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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.
So we've come inside the Hotel and as we walk into the kind of main entrance, the first thing we come across is this big old sign. And it's kind of hard to miss. And it's also really striking. It's got this big arrow on top. It's got these old lights. It's got these wonderful repeating lines. And so immediately I think, I want to see if I can find a picture here. That arrow is pointing this way, and an arrow was just such a strong compositional thing, and it implies movement and motion. And so my first thought is, I am going to come around here, because if I shoot down the length of the arrow, I am going to have--if I shoot with a wide angle down the length of the arrow, I am going to have some nice perspective that's maybe going to give it a little more dynamism and really reinforce the idea of motion in this arrow.
And still I have got the repeating textures and all of that kind of thing. So I am trying some of that. And as you can see, I am doing what I have said you've got to do: I am working the shot. I am trying lots of different things. I'm trying different distances at different focal lengths and as I change focal lengths, that's changing the amount of stretching that I'm getting off of the arrow. And I am just trying to find an interesting framing here. I am playing a little bit with depth of field. How much of this do I want in focus? I kind of like the idea of letting it blur out, because that's going to really, again, reinforce that dynamic arrow thing. And maybe some of that is kind of happening and maybe it's not.
As I'm shooting though, I am mostly finding that the frame is just really cluttered. There is a trash bag full of garbage back there. There is the stuff around the wall. There is all those garbage over here. It's a beat-up, run-down, abandoned hotel. It's full of junk. I could go move that kind of stuff around, but I just don't think there is a shot there. It's kind of too literal. Just shooting this as a big sign in an empty room may be a nice document; it's not a particularly interesting photo.
So, I am going to come around here and look at it some more. And the first thing that strikes me, as I do, is this big triangle here. So you have heard me go through some of the other compositional ideas that you can use. I have had some repeating lines. I have had some other stuff. Because I didn't have an initial feel for how this works, I'm thinking through these ideas. Oh, lines, repetition, perspective, all these stuff, all these things that we are going to talk about. And now I come to shape. We have talked about points. We have talked about lines. Lines--points and lines ultimately form shapes, and shapes can be really useful things to compose with.
I have got this good strong triangle. And as I hold the camera up and frame it, the first thing I realize is, behind the triangle, I've got a big square. So maybe I can find a place where the triangle and the square work well together and give me something. And I think what I'm seeing here is I can kind of bisect the square with the triangle and create a more complex shape. Now I'm thinking, as I'm looking through the viewfinder, that this should probably be a square image.
Because if I take the triangle, which is already in a way a part of a square, and I have got this big rectangle behind it-- or a square shape behind it--I can put all that in a square frame and not have to worry about some of this extra junk that's in the edge of the frame. So I am going to need to crop this later to get what I want. I can't frame it in viewfinder, because in my viewfinder, because I have a rectangular viewfinder. And this particular camera doesn't have a square mode, so that I am thinking in squares, and I need to think about squares compose a little bit differently, and we are going to talk about that later.
So I am just working my shot here, trying a few different things. I know now that I want deep depth of field because I want the background in focus. And I am lining that up, and I am going to just see what I get and shoot a bunch until I find an image that I think is going to work. So, shapes are just another idea that I can fall back on. One thing that's happened, as I've taken it down to just this triangle and this square, is I have inherently simplified my image. So again, I am working through all of these things that we keep talking about.
I have a point of view. I have a subject, which is the triangle. I have really simplified my scene. I'm working with these different geometric ideas to try and build up an image. Sometimes when you're working with shapes you will work with very literal shapes in your image. Here I'm working with two shapes and combining them into kind of an entirely new shape. There might be other times where you're working with shapes that are not discrete objects. For example, here is a stand of trees. This is a case where I'm seeing the--I am not seeing the tress for the forest if you will.
