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Thread: Composing a Image.

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    Senior Member Lucille's Avatar
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    Composing a Image.

    As many here know, there are rules of photography when composing a image, such as the rule of 3rds, the rule of lines, and I'm sure many more.

    I can honestly say I don't know much about these rules, I don't like rules and when I hear about rules my instinct is to do the opposite.

    I have never, never composed a image and given any so-called rule a consideration.


    I simply see a image in a scene, and I raise my camera and shoot. I don't think about it. I don't use a viewfinder much, though the A7R MII's viewfinder is changing that for me.
    I mostly use the LCD screen, I always shoot in manual mode, I quickly see the image and exposure, then I fire. For me this process is easy and quick.

    I am sure I could learn a lot from you experienced and gifted photographers that have a deep understanding of these rules.

    I need to learn more, I just shoot, I just press the shutter.


    I was at a parade with my tiny Rx100 mIII, and some Camaro's where in it, I just had my camera ready and fired, no time really to think about rules. Just take the picture.





    I find photography simple. You can put any camera in my hands, just show me which dials control aperture, ISO and shutter speed, and I'll get to work. My mind see's things and my
    hands react.

    When I have my A7R MII in my hands, I just walk around until my eyes are drawn to a point of interest, my mind quickly and instinctively decides what angle, direction and depth of field to use, and my hands make adjustments as I raise the camera to see either through the viewfinder or the LCD screen, then I push the shutter.




    I am interested in learning more of these rules, however if they make shooting images less of a joy, then I don't want a thing to with them.
    the HepKitty
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lucille View Post
    I am interested in learning more of these rules, however if they make shooting images less of a joy, then I don't want a thing to with them.
    That is the key, I guess. Cool picture (is that you?), Lucille!
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    What you are referring to are NOT rules of photography, they are aesthetically pleasing guidelines of DESIGN that apply to ALL forms of visual arts ... from graphic design to architecture to painting to photography, etc.

    Most are derived from nature and observation. Mama Nature is the greatest designer of them all The Greeks in western culture observed, explored, and formalized many design principles which set into motion our aesthetic tastes and understanding of division of space, perspective, sense of depth, and control of the viewer's eye.

    Take for example the basic "rule of thirds". This notion postulates that a space divided into 1/3 to 2/3 proportions tend to be more aesthetically pleasing to the eye than 1/2 to 1/2. So a horizon placed 1/3 from the top or 1/3 from the bottom helps make for a nice division of space that allows us to place the emphasis where we want it as opposed to two spaces battling for attention.

    Of course this is a simplistic example, but it illustrates why certain design notions are used by visual artists.

    Many talented visual people have an intuitive understanding of basic aesthetics ... like a child that can sit at a piano and suddenly play a complex musical composition with little formal training or even the ability to read music ... they have an ear for it, just like some have an eye for design.

    "I know what I like" is a stifling notion and often means "I like what I know". When we come to know more design principles we can make them part of our intuitive artistic reactions, and grow as artists.

    Having a knowledge of design principles also allows us to break the so called rules ... but we do so intelligently. Picasso broke the prevailing rules of time and space with Cubism, but did so with full knowledge of what he was doing and why. This revolutionary visual concept forever changed how other visual artists thought about the division of space.

    It is good to be rebellious, IF we know what we are rebelling against and what the fresh ideas will bring to the party and advance the art of ... (fill in the blank).

    - Marc
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    Senior Member Lucille's Avatar
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vivek View Post
    That is the key, I guess. Cool picture (is that you?), Lucille!
    yes daddy-o, that is me, I have a huge love for the 1950's.
    the HepKitty

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    Re: Composing a Image.

    My two cents' worth (with no higher value):

    The 'rules' of composition or design are codifications of what artists and viewers have internalized. They're part of our perception and judgment, and we consciously make 'rules' and discuss them only after the fact. And whether or not we choose to follow or violate these conventions is part of the game of art.

    Mostly we perceive interesting compositions intuitively. When viewing an existing image critically, we might mention 'rules' to say why its composition seems awkward. But if we went out consciously looking for thirds and S-curves, we'd produce cliches.

    Composition in photography is especially intuitive for folks like Lucille who stick with the camera's full-frame proportions and capture activities on the move. Beginners just point right at the subject and shoot/capture it. That's the 'snapshot aesthetic.' But with experience we've trained our mind's eyes to see 2:3 rectangles out there in the air, with everything hopefully in place when the shutter opens.

