Foundations of Photography: Composition

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Video: Tone

Ben: Earlier in this course, we talked about the idea that you can create balance in an image by playing different tones against each other. So, you might balance light against dark, dark against light. You can balance dark parts against each other; you can do the same with light parts. These are all ways that you can create balance in your image. However, there will be times when you can't get the tonal balance that you want in camera through exposure adjustment. Sometimes you simply can't capture the dark blacks or light whites that you need to create the composition that you want.
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  1. 12m 4s
    1. Welcome
      1m 47s
    2. Using this course
      7m 27s
    3. What you need to know
      2m 50s
  2. 2m 47s
    1. What is composition?
      2m 1s
    2. All form, all the time
  3. 12m 34s
    1. How your camera is not like your eye
      2m 52s
    2. Looking vs. seeing
      2m 25s
    3. Vision and attention
      2m 13s
    4. Dynamic range
      1m 59s
    5. Seeing exercises
      3m 5s
  4. 36m 48s
    1. What all good compositions have
      1m 8s
    2. Subject and background
      3m 5s
    3. Balance
      7m 20s
    4. Point of view
      3m 22s
    5. Simplicity
      2m 59s
    6. Finding and capturing a good photo
      2m 11s
    7. Working the shot: Why one is never enough
      6m 41s
    8. Practicing
      3m 24s
    9. Why black and white?
      2m 21s
    10. Exercise: Practicing the fundamentals with points
      4m 17s
  5. 41m 48s
    1. Lines
      7m 7s
    2. Analyzing lines
      6m 35s
    3. Exploring a town
      4m 7s
    4. The Franklin Hotel
      2m 7s
    5. Shapes
      10m 13s
    6. Repetition: Arranging the elements
      1m 37s
    7. Rule of threes
      1m 36s
    8. Perspective
      1m 47s
    9. Symmetry
      1m 10s
    10. Focal length, camera position, and depth
      2m 27s
    11. Intersections
      1m 41s
    12. Exercise: Practicing fundamentals with geometry
      1m 21s
  6. 10m 38s
    1. Working a shot, revisited
      3m 21s
    2. Understanding the photographic impulse
      2m 58s
    3. Warming up
      2m 16s
    4. Exercise: Get your feet moving
      2m 3s
  7. 35m 7s
    1. Thirds: How rectangular frames are weighted
      2m 20s
    2. Tonal balance
      3m 52s
    3. Content balance
      1m 20s
    4. Squares: Weighting the corners
      2m 24s
    5. Composing people
      3m 42s
    6. Composing landscapes
      3m 53s
    7. Sometimes you can't get the shot
      1m 12s
    8. Practicing thirds with points and geometry
      1m 45s
    9. Practicing squares with points and geometry
      1m 12s
    10. Image analysis: The work of Steve Simon
      13m 27s
  8. 19m 6s
    1. It's the light
      1m 50s
    2. Direction of light
      8m 30s
    3. Texture
      2m 7s
    4. Shadows and negative space
      1m 19s
    5. Exposure concerns
      2m 44s
    6. Keeping one eye on post
    7. Light as subject
      1m 38s
  9. 18m 59s
    1. Introducing the workshop location and instructors
      1m 2s
    2. Assignment: Finding light
      5m 17s
    3. Shooting the light
      3m 14s
    4. Critiquing the light assignment
      9m 26s
  10. 22m 11s
    1. The basics of color
      1m 4s
    2. When to shoot color
      3m 56s
    3. How to shoot color
      2m 47s
    4. Practicing color composition
      1m 4s
    5. Image analysis: The work of Paul Taggart
      13m 20s
  11. 16m 48s
    1. Entry and exit
      5m 41s
    2. Framing
      2m 17s
    3. Examining the composition of this set
      2m 28s
    4. Narrative
      1m 55s
    5. When the scene doesn't fit in the frame
      3m 13s
    6. Guiding the viewer's eye
      1m 14s
  12. 13m 36s
    1. Assignment: Foreground and background
      3m 4s
    2. Shooting foreground and background relationships
      2m 19s
    3. Critiquing the foreground and background assignment
      8m 13s
  13. 34m 24s
    1. Planes
      5m 13s
    2. Controlling depth
      4m 54s
    3. Juxtaposition
      2m 58s
    4. Fear
      4m 3s
    5. Layers
    6. Image analysis: The work of Connie Imboden
      16m 21s
  14. 41m 21s
    1. Recomposing an image with the Crop tool
      7m 23s
    2. Resizing an image
      8m 9s
    3. Tone
      8m 54s
    4. Altering the perspective in Photoshop
      4m 38s
    5. Changing composition through retouching
      6m 16s
    6. Vignetting to drive attention
      6m 1s
  15. 10m 22s
    1. Workshop wrap-up and exhibition
      3m 13s
    2. Workshop students' final thoughts
      7m 9s
  16. 1m 0s
    1. Final thoughts
      1m 0s

