Posts Tagged ‘composition’

“There Are No Rules of Composition”

October 23rd, 2015

It is often said that there are no ‘rules’ of composition. And yet, there they are – Rule of Thirds, Golden Rule, Leading Lines, S-Curves, Layers, Off Center, Symmetry, Perspective, Lines of all sorts and on and on. And why is it that when so many fellow photographers comment on one of your photographs they comment about the rules of composition and not what the image expresses? In fact, most books and courses on composition begin by stating that there are no rules of composition before launching into an exhaustive analysis of, yep, the rules of composition. And of course, it’s not fashionable to refer to the rules of composition as rules anymore because ‘there are no rules of composition.’

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And yet we diligently study them all the same.

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Making a Photograph – Two Sides of the Coin

November 23rd, 2014

I recently read an article by William Neill in the September Outdoor Photography magazine titled “Need to Know” that really resonated with me.  His main point is, don’t let the acquisition of gear and techniques interfere with the experience.  There’s so much information out there, so many people offering advice on techniques for composing, exposing and post processing.  But in Neill’s journey he has developed what he calls, ‘… a simple but effective tool set.”

A foundation of gear and technique is important in capturing the experience.  But it is the experience that is what we’re out there for, not histograms or depth of field or leading lines.

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Ten Reasons to Take a Photography Workshop

April 19th, 2014

We all love photography.  Perhaps you are a casual photographer, using your smart phone or point-and-shoot camera to capture the precious moments in life you cherish and want to remember.  Perhaps you admire the work of others and would like to be able to capture scenes or moments like they do.  Or maybe you are skilled and have been passionate about your own photography for quite some time now.

For those that seek to develop themselves as photographers there are a couple of approaches you can take.  You can learn on your own by reading and photographing.  And if you are able to devote the time and energy to this process you will surely be successful.  However, it is more of a trial-and-error approach to learning photography and, let’s face it, we don’t all have the time or energy to adequately feed our passion.

Or, you can learn from someone who has already mastered the challenges you encounter along the way.  And one of the most effective and affordable ways of accomplishing this is through a photography workshop.

So I would like to share with you my top ten reasons for attending a photography workshop.

1.     Inspiration

Photography workshops give you the opportunity to focus just on photography and capturing the beauty that surrounds you.  The complications of your busy life are left at home or at work and for several stimulating days your existence is focused on one thing – capturing the beauty that surrounds you.

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Mastering Sharpness – Depth of Field

March 2nd, 2014

A topic that receives a lot of attention in our workshops is focus.  It’s incredibly important, so important that I consider Appropriate Sharpness to be one of the four pillars of a successful landscape photograph.  (For more, read Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars.)  Most of the questions center around depth of field and hyperfocal distance.  In fact, this is so important that I give a class on Appropriate Sharpness during just about every workshop.  Let’s start the discussion with Depth of Field

Depth of Field

This is the range, if you will, of objects in the view of your camera that are in focus.  Objects in front of this range are out of focus as well as objects behind the range.  A deep depth of field would have the flowers just a few feet from you camera and the distant mounts miles away all in focus.  The depth of field would then extend from a couple of feet to infinity and for all practical purposes would be infinitely deep.  This is often referred to as a ‘near-far composition.’

death_valley_sunrise_2012_rrpm_rc0A shallow depth of field may be just a couple of inches deep with nearer and more distant objects out of focus.  This is referred to as ‘Selective Focus.’

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Mastering Composition – Rule of Thirds

February 22nd, 2014

The Rule of Thirds is a compositional principle that is widely used. And for good reason because, well, it works.  At least, it works in a lot of situations.

What is the Rule of Thirds? You superimpose a tic-tac-toe grid on your image, two vertical lines equally spaced and two horizontal lines equally spaced. Then you place the key elements of your image on or near those lines, or at one of their intersections.  They don’t have to be exactly on the lines or intersections, just near them.  This is art, not engineering, so it’s important that it feels right.  But the Rule of Thirds gives us positions that are visually very strong and command the viewer’s attention.  That’s why you want to use this principle for the key elements of your composition, the elements you want to draw the viewer’s eye to.

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One should be cautious in overusing the Rule of Thirds. It should not be applied mechanically and certainly not universally.  It does not apply to all compositions.  After all, aren’t our ‘Rules’ of composition made to be broken?  But on the other hand, sometimes a composition gets just a little bit stronger when you move the key element just a tiny bit to place it closer to or right on a 1/3rd line.

