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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.
We live in a world that's pretty saturated with images, with really beautiful images a lot of times, and it can be a little difficult for the learning photographer to realize just how much work goes into a lot of those beautiful finished images they see in news magazines or National Geographic, things like that. No National Geographic goes on assignment to shoot the Great Pyramid or whatever, gets off the plane in Egypt, walks out, sees the pyramid, thinks about it, sets up their camera and goes, click, "Okay, I've got the shot, I'm going home." It doesn't work that way. They shoot lots of lots of pictures. They shoot dozens of pictures, hundreds of pictures, hoping to get down to those twelve to thirteen that might go in a magazine article.
This is a process called working the shot, and it's something that you have to start doing if you want to get good composition, if you want to get good exposure. Working the shot is critical to finding the image that's really there after you had an impulse that there is a photo there of some kind. A lot of people kind of naturally resist shooting a lot, because when you get home, you've got all of these images and most of them are bad, and so you feel like oh, wow, I shot fifty images today, and there're only two that I like. Now, two out of fifty is a good ratio. If you think about it, you would never walk into a painter's studio and see a lot of sketches on the floor, and one finish painting and go, I don't know, you only got one out of these dozens of sketches that are here.
Those sketches lead up to the finished painting; that's what working the shot is. It's the way you discover the image, it's the way you sketch the image, it's the way refine the image. So, I want to show you an example of that right now. I'm out here outside of a lodge and it's late in the day, so I'm going to move pretty quickly here to get through this. And there is this wonderful cement path going off this way and there's a shadow being cast by the bridge over here alongside it. I really like the relationship of these two things. They are kind of similar shape. They're going off in this V sort of thing. One is really dark, one is really light.
I'm shooting black and white, so I'm thinking I can exaggerate that darkness and lightness even more, so I just need to find the right framing. Now, I'm standing right here at the apex of them, so this seems like this might be pretty dramatic. I've got one going off this way, one going off this way. I'm shooting at a pretty wide angle to exaggerate that some, and I'm going to take my shot. Yeah, and that's kind of boring. I can't really see it there. I'm seeing it kind of going off this way and kind of going off that way. It's not as dramatic as I thought it was. So, I might consider zooming in a little bit tighter, maybe moving back and zooming in a little bit tighter again.
These are mostly the same, as you can see. There's nothing real dramatic. The key to working the shot is to feel your feet moving. If your feet are not moving, you're not working the shot. So, I'm going to get mine moving by going this way, and come out here and see what I see. So, now I'm seeing the road. I'm not seeing the path as much, because it's leading directly away from me, and it's starting off down this hill, so that's hiding it and there's a big tree in the middle of it-- that's not helping. That's blocking my view. So, this doesn't work. I'm going to go this way and see what I can find.
Again, I'm moving kind of fast because the sun is sinking pretty quickly. This is a little bit interesting, except now, now I'm down too low. I'm looking along the path. I can't see it as well, and this shadow is really dominating. I would like to be taller and I'm very fortunate in that I'm standing just below a balcony that's overlooking this whole thing. So, and it's pointed in the right direction. I've got a little sunlight left. I'm going to head up there and see what I can find. Okay, so, we're up quite a bit higher now.
I'm hoping this is going to make a difference. If I sound frantic, that's because the sun's going over the mountains. Here's a quick little tip for knowing how much time you have. Hold your hand at arm's length. The number of fingers between the bottom of the sun and the horizon, it's about seven minutes per fingers. So, I got about twenty minutes here. I'm doing pretty good. So, if I come over here to the edge and take a look at where I'm at, right away I can tell we're really getting somewhere now. I can get a clear view of both the road and the shadow and even the bridge, if I want to play with that, so I've got three elements that I can work with here.
But something really interesting is happening, and this is why we work the shot. A new element has presented itself that I never saw in the first place, and that's a street sign that's down there that's kind of sitting right at the apex of the two lines. So that might be something interesting. So, I'm going to shoot. I'm going to shoot in both orientations, because I'm not sure what might be better. I'm also bracketing my depth of field. I'm shooting at F/11; I want all of this in focus. So I'm putting my focus point either closer out or further in to move my depth of field around to ensure that things up close they're going to be in focus.
Still the shots are--I don't know, they're okay, but they're kind of-- they're kind of not okay. So, I'm going to keep working it. If I come over here, I'm thinking maybe I take the bridge out completely. Simplify is of course our mantra, so maybe I get rid of the bridge and work with just the lines. That's not bad, except the bridge shadow is kind of big. I'm getting some extra shadow. So, I'm going to try going this way. And again, my feet are moving. That's the clue that I'm working the shot, and this is what you should be doing no matter what you're shooting.
You want to have your feet moving. You want to be looking to find the shot. Again, think of it as sketching. As I'm sketching, I've added this new element. I'm playing with the lines in different ways, working up to my final shot, and I think that this is it. Let's do a black-and-white conversion on this, and we end with this, our final image. You can see I played with the tones some to play up that relationship that I had originally seen, but this is a composition that's very different than what I had originally envisioned when I was standing down there. I worked it.
I worked my way through and discovered this shot. I've got a whole bunch of other pictures that are technically not any good, but they served the purpose; they got me through to this. I could not envision this in my head initially. And you may think, well, if you're a good photographer, you would have been able to see that in your head. That's just not how it works. Sometimes you get that, sometimes you have the moment, the inspiration where you do see it in your head perfectly realized, and you take it. Most of the time though, we work the shot. You're going to see me doing this throughout the rest of the course. You're going to hear me nagging you about it. I promise you, until you really have experienced it some, you're just not going to be shooting enough.
You've got to always work it more, work a little deeper. One of the easiest ways to work the shot that's kind of most immediately effective is to try moving closer to your subject right away. Very often you'll see a scene--maybe not a big landscape like this--you'll take a shot, and the solution to the shot is to get them a little bit closer. It inherently simplifies the image; it's a very good initial working. So practice that with all of the exercises that we're going to be sending you out on during this course.
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