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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: Whether you use Photoshop, Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, CaptureNX, whatever, your image editor has lots of amazing image-adjustment technology in it. With it, you can make corrections and changes that simply weren't possible in a darkroom. That said, one of the most powerful tools in your image editor, the one you might end up using the most, is the simple Crop tool. With the Crop tool, you can recompose your image after you've taken it. Sometimes you'll shoot with a crop in mind; at other times you'll refine your original image by giving it a crop.
Now it may sound strange to devote an entire discussion to the lowly Crop tool when a program like Photoshop has such amazing technology as Content-Aware Fill and Perspective correction, but cropping is a critical post-production task. I've been asking you to shoot in black and white throughout this course and yet here we are looking at a color image. That's because cropping, or any action that will result in a crop of your image, should be one of the first steps of your post-production workflow. The reason for this is twofold.
First of all, if you're going to go on the black-and-white conversion or if you are going to stay in color but perform tone or color corrections, you want your histogram to be as accurate as possible, so you want to go ahead and crop out any extraneous material. More importantly though, if you think an image needs a crop, you need to find out if that crop is successful before you waste any time with further edits. It doesn't make sense for me to go on here and start my black-and-white conversion process, if I later crop and find out that he crop doesn't work. Now obviously sometimes you don't know that an image needs a crop until you've already started editing.
But here's a case where I know that I want to crop my image before I do anything else, and I want to try that crop to see if this is going to work. I was standing in this field. Suddenly, I don't know where this crop duster came in. I didn't have time to think much about my composition or change my camera position at all. I simply had to work as quickly as I could with the elements at hand, which were the moon, these tire tracks, and this plane that was moving across my frame. I got this. It's not bad. But there are some things that I don't like. I've got a lot of extra sky in here. That's making these elements seem kind of bumbled up here in the center, and I would like them to feel like they are spread more across the frame.
I've also got this shadow that I need to deal with. So this is what I'm talking about when I say that I can recompose my image after the fact. Now that doesn't mean that I can recompose this image to include the Empire State Building or something like that, but I can recompose it to make the balance and overall feel of the image a little bit different. I can change the relationship of the elements within the scene. This is the Crop tool in Photoshop. It looks like a Crop tool. If you've never seen a Crop tool in real life, just trust me, one looks roughly like this. If you're using a different image editor don't worry. The things you are going to see here are probably also available in your image editor of choice.
To define a crop, I simply click and drag out a rectangle. When I let go of the mouse button, I see this. Photoshop has given me some handles that let me refine my crop, either changing the corners or just dragging the edges. It's blacked out everything outside of the crop to give me a better view of what my final image will look like. This is called a shield and I can turn it on and off if I would rather see what other elements are outside of the crop that I may want to work with. I can do that. I can change the color of the shield. I can change its opacity.
I can also turn on these grids. Right now, it's showing me a Rule of Thirds grid. I can also just have a grid. I'd rather have nothing. I don't want any distraction there. And so now I can work with refining my crop. So I am going to take out some of that extra sky. I am for sure going to crop out my shadow. And what I'm looking for here is the exact same thing I would do while I'm composing. I am trying to balance the shot. So with a crop more like this, I'm working the thirds a little bit more. I am getting the moon and these tracks over here in the left third, the airplane over here in the right third.
I'm kind of paying attention to where they're going out the corner of the frame, making sure that looks nice and thinking about my horizon line and where I might want it. So this looks pretty good; however, what if I wanted to print this to fit in a particular aspect ratio? In other words, if I have a frame that's 8x10, for example, if I want to make sure it will fit in that frame, I might want to constrain my crop. Aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of an image to the height, and I can tell Photoshop to crop to a particular aspect ratio. I am going to cancel this crop by clicking the Cancel button up there on the Crop Control bar. And what I am going to decide is I want to keep my original aspect ratio, which was an aspect ratio of 3:2.
So I am just going to enter a Width of 3, Height of 2, and now when I drag, I can only drag in a 3:2-constrained aspect ratio. When I let go of the mouse button, I no longer have edge handles; I only have corner handles. So I can't change an individual edge because that would affect the aspect ratio of my image. Note that I can click within a crop area whether I am constrained or not and simply drag it around to get the crop where I want it. Once I've got the crop that I like, I can double-click within the cropping rectangle or simply hit the Return key to take that crop.
So let's look at some before-afters here. Here is my original image that you've just seen, and here is a completely finished, cropped, black- and-white and toned result. So as you can see, it's tightened up. I like the composition a little bit better. Here's a case where the photographer did not have a long enough lens to get the crop that they wanted. We were walking along this beach in Oklahoma. I know, that sounds weird to me too. But there are some very nice beaches in the Quartz Mountain State Park. And he just couldn't get the zoom that he wanted.
We got this bush in here which is a little bit extraneous. So a simple crop gives me a tighter image. Again I've simplified my image. I've taken out some extra stuff. I've recomposed it more to the thirds and generally got a better composition. Another example, shooting someone running this video camera here. In general, the positioning of him is nice, but I have got this extra post behind him that I don't like. A crop lets me take it out and help get focus more onto my subject. Here is an image that you saw me working earlier in the Shapes example.
Now when I shot this, I shot it with the intention of cropping it to a square. My camera can't shoot in a square crop, so now I need to go in and perform that crop. In Photoshop, I can get a square crop simply by placing the same number in both fields. I am going to clear this out, enter a 1 in both. I could put a 3 or 5 whatever. Just because this says 1 inch doesn't mean that I'm actually necessarily stuck with a one-inch image, because after I've cropped, I can go into my Image Size dialog box and as you can see, I've got plenty of pixels to size this up.
We are going to talk about image sizing in the next movie. But that's a square crop by putting simply the same number in both. And finally, let's take a look at a fairly extreme crop. These were some birds that I chased out of a field. I took off into the air and I got this. It didn't come out as interesting as I wanted, because I was not in the best position. But a really extreme crop gets my something very interesting. They look like bats or mosquitoes or something. How extremely you can crop depends on how many pixels your camera shoots, and we'll explore that in more detail in the next movie.
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