The Vocabulary of Composition Part 2

 

Landscape Photography

 

Lesson Info

The Vocabulary of Composition Part 2

So I know it doesn't sound like a compositional ailment, but focus really is and this plays special attention to the way we look at the picture. It's our visual path. That's what it's affecting. So, in this shot here, I have the lions and they're sitting down in the grass, and they're looking at me and the way to get even more attention to their eyeballs, is just by using a shallow depth of field. And that way, all this grass in the foreground and the grass in the background, you don't even look at. You just know, because of those out of focus elements or regions in the picture, that all you wanna look at are the lions. And this was right about the time when they saw me and my lens, you basically, if you're close to wildlife in Africa, you can get out the opposite side of the car. You can... (chuckles) (Audience laughs) and you keep your profile separating from the jeep because that's what they notice. And so if you get down low, you can get around by the tire, and then get a shot look...

ing at 'em on the ground. So this is kinda two things. One is, it's the shallow depth of field, focus, but it's also point of view, getting down low, getting their heads above the horizon. Another example of nature, of focus without wildlife, this is a 300 millimeter lens, and even at f/8, it's fairly shallow depth of field so you can use focus to identify those shapes, in particular, that green boulder with all the algae on it, separates now, by not only the color and the shape, but also the focus. And just another example, in this case, the wave in the background. Couple things are going on. We've got the compression of these people standing in the front, watching these guys surfing. 300 milliliter f/8, again, it's not that shallow of a depth of field, and then these people are just a touch out of focus, so that your eye isn't going to them. I don't want the viewer to look at them. I want the viewer to appreciate how close they are to that big, huge, monstrous wave. Again, pilings. The sun, in this situation, again a 300 milliliter at f/8. The sun is actually guiding our eye to it, with contrast and color, and so I don't need it to be sharp. It's got plenty of attention. It's overrated, as it is. I want people to look at the barnacles on the side of those pilings and that's what focus will do in this shot. Same thing here, but a little less significant. I've stopped down a little bit to f/9, and my focal length is isn't as much. But I'm really not concerned about getting these foreground rocks tack sharp. I don't want your eye to go to them. I want them to be kinda nice and fuzzy, 'cause I want your eyeball to go to that action right in the middle of the shot. So this is actually a scenario that is a great example because oftentimes, that focal range, it's implied that everything needs to be in focus. And it's very difficult to get that much depth of field at that focal range, would be somewhere down in f/22, maybe even 32 with some of these lenses. So, two things why you wouldn't wanna do that, you'll bring attention to those rocks down there and what else happens when you stop way down? You get defraction. So, that's gonna screw up all that detail in those rocks, there. It's not gonna be as sharp. So, couple reasons I want you to think about using a shallower depth of field, especially for composition. And then, this is a 40 milliliter lens at f/4, so, it's not a really fancy 2.8 or 1.4 lens, but if you get that close to something... so now my focal plane is getting really close to that foreground subject, then even at some of the smaller apertures, I'm getting enough bokeh in the background to make it interesting back there. So you don't necessarily need a really fast expensive lens to apply focus to your composition. In this case, it's the middle of the day, I'm getting the one flower in the middle in focus, and then the top of that one purple daisy in foreground in focus. And it also works with a wide angle lens. It's not only telephoto lenses that will do this. This is at f/5.6 with a 24 milliliter lens. That's a pretty wide angle lens and not necessarily a fast aperture that should have bokeh. So how does that happen? You just have to get the lens closer to the subject. And once you decrease that distance to the front subject, in this case the antlers of the wildebeest, then, everything else goes significantly more out of focus. Another example, believe it or not, this is the 14 to 24 Nikon and I'm getting a little bokeh. That's not why it's not real good bokeh, but that boat in the background is out of focus for a reason. I don't want it to be the first read. I want people to look at this crab and pretty much stay there, but be able to wander around in the picture. The viewer's path is getting all kinds of information. There's another boat out there, a couple more crabs out here. I want all that stuff in the picture, but I don't want it to be the first read. So I'm using focus. And this is about f/8, which is fairly, that's quite a bit of depth of field, but when you're that close to that crab, I think I'm at the closest focal point with that lens, which is probably, I forget now, eight, 10 inches. Maybe 12. I need that much depth of field to get that whole crab in focus. But because I'm that close to it, everything else goes way out. Okay, now we have the viewers path, and I've talked a little bit about it, but there are other factors to consider. So, I have another wonderful illustration with graphics. But essentially, our viewers path goes and looks at contrast first. The only thing that I found and read that supersedes that are eyeballs. If you have a bright sun and some eyeballs, people are gonna look at that eyeball first, or eyes. That's what we connect with first in an image. So in addition to contrast, we also have patterns. Our eyes discern patterns quickly. Therefore, we see the distance between things quicker than we see a random pattern and size. We