Understanding Composition?

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by Senor Hound, May 10, 2008.

  1. Senor Hound

    Senor Hound TPF Noob!

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    I have a book called, "Understanding Exposure." I'm sure everyone has heard of it, as a matter of fact, that's why I bought it. But, there's another aspect of photography I'd like a book on.

    You have exposure, and then you have composition. I know the two blend together (your f-stop is part of your composition, as well as shutter speed and ISO sometimes), but I want a book that will help me understand how to frame up photos, how to find good angles to shoot from, how to pick interesting subjects, etc.

    I know no book can teach this 100%, and I also know there is no substitute for experience. But at this point I'm not looking for 100% comprehension, I'm looking for maybe 10%, ANYTHING to just help me understand what to look for while I'm out and about capturing the world. For example, I took a photo of a tree I thought the framing was fine on, yet people told me it needed to be tighter. How can you tell HOW tight to go? Once again, I understand there is no definite answer to this, but I'm just looking for those general tips and tricks that 99.9% of the professional photographing industry agree on.

    Someone said on here that you need to know the rules before you should bend them (or blatantly break them, in some cases). I guess what I wanna know is what these rules are...
     
  2. abraxas

    abraxas No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I suggest a trip to the local public library and browse through the art and photography sections. Check out a few books. If you like any of them, buy a copy and have at it.

    Exposure is the mathematical side of photography. The rules are more described and defined. Composition and finding interesting subject matter are more of an artistic pursuit. There are a few basics that are readily defined, but at least in my opinion, it's about who you are, how you feel, and how you develop your vision.
     
  3. Senor Hound

    Senor Hound TPF Noob!

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    So you're saying I should buy those big photo books they sell at Barnes and Noble? Or at least rent one from the library? Would it be okay to find photos I like and replicate certain features of it (like the brightness, camera angle and maybe the closeness of the crop)? I haven't ever looked at any other photos for inspiration, I just pick up my camera and say, "I wanna take a picture of this!" I don't wanna be a copycat, cause then people will accuse me of being unoriginal.

    Do you know of any good photographers that would be a place to start. I don't really know any (other than Ansel Adams), or maybe the photographer doesn't matter?

    Or maybe I'm thinking too much? :wink: (Sorry!)
     
  4. LaFoto

    LaFoto Just Corinna in real life Staff Member Supporting Member

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    A while ago, Hertz has quite eloquently explained to all of us here that composition is less made of "rules" and more made of "viewing conventions". I have since always liked the thought.

    But several "general conventions" seem to be that an image (canvas, drawing, photo, whatever) has more dynamics (not light dynamics), i.e. is more interesting to be looked at, or: captures the viewer's interest more when it is not totally centred, for example.

    So when you do landscapes, you would not want to have your horizon line so very much in the middle of your image that it divides the photo in two equal parts.

    You'd have to decide on what it is you really want to say, to underline with your photo: the vastness of the sky and its cloud-formations as it forms a large and wide dome? In that case you'd give that sky more room and place the horizon line into the lower third of the picture.

    Is it the magnificent countryside you mean to portray? Rolling hills, shades of green, or even the vastness of a sea? Reflections? Colour play? Play of light and shadow in the landscape or seascape you mean to photograph?

    In that case you'd give the sky a lot less room and place the horizon into the upper third of the frame.

    A clearly divided frame into two equal parts is too balanced, so there is no excitement, no thrill any more.

    Just ONE aspect out of many.

    Likewise it is more "exciting" to see (e.g.) a flower positioned a little over to the side, UNLESS (and here we come to the first "unless", of which, of course, there can be numerous) you want your photo to be all symmetric. Symmetry CAN well be the key element to your photo, of course.

    Then there are other elements that help make a photo more exciting, like diagonal lines leading the eye through the image.
    Leading lines, and vanishing points in general.

    Repetition can be a nice element in photography.
    Light and shadow.
    Textures.
    Colours, if you want to, or the well executed lack of colours (in black&white photography). And more.

    I am sure the general photo guides also teach you the key elements of composition. So far all the books on photography I have come across have done so.
     
  5. abraxas

    abraxas No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    What I'm saying is, go to the library and look at photography books. The "how to" kind. Read. Learn. Do. Borrow a book or two. Learn. Go to B&N and buy one you like.

    Check out some of the assignments on this site- I don't know for sure what forum they're in, but the glimpses I've seen, the folks look like they are having fun.

    Don't worry about being a copycat. Do what you like. Just do it though.

    'Nothing' is easy.
     
  6. djrichie28

    djrichie28 TPF Noob!

