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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.
If the purpose of composition is to order a scene so that it makes more sense to the viewer of your photo, then it follows that in the process of creating a composition, you are setting up elements that will guide the viewer's eye through your picture, and that's just what's happening in this scene that you are looking at right now. We've got this bannister down here, this diagonal line of peeled paint along the wall, they're all leading right into me, and I'm framed by this doorway. We're using a lot of elements here that are very carefully arranged to make sure that your eye enters the frame and is led directly to me.
Geometry is one of the most prevalent ways that you will guide the viewer's eye as you're setting up your compositions. Here's a fairly textbook example of leading lines, and I think it should be pretty obvious. These big curved lines of these tire tracks, these good strong diagonal lines of these shadows, they are all leading light here into the trees, guiding our eye exactly into the middle of the image. I think it's important to point out that I did not see these trees and think "Wow! I really want to take a picture of those trees.
I'll walk around until I can find some leading lines." It was really the opposite. I saw the lines and thought boy, these shadows are really pretty and I like the way this curve cuts across these strong diagonal lines, but I need a subject for the image, and so I moved around until I found a place that the lines could go, something the lines could lead me to. So this was a case where I was very pointedly working with the lines in the fact that I knew they were going to guide the viewer's eye somewhere and I had it guide them directly into these two trees. Here the eye is being guided by a number of different things.
Primarily, we've got this strong line right through here and this dark shadow up in here that are helping to just contain our eye so it flows right along the lit-up fence. Now you might argue that, well, my eye is just going to the brightest spot, which is this white stuff, which is true, but these lines are serving to keep it centered, keep it focused, and keep it from wandering around the image. Meanwhile we've got this line here and this repeating group of lines here that just help our eye go right on out the other side of the frame.
There are lots of things that you will use to guide the viewer's eye. So again, we've got implied lines here, we've got tonality here and here. All of them are serving to keep the viewer's eye from getting lost. This one is a strange one, because it's really about the lines. They don't actually lead anywhere, but they do all work together. I have these strong lines here, which lead me right to these. Even if you miss the barbed wire at first, you certainly go right to the fence, which leads you back in here directly into the light or maybe over to this pole.
They don't actually end up anywhere. This is a kind of journey-is-the-reward kind of case, where the lines themselves give you something to do. Notice that with the lines and the simplicity of the image, even though there's not a really strong subject in this image, my eye still does not get lost; it knows where to go. As westerners, we tend to read images the same way we read text, that is, we go from left to right. This is a case though where the lines in the image are leading me more from right to left and back here into the mirror and back to the chair.
Again, simplicity is a big part of this image. My eye knows where to go partly because there are these strong lines to follow, but also because there's really not that much extraneous. In looking at the image now, I wish I'd gone in and moved this table out of the frame so that it was only the chair, because the chair does get lost a little bit in the table. And I could possibly have mitigated this a little bit by standing up, getting the camera higher, so that maybe there was more space between the top of the chair and this line on the table. That might have helped to make the chair stand out. It also possibly would have moved the chair down here a little bit so that it intersected more with this line.
I was thinking more of this as a graphic element that I wanted in the center of the frame for balancing reasons. Still, this is a case where I probably should have worked my shot a little more so that I wouldn't be wondering about these questions now. Here's a case where--actually, here is the case where I've got a focus problem. My camera focused back here. I needed deeper depth of field. You may think, didn't you notice this before you chose this image for the presentation? I did. I wanted to include some images that have some trouble so that you can see that very often you get into an image and only find out then if there's a technical problem or that you should have done something else, and learning to recognize those problems is a way to improve later.
Still, for the lesson of leading lines, this image still works. It's pretty obvious where the subject is. It's these kids with their cameras. But these strong lines here really help reinforce that right away I know that I am falling into the center of this image. Here's a case where the line is doing double duty. It is actually the subject of the image. It's what we really noticed. It's what caught my eye. But it's also serving a leading-line function. My eye just follows this wonderful wavy path right back here to this barn and this tree and this cloud, which worked together as a single graphical element.
But the line still does serve to guide my eye there. This is another case where leading lines combined with simplicity. There's nothing extra in the frame. There's nothing competing with the line. If the line was here, my eye might wander a little bit. It might not know where to go. So the line is constraining it. The simplicity is making the line more effective by guaranteeing that it's not competing with anything else. There are a lot of ways of controlling a viewer's attention. We're going to look at more of them in this course. But it's a good idea to really start paying attention to lines that lead the viewer's eye into and if need be, back out of, the frame.
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