    If you shoot a lot, for example like Winogrand, then composition/design is partly initial perception, but even more a factor in editing. And then it's more a matter of seeing that 'this one works!' than of applying rules.

    For myself, I'm consciously aware of composition/design especially in three circumstances. One is when exposing a landscape with the camera on a tripod, and lining the frame up 'just right.' (This recalls the old Weston-Adams idea of previsualization, with the photographer composing formally, upside-down on ground glass, and claiming to see in black and white.) Another circumstance is when I crop and/or depart from the 2:3 format, for example when stitching files. Then I have to crop carefully with L-shaped guides. The third is when peers meet to edit a project or portfolio. This requires judgment about the interplay of form (composition, design) and content, as we try to decide which images should go in or out, and in what sequence.

    But in these instances no rules apply directly, in the sense of 'Whoops, don't do that, it would violate the Rule of Thirds.'

    Agreeing but slightly disagreeing with Marc regarding rules of design: We internalize supposedly classic rules of perception and composition with some variation. Viewing art from all over the world, we can see that principles of design are bound to some extent by time, place, and experience. Some values vary culturally (who am I to say which is the best-designed totem pole?). Other standards vary with individual experience: how much art in general, and what kind of photography in particular, have we been looking at – on the web, in museums and galleries, in books? What do we think is the 'state of the art'? Overall, the rules are less Platonic/universal than Wittgensteinian: who's included in the conversation?

    Another consideration is that disruption is endemic to contemporary art: modern and postmodern art work really hard to break whatever might be the rules. Just as the Modernists departed from their predecessors' ideas of form and content, so did Frank and Winogrand depart from prevailing notions of what made an 'acceptable' composition. Friedlander has played with the puzzle of how a 'composition' might suggest order while almost dissolving into chaos. But now these gentlemen are old masters, and younger artists try hard to violate whatever rule appears on their horizon.

    This sort of musing is an interesting desktop activity, but it doesn't matter a lot when actually photographing and editing. Everyone harbors a set of expectations about what makes an interesting picture, whether those expectations kitchy, postmodern/disruptive or otherwise. These expectations are the 'state of the art' as we conceive it, and that's what guides most of what we see, post, and print. I enjoy Lucille's pictures without attending very much to their composition. I like the way they jump back and forth between the fifties and the here-and-now. The Camaro shot strikes me as a strong composition, even though everything radiates into and out of the center – the rule not of 1/3s, but of 1/2s.

    Maybe only a penny's worth,

    Kirk
    Last edited by thompsonkirk; 14th November 2015 at 18:42.
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    An article timed perfectly for your question:

    Teju Cole writing in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine about Cartier-Bresson, Alex Webb, and the way composition emerges from the moment:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/ma...tionfront&_r=0
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    main rule i try to use is to look around the frame, especially in the corners and edges and make sure i don't have a telephone pole coming out of somebody's head. oh yeah, check the focus and exposure
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    Senior Member Brian Mosley's Avatar
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    This has the makings of a classic thread! Thanks Lucille, for opening the discussion.

    I'm reading with fascination and expectation, eager to learn and apply in my own photography anything fresh and exciting (to me).

    For myself, I look for good quality light, interesting or beautiful subjects and organise the frame to make the subjects stand out. I'm very mindful of leading lines and my corners.

    This thread has inspired me to find more principles of design, and to recognise more beautiful images as they present themselves daily.

    Kind regards, and more please! From my friends here on GetDPI

    Brian
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    Quote Originally Posted by thompsonkirk View Post
    An article timed perfectly for your question:

    Teju Cole writing in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine about Cartier-Bresson, Alex Webb, and the way composition emerges from the moment:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/ma...tionfront&_r=0
    I especially like this quote from that article: "The success of certain pictures — pictures that make the viewer say, ‘‘Damn it,’’ and wonder how such things are possible — comes from a combination of tutored intuition and good luck."

    To further the thought, I think people absorb design notions as "students of seeing" either formally through education (i.e., "tutored") ... or by experiential recognition, (i.e., "trial and error"). Actually, it's most likely a combination of both to one degree or another.

    Bresson was a formally trained artist prior to exploring photography. While he did rebel against the formalist "rules" of his teachers, he relied on on that very same training later on to identify and solve problems of form and composition in his photography.

