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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.
Ben: All right we are back for more image analysis. We've got a different photographer up here on the chopping block this time. We are going to look at the work of Paul Taggart, an international photo journalist. I first met Paul here at Arts Institute also, he is also a former student. Fantastic photographer, you might have seen his work in the New York Times or Time Magazine, any number of other journalistic institutions. And we have got a little selection of Paul's work here, starting with this one. It's a powerful image. Connie: It's a very powerful image. Ben: So much so that we didn't know what to say.
Connie: Right, it left me speechless. What I love about this image is this very dark figure here. That's a little soft focus. You don't see any -- it's all silhouette, you don't see any features against this really brilliant white background and everything in the photograph is really pulling us up to that. That is such a mysterious moment. It really almost takes your breath away. Ben: Well, particularly as you're drawn here first, to me it's -- there's a wonderful two step thing that happens here, she almost looks like a bride of some kind, you're lured into this place of like oh! I am going into the light and here this, oh! And as your eye starts moving around you realize this is much more sinister scene than maybe you initially thought, and it really has power.
This is a hospital and there is something in this bed here. There's some nice vignetting going on also that's really directing attention. Connie: The relationship between this form and this form becomes so powerful and part of it is that, that this figure is right in the middle of this form right here and then again you've got the environment here which is giving you the context for that relationship. Ben: And this is almost just a straight geometric pattern here. I also like that this line is going through her head not above or below her or his head, through the figure's head.
Very formal, but a tremendous amount of power in this image, great example of the power of direction of light also. Connie: This image I love for its simplicity and clever seeing. I love that. So obviously we're looking into a mirror here, we have three figures that are lining up here, but then we have this wonderful crack that's going through the mirror. So in just these few graphic elements he's given us a tremendous amount of information.
Ben: And created a very well- balanced photo, the crack really ties everything together. And there is -- you could almost create a metaphorical context into the crack if this is trouble and it adds a little bit of an extra element to this scene. Connie: This is also one that gives you not just the information of what's going on, but gives you the emotional impact of that information with this very strong figure here taking up more than half of the photograph with these really rich dark tones, and because we see a little bit of his facial features here, but not so much. It's not the person here and that's important, but the symbol of the person with this rich strong dark head.
And then we are given additional information back here which gives us more of a context again. Ben: It's fascinating because this guy, this is a human profile right in the foreground of image as you said taking up half the shot, and yet it's really this guy who is almost the subject of the image. This is an indicator, but this is the guy that we are really looking at. This is also I think just compositionally just -- he's been so meticulous and perfect in his form. If there was any less space here, if this was cropped at all, if this was cropped at all we would have trouble, it's just a -- he was doing the basic work in the middle of this rapidly developing scene.
Connie: This is one if we analyze just on a purely graphic level, compositionally is brilliant because you've got this form coming across like this which is perfectly framing these two faces, and then you've got this form going across like this which is again balancing them, and then you have this form reiterated down here. So everything -- all of the graphic elements are working together in this piece to pull us right into these two figures.
Ben: And I think there is something else going on here. Paul does a lot of war photography and like all of the best war photographers, he has his good strong formal chops, he's working these things that Connie just said, and yet somehow he is able to do that in a situation that's potentially tense, while never losing track of the humanity in the moment. The choice of expressions on these guys' faces is very interesting. There is a story here. They're getting some news that's pretty good news and there's just something tense about police guys with big rifles getting good news that can be turning either way depending on what side you are on.
There is a lot of story in this image. Connie: Before we move away, just pointing out that if he had made a different decision here and this background had gone through the back of his head, we would've really lost the impact of his position here and the importance of his gesture and expression. Ben: Well, I think, I'm not sure if it's obvious at home, this is barbed wire. So he's looking through barbed wire which is giving this whole other context. I'm thinking this is in the foreground. Connie: Oh! Well, then it's even better that it didn't run cross his face.
(laughter) Ben: Exactly, would have been messy. Connie: Well, this is kind of a similar -- he has a style about him for sure, you know and bringing some figures in the foreground here that have such strong features and really set the mood of the photograph, and then giving us these other details in the back here that are really reemphasizing. Ben: There's so much in this image that works just the formal composition, but also the immediacy, his choice of camera position, his choice of point of view, I feel like I am standing here with these guys. And I just love the cropped faces and that they're both looking into the camera and he is not.
It's a wonderful moment. Connie: And again because he came in close and cropped off the top of this guy's head, it feels like it's more immediate, more candid, more intimate. Ben: Yeah it really feels like a moment and yeah, perfectly well-crafted at the same time. And again that's getting back to -- he is doing his formal work and yet he is still staying in touch with the people that he is shooting and knowing where the exact moment is and that is really not easy to do.
