Narrative Portraiture: Foundations of Portraiture
Illustration by John Hersey

Narrative Portraiture: Foundations of Portraiture

with Chris Orwig

Video: Thinking about composition

Here we are out at this interesting location. It's a brisk and breezy morning and whenever I arrive at a location I try to make sense of it. First of course, you take it in and then you say well, how I can I compositionally make sense of this scene? And here in this initial movie I want to talk about composition from a conceptual perspective. Then in the next movie we will look at how we can use composition in order to create interesting photographs. Now composition is really about framing. So how do we create an interesting frame? Because sometimes there is too much in it, there is too much clutter.

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Watch the Online Video Course Narrative Portraiture: Foundations of Portraiture
1h 44m Beginner May 27, 2011

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In the Narrative Portraiture series, photographer and teacher Chris Orwig explores the use of elements such as location and natural light to create images that tell stories about their subjects and produce a strong emotional connection.

In this first installment, Chris lays the groundwork for the series. The course begins with a discussion of portraiture and the characteristics that make an effective, story-filled portrait. Chris then explains the importance of establishing a connection with a subject and identifying those details that will help tell his or her story. Next, he explores elements such as location, natural lighting, and composition. The course concludes with an exploration of gear: the creative options that various lenses and cameras provide, and techniques for shooting efficiently and unobtrusively.

Topics include:
  • The elements of narrative portraiture
  • Choosing locations and working with natural light
  • Connecting with your subject to better tell a story
  • Composition strategies
  • Choosing lenses and selecting gear for a shoot
  • Camera-handling tips
Subject:
Photography
Author:
Chris Orwig

Thinking about composition

Here we are out at this interesting location. It's a brisk and breezy morning and whenever I arrive at a location I try to make sense of it. First of course, you take it in and then you say well, how I can I compositionally make sense of this scene? And here in this initial movie I want to talk about composition from a conceptual perspective. Then in the next movie we will look at how we can use composition in order to create interesting photographs. Now composition is really about framing. So how do we create an interesting frame? Because sometimes there is too much in it, there is too much clutter.

What we can do often is say put a subject in the middle of frame. That feels nice to us, it's easy to look at, but sometimes it's too static. It's not very interesting. On the other hand, we can follow a rule or a guide, the rule of thirds. I am sure you have heard about it. The rule of thirds is based on this ratio. It's this number Phi and what mathematicians call this number is an irrational number. So while the rule of thirds is a rule, what you do is you put the point of interest on one of those third points in your frame. It's also more a guide because there is mystery to it. It's not something that can be completely defined and that's true with all beauty, right.

You can make sense of it, but there is just a little bit more, there is a little bit extra there, that you can't really or truly define. Now once we start to follow these rules or guides, we have to keep in mind that it's not the only thing we have to keep in mind as we are shooting. For example, if we shift a little bit and let's say we follow this rule of thirds, but then neglect to pay attention to background, we can be following one thing but then ruining the composition with say a pole coming out of someone's head or something like that. So we have to make these subtle shifts and keep everything in mind.

I like how Feininger puts it. He says often times-- I've learn this to experience-- that the more interesting the subject, the less the photographer focuses in on the background. So to create good composition you have to start thinking about what I want to communicate, what story do I want to tell? You have to look at your subject and when you are photographing people, a lot of times you lock eyes with a person. You are drawn into that person. But what we need to do is to lock eyes, look at them, but then literally let our eyes travel around the frame and take in the rest of the frame in order to create good composition.

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