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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: We've found a lot of interesting things in the hallway. There is this cool peeling paint. There is stuff on the floor. There is a dead bat. There is also a lot of really cool geometry. We've got these receding lines that are creating this nice perspective, and here we have got this PVC pipe that's creating a line right across the hallway, and that works well against that window there with the big cross in it. But we have got something else here. We have got an electrical problem happening. We've got this wire coming across the hallway here. Now, it may be obvious to you as you have seen me walk forward here, but this wire and that piece of PVC pipe are at different distances from the camera.
They sit on different planes. They're in different layers. And because they're at different distances from camera, they can be mixed and matched and combined in different ways depending on how the camera moves around, and you can see that happening right now. As the camera is moving, you're finding very different relationships in them. They're creating different shapes, not just with each other, but in terms of how they relate to the cross in the window back there. So by choosing a camera position of a particular kind, I can get a very different geometric shape here.
This is something to look for as you're out moving around. When you see objects at different depths, understand that by the time the photo is compressed down to a two-dimensional object, you're going to have different shapes depending on where you put the camera. This is a powerful compositional tool. Let's take a look at some of the other examples. We are going to look now at three sample images shot by students of the 2011 Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute. So these were teenagers. These are 14 to 18 year olds. We gave them an assignment to go out and shoot images, very much like the ones I was just discussing, where there is a relationship between foreground elements and background elements.
We didn't specifically say color or black and white. So this first image that we are looking at is in color. And if you haven't figured it out already, this is a reflector on the guardrail alongside a highway. And here we can see the guardrail extending into the distance. This was shot by a student named Ethan Yates. And what Ethan has done here is really pay attention to his full field of view and I don't mean full in terms of left and right, but depth. As we move through the world, it's very easy for us to focus our attention only on the plane where our subject lies.
We tend to focus on just this one plane and ignore everything in the background, but photos of course are two-dimensional. They get meshed flat and when they're meshed flat like this, there is a direct relationship between this circle and this line and it's difficult to shift your focus away from simply seeing on the plane where your subject is to seeing the relationship of objects in three dimensional space. And Ethan has done a great job of this right here. If he had shifted his position in different ways, the image wouldn't have worked so well.
If he had gotten down lower, then this circle would be here up amongst this vegetation in the background. What I like about his positioning here is the circle is serving to tie this graphic element into this graphic element. Our eye leads along this line. It either gets led into the scene or we see this first and find our way back out of the scene. Very nicely composed image. This is a shot by Marie Fleur and great visualization of foreground and background.
She has obviously mirrored the shape of the mountain in the curved shape of this water fountain. And again, it would be very easy to be standing at this scene, looking at the water fountain, and seeing only what lies on its plane and simply not recognizing that right there in the background is a repeating pattern-- another line that mirrors the line of the water. Now for this to work and be set up properly she has to position her camera very precisely. If she was standing up higher then the water would be down lower. If she was standing down lower then the water might intersect with the line of the mountain.
Those might be interesting shots too. But to get this one where we've really got the repetition of these two lines, two lines that sit hundreds of yards apart from each other, to get that representation or that relationship going, she had to position her camera very carefully. Amber Griffith took this picture. I really, really like the mirrored shapes here, and this one is inverted. The fish is in upside-down version of the mountains, and the whole thing creates an overall sense of circle right here in the middle. And she has done a great job with her toning and adjustments of this image.
The light here on the dead fish is beautiful. Really excellent work. And again, she is seeing not just on the plane where her subject lies; she is seeing objects in the distance as graphic elements she can work with, and she is positioning her camera and her body such that they have a very particular relationship. This is a difficult thing to learn to pay attention to, but it's a great exercise. And learning to try to see the three dimensional world in more flat, straight, graphical representation is really going to open your eyes up to lots of new subject matter.
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