talked about that. It's basically something that's bigger is gonna be more obvious, usually, but it can work in the opposite direction as well. So on this case, I have the focus and some shape going on, and I think my viewers path to this is going to be first, right in the middle, where that sharp tangent seed is at the bottom of the dunes. Second, the big sunlit dune on the side. And then third, that nice line that sweeps up the background. That's where I think I'm giving the viewers path, in that order, by creating this composition. Another example, where did your eye go first? Well, I think it goes out to that distant location. And it wasn't intended in this scenario. I actually didn't realize this until, actually, I built this picture together. This is a stitched image. I think your eyeball goes out to those clouds first. And then second, it goes to the person, which is down on the ledge. Then third, it comes down to my shadow. This is actually a self portrait. It's kind of small, but that is me crouched over the camera taking the picture on the ledge and so I think that's the visual path. It was just serendipitous that it ended up with the shadow in the end. I did know my shadow was down there. I did want myself in the picture. Another example. I showed you this picture earlier and I've cropped it here just a little bit. Essentially, where does your eye go first? Another example, I want your eye to go to that big tree first and then following that tree, I think it goes to the end of the rock. And that's because of the contrast and the lines leading to it. And then, you come down here to this big tree. Maybe the small tree in the background. And then finally, your eye goes wandering off to the distant mountain in the back. And that's what makes this picture a little more interesting to look at. It's not just about the tree in the middle. Something interesting that happens when you're out photographing and that is that while I'm in the field, sometimes, I follow that visual path. So, these are things that are queuing off when I'm walking around. Number one, I'm looking for the subject number one, and then number two, and three maybe, comes later. So the first thing I found in this case, was this crazy looking cloud. I mean, it's coming down, it's turning pink, and it looks like, I don't know, a pterodactyl neck or something. Essentially, that's the first read. And then, the second read, I realized, was the sand blowing right under my feet across the top of the dune. And then the third read is the moon. So, it gives you some path and some interesting subjects to look at. Point of view, camera position. This is really important because we so easily get locked into the tripod and point of view, and then it's really difficult to get out of that habit. Because we've been told camera stability, composition, take your time, and those are all great things, but you just have to remember once in a while, that the point of views can change a picture dynamically, and you want to get off the tripod and maybe even get down low, which is what I talked about earlier. You can move some of that dirt, stick your camera down in that dirt. It's weather sealed. Don't take the lens off and then the dust will come inside the sensor, but essentially, get down low. Look at things straight up. It's a wonderful way to change up your composition. Some of these tripods are great, because they get down low. The newer cameras are great because they have the little flip out LCDs that'll save your back and your neck. But just getting down low will change your world most of the time. And I learned this because my dad likes to do it. This is my father out in Glacier National Park and he's now 78, I think, and he still gets down in the grass to find good pictures. It is a very powerful method in finding a picture in the field when you think there's nothing. Change your point of view. I like this shot because I'm actually... we're up in a plane, photographing these folks photographing from the ground, and now couple things going on. The guide, or the spotter, is looking straight up at us and all of them are looking out at the elephants and the sunset, but it's just a whole different point of view. I wanna get across that there are so many different places and ways to take a picture than head high from a tripod. And once you get up high, of course, you can get all kinds of wonderful different points of view. And that's all this is, is a cluster of elephants hanging out in the swamp. Texture and detail. This is something else that should be in your vocabulary. We talk about all these other elements that are shapes and things, but really the texture of something can be a compositional element as well. In this case, you have the dry mud that's cracked and it's being covered by the sand dune that's moving in the wind. And if you combine these textures and details, they add interest to a picture all by themselves. You can disregard all the other compositional elements. Just start thinking about texture and finding that texture and pattern. And that's what I did here. This is actually some lichen up on a rock on the top of Mount Wilson. I think it's 14,000 feet and I did a couple things here. I got really close to that rock, so that I could create that depth. The difference between this big rock in the foreground and the distant mountains, that's what's helping create that depth. But what's really helping in this shot is that beautiful texture and detail of that lichen on the rock. And it's in the middle of the day. I'm not saying this wouldn't be better at sunset, but these are some of the elements that really make a difference, even when the light's not spectacular. And you can find these textures and details all over the place in nature. One of my favorites, which is kind of overlooked, is the patina on a reflection. That is a texture. Just happens to be extremely smooth. So it's another way of looking at a texture. You can see off in the distance, there's a little bit of a ripple, that's giving us that beautiful