On Location: Composition
So now we can roll to composition?
Hey Matt, so now that we're here, I'd love to talk to you a little bit about composition, and framing, and tell me what you're looking for in this scene.
Yeah, I mean composition's huge. I think I mentioned it in a video where we talked about all the settings, where I don't wanna worry about the settings, 'cause I wanna worry about the composition. That's the thing I can't change once the shot's done. So yeah, there's a lot of things, I think if you walk up to this shot, and you just drop your camera here, there's nothing. But if you start to incorporate some of the concepts that we're gonna cover here, I think we can make something out of it.
Great. So I'd love to see it.
Alright so overall composition. I'll tell you, probably my number one thing that I'm looking for, I'm looking for some kind of an angle. This is gonna sound weird at first, because I don't think you're gonna naturally walk up to a location and start to see angles, but I thin...
k when someone points out to you where these angles are happening, it makes your shot a lot better. So if I were to just show up here, I point my camera straight out there, and I take this photo. So what happens is, and the reason why I don't like it is because, it follows the rule of thirds. And I'm barely even gonna mention the rule of thirds, 'cause I'm pretty sure you probably all heard about it, alright, and if you haven't all heard about it, we'll talk about it for a second. But the rule of thirds is basically you're breaking up the photo into thirds, alright? If you're thinking of the horizontal thirds, you know, going across the top, and going across the bottom, you'd look at this and you'd say, "Okay, you did it". You know, there's a third line going across with the water at the top, and there's a third going across with this kinda grassy line going above the reflection here. So why is this bad? It's bad just because it's stagnant. The rule of thirds does not mean put the lines across your photo in the rule of thirds, alright? It looks extremely plain, extremely ordinary, to just see those lines going straight across the photo. So what we can do, real simple change, this is what I was talking about with the angles, is if I just take the camera, and I move it over to the left, I'll go ahead and just grab a shot here, what happens is, is now I brought in angles into the photo. I brought in angles where the rocks and the cliff are coming down, I brought an angle to the photo. If you look back here there's this grass that goes along the water, and you'll see that it kinda curves inward. So, what I did is, I kinda brought that curve into the photo. So as we're standing here, and if you think of somebody looking at your photo, that curve is bringing them right into the photo, and then if you follow that curve, look at what it points to. It points to that angle that comes down and comes straight in from the top. So that's, if I could leave you with anything from this segment, it is, try to find these angles in your photos, alright? So a kid'll walk up, feel out the scene, take a few photos, and then stand back, look at those photos, and see, you know, are you pulling some angles in here? Triangles work great in photography. Or is there just straight lines across your photo? Alignment. So, alignment, you know, another thing that can totally change this is, you know, where's your camera aligned? Well, you know, mine's aligned kinda straight out. Well, there's some trees and bushes and everything going on here in the foreground, it's not a really exciting part of the photo, but if I were to just take this and tilt it up, and maybe only include the bottom third to be the water, now I can include the sky as the top two thirds of the photo, and I have a whole different shot. Would I do that here today? Probably not, because there's really nothing going on in the sky. And if you go back to like one of my five things that I said, you get to a location look at, look to see where the light and the clouds are happening. If you've got a lot of light, and you've got a lot of clouds, then I'm gonna want to weight my photo toward the top two thirds of sky, because I wanna take advantage of that. If the clouds look awesome, include them. If the clouds don't look awesome, that's where I'm gonna start to work my way around here, I'm gonna work my way around, if you look in the background there, you've got the, oh look, there's somebody getting married back there too. We could be wedding photographers today. But I'm gonna work my way back there, and just try to shoot some of those areas where I can bring in some of these angles, not include so much sky, 'cause there's just not much happening up there. But if you're out there, and it's a gorgeous sky, I'm gonna flip my camera the other way. Instead of shooting down and trying to bring in all that foreground, I'm gonna start to bring in the clouds and the sky, and it's really gonna change it. And finally, perspective. Perspective is a big one, you know, how high up, how high down are you gonna go? In this example here, I have to be higher up, because I have some grass and everything in the foreground here. If I got down low, the photo is just gonna have grass in it. But if I get up a little bit higher, and just change my perspective, I can now include that as part of my foreground, get some of those reflections, get some of the background in there, works great. Now from up to the beach, I'm gonna go down there, there's rocks on the ground, rocks in the sand, there's water that's flowing up, I'm gonna have my tripod almost all the way to the ground, 'cause I wanna bring that perspective. I wanna bring you perspective, that you're standing right there, you're right there, you can see exactly what's in my foreground, and I want it to be right in your face, and that's why I'm gonna get really low to the ground. But my suggestion to you would be to try a couple of different ones. Especially when it comes to perspective, and angle, okay? Try a couple of different perspectives, shoot it down low, shoot it up high, that way when you get back to the computer, especially as you're starting out, you can pick which one you like more. Same thing with your angles, you know? Start to look at some of the different angles, and shoot a few different ones, and you'll start to get a better feel for what you like. And that's really, that whole rule of thirds thing, where it was straight across and everything. I mean, when I first started years ago, I didn't know why I didn't like my photos, and it took a long time before I'm looking at 'em, I'm like, this just looks plain. And I started to look at photos that I liked, and I found they had a lot more angles inside of 'em. So, I'm gonna go back to my buddy Justin here, because I'm sure, composition's always a big topic, I'm sure that comes up with a lot of questions.