    It would seem that different types of photography have different levels of direct design involvement by the photographer. For example, Erving Penn's work demonstrates a very controlled design sense, mostly manufactured by his eye and having less to do with "luck". Great "found" photography seems more the act of "recognition and split second timing" in fortuitous circumstances ... as luck would have it.

    Artistic "luck" in photography has always been a fascinating subject for me. It is interesting how the great photographers seemed to be so lucky, so often. Perhaps it is like the old saying ... "The more I shoot, the luckier I get". Yet, that still doesn't quite explain it. Something else seems to be afoot with them that other prolific shooters seem clueless about.

    Your thoughts?

    - Marc
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    Senior Member Brian Mosley's Avatar
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    Quote Originally Posted by fotografz View Post
    Artistic "luck" in photography has always been a fascinating subject for me. It is interesting how the great photographers seemed to be so lucky, so often. Perhaps it is like the old saying ... "The more I shoot, the luckier I get". Yet, that still doesn't quite explain it. Something else seems to be afoot with them that other prolific shooters seem clueless about.

    Your thoughts?

    - Marc
    I think that so often, we walk around on 'autopilot' - not being mindful of our visual surroundings... Perhaps "The more I look, the luckier I get" would be more accurate?

    One of the reasons I got more interested in scenic photography, was the sense that deliberately looking is a part of being thankful for, and attracting more beauty into my perception of life.

    "Mindfullness" has become a bit of a buzzword for 'being present' in the moment... I think that photography has been that thing for me from the beginning.

    Kind regards

    Brian
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    >>I mostly use the LCD screen<<

    IMHO, composition can get fuddled when viewing through the more "realistic" SLR finder, at least for me -- I understand other brains will work different

    Perhpas my biggest ah-ha in composition came when I first started using a view camera. There is (was) just something so easy about getting a correct composition while viewing the upside-down and reversed (and large) 2-dimensional image being viewed with both eyes as though it were a slide on a light table. Minor tweaks to the composition were both instantly obvious and easy to make, even given the backwards nature of all camera movements.

    The Leica M's "direct" RF viewfinder worked similarly well for me for whatever reason. (Still don't understand how it really differed or why the SLR finder was more problematic for me compositionally, but it was.)

    Then along came DSLRs and MF backs with their mini rear LCD -- with instant review, compositional errors were again instantly obvious and easy to correct, now with more direct, normally oriented camera movements.

    The good news is that after all that good composition "learning" from using the above systems, it naturally translated to the SLR finder when I went back to Nikon DSLR's -- possibly because I have instant review and can (or do unconsciously) make the same minor tweaks, but more often than not, I now seem to get it right the first time.

    All a big way 'round to say that I believe the M4/3rds and mirrorless relatively large rear LCD make composition more intuitive out of the gate; you are basically looking at the image in real time with both eyes, but still as a 2-dimensional image just like a finished image on a light table -- and for whatever reason that just works
    Jack
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    Senior Member Brian Mosley's Avatar
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    Jack, I think that you're on to something there. I recently bought an RX1 without an EVF, and realised that using the lcd to frame was actually more enjoyable...

    Obviously, you need a good bright screen to use in sunny conditions but I do enjoy being able to see all around as I place the camera to frame the scene.

    I love shooting with the Olympus Pen for the same reason.

    Cheers

    Brian

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    Re: Composing a Image.

    For me it's very much about simplifying. This is as much composition, technique and hard work.

    The core challenge for a photographer faced with reality: A painter creates by adding to a canvas. In photography it's the opposite: We start with a complex reality in which we see a subject of interest.

    The process of composition is then very much about removing or reducing complexity, e.g. telephone poles in the background.

    The human brain is good at interpreting a three-dimensional scene and using depth to isolate objects from background. A camera, not so much. So to compose with emphasis on the subject we can use one or more of several techniques available:
    - Defocus: focus on the subject in combination with shallow depth of field to isolate the subject.
    - Light/contrast/color: Use contrast in lighting to isolate the subject, e.g. warm sunlit object against background in cool shade, or use flash to selective light object. Use reflectors to light the subject or block light from the background.
    - Composition: Find a perspective where the background works well with the subject. Very often this means finding a background that is not busy or disturbing.
    - Props: Use a backdrop to completely control the scene. This allows for complete elimination of background complexity, if so desired.

