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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.
We have already worked with points. In this chapter, we are going to be exploring lots of other kinds of geometry, starting with lines. Lines are probably the most prevalent geometric form that you will encounter, and they are one of the most interesting to work with, because they can be very dynamic. Here you can see on the bridge we have got lots of strong diagonal lines. We have got lines cutting across the frame. Some of these lines are being created by the structure of the bridge itself. Other lines are being created by the shadows cast by that structure. Again, when we were thinking about composition, we are not always concerned about what a particular thing is, but simply the geometry itself.
So the structural lines are no more important or less important than the shadow lines. Lines can be very useful because they can provide a very strong way of leading the viewer's eye into and out of the picture. And, as we are seeing here, when I get repeating lines, I start getting a nice rhythm through my image. These are very strong structural man-made lines. You will also maybe find softer, more natural lines, particularly if you are shooting landscapes. Sometimes, as we'll see later, lines are inferred by other repeating elements.
Lines of course come in lots of shapes and sizes and tones and colors, and here's an instance where I've got two lines that are contrasting both in their shapes-- they are creating these mirror image shapes-- but they are also a little bit contrasting in terms of their tone. This is predominantly a black line. This is predominately a white line. There are two ways that you can use these building-block ideas that we are covering. Things like points and lines and shapes and the other things that we are going over in this course can be employed in two different ways.
First, when you see something that you want to photograph, when you see an interesting subject and you think, wow, look at that thing, I really want to shoot it, I don't have the foggiest idea where to begin, you can fall back on this theory. You can say, are there any interesting lines in the image that I can work with, are there interesting shapes? And from there, you can begin to hone in on a good framing for your shot. Or you can do what has happened here. I am walking through this burned-out forest. I didn't actually see anything that was a particularly compelling subject. I didn't know how to shoot a burned-out forest, so I went into a purely theoretical mode and said, what's conspicuous here are all of these black trees. Are there interesting lines anywhere? And I found these two.
So this is a case of I've stopped seeing the actual subject matter and I am looking purely at a compositional idea, which is the idea of a line. So this is the second way that I can use these building blocks to improve my composition. So in this case, I am now no longer seeing a burned-out forest; I am just seeing these two lines. The viewer can then anchor themselves in this compositional idea. They can go, oh, wow, you know, look at this interesting shape here or these interesting tones. Later, from there, they can move on to, this is a burned-out floor, this is a burned-out forest. So it's still a picture of this thing, but the entry point for the viewer is simply a compositional idea.
We've got the same thing going on here. Walking down the street there's nothing necessarily that interesting about where I was, but I was really taken by the repetition and graphical strength of these lines, and so I framed to the shot and took it. This is a case where pure compositional idea is giving me subject matter. A street that would otherwise be interesting if I was simply looking for what's a good thing to shoot, suddenly that street has something in it to shoot. It's got this compositional idea of line.
Same thing here. This is the side of a grain silo. Not that interesting on its own, but shooting up the ladder like this with all these lines, it becomes much more compelling, simply driven by the compositional play of line. Lines can be implied. Here's a case where I have true lines that are very strong, these diagonal lines, but the focus of the image, the anchor of the image is this implied line created by these nails that are coming out of the boards. Here's a case where I was struck first by the moon being up and wanted to compose around it, and I liked the tree here, out on its own, just next to this building and this strange light pole just here in the middle of nowhere.
I am showing this to you in color because we are going to go through kind of the process that I was working through, and of course, I am seeing the image in color as I go. So I thought I like this strong line here. I can use it maybe to kind of anchor or frame some of these other elements. So I tried a couple of different ideas and finally came back to this one. As I had moved over from this position, if I take a few steps to the left, I get to here, and I have lost the moon. And that's okay. My original--or is that it right there--there we go.
I have zoomed out so far I can barely see the moon. So I've given up on my original idea because it's been supplanted by the idea that this pole and its wire can be turned into a single individual line. Now I have tilted the frame this way because I'm no longer thinking about the reality of the situation; I am thinking only about this line, and I wanted it to be parallel to the edge of the frame to really play up its strength as a graphic element. And once I convert to black and white, it becomes even more pronounced.
And I knew that while I was shooting, that I was going to be able to put this black line against a white sky and create a strong graphic element, which further takes the moon completely out of the picture. So sometimes your initial impulse is not the one that you end up with, and that's fine. Here is a nice curly line, made of purely of a shadow as this stream winds through this field. It's a fairly simple composition. The line which is truly the subject of the image is just placed bang in the center of the frame.
Remember, don't get fancy if you don't have to; sometimes the subject matter can stand on its own. Here are a whole lot of lines, all leading in kind of the same direction. What I was building on here was first, as the sun was setting, I was just seeing all these wonderful lines being thrown around. I looked for something that I could play off of the lines and decided, well, these little two trees could actually serve as a subject of the image. And that's what they are. The trees are the subject of this image, not the lines. But the lines are serving a critical compositional function, which is that all of these lines are leading my eye right into here.
I've got the curve of these ruts from some tires, and I have got these shadows coming along here. So I've actually got two different kinds of lines all serving to lead the eye to those trees. So sometimes the lines are actually the subject of your image; sometimes you compose them around to buttress other compositional ideas. As I said, lines, shapes, points, all these ideas can be used in a couple of different ways. You can use them to try to figure out how to make an interesting shot out of a particular thing, or, once you're seeing line, you may find that lines themselves are interesting and that you're seeing subject matter in a milieu that otherwise would have been empty.
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