Yeah a lot of questions with this one. I think what a lot of people struggle with, and I myself have struggled with in the past, is kinda, how you know what you're getting, and how many times and different ways you wanna play with it. So, I guess it's kind of a tough question, I don't know if it's a good answer but, how do you know when you've kind of exhausted the possibilities of a spot like this? And when it's maybe time to move on, or, you know, how do you know that you got it?
No, I mean it's a good question, it's, 'cause it's incredibly intimidating, to walk up to a spot like this. 'Cause there's so much going on, like how do you even know where to start? I'll add questions to your question. But how do you even know where to start? So, I would say, how do you know when you're done? My biggest suggestion would be just keep moving. So, a lot of times I think what happens is, is we get our tripod and we get into tripod mode, we get our tripod and we drop it down somewhere, and we shoot, and we shoot, and we shoot, and we shoot the same thing over and over again. So, my suggestion would be first, get off of the tripod, hand hold, walk around, find the place that's right for your camera, then go take your tripod and make your camera fit there. Once you take that shot, get up and move. Remember we talked about the camera settings? I make my camera do as much of it as automatic as possible, so I can take the shot, and I can move on. Don't have to worry about it. So, if you keep moving, you'll get a lot of different compositions, and then the other thing I would say is, to keep yourself, to keep yourself from staying in one place too long, and to figure out when it's time to go is, you know, you're gonna have so much time in a location, so let's say we got 90 minutes here. Take 45 minutes and shoot the big stuff. Go up there, shoot that. Go to the stuff that we pointed out, that caught our eye, shoot that stuff, then take your other 45 minutes, and go find the stuff that you really didn't even see in the beginning, that you started to find as you started to shoot. So it's almost like the 50/50 rule. Shoot the big stuff first, then give yourself the other half the time, to go shoot some of the other stuff. But, how do you know? Timing will often dictate. When the sun goes down, you're done.
My whole hope for you, at that point, would be that you follow the other stuff, which is shoot a lot of different compositions, and you walk away when the sun goes down, and you walk away happy, knowing that you got a ton of stuff to choose from.
Excellent, that's some good advice, thanks.
