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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 Long: It's the last day of the workshop. We are all done. The images have been printed. They are on display. Students are walking from studio to studio looking at each other's work. Connie, you've done these exercises a lot in a lot of workshops. They've done some great work here this weekend. Is this typically what you find from these exercises? Connie Imboden: When I have students who are really excited about what they're doing, are really committed, yes. But often I don't have students that are as committed as these students have been, and I think this work has really just been marvelous.
Ben: They are very, very simple exercises. It's interesting, we did them with the students this summer, and it's amazing how the same exercises, it just seems you put them in front of anybody and it really does change the way they see. Connie: Right! Well, we're used to composing around subjects and the light assignment especially forces you to compose around what you're looking at and seeing in a much more graphic way than a subject-oriented way. Ben: So, are there problems that you see regularly with these exercises? Connie: Yeah, people get very angry and frustrated-- Ben: So aside from the personal threat, are there--what's the thing that they don't get or that they struggle with the most? Connie: Well, the one assignment of seeing spatially is difficult for people, because they want to think their way through it, and you can't think your way through this.
It's really a very visual issue that I'm asking them to deal with. And as soon as you start off with a thought, you are in a place that's very, very limited. But if you can use that thought as a starting point and then really push yourself seeing and explore the spatial relationships and the spatial issues, you can really get someplace. And we saw that. I saw a lot of students with thoughts in the beginning and as soon as they stayed with it, as you've talked about all weekend, pushing the shot, really making the shot work, then they would come up with something that worked.
Ben: It's also interesting to see that even within the bounds of this exercise, there's still all the basic compositional stuff they're having to remember. They're still simplifying, guiding the viewer's eye. All of that stuff is still in there, that those basics never go away. Connie: Right! They never go away, no. Ben: You always worked on them. Connie: And the more you work on them the more they become a part of you, and it's almost like muscle memory for an athlete. The more you work on these issues the more they just become part of your intuitive experience. Ben: Do you return to these exercises? Connie: I do. Ben: You do.
Connie: I do. Ben: Even after all this time. Connie: After all this time, yeah. If I get stuck, or I get frustrated with where I am working, that's the first thing I do is I start to work with that spatial issue, because it forces you out of your head, and it forces you to really follow your eyes. Ben: So, there you go! I think that's maybe one of the biggest pushes we can give you to try these exercises, not as something to complete and mark off the lessons and done with that, but to start thinking of these ideas as a discipline, as something that you need to return to throughout your photographic life.
Connie, thanks a lot. It's always incredible to teach with you. Connie: Thank you! It's incredible to teach with you. Ben: No, no really, with you.
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