mirage effect so that we know it's a reflection, not a reversed image. And then, I love gradation because I think it's the hardest thing for a digital camera to discern especially, dawn and dusk. It's the area of colors between the brightest area of the horizon and then the dark area at night. And this is where your digital files will fall apart if you add contrast, because there's so much information in that gradation. This is one of the elements of nature that's very hard to really process. And it's one of the most beautiful aspects, as I've talked about in timing. This is really one of my favorite times of day for that reason, as well, is just the gradation. You can find gradations though in many different places and this is just a gradation between the colors, from the warm patterns on the grasses in the foreground to the blue canyon of the distant hills in the background. And it's a nice gradation between the two. Natural gradation, happens to be in the Bahamas but it's just another example, where, if you're looking for these gradations, you will find them. And they are in many different places. And my very favorite gradation is the earth's shadow. And so, what's happening here, is the sun's coming up behind my shoulder. That area in the sky over there, between the purple and the blue, is actually a shadow cast by the earth. And so at different times, when the sun's going down and coming up, if you look in the opposite direction, you will see this Earth's shadow. And this has a couple clouds, but sometimes, that alone will create a beautiful picture, just without any clouds and any other subject at all. Negative space. We look at negative space often, in terms of ways that we can crop. We want to get rid of it. Designers like to fill it. So it's really hard to leave that negative space alone. And I actually find it to be one of the most frustrating aspects of composition to add to my work 'cause I'm always doing the same thing. I'm trying to fill all the corners and add lines. So I really don't have too many examples, (laughs) I love this graphic though. It kinda gets the point across. But I have this picture right here. But I still filled it with clouds. One of the things you can do, and I haven't taken much time to practice it or illustrate it, is if you put on that 10 stop neutral density filter and you wait four minutes, those clouds move. Now, all of a sudden, you have some beautiful gradations and lines in the sky, with some subject down below. And so it's quite beautiful effect. Alright, and then we have contrast, which is the one I brought up earlier. Contrast is really one of the more obvious ones, but it becomes more apparent, especially in post-processing. And I'll talk about that more in detail, but essentially in this shot here, even though in reality, this was a little bit brighter up here, I processed it so that the reflection of the sun which is actually out of the point of view, is the first read and that's because of the contrast. And the rest of this big, dark, brooding storm is off in the background. I don't want it to be the first read. Again, this is the same picture with the gradation, but what I've done is, a lotta times, we process images and when we look at images, we actually add contrast to the whole scene and what that does to the subject matter is it brings it closer. So we're used to seeing the Earth as the things that are far away have less contrast. And so if you take this picture, you can see it there with a lot of contrast. Well, now it looks like that sailboat and those clouds are a lot closer than when you take that contrast away. Now that subject matter goes far away, just as it does naturally. So I've taken another example where I've added just the contrast down below. And of course, the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is the one that we all talk about. And that's because it does actually work. This is an example here. You can break the scene up into two-thirds sky and one-third ground. That I use quite often, but I actually use, more often than not, I break it up into fourths. So here I have just a thin strip of sky, and three-quarters of the image is the ground. So I actually prefer this more often than not, especially with wide angle lenses. And then, I go a step beyond and I can break it up into the rule of four thirds, which is essentially four vertical stacked and then three left to right. So, I'm breaking it up kind of vaguely with this piece of snow there, and that piece of snow there. But there are other cases where I use that as one of my framing elements. So I'm gonna combine the topics here and I'm gonna go through these fairly quickly, but I've talked about these and these are good examples, so I think you'll understand. First of all, this was taken in Iran and I waited behind this little archway for her to come at that timing to be able to frame her just like that. And you can guess, that was hopefully my first read. The man walking was the second. The third was the bricks down below. And then the fourth was those old bricks on the side in the shadows. And of course, for all these reasons. I've got a tangency up there. I'm adding contrast to that part of the picture. I've got this incredible leading line. I've framed the edges and then I'm using size, 'cause I'm creating these bricks really close, and you can see the difference between the big bricks in the foreground, the little bricks in the background. And finally, then I have that visual connection. The man's looking at the woman. So that gives it another element, which helps aid in the interest of the picture. Example I sat on this cold ridge for quite a while, waiting for the skier to come. And the reason I did, is I wanted to include that particular graphic with those lines created by the distance between each of the trees that were emphasizing that point in the composition. So I didn't wanna get this picture with the skier over there or down there. And this was with film, before I could just move the skier. I really wouldn't have