Cool, so I realize, I'm just coming away from some winners of quotes here, "When the sun goes down, you're done". It's some deep stuff happening here today. Alright, so composition. This is an important one, and I will preface what we're about to say, by saying, we can talk all the camera gear we want, we can talk all the settings we want, we can talk everything. You know what? Chances are, whatever camera you have, whatever settings you set it to, you're gonna go out there, and you will take a technically good picture. This, this topic, is what takes it to that next level. Because all the other stuff is concrete, right? Like we can master it, we can master our camera settings, we can master, I know what lens to choose, I know what to set my camera on, I know what the lifeline, I know where to focus, I know all the stuff like, you can give me a checklist and I can master that stuff. This stuff is the intimidating part, because how do you know? You know, like I said, you walk up to that spot, and has anyone else been intimidated when you get to a location and you just don't know what to shoot, right? So I think this is a really important, really important part of this. So I'm gonna break it down to as much as I can, to kinda give you what I look for. I'm not gonna spend much time on the rule of thirds, know it, break it, right? Yeah, we know the rule of thirds is basically you're breaking your photo up into these thirds, you know. One third at the top, one third at the bottom, if you're looking vertically, and if you're looking horizontally at it, it's you know, one third, one third so, we break our photos up into these rule of thirds, and the idea is is we put key focal points on some of those third intersection lines. You know, we generally don't put our horizon in the center, but we can, so know it, break it. Talk a little bit about knowing it, you know, there's a top third, there's a bottom third, there's a couple of, if you look in the top, this part here, we've got a key area happening of some intersection, you know, this bottom part here we've got another key area happening, so, same thing here, you know, it's not perfectly on the top third line, but it's close, you know. I mean we just want it in that area. But again we've got some key stuff happening down here. This, this is an interesting shot, I was telling Jim about this shot the other day. This is, so we're in San Francisco right now, some of these shoots later on are gonna happen at Marshall beach, which is one that you actually have to kinda walk up and down to. There's one of Baker beach which is right next to it, but there's a rock, so you really can't get to it. And there's a parking lot. This is from Baker beach. The Golden Gate Bridge is right over here, but it started to get pretty much fogged in, but this, I mean just the colors that were happening, was just awesome. So I pointed the other way, and I've got, you know, again we've got our third happening, we've got this third here that comes down into that area here, so, you know, we're following the rule of thirds. It's one of my favorite water photos, and I think it's just funny that I went there to shoot the Golden Gate Bridge, and came back with, you'd never even know I was here. This was after it just started getting cloudy on a rocky beach one morning, and it just started getting cloudy, there was nothing to shoot, and I just pointed down. But, rule of thirds. So, where's the horizon line? Dead center. But, interest in the third, interest in a third, right? Horizon line's dead center. So, our rules tell us that, oh no you can't put your horizon line dead center. What's that? Dead center. I can tell you, I took multiple compositions of this, I cropped it, I did all these kinds of different things with it, this is the right crop for this photo. But that's dead center going across, but it works. "If people worry about your horizon being too centered, your photo sucks". Who said that? Who cares, I don't know. I did hear it somewhere. I did hear it somewhere, but who cares, that's awesome. Right? If somebody is so worried about looking, and they're like, "Your horizon", you've done something way wrong before that, if that's what comes through on your photo, to somebody. Then you've failed at another level, 'cause they should never even look or care about that. Talked about this earlier today, compositionally, find foreground, okay? When I, I do a lot of photo critiques throughout the year, and this is the thing that starts to separate people. Is, not just walking up, taking your camera, click. Or walking up, taking your tripod, click. This is the thing that separates it, alright? Foreground, find foreground. I mentioned it earlier, I can't mention it enough though. Put your mind into that mindset of "I gotta find something to put in front of my camera". I came up to this waterfall, I mean immediately, like, it just, you have to go there. Where can I get my camera that has interesting foreground? Everything else will play out, we'll figure out everything else, find something cool to put in front of it. Foreground, not a, not a crazy interesting spot, you know, it's kinda cool, I mean the clouds, this is a June Florida sunrise, like you just get these thunderstorms that are just crazy. Am I gonna win awards with this photo? Probably not, but not every place we go is gonna necessarily be the award winning location, we wanna go and we wanna trick, make a nice photo of it. These are the kind of things that can take it from being, you know, that snapshot, I didn't really think about it, to, I put some thought in it, and it's still a nice shot. I put this in there so sometimes, so there's definitely foreground, you know there, will all those pilings and everything like that. There's definitely foreground here, see the rocks and everything? And that, you now, how many shots have we seen of this location? Like if you've ever done any research on Yosemite, that's a photo that you've seen