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of Photography: Composition
5h 29m Intermediate Dec 22, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Looking versus seeing
  • Understanding when and why to use black and white
  • Analyzing lines
  • Arranging the elements into lines and shapes
  • Working with perspective and symmetry
  • Changing focal length, camera position, and depth
  • Dividing rectangular frames into thirds
  • Weighting the corners in square pictures
  • Composing photographs of people
  • Composing landscape photos
  • Working with light: direction, texture, and negative space
  • How to shoot color
  • Guiding the viewer's eye
  • Controlling depth
  • Improving composition in post-production
Ben Long


Ben: Earlier in this course, we talked about the idea that you can create balance in an image by playing different tones against each other. So, you might balance light against dark, dark against light. You can balance dark parts against each other; you can do the same with light parts. These are all ways that you can create balance in your image. However, there will be times when you can't get the tonal balance that you want in camera through exposure adjustment. Sometimes you simply can't capture the dark blacks or light whites that you need to create the composition that you want.

In these instances, you'll need to expose to capture as much tonal information as you can, with the idea that you will correct the tones in that image to get the composition that you want. In other words, sometimes you'll need to darken up blacks or lighten up whites or adjust the grays or colors in your image to finish it off and get that compositional balance working. Alrighty. We're going to look at three examples of how I have altered tone in an image to achieve the idea that I had in my mind's eye while I was shooting.

This lesson is going to assume that you understand the use of adjustment layers and adjustment layer masks in Photoshop. You can see over here that I've got several adjustment layers on this image: a Black & White adjustment layer, three levels adjustment layers, and these two have layer masks that I've carefully painted to constrain the effects of those adjustment layers. If this is all gobbledygook to you, if you are not comfortable with adjustment layers, or you wish you knew more about them, take a look at Foundations of Photography: Black and White course.

It's going to walk you through the things that we're going to be doing here. This is the image as I shot it. You saw this earlier in the--actually you've seen all three of the images that we're going to look at here--earlier in the "Tonal Balance" movie. The first thing I did of course was to convert the image to black and white, and in the process of doing that I made some choices about tone. I decided that this red up here should be a very light tone, rather than a darker tone, because I wanted to balance against this darker stuff. Let me just show you what that would have looked like if I had chosen instead to do this as a darker tone.

I am going to up here and simply re-tone the reds darker. So, you can see now I'm creating a very different image. I've got dark over here, dark over here, and light down here. I wanted to go with something lighter. So, I started with my black-and-white conversion and that gets me to here, but I'm still not getting the light-against-dark thing that I was thinking when I was standing there in the image. The next thing I did was hit it with a levels adjustment and now we are getting somewhere. I've got some nice darkness in here. What I'm not liking here is that this whole side is just one uniform shade of blah.

It's just not that interesting. It's a pretty middle gray. When I print it it's going to look especially kind of boring. So I created an adjustment layer here that lightens the image, and I labeled it Lighten just to help me remember what it's doing. And I painted a mask that constrains the lightening to only this building, hoping that that's going to break things up a little bit. It gets me some true white in my image right here, and usually it's better. You get a better sense of contrast in your image if there is something that's really white in it. The next thing I did was an adjustment layer that darkens and built a mask that constrains it to there.

So now I've really got my light-against-dark thing. Let's do a little before-and-after thing here. Here is with straight black-and-white conversion and after my toning, I get this. So, I have really built it up into what I was thinking when I was standing there at the scene. Let's look at another one here. Again you saw this earlier. My idea when I was shooting this was a couple of things. I liked the dark down here and the light up here. I liked the idea that these bright rocks down here were maybe kind of symmetrical with these darker tones up here, these trees and this cloud.

