Exploring Composition


The Art of Seeing


Lesson Info

Exploring Composition

so different concepts with which you can approach your subject motion texture space let's talk about composition behind the need to compose your image is our ability to recognize patterns we do that all the time but no service to that implicitly if you want to learn how to make better photos it is really worthwhile to study what makes a good composition more explicitly let me give you some examples we recognize this pattern it's one of the simplest patterns there iss a perfect circle this is a microscopic image of a dia tom made in a university collection at target everything was put in the center it expresses that circle most beautifully this becomes a little bit more complicated it's still a circle this is the flowering cone of a psy cat that the leaves radiating from it so I decided to put the cone that center this becomes small complex here we have a subject in the center that lines that reach towards the subject and with the subject walking away from me you can't help but associat...

e minute it happens to be chris my wife so I have a particular association mr um photographer should work for national geographic have long traveled with red jack with the red jackets it goes back to the days when the reproduction quality and the magazine wasn't so good but it's still a good idea to have something of a bright color if you want to photograph people in landscapes now there's actually a reason why we are drawn so much towards red subjects it goes back to our early days as primate many millions of years ago man v ver changing from being monkeys who forged at night when we were looking for insects after dark then they began to adapt to foraging by day when we started looking for fruits and flowers we became really keen in recognizing subjects that were red yellow and blue because those were the primary color step plans had attracted primates with to help with their pollination that's the simple reason by v are so attracted to primary colors and I make use of that in this image a little touch of red is all you need especially when it is surrounded by a sea of green so this image has a lot of things going for it it has a subject that has converging lines and it has that magical combination of a little bit of retz around the buy green red and green is a wonderful combination as his red and blue they're at opposite ends of the color spectrum red is at the warmest end and blue is at the coolest ent if you can recognise that and make deliberate use of that and you're able to have a little bit of white in between it helps to separate the colors even mohr then you have the basis for an interesting composition but I'm photographing here is the egg oven emperor payment held in the hands of a biologist who had very thick red mittens because of his freezing cold when I have a scene like this in front of me and I have all the time in the world because the biologist you was willing to cooperate with me I make sure that I do a lot of different compositions because I like to have my photographs published I'm very aware of the needs of our directors so I try to envision what a gutter rather magazine may fall which is somewhere in the middle of the image so most of the important part of the images push to the left of the composition and I make sure I shoot vertical zzzz well in case one of the images might be considered for the cover of a publication but it's still the same idea an emperor penguin hack hack held in a hand of a biologist blue and yellow are also wonderful combinations and that is what gives this image such an interesting quality heard ofhim policy on the serengeti plains I'd spend hours and hours of it that heard I don't like to drive around a lot I'd like to find a subject that I find interesting and then I spent time with him I know that sooner or later things will happen most of the time not much of interest happens in a herd of impalas their grazing but periodically something spooks them they see or hear something and that is what is happening here one of the impala snort it and then all of them looked up they looked behind me I still don't know what triggered their interest but that is the magic moment for me to capture this image what I like about it is that it's a herd of females and then there is that one nail composition how do you frame an image sometimes there's opportunities to create a frame but in your frame that is what I made you self here I was in the falkland islands and I saw that his thrush was going in and out of this old barn I checked inside and founded it have made a nester so I knew it would come in and out repeatedly I recognized the pattern I set up my tripod I had all the time in the world to compose the image I knew from looking at the birds repeatedly going in and out that if a perch right there in that broken window and all I had to do was wait for ten minutes and I have my image more interesting I think that if I'd focus really close on the bird I made use of the window as a window but in the frame something similar is going on here the landscapes of the american southwest are spectacular beyond belief these enormous sandstone walls it's incomprehensible the shapes the colors but it can look a little bit naked if you photographed him without any other complementary elements in europe photograph so I was looking for things in the foreground that could help flesh out the composition here too old cottonwood trees and they subdivide the frame into different fragment sub compositions if you will have a question coming in about this franz from america who may well be from the netherlands we got lots of dutch for years joining us so welcome to all of you and those of you joining us in belgium's six people has voted in this they're asking france how you determine the very best angle for your composition do you actually walk around and judge it and sort of look in your viewfinder before you start work yes I do