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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: 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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