wanted to do that anyways, but essentially, what happening here, is I'm using those lines, created by the pattern and the distance between the trees to create the vortex of the picture and then giving the skier or the viewer a visual line of where the skier is going. So all that's going on when I'm sitting there, waiting for that skier to hit that spot. A vertical format didn't work. It took away the emphasis of those lines. And then, again, if I used it full frame, I had some problems in the corner, in the tree on the right is now intruding on the composition, so I made the final crop to get this picture to look this way. Another example. I've taken this way up, on top of a mountain. And I've applied, first of all, what are you not supposed to do? Center it? This one's completely centered, I think. The main point is that pointed rock. The ridge is right in the middle and the horizon's very close to the middle. But, the reason it works is because I have some visual paths breaking up what's centered. In addition, I have some leading lines coming up from the bottom corners. In addition, I have the very edges used. There's an incredible lake way down on the edge of the slope on the far right corner, giving some interest and showing the scale. And then, I've added the four-thirds. So I've tried to encompass all those things into this composition that I centered originally. This is a short video on the creation of that picture. Okay, so it just gives you a little hyperlapse of basically what I go through when I'm walking up in a place like that. Some of the places I stop, and some of the compositions that I see. Just to kinda recap what we've gone over fairly quickly is your vocabulary of composition. So you guys are gonna get this. All these things that I hope are running through your minds. In addition, I wanna give you one last video, I think, that we have, that we shot just the other day. We're basically on a nature walk through the woods. The light's pretty flat. There are no shafts of light striking anything. So there's very little contrast. This is one of those moments where it's a little bit challenging to find something to photograph. There's no subject that jumps out at you. So what I always recommend is something you're gonna get in the course, which is a little list of the vocabulary of compositional items you should be thinking about. So as I look down the list, and I start thinking about what I'm looking at here, we've got things like aspect ratio, leading lines, circles and squares and shapes. But in this case, what really stood out were the leading lines. And it's got this tree that's fallen over and there's some beautiful green moss that's giving some contrast. So that caught my eye amongst all this other stuff that was kind of similar. So, what I'm trying to do now is just compose it in such a way that will be more interesting and dynamic. One of the things we talked about was using the corners. That's another element that I want you to be thinking about. In this case, I've composed it so that the branch is coming out of the lower right hand corner, and then all the other branches are pointed towards the two big tall trees. And so that's creating a little bit of a relationship between the dead tree and the live trees. And that's what caught my eye. Turn on my remote again. So now I've composed it with the tree coming out of the lower right hand corner. And I've got a little bracken fern, which is nice, on the lower left hand corner. And the trees are kind of right in the middle. But that's okay. Remember, you can frame things in the middle as long as you're complementing it with plenty of information around what's in the center. So this isn't that bad for a first shot in the woods. I'm gonna try the next thing, which is seeing what it looks like in horizontal. And I kinda like that better because I'm able to get the dead tree coming out of the very right hand corner of the frame. Refocus and fire away. And look at that. The histogram's perfect. Flat light, even light. The light's not gonna change much. I'm using, actually, aperture priority and f/8 'cause I don't have that much depth of field. Let's go keep looking for more. Another spot on the nature trail. This one caught my eye because it has a beautiful fan of these old branches and this big, old tree covered in moss. And remember that item on there called point of view? Well this is a good spot where we're gonna apply that. We're gonna get down low and look almost straight up into the top of this tree with all these beautiful branches fanning out into the sky. So, in order to do that, I've set the tripod up really low, and I'm gonna turn on live view here. Turn on the camera. And this is when that little flip out monitor would come in handy. So one of the things I do when I'm in live view, when I'm composing, is if you hit the Info button, it'll cycle through some of the previews and it'll clean up the screen, so that you can see the corners of your frame a little easier. That just helps. On a Nikon, you can hit OK and that basically takes the little meter away. And I'm gonna compose this so that we end the top of the frame with those beautiful branches. I'm not gonna put the trunk dead center. I kind of like it off center, just a little bit. And I'm gonna hit info again. Make sure my camera's level, which it's not at the moment. Keep turning it until it's level. And then the next thing I do, is in this case, I've got quite a bit of dynamic range, from the bright sky to the darker moss, down below, so I'm gonna go ahead and turn on bracketing. And pull out my remote. And I'm gonna get focused first. Right about there. Make sure my aperture is stop down because I have quite a bit of depth of field here. So I'm gonna go down to f/16. And turn this to continue as high. (camera shutter clicks) Now it's automatically going through all five exposures. One stop apart. I'll just verify that everything came out as expected. Great. So, oftentimes in this situation, I'll take the camera, make sure that I preview it, full