The fact is it works so well in so many situations that the camera manufacturers give us the ability to display the grid on our camera’s LCD screens and viewfinders. Also, software publishers like Adobe display the grid when we use the crop tool. This is true of Elements, Lightroom and Photoshop. And these aids can be very helpful in achieving strong compositions.

Why does the Rule of Thirds work so well? To answer that let’s talk about Visual Tension.

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Mastering Composition–More Border Patrol

January 17th, 2014

It may not be obvious at first but a photograph’s border is a critical element of a successful composition.  All too often we get so focused on the subject that the borders get  ignored.   Because it’s so important I’m writing a second post on the subject.  To read the first post you can click on this link  – Mastering Composition – Border Patrol.

For this post take a look at this photograph.

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The photograph is of the famous tunnel at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California.  In wintertime, as you can see, not only do the waves come crashing through but the setting sun turns the water to liquid gold.  It’s easy to get so absorbed by the spectacle that important elements of the composition get ignored.  Can you see what I missed here?

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Mastering Composition – Border Patrol

December 30th, 2013

“When I compose an image I spend more time getting the borders right than I spend on the subject.”  You think this is a surprising statement?  There are a lot of photographers that I really admire for whom this statement is true.  I know when I first started out I had no idea what was happening on the borders.  I paid no attention to them.  Until it was pointed out to me that my borders were very sloppy.  And from that point on composition got a whole lot harder because getting clean borders is not a trivial task.  But over time it became second nature to me.  Now I always check the borders and make appropriate adjustments before I press the shutter.

Well, almost always.  Take a look….

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Mastering Composition – Balance

December 22nd, 2013

There are many rules of composition.  I know people don’t like to use the term rules and for good reason.  If you treat these rules as if they are hard and fast you can end up with compositions that are mechanical.  So I prefer to call them ‘principles of composition.’  Now I’ve said before that composition is a problem solving endeavor.  That is, you have been inspired by what lies before you, you have connected with it and you have an idea of what you want to say.  And one of the key elements in communicating your message is the composition you choose.  There is generally a point where this becomes very much of a problem solving effort, meaning it can get very analytical.  And while the analysis may be important if not essential, it can cloud aesthetic considerations.  Take for example this photograph of dawn in the Little Lakes Basin up Rock Creek in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

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I was drawn to this Lodgepole Pine growing from a cleft in the granite above the lake.  I gave a lot of thought to this composition and compositional principles came very much into play.  The way I saw it, the two key elements were the tree and the lake.  I didn’t think of the peaks in the distance as being a key element although I knew they were important.  And I was aware of the lake as a leading line the drew the eye to them. I placed the tree on the right 1/3 line so that it wouldn’t block the lake.  And I enjoyed the wonderful alpenglow as I captured a few images through the final minutes of civil twilight.  Then I wandered off looking for other photographs.  But later, after the sun came up I was drawn back to this tree and saw it completely differently.

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Mastering Composition – What?

December 7th, 2013

Composition is one of the four pillars of a strong landscape photograph (See Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars).  There are many approaches to mastering composition and certainly countless excellent books on the topic.  Many books discuss the elements of design and how they relate to composition – line, shape, form, texture, pattern and color.  Others go into the various rules of composition – rule of thirds, golden rule, leading lines, near / far, layers, frames, etc.

All of these rules or principles are very analytical and, I think, are necessary and useful building blocks.  Often creating a strong composition is very much of a problem-solving endeavor.  But in the end I believe the goal of the composition is to support what the artist wants to communicate through the image.  And this comes more from compositions that just feel right, not ones that are mechanically created from the rules.  That’s not to say that one is not aware of these principles as the composition is being worked out.  Rather these principles are like words in a sentence.  They are carefully chosen so that the sentence as a whole communicates the author’s message.  There are several techniques that lead us to this goal.  And one of them is to ask yourself, ‘’”What am I photographing?”

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Ansel Adams – The Making of 40 Photographs: Nevada Falls

May 10th, 2013

There’s so much to learn from studying Ansel Adams’ photographs, especially when you read what he has to say about them in “Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs”.  Each narrative seems to have its own distinct lesson.  The narrative associated with Nevada Falls is a study in working a composition.

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