    I'm totally with Jack about the upside down image a view camera allowing you to disconnect from the reality of the scene and focus in composition. A view camera also slows you down a lot - there is significant effort in every shot so more care in composition, more contemplative photography if you will, is encouraged by the process.
    Lars
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    Jack, in support of your intuitive observations, especially the study of composition by lessening the distraction of reality (flipped, upside down image on a ground glass) ... that was the essence of the development of abstract art often attributed to the painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky. An interesting legend has it that a painting turned on it's side was a seminal moment in the progression toward challenging the overpowering influence of subject matter on art theory, and the development of compositional based art:

    "During the studies Kandinsky made in preparation for Composition IV, he became exhausted while working on a painting and went for a walk. While he was out, Gabriele Münter tidied his studio and inadvertently turned his canvas on its side. Upon returning and seeing the canvas (but not yet recognizing it) Kandinsky fell to his knees and wept, saying it was the most beautiful painting he had ever seen. He had been liberated from attachment to an object ... the experience would change his life".

    To this day, art teachers often turn a painting or drawing up-side down to discuss/critique "composition".



    - Marc

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    Re: Composing a Image.

    Ever read "drawing on the right side of the brain"? All about seeing without pre-conception interfering
    Once had a drawing class where all we did was draw the reflections seen in a shiny coffee pot, amazing how that alone created realistic drawings
    I had the same 4x5 experience as jack also similar with the Rollie and blad Left-right reversal
    Also there is some special magic about seeing an image on ground glass that is not like an image on a screen, even a big one

    Another strong learning experience came when I assisted a table-top studio photographer for a bit. 8x10 and 4x5 chromes, careful use of modeling lights, small gobos and reflectors and excruciating attention to detail. I'm sure Marc will agree, a great classroom
    Now we have so much freedom and instant feedback a new photographer can get lazy, just like we cannot remember phone numbers anymore with smartphones doing the work

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    Re: Composing a Image.

    I have a Kandinsky replica on a wall, never really figured out which side is up.
    Monochrome: http://mochro.com

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    Re: Composing a Image.

    The rules are basically the same as for any visual art. Some, like painters, are spending years at art school to learn and experiment. Photographers mostly think that a few basics and a discussion on the internet are sufficient. Both are correct, but the results differ.

    When it comes to the bare visuals, it's important to remember that most scenes have three dimensions, while many discussions around this tend to ignore depth unless the use of wide angle lenses is discussed. Depth is to me the most important dimension, because perspective is such a vital story telling element. When people and objects live on the same plane, they have equal value. Once they exist on different planes, their importance can be manipulated by size, focus, colour etc., while the photo still retains its realistic, "natural" look.

    It's important also to understand how colours influences one's perception of depth. Warm colours push towards the viewer, cool colours slip into the background. Books have been written about the human perception of colours alone. Goethe is a good start.

    Then come shadows and highlights, the composition of which is paramount to black and white photography, and particularly efficient when used in combination with depth. Study great, old movies... those made before special effects and commercial interests became the movies. The old masters did know how to compose, and although the rules are different for moving pictures, many of the basics are the same, and that alone is a useful learning experience. With a photo, you have one frame to tell the story. With movies, you use a sequence of frames where one or more elements change. Again: studying those differences is an interesting exercise.

    Then, and this is to me the most important part, you have to decide if you are making a decoration or telling a story. While some decorations may tell a story and some stories have decorative beauty, the objectives are totally different from the outset. To me, the story is all important, and any beauty that may come as a side effect is highly coincidental, or a result of the constant nagging by my exceptional art teacher decades back (Thank you, Reidun). For others, beauty in all its forms, landscape beauty, human beauty, abstracts, peculiarities, and so on, is the ruler of the universe. Find out who you are and what your message is.

    And remember the depth. Never forget the dept!

    Edit: And get rid of things that don't contribute to the story or to the beauty of your image. Crop away the parts of the image that take the attention away from the story you want to tell. Remove objects that destroy the beauty of your composition. In my view, cropping is for story tellers, manipulations for beauty artists. There's nothing wrong with either, and others may have other principles, but having principles and following them are important. Breaking them when it's appropriate is even more important.
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  18. #18
    Senior Member Lucille's Avatar
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    Re: Composing a Image.

    Shot from the hip, very quickly.


    Some of the Jewelry vendors in Old Town, Albuquerque New Mexico. Shot this one last night, I just don't think of composition, it just happens.


    Sony Rx1, 35mm Zeiss f/2.0, ISO640, 1/250sec
    the HepKitty
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