I am looking at this stand of trees as an independent discrete shape, not as a bunch of individual shapes. That's what caught my eye was that I liked this big blob of forest up against this empty space here. Let's take a look at the use of shape in a couple of other images. Let's kick things off with a simple shape. We have here a nice big square. This image also serves as an example of point of view. This is pointing the camera straight up at the ceiling. So I have got this nice square here, and I have got even some repetition going on, because nested inside it is this other square.
Now there are some other very interesting shapes in this image, the receding lines of the ladder going up, this texture on the wall. I like this light bulb here anchoring this corner of the square, but really, it's built around the strong graphical element of the square here. Continuing to stare up, here's another ceiling shot. This time what caught my eye was again this square here. This is an air-conditioning vent of some kind that is still hanging, even though the rest of the ceiling has been torn away.
And I started working with this and ended up finding the only way I could balance it was to compose it with this duct right here. So while this might be the dominant shape in the scene, the composition was still started and built around this square shape here. Moving on to circles now. Obviously we have got two repeating circles here that form a nice symmetrical pattern around an imaginary line right here. I am hesitating here because as I look at this image now, I think that it doesn't really work. And the reason it doesn't work is because of this bright bit over here.
My eye just wants to go right up into here. I wish I had taken a step or two to the left and it may be that I did. And it might be that if I was standing to the left, I couldn't get this symmetrical thing going here. So this is a case we are coming back to this image, seeing it with fresh eyes, I see that maybe it doesn't work or maybe that there are some things I need to change. It's not unusual to return to an image later and see it very differently. And that's a really valuable thing to do if you've been looking at an image for a long time. Sometimes you've just got to step away from it.
If you get to a problem you can't solve, walk away and come back to it later. I am a little weird in this regard. I actually very often go out and shoot for a couple of days and come back, copy the images onto my computer, and I don't look at them at all for a couple of months. That's very often the only way that I can see them with fresh eyes and be really fair. That gets the image in my head out and let's me see the image as it really is when I take a long pause like that before reviewing them. Here is a case where what I was struck by was this sense of this cloud was kind of spitting out this airplane.
But in terms of composition, it's really just straight geometry building around to this big shape of this cloud. Geometric shapes do not have to be perfect. You don't have to find a perfect geometric solid or shape. This doesn't have to be a perfectly round circle to work, and as you can see here, I am playing with circle off of this other shape out here. And again, coming back with fresh eyes, looking at this you know, I think I might crop a little bit of this down here. Here is a case where you might look at this and go, isn't this really a picture about line, because of all of these lines of these stocks of sunflowers? And yes, you could look at it that way, but I think the way that you approach this compositionally is thinking about this whole mess of lines as an individual shape, putting them in front of the sun like that, getting the nice silhouette, and creating a sense of a single shape here that's balanced by all the empty space up here.
We have got a similar thing happening here. This sign is a weird shape, but what the whole shape is that I'm composing around really is the sign in combination with this dip in the road. This whole thing in here makes kind of a big implied circular shape, almost a spherical shape really because it's got depth, because the front part of the sphere is here and the back part is here, and that's what I'm composing around. I am been very careful when I am doing this not to have these lines intersect, and this part of the frame is balanced by this shadow and these other shapes over here.
So this is a case where the shape I'm working with is almost imaginary, but I still work with it graphically in that way. I measure the weight of this part of the frame by considering all of this area right here. Here is a case again where I am working with a shape that isn't really an object. The shape of this light pattern here in combination with the hole in the wall that's casting it is what I am composing around. People make great subject matter of course, but when it comes time to actually take the shot, you've got to have one eye focused clearly on simple geometry and geometric form.
So we've got the head here that is balancing the building over here, and these two shapes are bisected by the nice line of the golf club. I also like this line up here, which is forming kind of the nice counterpoint to this line over here. And to pull all this off means you've really got to have your head in two spaces. You've got to be paying attention to the humanity of the moment, paying attention to what is the compelling-looking person, what is the right facial expression, trying to make them look good, and at the same time working all of your basic geometry in trying to build up a scene. And to do that, you want to just think of them as a shape, and work with them just like any other shapes that we've seen here.
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