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Subject and background, balance, point of view, and simplicity. It's time to take these four fundamental compositional ideas out for a spin. You'll continue to explore these ideas, practice these ideas, and learn new things about these four ideas for as long as you continue to take pictures, but in order to work quickly and efficiently, and to be able to capture moments in a rapidly changing environment, you need to have a deep enough a feel for these concepts that you don't have to think about them too much, if at all, and that comes through repetition and practice.
You can of course simply go out and take pictures, but very often it's nice to give yourself an assignment. Having the entire world open to you, it can be overwhelming. Where do you start, how do you even see anything? Giving yourself an assignment can hone your attention and make it easier to see potential shots. You can easily create assignments for yourself at anytime. "Today I'm going to photograph bicycles," and then you can set off to try to find interesting pictures that involve bicycles. Or even give yourself a more abstract assignment. "Today I am going to shoot trouble," and you can choose to define that in any way that you like or in any way that strikes you.
I keep three assignments going for myself that I return to anytime I want to go shooting but feel stuck or unsure what I want to do: my city, my neighborhood, and my street. My city is the easiest, my neighborhood is harder, and my street is the hardest, because as I further constrain my geography, I have to dig deeper to try to concoct an interesting image. When the bulk of your day-to-day shooting options are at home, in your neighborhood, around your town, places that you see every day, whether you're shooting or not, it's easy to go numb, to lose your ability to see because things are too familiar, to simply get bored.
The scene discussions and exercises that we looked at earlier can help with that, but so can giving yourself an assignment. It's a great thing to do if you feel stuck. Note too that you can return to an assignment anytime you want. You could keep returning to your trouble assignment for years and slowly build up a body of work around that idea. You can travel with your assignment and maybe spend a day of vacation working on it. You might find that this gives you a very different view of a place. Right now, I'm going to give you an assignment directly related to composition.
What you choose to shoot is often driven by emotion; you have a feeling about something or an interest in something, and you want to express that through an image. Composition though, is almost entirely based upon geometry. I'll say almost because as we'll see there are some places where compositional choices are based on image content. Mostly though, it's just geometry, just form. Geometry starts with the point. The point is the simplest form of geometry and to a degree you can choose to interpret that word however you like. As you can see in these images though, I'm picking up point as a discrete object or geometric form that is fairly small in the frame and has compositional weight of some kind. That could be a shape or tonal difference that sets off the point from the background.
The point object doesn't have to be interesting itself; rather, it can serve as an anchor in your image, from a place from which the viewer's eye can then explore other more interesting objects in your scene. Look for point subjects and try to compose some shots around them. In the process, remember those four essentials. You need a clearly defined subject and background. Whether the subject is the point or something else doesn't matter as long as the subject is obvious to the viewer. Your composition is to be balanced. Points are great for balancing another object in a wide-open space where you otherwise might have a weighty subject that's throwing off the balance of the image.
Consider the point of view in your image. The point exercise is a great chance for you to explore smaller, more mundane subjects that you might not normally photographic. You can find compositional points in lots of places if you start changing your point of view. Finally, remember to find ways to cut out all extraneous visual information and aim for a simple image. Points are fairly simple geometric forms, so this is a good chance to work with simple pared-down compositions. Remember to work your shots a lot. Move around. Try putting the points in different places in the frame.
Try different focal lengths to alter the spatial relationship between the foreground and background. Come back with lots of pictures.
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