walk around a lot as I mentioned earlier you know I like to walk around in a situation before I even have a camera in front of me and then gradually you know when I make a determination what is my subject and I begin to think about my perspective and I can only find my perspective by trying different vantage point and then ultimately I have to decide to enter I need to be high whether I need to be low and only after I've made up my mind about that that is when the tripod comes out when I make a landscape photograph I don't bring my tripod out in the beginning because it burdens me nobody likes tripods there a means to an end and we also have a question about how many lenses do you typically walk around with a mean you carrying an awful lot of stuff I know we got some images of you traveling coming up yes we'll see some scenes yet in the next programme that given idea of how much stuff you know comes with me even I travel abroad for a long trip but really I like to photograph it has live it as little equipment as possible so whatever it takes better it is a cell phone over there is little snapshot camera of and I'm going off on a short trip for a weekend I may just take one camera that one zoom lens that goes all the way from a wide angle to a telephoto perspective then if I get a little bit more serious l packed two lenses one is a fight angle zoom a seventeen to thirty five and a telephoto lens it goes from seventy two two hundred it's only then I go awful the serious undertaking minimal the simon that I load up backpacks in cases with more gear but we'll see more about that later on question have so for example for this image how long did it take you to make the decision the decision of this perspective and do you take like say the day before a few snapshots that air like sketches before you bring out your tripod you know sort of a few different shots from different angles that air is almost like a sketch of what you're thinking in your mind that's a very good question and in fact I'm going to show you a sequence of images later on that that helps answer the question yes indeed I do that I consider my cameras catch pan and these days pixels are free I don't have to worry too much anymore about counting the number of frames in a roll of film in the old days when we were all using film you have to be really careful especially when you're on a budget so I don't worry I take pictures even when I'm not quite sure yet what I'm doing and then periodically I pull out my loop which is a very important tool for me that helps me magnify the image on the back of my camera and it also screens out ambient light and then I can see very critically but that there's actually something interesting about it to some technical flaws I need to correct in order to achieve a better image so for this landscape indeed I had walked back and forth in front of that sandstone wall I knew there was something interest interesting and it was only after I spotted the pattern provided by these two overhanging cottonwood trees that I realized that that was my spot this happened in a moment I was out in the vehicle in northern kenya and the sound was setting we were driving around and there these beautiful palm trees and I spotted a tree the sun going down and I realized that I could match the two together so we raised off about a hundred yards off to the site and that is when I jumped out of the vehicle to create this what you might call a forced perspective because of course the sundays really setting in that three crotch but you can make two two elements belong together by using a longer lens that is one of the things that telephoto lenses too and it's amore extreme expression in this case how can you make elephants look bigger than they are you photographed them along with something that is much smaller than they are that is what I did hear the elephants were closer to me than at little impala that is also there at the border hole in botswana and then by closing my aperture all the way down both the impala and the elephants serve it in my depth of field and because the elephants were closer they looked even bigger then they were in reality telephoto lenses help you flatten the perspective they compress the perspective they make things that are distant appears if they're in the same plane as things that are closer this is a cheater who was hunting from the cover of a thicket I sat there for two hours waiting for him to make a move and he didn't move at all he was waiting for the zebras to move closer to him wide angle lenses to something very different and telephoto lenses too wide angle lenses enable me to stretch a perspective I can exaggerate a situation when I move close to a subject with my vita angle lens I can make it look bigger than it really is and that is what I did here this is a bullfrog it may look like it's a crocodile but it is actually a frog only this small is the beginning of the wet season in the okavango delta male bullfrogs kind of assert their territoriality and I moved closer and closer whenever the frog was submerged I would move a little bit closer and by the time I made this image I was literally just inches from his nose extended my depth of field by closing my aperture rolled away I added a polarizing filter to create more definition in the sky and to take reflections off the water and that is how I made this image but it's really about exaggerating the size of the bullfrog and creating a relationship with the rest of the landscape the same thing here these are king proteus spectacular flowers they're about this big among the largest of the flowering plants in south africa and by using a wide angle lens I connect and even bigger than they really were and I established the relationship but this flower in the foreground and the one in the background so keep that in mind if you want to flatten your perspective if you want to compress your perspective consider using a telephoto lens if you want to stretch your perspective