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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.
So I am out here and I've just found another one of these, another wrecked, dilapidated building. This place is filthy with them; I love it. But this one is special, because it has this windmill further back in the next field to the right of the house. And I am so proud of myself. I am thinking in layers here, because I have got this barn layer here and I've got the windmill layer back there, and I'm seeing in my mind a picture wherein the windmill and the house can look like they're kind of next to each other or in closer proximity than they really are. In other words, I'm seeing layers and I am understanding that there's all the depth that I can work with that I can compress down to a single picture.
So with that in mind, I'm going to take my shot. Okay, here it is, and it just doesn't work. Ah, boy, the windmill's tiny. That's not what I was seeing at all. Okay, let's look at why. I'm standing right here. I'm pretty close to this building. And so to get the framing that I want, which is the house over to the left and the windmill next to it, I have to go to a fairly wide angle. And you should be familiar with this already, but let's go over it again. At wider angles, the sense of depth in a scene appears to be stretched.
I would like the windmill to appear closer to the house, so I need to use a longer focal length, which means I am going to have to go farther away. I've had to change lenses. That last lens I was using was a very wide-angle lens, and now I put a 70 to 200 mm on. Now I don't want to walk a long way, so I've actually got it at the widest angle. I am at 70 mm right now, and at 70 mm when I frame my shot, I need to be about right here. That's how I have chosen this position is I set 70 mm, and now I'm going to take my shot from here, and from here I can actually get the same framing that I had before, meaning the house at about the same size in the same part of the frame, and here is what that picture looks like.
Okay, this is getting better. The windmill's getting larger. Now it's important notice that it doesn't look identical to the first one. Here's the first one. Here is the second one. Notice the building is appearing to change shape. The perspective is changing. This is not anything I can avoid. It's simply a function of using a longer focal length and changing my field of view. In this case, I don't mind that. I wasn't trying to get a particular shape on the building. It's more about the relationship between the building and the windmill. And actually, I like the building better this way, a little bit squared up.
I am still not sure if this is the right one. Maybe I want the windmill a little bit bigger. And I've got a lot more telephoto power in this lens, so I am going to go even further back. So I've been walk away from the house, and I've gotten to a point where the ground is about to drop off, and when that happens my up-down perspective on the house changes and that's not quite right. So I am going to stay right about here and when I do that and frame my shot up the way that I want it, I'm at a little over--I am at about 120 mm. So I am going to take this shot. Now, you may be thinking, boy, you sure don't look like you're lined up properly for that shot, but trust me, I am.
And notice that as you move away and go to a longer focal length, your left/right position may change to get the shot framed the way that you want. Here's what we've got and I think I like this one the most. The windmill is a good size. It's actually coming up to the top of the roof. I maintained mostly the size of the house. Let's look at all three again. This was my first one. This was up close, at a very wide angle. The windmill looks very far away. I've got tremendous amount of depth in the scene. I pulled back and went a little more telephoto. The windmill is getting bigger. The sense of depth in the scene is compressing.
I'm trying to keep my house roughly the same size and my overall composition the same. I went further back, zoomed in even more, and got this. Nice big windmill, a tremendous amount of compression of the layers in the scene, and again my house is still roughly the same size, and my overall composition is the same. Looking back at these, again remember, perspective on the house is changing, the vanishing points are changing, the overall shape of the house may be more or less distorted. A wider-angle lens when you're really close to something is going to add a lot of geometric distortion. As I pull back, I am getting more straight up and down.
I also can't get the house precisely the same size. Don't get too stuck on mathematical perfection as you're moving around. Every time you stop and frame again with a different focal length, just build a composition that looks good to you. Don't sit there and compare to the other one to make sure it's exactly the same. Just find one that looks nice. So, longer focal lengths compress the depth in the scene; shorter focal lengths expand the sense of depth in a scene. This means that when I'm working with layers I can manipulate how big farther layers are or how small farther layers are by moving forwards and backwards while changing my focal length.
This is a basic lens function, and you can learn more about it in my Foundations of Photography: Lenses course.
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