Let's see what I came up with. I started with a black-and-white conversion that got me to here. There is not a lot of color in this image. Here is the color version. Here is the black-and-white version. So I didn't have too much toning that I could do in black and white. Rest of this was pretty simple. I threw in a layer that darkens-- this is a levels adjustment layer-- and I used the Gradient tool to make a smooth mask, or a smooth gradient, that is--that allowed me to here it comes tone adjust the sky. So I've gotten the sky a little bit darker. It's kind of washed out, a little bit boring. I wanted to see more definition in the clouds, so there we go.

You could see my mask is a little sloppy. It spills over onto these rocks up here. It doesn't matter; it just looks like shadows on the rocks. The next thing I did was an adjustment layer that increases contrast and again, I used the Gradient tool to constrain this contrast adjustment to only affect this part of the image, the lower part of the image and when I get that, I end up here. So now, I've really exaggerated the blacks down here, the lighter tones up here, and I am getting that kind of gradient that I was looking for. However, because of this bright stuff up in the sky, these blown-out highlights here, the eye tends to wander a little bit and also, since I usually end up printing my images, it's a problem having paper-white going all the way to the edge of the frame, because when I print this, there won't be a clear border.

So I added a vignette to this image, and we discussed how to vignette in another movie, but you can see with a vignette, I get this. That's before. That's after. It does give me some framing. It focuses my attention more into the center of the image. Let's look at one more here. Again another image that you've seen already. Here is my original and as I'm standing here looking down this sidewalk in Mangum, Konrad is standing down there. But what I'm seeing is I love this line here that's vanishing to the same point as this line here and this wonderful tonal balance between these two shades.

So of course I started with a black-and-white adjustment. It didn't do much here in terms of my toning other than to make sure that my sky was being rendered so that the blues were pretty dark so that the clouds would stand out a little more. And then I made a whole bunch of adjustment layers here. And as you can see, I've labeled them so that I can remember what they do. This one darkens, and it's got a mask that constrains it to right there, so that I am just darkening up this part of the sidewalk. And I got a little sloppy there. I got some spill. Keep an eye on this as I turn that adjustment layer off and you can see that maybe that's not supposed to be so dark.

It doesn't look that weird to me in this image--maybe I'll go back and patch that up--but it just looks like, I don't know, there is a stain on the sidewalk or something like that. Here is another adjustment layer that darkens. This one is constrained to here. I threw in basically some more darkness in here. It's almost like a little bit of manual vignetting. It just looks like a shadow here in the deep bits up against the wall. It serves to focus attention more into here. The next thing I did was actually lighten all of this stuff up here. And I did that for a couple of reasons. One, this was just looking a little blah with all this gray and again, when I go to print this image, with it like this, there's so much middle gray in it that it becomes the dominant tone that hits your eye.

And it tends to make for an image that just looks muddy or flat somehow. So the more I can get true white into the image--if it's appropriate--the more I am going to have an image that's got nice contrast. So, I thought these nice white beams were replaced to do that. It's not necessarily an unrealistic amount of light. If you're going to get picky about the kind of thing, it could be light reflecting off the sidewalk. I like these bricks lighting up. It also serves to make this bit look darker by comparison, and that plays up this tonal relationship. This next one is real subtle. You can see that this one is lightened.

My mask is completely black and you should know, if you're comfortable with layer masks, that that means that none of this effect is getting through to the image. But there is a little teeny-tiny bit. You just can't see it in this little thumbnail of the mask. If you watch Konrad's head right there when I turn this on, I just lightened up his face a little bit. At the tiny size you are looking at this, you may go wow, why bother, but if I print this at an 8x10, that actually is noticeable. With all that done, I took a look at my histogram and decided that I just needed an overall contrast boost. Let's take a look here.

You can see, without his layer on, I'm short on whites. I don't have a lot of really nice bright white in my image. So hitting this cranks those up, gets my tones more into place, and this image is ready to go. So those are the types of edits that I am doing on all of these images that you are seeing. I am really looking for where things need to be darkened, where things need to be lightened, not just when I'm trying to balance tones against each other, but by way of controlling the viewer's eye. As you saw down here, I darkened this to try and lead the viewer into here, and I'm also just thinking about good overall photo editing practice, which is to have a nice amount of dynamic range and tones that are going to print well, whites that are truly white, blacks that are truly black, and midtones that are nice and contrasty, silvery, not too muddy.

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