This is a great example again of shadow and negative space. It would be easy to pull detail out of here and he has very wisely chosen not to, it's creating wonderful framing. I like the sweep of the image into here with the lines, and it's a very intimate shot, which it should be for what it is. Connie: And this wonderful little figure coming in from the side here. Ben: Yeah looking at us. Connie: It feels like we're looking at a family doing a very intimate family thing.
Ben: Yeah amazing. Connie: It's amazing that we can see this. Ben: Yeah to get access to that again, we are talking about someone who's been working to build trust, working to get the inside story and the inside access. All righty then, Connie and I have a disagreement about this image and she's got a pencil so I am little worried. She thinks it doesn't work, she's wrong. (laughter) Connie: I love this photographer, I just want to say. Okay do you want to present your case first? Ben: No, no go ahead.
Connie: Well, what I think this image is about is this figure here against this boat here, and giving us the context that there is a lot of destruction going on here. That this is in the middle of rubble. But as I look at this I see that this is too overwhelming. It's very bright and the eye always goes to the lighter part of the print first. And so we are really drawn into this, and it's out of focus and taking up more than half of the photograph.
I think this photograph would have been stronger if he had given us much less, enough still to tell us what this is and maybe even coming in a little bit like this, so that we are really concentrating on this. And I hate to do this to another photographer's photograph. Ben: It's okay, you're wrong, so it doesn't bother me. Connie: (laughs) Okay. Ben: I absolutely see what you are talking about, and I don't know why, but for some reason I don't have a problem with him, my eye just goes right here. And I think partly it may be the color information, the yellow against the pink is enough of a difference, enough of an eye magnet that it's outweighing this.
I like the economy of the image. This is the Tsunami in Japan and the economy of rubble, plainly what is a boat. This is another great example that you can trust viewer, we don't have to see a whole boat we know this is what this is, a guy with a breathing mask on. I see what you're saying and I can understand why it shouldn't work and yeah when the first time I looked at this image, I just went right there. So I think there's a good lesson to be had here, which is that Connie is wrong.
And also that there can be -- there are no rules. We can sit here and talk about well this line should be here and this line should be here, and yet you can show the same image to someone else and it just doesn't work sometimes. And that's how it goes. Connie: And ultimately it's your decision. You the photographer, it's your decision. Going through this process is really important because you understand, you know as we explain what works for me and what doesn't work for me, it helps you to understand how the image works, doesn't work, how the flow is about, and then you make up your own mind about what's the most important thing.
Well, I think this is so beautiful because of the, again the sparse information, but and we're looking at something that is very difficult to look at. It's a very tragic scene, but he's showing it to us in an aesthetically beautiful way. We've got these bags which I assume are holding bodies, and these bags are balanced with the mountains in the background and then picking up this lovely blue of the sky, so there is this wonderful relationship here.
And then we've got just enough information -- you want to, your curiosity is piqued so you want to come into the image, it brings you into it and this is what I assume looks like a plane crash. Ben: Or trouble of some kind, yeah. Connie: Yeah, so there's a very narrative quality to this image, and we may not know the truth, we have no verbal context for this, but we can really understand at least the feeling of what's going on. Ben: These three elements just make a nice geometric form and I don't want to go too formal because one of the things that impresses me about this is it's a very -- through his formalism and his composition there's a lot of care and concern for what has happened here built into this image.
Connie: Yes, a lot of respect. Ben: It's a very sensitive image and respectful. Connie: This is just a beautifully graphic image, and an amazing situation -- Ben: And by graphic you mean the graphical lines and -- Connie: Yes and the formal relationships of this, you know how this is going right across the frame, how this is entering the frame, you've got the iceberg back here. You've got this line coming down. So it's beautifully arranged, but you also get such exciting sense of what's going on here.
Ben: Yeah, a real difficult moment to capture in real-time because plainly things are changing quickly and he nailed it. It's our last one here and I just can't stop looking at this picture. Connie: Yeah, it's amazing. Ben: And this again sums up a lot of what we've been saying about Paul's work. Really perfect formalism here and yet at the same time staying in touch with the reality of the moment and the reality of this guy, the expression on his face is exactly right for the giant boat that's bearing down on you. He has just really nailed it. Connie: But look at how sensitive he is visually, all of this is going on.
I mean it has got to be totally chaotic, but look at how sensitive he is in creating this form. It's not crossing this form. Ben: It's perfectly separated. Connie: So this form is very strong and powerful. If he had been confused with this form, it wouldn't have had that same sense of gigantic power coming imploding on top of you -- Ben: It would have been lost. Connie: Yeah it would have been lost and the sense of the moment here is just exquisite. So to balance that kind of composition with sense of moment I think is incredible. Ben: Again that's Paul Taggart.
That's the work Paul Taggart, photojournalist. And it's really -- we could keep looking at his stuff all day long. But next up we are going to looking at some of Connie's work and I'm going to have the pencil. (laughter)
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