Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video Composing a scene for a photograph, part of Photography: Advanced Composition.
- Okay, Susan, you have built this... what looks to me like a big mess. (Susan laughs) So let's talk about what you've got here. - Okay. - I see a big piece of paper over there. - Right. It's a big backdrop, seamless backdrop, the biggest one that they make. And so my whole goal is to cast shadows on this backdrop and create some kind of a narrative. - Right. - And so in order to do that, I have a stage light over here. - Okay. - My light never moves.
And then my camera is over here. - Okay. - And everything is on the side so that the real objects aren't in the set themselves. - Okay. So this light is shining through these things that you've placed here, and that's casting shadows on that piece of paper. - And then I'm going to photograph that piece of paper, and that'll be my image. - Okay. That's one of the tricky things about being here, is it's hard not to look at this big thing of wire and go, well, you're taking a picture of that, but there's this C-stand in front of it. (Susan laughs) But you're not taking a picture of that. You're taking a picture of its shadow. Okay.
What's this camera? It's an odd-looking camera. - This is a four by five view camera, Sinar, which I've used for many, many years and couldn't part with. - Okay. - And it'll let, it lets me do tilts and shifts, and it has a leaf back, a digital back on it. - And you need the tilt and shift to be able to deal with the geometry of the flat piece of paper, just to get it squared off? - Yeah. And maybe on this set, it's not, it's not tilted quite as much, but because of the angle, I'm trying to photograph just that backdrop and not any of these props.
- Right. - And by the time I put a person over there, it might be, they might be really distorted. So if I can turn this in just a little tiny bit... - I see. - So it's kind of tilting this way and that way. - Okay. - If that makes sense. - So there's a leaf digital back. It captures a bunch of pixels, I would assume. - Um-hum. - Is this a, how big is this image that you're shooting? - The back itself? - Yeah. - Is 28. - Twenty-eight megapixels? - Yeah. - Okay. All right. So you're capturing a lot of data... - Yeah. - ...of blurry shadows, is basically what you're saying. (laughs) - Wait a minute, those shadows are very sharp.
- Okay, that's true, all right. - In some places. - Okay. (Susan laughs) And that brings up an interesting point. They're very sharp in some places and not in others. - Right. - And so you've got this weird mix of light stands and C-stands with bars going across them. - Um-hum. - And so you're going to use those to hang stuff. - Right. - So things, so there's this, basically this rectangle of stuff. - Um-hum. - Things on this end are sharper on the paper? - Um-hum. - And things back here are blurrier. - Right. So that's how I build up the field. So if we look out into the world, we've got a foreground and a background, and if you look at a shadow, it's normally just a flat, you know, a black tonal range on a...
- Right. - On a backdrop. So if I put everything on one angle, it's all going to be the same. - Equally sharp. - It's going to feel very flat. - Yeah. - Okay, so you're building up a very three-dimensional space over there to get a three-dimensional sense on the piece of paper. - Yeah. And that's my goal, is I'm really trying to make it look like it's a believable space that has volume and could be real, but... - Okay. - I'm not sure where that would be. (laughs) - All right, so what happens next? - So what happens next is, I've only just sort of started this set, and probably another three or four weeks will go into it.
But for today, I thought maybe we could go to work and you could help me a little. - Okay. - Are you up for that? - I'm ready, yeah, yeah. - Okay. - So I'm going to put on my nice gloves here. - Okay. - And... - I don't get any gloves. - You don't get any gloves. - All right, okay, I see how this works. - So basically the way that I'll work is I have a couple of items I think I want to float, and I want to move this wire around a little bit, and the whole set is really based on gravity. So if you want something to float in space and it doesn't just hang straight and you want to move the angles, you got to anchor it with wire from some different positions.
- Okay. - And so that's what we're going to do right now. And I'm interested in working on that right, upper right-hand corner at the moment. I don't like the way that line is so straight. I want to get it kind of gnarly like the bottom there. - Okay. - So we're going to go for gnarly. - Okay. - Okay? - So what we're going to do over here is... Normally when I have someone helping me, I'll just move things around and then I'll say, yeah, I like that, and then I'll anchor it into place. - Okay. - So I'm just going to kind of move this wire around a little bit, and I'm interested in building something sort of gnarly on that top that's not just a 45 degree angle.
- So as you're moving these things around, you're looking at the big piece of paper, 'cause that's your final composition. And it sounds like you're really doing all of the same kind of basic, answering all the same kind of basic questions that anyone does whenever they take a picture. You're thinking about how the lines are controlling a viewer's eye. - Yeah. - And I've heard you mention balance a couple of times. - Yeah. - So the big difference is you get to put specifically what lines you want in the frame. - Yeah. It's like painting, only with objects.
- Okay. - Could you just say that, objects and light? - Yeah. - It's like standing in a huge photogram or something? - Okay. - And for me, composition, it's something that comes intuitive to me, and I just keep working until for some reason I like it and some reasons I don't like it. But I'm mostly, I'm more interested in what the narrative is going to say. Like, is it going to work as a narrative? - Okay. - And, you know, is it a believable space? Is, does it look too predictable? Does it look like I had fabricated it? And sometimes if it looks too fabricated, I'll pull it apart and add some other things.
I really like to set up some things that don't quite make sense that kind of ask you to make a question about it. - Okay. - What you're looking at. - So I really love that upper right-hand corner right now. - Okay. - So I'm going to ask you to hold this right here. That wasn't fair, was it, that I gave you no gloves. - No, no, that's okay. - So, Don, right there is where I want you to hold. - Okay. - And I'm going to attach a wire to that. - Wow, this stuff is heavy. (Susan laughs) - And I should've had a boom right there, and I don't, so we're going to bring a boom.
So the way that gravity's going to work, I've got to put something right on the edge of that to hold it up right there. Look to see, is this kind of over where your hand is? Yeah. Then we'll put some wire on there. Oh, here it is. Okay. So I'm going to put a piece of wire right there.
I'm going to pull that wire down, make sure the stand doesn't fall over. I'm going to pull it down right where you're holding. - So now that you put this here, what are the odds that it will stay, that you'll want it in this position as you build other things? Do you end up moving things around a lot? - I move some things. Now let's see if the whole thing's going to fall over. That's not so... That's not a very sturdy boom. Eh, it looks pretty good. Oh, but I love the way that top looks. I mean, that looks, that's fantastic.
So if it falls, then... then we just start again. - Okay. So you're focusing just on that corner. Do you have... Are you, do you have something in mind already that's going to go in the frame later that you're thinking about that? Or you're just thinking about that corner on its own merits, or... - Yeah, I like to, I like to kind of map in what I will call the whole, the scene, and then I'll start hanging things. I'll, I want to bring in some more items that are going to be sharper and kind of the stars in the show.
- Okay. - I would say. - You're building a background. - Right now I'm building a background, yeah. - Okay. - And, you know, that, I could probably paint that in. And then I've got this piece of foil here that I could play around with a little on the top. I can play around a little bit with... I think it needs to go a little higher to me. - Okay, with that in mind, I'm just going to leave you working for a little bit. - (laughs) You are? - So I'll be back later. - Okay.
You got a couple weeks to spend? - Yeah.
- Best practices for advanced composition
- Reviewing other photographers' work
- Composing a scene
- Placing objects
- Composing around light and geometry
- Composing with layers: foreground and background
- Compositional exercises