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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.
One of the trickiest things about exercising and developing your sense of seeing is that you actually use your eyes all day long for other things. You spend your days looking, so trying to get to that next step of seeing can be complicated because there is not really a physically different thing that you can do. I think the best way to learn to see better is experience, and obviously that means practice, but it also means knowing what it feels like when you're really seeing. If you can force yourself into a position of seeing and pay attention to what that feels like then you'll likely have an easier time getting back into that space, or at least recognizing when you're in it or out of it.
Now there are a couple of curious exercises that you can do that, in my experience, will put you into a place of seeing. They will deactivate your brain's assumptions about what's before you and allow you to actually see what's before you. First one is pretty simple. Sometime when you're out walking down the street fix your eyes forward in the distance and don't move them. Choose something off to the side and try to discern as much detail on that thing as you can without actually turning your eyes to look at it. In other words, use only your peripheral vision.
Now as you continue to walk forward towards the subject, it will move further into your periphery, but keep trying to see as much detail on it as you can. When you finally get up to that thing, take a look at it for real. Look at it directly and feel free to move your eyes about it and study it. You'll probably find that details on it really pop and appear distinct, that you really notice things, that maybe when you get up there you'll think, wow, I hadn't noticed before that it's got this texture on it or these screws in it or whatnot. At that point you're really seeing. You have gotten your brain to get out of the way and let you see what's really there.
Now this next one is a little weirder, and it can be embarrassing. You probably want to do this one by yourself. Sometime just in your house, in your room, wherever, walk around the room, spend about five minutes doing this. Point at things and name them the wrong thing, and I mean speak the name out loud, so you might point at something and say, hammer, point at another thing and say blender, and it's not a hammerer or a blender. Don't worry about what names you're saying. You're going to go through categories of objects. You'll get stuck in kitchen appliances and farm animals and things like that. Don't worry about that.
Do that for about five minutes, stop, and then look around the room. You will probably have a very different visual experience of the room. Some people think that they see depth more clearly. Personally, I feel like I see outlines around everything. I don't know why that happens. I think that what's going on is your brain is making an assumption about something. When you name it the wrong thing, it's kind of having to go back and look at it again, and then you're into a really strong seeing space. Another very simple exercise you can do is simply sit down and draw something that's in front of you. Drawing puts you into a very intense visual space, and very often if you just spend five or ten minutes doing that before you go out shooting, you're going to find that you're really more cognizant of depth and line and many of the other compositional techniques that we'll be looking at.
Seeing is something you're going to practice for the rest of your life, and again if you can get into a space of knowing what it feels like, it's going to be easier to find your way back there later.
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