highly textured rock faces, and even some local wildlife. Finally, Douglas wanders through downtown Palm Springs armed with a simple point-and-shoot camera, proving that with vision and an open mind, great images can be made with simplest equipment.

Download a free companion guide to Douglas Kirkland on Photography: A Photographer's Eye from the Exercise Files tab. The guide contains photos, detailed camera-setting information from the shoots in this course, and more tips from Douglas on improving composition and maximizing available natural light.

Subject:
Photography
Author:
Douglas Kirkland

Composing an outdoor image

What I wanted to show you here is the importance of light and form. It's midday. We were told, in front of the school you can't usually take pictures, good pictures of midday in the summer. Well, this is an exception, because the midday light is working beautifully for us. Look at the form of the architecture itself. Quite glorious! And it's intensified and glorified by the texture that we see. So then you have the deep-blue sky, the desert sky behind, and then up at the top we have this great palm, which is currently just starting to still cover the sun, so we don't have direct sun into the camera.

So the first image I want to take is just this form here. I am going to isolate it, and I am on the 16-35 zoom. And I am going up to the top of this palm. And this gets tremendously exciting. And I have no strong vertical lines, so I don't have to worry about tipping the camera back. I am not getting any apparent distortion. I am just seeing perspective, but what I am seeing is a very such exciting image, because I'm seeing the light of the sun sparkle through the palm. That is so cool.

We have the line of the architecture crossing here, and yet we have these windows here, and then we have the palm there in silhouette. Again, that's giving more information. It's a comfortable aesthetic for me, or design, and that's where beautiful architectural photographs come from, and I've done quite a bit of architectural work as well. It's a combination of nature and what the architect created himself. The interesting thing is, I can take one or two steps and I know there is another image, because again, I have another beautiful form here. And through here, I can see these beautiful steps with tiles on them.

So I am going to use this as a frame, a device to frame. What I love here is my eye is guided into the inside. It's a welcoming feeling. That's what architecture should be. Always see if you can find, to look through something. It may be a door. It may be some leaves. Always, framing is a key to strong photography. I've just noticed over here this beautiful plant that's sort of isolated from everything else, and I want to make it stand out even more against the background.

So I've put the 70-300 zoom on. I am going to start getting the entire plant in by coming out to, let's see, I am at about 135. I will go down to 105. There is the first picture. Yes, that looks nice. It looks nice. It does pop from the background with this lens. So if I am going to come closer--oh I just saw something that's even more interesting. So I am going to come closer, because I've noticed there are bees around there. So I am going to take my time.

I am going to get down here in a comfortable spot. They come and go, but you just make your focus where you see one go in. And this is quite exciting. There is one, and I am watching it. He is going to fly out any minute, and that will be the picture. It really separates it, and it makes it very graphic. Without a lens like I have here, this 300 millimeter, I could not get a picture like I have here.

I don't want to see the background; I want it to pop out from the background, and the use of the 300 millimeter allows me to do that and to watch, be careful, and then see the activity of the bees around it. That's how it all happens, thanks to the 300 and the selection of this lens at this time. So I looked out the window and I saw this daybed, and I said, I am sure there is a picture here. But you know, I want to have the environment. I want to have this place. I don't want just the picture of the daybed.

It could be very dull, frankly. This is my idea. I am going to try it right now. I've got 14-millimeter lens here on my camera, which is kind of unusual, and I'm going to lay back here, and I am really looking at the form. I am looking at the design of this piece overhead. And again, it's a very wide lens, so I'm getting almost probably 90 degrees and more, maybe 110 degrees with this lens. Believe it or not, I can even see the moon up there. Isn't that incredible? The moon is a little small, but it can be seen. Yes! That's exactly what I wanted.

The 14 is called a rectilinear. It means it doesn't bend the lines. It is a very wide lens, yes, one the widest that doesn't bend the lines, but it will give you--some might think of it as distortion, yes, but that's perspective, basically. But that is exciting. And you see, there is making a picture when most people would think there's no picture there. I want to go another step. In my pocket here, I also brought the fisheye. So I am going to swap lenses and get on to the fisheye and do the same picture.

What will surprise you--now the lens I just used was a 14, and this is a 15. Now a 15 would suggest that it's longer, but since it's a fisheye, no, it's not longer. It's much wider. It's getting everything almost 180 degrees, almost everything in front of it. So probably a less interesting image, but let's check it out. And I'm going to turn this a little, because I see, if I recompose, yeah, I'm starting to work here too. Oh, we've got palm trees on all sides.

We've got this beautiful form here. Look at what you have here with the 15-millimeter fisheye with these lines bent, but you see the wonderful palm trees all around. That works for me. But here's the rectilinear lens, the 14, with straight lines. That is even, to me, maybe more exciting. But the interesting thing is, well, there are different ways of seeing things. I could have photographed this daybed here and it could have been very boring, but get a different look. Think differently. That's very, very important.

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