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Composition can make an interesting subject bland or make an ordinary subject appear beautiful. In this course, photographer and author Ben Long explores the concepts of composition, from basics such as the rule of thirds to more advanced topics such as the way the eye travels through a photo.
The course addresses how the camera differs from the eye and introduces composition fundamentals, such as balance and point of view. Ben also examines the importance of geometry, light, and color in composition, and looks at how composition can be improved with a variety of post-production techniques. Interspersed throughout the course are workshop sessions that capture the creative energy of a group of photography students; shooting assignments and exercises; and analyses of the work of photographers Paul Taggart and Connie Imboden.
Lines are great compositional elements, and there are lots of ways that you can use them to drive focus and attention and balance your frame. You had to be very careful though, because a very subtle difference in positioning of a line from one place to another can make a huge impact on your photo. You want to be careful about how lines intersect, how they blend together, and even a slight camera motion can change that. Let's look at some examples. Our first example here is a composition that's not really built around any idea of line, but rather about shapes, the shapes of these three refrigerators.
What struck me about this scene is that when I walked into the room they looked like big giant beings of some kind, big robots or something, that the refrigerators were secretly gathering here for some sinister meeting or something like that. So I wanted to get a sense of them as these big things kind of hanging out. They have some personality to them. So I decided to go to a wide-angle lens, a very short focal length, and get really close. That exaggerates the lines in the image. I get these nice receding lines that makes the refrigerators tower over me a little bit. I like that.
This image has a problem though, and that is that this line right here on this refrigerator is intersecting perfectly with this line in the window and I don't like that. I don't like that because as I'm shooting this, ultimately I have already decided that this is going to be a black-and-white image. And when it goes to black and white, I'm going to have more trouble separating the foreground from the background. Right now we know that this wall is not part of this refrigerator because it's a different color. When I go to black and white, that's going to be harder to see. Now you may say, oh, come on. Anyone who looks at this knows that that's a refrigerator and that's a wall.
Yes, that's true, but still, the more you can do to give the viewer an immediate understanding of shape and relationship of shapes and forms in the scene to each other, the better off you are going to be. That when this go black and white, this one continuous line is possibly going to confuse, just for a moment, what the relationship is of different objects within the scene. It's a very easy thing to fix. I just shift a little bit to the right and that line is broken, and now there's a slightly better sense of separation between the wall and refrigerator, and that gives me a little bit more of an understanding of depth in the scene.
Again, that's with the lines intersecting and that's shifted a little bit. Then I decided to try this. I stood up higher, or actually I stood up. I was crouched down before. I stood up, and what I was liking about this was I get some additional shape. I get these planes on the top of the refrigerators, and I get, because of my wide-angle lens, all of these nice receding lines. And it changes them. They are now not so menacing; now they're just kind of these things that met here for maybe a meeting that's not quite so sinister. But I didn't like this being cropped off, so I shifted little bit to frame that up there, and this is looking better.
I don't really have any intersections that I need to worry about. That one right there doesn't really bother me so much. This is going to be tonally much darker than the refrigerator. I have got too much space over here, so center up the image a little bit. That kills some of the bright space that was over here. This is pretty white. That's often an eye magnet. I am really facing a high-dynamic range situation here. The line outside these windows is very bright, so cropping that out helps. Continuing to work with the shot though, I think well, what about these doors? They open, so I opened the door and got back down low.
This didn't really work for me because before I had it just about the refrigerators, and now it's like there's this other thing in the scene, which is this big door, that because of my wide- angle lens, is really overpowering the scene. I like the exaggerated lines here, the stretching of the door, but I've lost focus in the image. My eye doesn't really know where to go, so I closed that door and opened the middle one, and that's maybe a little more interesting. I don't know. But I'm back to an intersection problem: this line is now interfering again.
So I'm going to shift a little bit to break that up, and that's looking better. And yes, I am thinking about this while I'm shooting. What you're hearing now is my thought process as I'm going through. And I'm not shooting quickly; I'm having to stop and really look at all of these lines in the scene. Now this intersection here is not so bad because of the brightness. I'm maybe a little worried about that intersection there, but overall, I think that works. Tilt up a little bit to get myself a little more space there and break things up a little bit.
So I'm shooting fairly slowly. I've got all the time in the world, because these refrigerators aren't going anywhere obviously; they have been here for quite a while. I have got all the time in the world to really stop and look at all of these different lines and make very tiny shifts in either just the way that I'm holding the camera--sometimes the shifts are so small, that all I have to do is move my head a little bit to the left. Sometimes I actually got to move my feet around. It's very, very important to pay attention to intersection and relationship of lines in your image. So let's look at another example. Again, this is not built necessarily around lines, although there are strong lines in the image, these big lines in the trees and the mailbox.
This was my initial hit on the scene, but I didn't like all of this bright space over here. I was afraid it was an eye magnet. I was afraid if it was a little distracting. So I cropped over here, which gets rid of that distracting white bit that was over here and gets my focus more over here, but I just don't like the intersection of the edge of the tree with the edge of the frame. I have cropped too far. Another line, though, is starting to present itself that I am liking, which is this big circle here, or an arc here, and this is kind of with this line in here, serving to create an overall thing in here that's kind of working for me.
Another camera shift. This is better, but I am still working my shot. This space is back, it's bright, but it is not too bright and distracting. Now this one just didn't work because there was a lens flare. Very important to pay attention to that when you're shooting into the sun. At this point, I needed to either move or shield the lens with my hand, so I come to here, and I am liking this pretty well. I've tilted down a little bit to break up some of this bright stuff. The tree is not interfering with the edge of the frame. I have still got these lines all nicely arranged.
And when I go to black and white, I get this. So again, I'm not--this, what we are talking about here is not analysis that I do after the fact. I'm not looking at this going, oh look, these lines happen to work together. I'm actually thinking about that stuff while I'm shooting, and I'm adjusting my shot, my camera position, on the fly, to really make sure that the relationships of my lines are what they need to be to serve my compositional goals.
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