and create a sense of space you may consider a wide angle lens and consider a wide angle lens especially if you're interested in creating a prominent subject and you need to fill the rest of your self you rest of your frame their context now remember we're still talking about different ways in which you can recognize patterns as a basis for creating more memorable images this is a very simple pattern we all recognise thiss it's a blade of kelp which I found on the beach not close from we're not far from where I live and santa cruz but a pattern like this I try to frame it in a way that there's absolutely nothing else in the view so it becomes important to look around the edges of your viewfinder to make sure nothing is sticking out and nothing is sticking in that is vital loop is so helpful because often there's little details that you don't notice when you're walking around outside and there's a bright song reflecting off the beach the loop helps me with that this is also a simple pattern shorebirds standing on them but flat farther north up the coast of california and I looked very carefully for the perfect town and expressed by the sleeping god wits there's just one little detail it's a little different that's that bird that is taking off it's a little counterpoint to the perfect pattern this is a much more complex composition instead of many birds of the same species here are many different species of plants so crowded together in a little scrub land on the slopes of the big volcano monica on the big island of hawaii this required me to look very very carefully I wanted to express the coexistence of all these plants there so I started looking for a patch of land where I've etc the ferns and the mosses in the flowering plans the greys the greens the reds all of them needed to be in balance and that is a small slice from the bigger landscape this image is even more complex there's a lot going on nothing is dominant over other components in the scene it took me two days to come up with this image on the first day I drove around I looked for different areas and then gradually identified one area that is more interesting than others I got out of my vehicle and I started walking around and I find tune the image until I found that I was looking for put the camera on the tripod and then diddle the technical details shutter speed f stops etcetera there are other kinds of patterns there are fun to play that as a photographer but you don't control everything that often is the case when you're photographing animals or human beings I made this picture at a modern art fair in the netherlands and what struck me here was the juxtaposition between that rather contemporary art and the gallery dealer in the perspective customer there's a resemblance between the art and the people the same colors the same patterns and there's even more to case here in this image hit a couple of veterinarians that are operating a wild horse just before it's transported to a release idea mongolia I like to play that things where I can create my own patterns I spent a lot of time in museums and one day I found myself in a museum for a photo essay about bird x that thousands and thousands of bird x they're birds of different species and I started arranging them in a chaotic pattern and then in a more deliberate pattern photographing them on a piece of black velvet and then I started arranging them by species the's are cuckoo eggs which kind of deposit their eggs in the nests of other birds playing that stuff and then I did this one these are the eggs of the common murder a seabird pear shaped x I put him all internet carton and what I had in mind what I was inspired by here miss jackson pollock's paintings the drip technique and painting which is also practiced by the common merv minute laser tag and then the guy who actually is the head of the collection now there's a little detail here his forehead looks a little bit like the bird acts that are in his possession so I work as much with people as I do it animals and of course when you work with people as a photographer you can arrange your own composition you can help them you can ask them to pose for you in a certain way this is chris again you were walking through a forest not far from santa cruz and here she is walking away from me and you're walking through this lovely fresh snow snow scene I pushed her in the corner of my composition and here I am in a friend on a camping trip in the high sierras the scene is lovely by itself to reflect that mountain scenery in this alpine palmed but by photographing him in the upper left corner it created an interesting compliment in a composition I refer to this is chaotic patterns I'm in tehran I mentioned earlier in the program that there are many of these surreal mural steps that have been painted to beautify your the cityscape there and this is one spot that particularly drew me in it was a taxi stand so there are quite a few yellow taxis that mirror the color in the background there are many people coming and going and I just pose myself on that street corner and I let people create the pattern it was serendipity have is not in control and there's not one perfect moment all of these are different expressions of people passing through background matters in your composition because it really does and I've noticed often that photographers can become so focused on their subject that they forget what is in front of him and what is behind the subject I make a more deliberate use of foreground and background stand most people do but here's a good example photograph I made in the netherlands in that period when I was very inspired by oriental art and have a stinking of paintings I'd seen of distant mountains in the gobi desert in china when I was bicycling through an agricultural landscape and I saw these two things and put them together in a very deliberate way it's not the gobi desert this is a sewage pipe that heap of fertilizer in the background but