Join Ben Long for an in-depth discussion in this video What is composition?, part of Foundations of Photography: Composition.
- View Offline
We shoot photos for different reasons, but in most cases it's because we've seen something in the world that we want to communicate to someone else. One of the great frustrations of photography though is the fact that just because something looks cool in real life, you can't necessarily just point a camera at it and get a good picture. Unlike your normal visual experience of the world, a photograph is bounded by a frame and when looking at a photo, the viewer reads the contents within that frame to try to recognize and understand what it is you are showing them.
Their success at doing that is based largely on how you choose to compose the image. At the simplest level, you can define composition as the way you frame your scene. But good composition involves much more than simply choosing how to crop the world into the rectangle inside your viewfinder. Good composition is the process of arranging forms and tones in a way that is pleasing and that guides the viewer's eye to bring attention to your subject. In a good composition, you will know precisely what the subject of the image is.
And in a bad composition your eye will wander and search. A hallmark of bad composition as if you find yourself thinking, I'm not sure what the point of that photo is, what am I supposed to look at? Good composition can also reveal things in the scene that the viewer might not notice on their own: patterns, repetition, a play of light and shadow, or in a really effective photo, a feeling about the particular moment that was photographed. Sometimes the right composition is obvious. At other times though, you might find that the only reason that a particular thing is interesting is because the photographer composed it in a way to bring your attention to it.
As your composition skills improve, not only will your everyday shots look better, but you will find that the world is rife with far more subject matter. Objects that had seemed mundane will become interesting because of how you arrange and order them within the frame. That is the power of composition.
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.
- 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