frame and that I still like the composition when I'm not upside down. As I kept wandering through the woods, according to the list, remember I talk about things like shapes and how much impact that can have on a graphic. Many times, like I said, it's hard to pull things out of, what otherwise is, pretty monotone chaos of the woods. So this is where it really helps to find something like a shape. And in this case, I found triangles. They're on both sides of this tree. The tree is backlit. It's got beautiful moss on it. Got a little fern at the bottom to kind of ground out the composition. But in the middle is where you're gonna see these upside down triangles and then there's another one off to the left. It just makes a really nice added element to show off this tree. I've also opened up all the way to four, so that the tree trunk is in focus, and the one behind it is out of focus, as well as all the hillside behind it. So, it actually gives a little more attention to that single tree. The light's pretty low. I have my sunshade on, but actually, you can see that it's hitting the front element of the lens, so I'm gonna block that with my hand. Take my picture. (camera shutter clicking) make sure I didn't get my hand in the shot. Nope. Then I'm gonna do another couple shots, just at different apertures. This one's at a 5.6, to get a little more depth of field. (camera shutter clicking) And maybe one more at f/8. The light's getting a little brighter, which is kinda nice. That rim lighting is gonna be really good. (camera shutter clicking) Great. Got one triangle there. Another triangle upside down over there. Those are kind of complementary shapes behind the main subject, in this case, which is the tree with the moss on it. The other thing I've chosen to do in this scene, I'm gonna look at it in horizontal as well here, cause I see a couple more triangles and beautiful lines. I've used a polarizing filter. So, it's backlit. There's a lot of light bouncing off of some of those ferns, so it's cutting down that light. I'll get more color out of those ferns. Once again, I'm picking a single spot on the trunk to focus. And fire away. Make sure that looks good. Yep. We got a nice, big sun flare in that one because I didn't block the sun. (camera shutter clicks) and there we go. So this brings up something else that I wanna talk about. One of the things that you can do in composing a picture, often in nature, is you can become a gardener. And what that means is if there's a stick or a twig in the way, you go over and pluck it out. Well, you have to really concern yourself with this because at some point, you're taking out a tree, right? And what is it that prevents you from moving something that's too big or having too big of an impact? I always like to tell people, leave no trace. We're out here, we're enjoying something that maybe took years to grow and develop and really what you wanna think about, when you're moving something, a twig or a branch is make sure you're not leaving some bad mistake or scar. Just remember that. Leave no trace. Okay. So, I'm gonna sum it up, regarding composition, and first thing is a little tip. Just to remind you of a couple things you can do in camera to make composition or senior composition a little easier. One is, use the tripod. It's not a great way to compose things when you're handheld, or at least learn how to compose things. The other is use your live view. And you can also turn the grid view on. Both in some cameras, in the viewfinder, and in the live view. Those are some of the things I use on a camera. In addition, your exercise is to shoot three images combining three terms in each. And I want it done in an hour, or half an hour. Okay, well that pretty much sums it up on composition for right now. And thank you for being so patient today. I know it felt like it was a lot of information at least, and so I thank you for listening to it all and I hope you take the time to look at some of this stuff and do some of the exercises. Like I said earlier, this is what I do. I love to do it. I'm thrilled about landscape photography, to be here talking about it. And in the end, what I appreciate more than anything is teaching it, especially out in the field. I like the studio. It's well lit. We all love that, but I really love it outside. So I encourage you, if you want to or your friends, come and join me on one of my workshops. We go to places all over the world. Iceland, Greenland, Africa, and even in California. And we'll work on Seattle one of these days, too. Again, thank you for waiting all day and listening to me. I'm sure we might have... Mark, where can people find you to find out about those workshops? The workshops are all on our page. It's www muenchworkshops.com. and that's on the first homepage, you'll see some of the pictures. On the second page, which is our workshops page, you'll see a grid view of all the different trips that we have.

Class Description

Good landscape photography begins with a passion for the great outdoors. Let Marc Muench show you how to capture the beauty of the scenery you love – in a photograph.

Marc is a third-generation photographer with a deep understanding of the magic and technical complexity of landscape photography. In Landscape Photography, he’ll teach you the skills and insights essential to memorable photographs of the natural world. Marc will help you:

  • Develop your eye by connecting with your subject
  • Execute great images in the field
  • Improve your post-production process through Lightroom

Marc will teach his approach to, what he calls, the Creative Trinity of Photography: composition, subject, and light. You’ll also learn how to improve the quality of your shots through Technical Trinity of Photography: ISO, aperture, and shutter.

If you’ve been struggling to take photographs that adequately represent the beauty you see around you, join Marc for Landscape Photography and learn how to translate that scenery into a photograph. 

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