by combining those two elements I make it look very different well looks like antarctica to me one of my questions was I noticed on some of these that you're calling out his earlier work have ah sort of a grainy noisy texture to them I'm just curious about ah your choices about you know when that kind of technique works for you the's earlier images of which this one is a good example for all photographed on film and this particular image of us was captured on act for crow which had a particularly coarse grained quality kodachrome in the old days had a finer grain and that is my many professional photographers used it but I've long switch to digital photography uh I haven't touched a roll of film and maybe ten years now you mentioned on one of the photos that you used a polarizing filter duva use that often on your landscape photography and since I switched from analog to digital photography and now that we have the ability to process pictures in photo shop or in light room the need to carry lots of filters with you into the field has really been reduced quite dramatically no more need for cooling filters and warming filters because I do with that after the fact the only filters that I still carry vit me are polarizing filters and neutral density filters polarising filters help me create more contrast in skies and take the reflective quality ofthe surfaces and neutral density filters enabled me to create suggestions of movement even in the middle of the day because they take light away from the scene by as much a stand stops so we're still talking about foreground and background here some more examples amid this photograph of a giraffe in kenya pretty straightforward not that interesting actually in the same situation I photographed this giraffe vid a little bit more of a foreground ted was blurred out by focusing on the giraffe and keeping my aperture fight open it's a bit more of an interesting perspective ultimately if you followed that logic you may end up with a situation like this this is a puffin in a grassy field in iceland photograph it three hundred millimeter f two eight wide open and it creates a really beautiful soft blur in the foreground and then I made sure that there is nothing distracting in the background of the bird eater here's another example a cheetah picture perfect the cheetah itself in the grass there's nothing distracting in the surroundings but it looks a little bit static here's another way to do it I photographed this cheetah right next to the vehicle had gotten a little bit lower and I shot through the toll grass and I created a veil if you will this is a little bit more of a secretive cat then the previous one wass and looked too there's that magic combination of yellow and blue expressed to now you can take this idea of working deliberately with four grounds and backgrounds even a step further how about this we all know what a cheater looks like it's what I call a mature subject it is part of our memory bank so with these kind of mature subjects you khun just suggest they're outline and people will still relate to it so I photographed this cheetah just as a suggestion the only focal point here is the grass in the foreground and I played a similar game here a cheat of walking in front of a group of zebras you can see the outline instead I focused on the zebras who are looking back at the cheetah a tree in the middle of the okavango delta this is a very recent image some rice beautiful scene but not that creative by moving a little bit off to the site I was able to photograph that same some rise through the foliage of another three and it begins to look a little bit more artistic you can create backgrounds you can improve situations especially with small subjects and that's what I did here I was in the monterey bay aquarium to photograph jellies they're in a tank and working with the keeper stare I was able to create some artificial backgrounds a piece of black velvet and it's really isolated the jelly from the rest of the tank and something similar is going on here I did a photo essay about orchids I went to a nursery and I came equipped with colored backdrop but I created my own little impromptu studio and this is very simple technique that anyone can apply all you need is some color background paper a plant clamp and a reflector that bounces light back into two flower and you can create jules out of ordinary flowers well they're not so ordinary every orchid is special so there's no flash going on them just bouncing light into the flour so keep this in mind as part of your decision making about a photograph of potential photograph do you want to keep things sharp do you want to express the texture where do you want to create a sense of color and mood in the latter case it's better to shoot through the flowers and just create a suggestion of shapes in the distance and these are all examples of that ladder technique here one of my assistance is working with a student in a botanical garden near santa cruz where we go every spring

Class Description

Join world-renowned National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting for two days of instruction and inspiration that will change the way you look at photography and what you can do with your own camera.

With experiences from three decades of work in wild places – from the Amazon to Antarctica, Frans will introduce you to new ways to capture the wonders of the natural world with a camera. His class includes presentations about creative ideas and technical skills, and also features landscape and wildlife photography instruction during special field workshop sessions at prime photographic destinations along the California coast — Frans’s home ground for the past 30 years. The course will conclude with a critique of images submitted by viewers.

If you’re passionate about nature photography and want to improve your own photographic vision, you will be inspired by this unique course from a master photographer and teacher.