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    From the same guy who wrote 'Understanding Exposure', there is also another book called 'Learning to See Creatively'. I just finished reading it, and it sounds exactly what you are looking for. There are also many pictures Bryan Peterson included to show great examples. Same publisher too I think. Check it out.
     
  7. RubyMagic

    RubyMagic TPF Noob!

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    Yes. Learning to see creatively is a staple book for people just starting out in photography.
     
  8. kundalini

    kundalini Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    A few steps I've taken to develop my "eye" for composition and photography in general have been to view the photos in the professional galleries on photo forums, TPF and others. Try to pick the photo apart. By that I mean to give a best guess of how the lighting was used, natural or flash, ask myself what is pleasing or not of the PoV, DoF, contrast, how the subject is portrayed. Do all the analysis before you read critiques by others. Start offering real critique about a photo posted rather than to just say "Nice photo".

    I also have bookmarked photographers websites that I like, be it a pro, a member here or one that is referenced through thread discussions. I often refer back to them for inspiration. Also go to magazine websites and browse their galleries.

    Pick up a few magazines and thumb through the published photos and once again, analyze the photo for the good that you see. Read the articles on "How to". Go to B&N, grab a few books, grab a coffee and absorb as much as you can.

    Take one simple object from around your house. Find out how many different photos you can get using that one object. Change settings, PoV, DoF, Exposure Compensation, etc. You'll be surprised how different they can be, you will learn a great deal and also have fun while doing it.

    Hope some of that helps you. I've convinced myself that it has helped me.
     
  9. Stranger

    Stranger TPF Noob!

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    Their is one general problem with this and also a reason this is a great idea.

    The Problem : When re-creating someone's photo in the way you described it, you will not learn a whole lot. You may learn how to do it, but you will not grasp the concept which is the important ting. Its kind of like if i were to teach you that 1+1 equals to... you can go out and answer 1+1=2 all you want, but without knowing WHY it equals, if asked 2+1 you would have no idea. So, back to the photography sense; when taking the photo the other guy took, you will be able to do it. But when it comes to your own photo, you wont know why he applied those things or what you should apply to it so you are back at square one.

    When it is a good idea: When there is some certain aspect you are trying to learn. I often copy people's strobe shots from the strobist flickr group in order to learn the effects lighting has when done different ways. This is a more specific concept then general composition so it helps me a great deal trying to come up with the flash settings to best replicate. So in your case, maybe if you wanted to learn to shoot flowers or a specific subject t would be nice to copy others so you can get a feel for some general aspects of flower photography.

    This is just my 02 cents though and of course, everyone learn differently.

    Another good way to learn is by shooting and posting your photos. A lot of knowledge on this forum and i am sure someone will respond to help you a bit. Also scour the web for some good compositional sites that will teach you the general rules. Like the rule of thirds and what not.

    Most importantly, shoot shoot shoot and let the creativity channel through the lens :) You will learn what to do
     
  10. Mike_E

    Mike_E No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Go to a museum and look at the paintings. Go back to the ones you like and concentrate on how the placement of the different elements make you feel. Imagine moving the elements in those paintings around and how that would make you feel and concentrate on what makes you feel best- don't think about why just yet.

    Walk to the front door of the museum and think about what you just saw then walk back to double check what you have just done.

    Go take photos. Have a long life and be happy knowing that you are doing what you like.

    :)
     
  11. Antithesis

    Antithesis No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I think the best advice anyone could give you is: go take more photographs. There is a learning curve, and the more images you take, the better they will start to look. Nobody just picks up a camera and starts taking masterpieces, and even the best photographers get rid of a very large majority of the crap they shoot.

    Also, take the suggestion of looking at other's photos. Get a firm idea of what makes them interesting and start out trying to replicate it. Reading can give you certain things, but creativity comes from practice and understanding what makes an image attractive to you.
     
  12. invisible

    invisible Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Many people here have suggested going to the library or a museum for pictures or paintings. If you are too lazy for that, try watching movies making an effort to focus on the visual composition, not the plot. (Lowering the volume makes this much easier.) Mainstream movie directors tend to follow the rule of thirds to a tee. Independent filmmakers oftentimes bend this rule (and many other rules!) but still find a way to keep their visual composition balanced and compelling.

    The thing about composition is that there is no right and no wrong, rules and all. You have to develop your own visual language –which you will even if you don't even try. Just shoot and shoot and shoot some more. In time, composition will become second nature, intuitive... At this point you will find yourself experimenting new and different compositions that contradict all the rules... and you might like these pics a lot, even if they look (composition-wise) a lot like your pics you used to hate when you first started out.

    Yes, the rules are a great guide, but they are just a guide. You don't always hike using the signaled path, do you?
     

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