a thousand times. But, a lot of times you see it without the foreground. Somebody just went up and, (imitates click), took the shot. This is, you know, me and some of the friends I'm with, I mean, we're getting our tripod, we're walking downstream, we're finding places that we can get up close to the water, and put some foreground into this thing. Same thing there. Reflections can be the foreground. So, that is Cannon beach in Oregon. But, to me, the reflection in the sand, with that sheen of water on it, like that's the foreground. Angles work, this is the next one, okay? Once we get past foreground, this one's a little bit tougher because I'm gonna tell you, like, I don't know that when I'm out there, I necessarily, I don't look at the scene and see angles. Wow, that's angles. It's not really until I get in my camera, and I start looking, and I can start lining things up. But, I had, let me say guys, for better or for worse, you get me honestly today, it's bad because it's on the internet, like I'll just think, "Oh I'm just here with my friends", you know, and there's people on the internet watching. I had to work at this one quite a bit. I guess, I never considered myself an artistic person, as we got more into it, I got more artistic. And, what I would notice is, is I didn't know what I liked or didn't like about my photos. I just knew that sometimes I came back and I liked them, and sometimes I came back and I didn't. One of the things that I started to find out was lens choice, you know, the 16 to 35 like, I couldn't figure out, why don't I like my photos? And then I started realizing, I'm shooting too wide. I only need to shoot that wide, when I've got this big foreground object I need to get into the photo, and there's something back there. That's why I started switching to my 24 to 70. This is another one. I really had to start studying my work, and studying other's work, to figure out what was working and what wasn't. So, it's such a big area for me. There's a reason why these classic locations that we go to, work for photography. There's a reason why you see so many classic locations, the hero shots in Moab and Utah and, here, wherever it happens to be. But, like, that place was made for photography. Why? That, that triangles. Triangles are good. This is what I've learned over the years, triangles are a good thing. That, the reflections, it was just, it was made for photography. You could walk up there, it's almost impossible not to get it right, because that scene was made for it. Sometimes you have to search around for it. Something like that, popular place to go to, it's in Colorado, easy to do. Alright, same thing here. We saw this photo before, but these triangles, they make the shot. This is a friend of mine Mike, I hope he's watching, Michael Jacobs, so he's a guy that I met in New York at a Photo Walk last October, and he sent me this photo, I meant to tell him that I was gonna use it, so hopefully he's okay with it. He sent me this photo, he's like, "Yeah I went to Maroon Bells and you know, I got this shot". Really popular photography spot, but you gotta go make your own shot of it. But there's a reason why it's so popular, it's made for photographers. It's just, it follows all of the things that we need, it's got all those angles that draw us into the scene. Look how they come in from the sides. It just naturally brings you into the photo. Same thing with that. So, what do I mean, so where's the failing in angles? This was a shot I took when I was in Iceland, actually no it was in Florida. (audience laughs) 'Cause there's icebergs on the beach in Tampa everywhere. This was a shot I took in Iceland, and I walked up, and I got really focused on foreground. So I walked up to the scene, and I found my block of ice, this was one of those days these blocks of ice, they come out from these lagoon and then they flow in. And this was one of those days, the tide was off and it wasn't bringing a lot in. So I didn't have many choices. So I found this block of ice, I'm like "Okay I'm settled here". And I was so fixated on trying to get the water to come up, waiting for the water to rise up, and I got so fixated I lost track of composition. And I'm looking at my photos and I'm like, "This is stupid". I know it's a block of ice but it's straight across, straight across. And when I talked about that in the video. A line, and a line, it doesn't look good. Took me a long time to realize that. So hopefully I can help you guys bypass that phase, 'cause it really took me a long time to realize that, I'd come back from shoots, I'd be like, "Why doesn't this work? Why don't I like it like I think I should?". So it's a simple change, just walk over to my right, angle my camera a little bit differently. I mean I'm literally like one foot away from where I was before. But, now that that water comes in at an angle, because of where I went, the water didn't change, I just changed where I went. There's that shot. There's the shot from Sutro baths. That's the second shot. So, you got a line, you just got these lines going straight across your photo, no interest. We got foreground, we're on our way, but we're missing that next step. Now we've got those lines that bring us into the photo, and kinda carry us through it a little bit more. And then curves, right? Curves, curves are another really strong thing. We had it in that photo, we've got that curving around. We'll have in some more photos that we'll see here later today, but these curves, these S curves. Anytime we can add these nice curves, and best if they lead us into something, right? So this is downtown Seattle, and it's like that highway was just made for photographers. So, any questions?
Always questions from the internet, Matt. So, I'm gonna start with this one. Another great one from Photomaker, who asks, "With wildlife, we're told to leave room for the critter to move, how much head space should we leave around mountain tops, tops of trees etcetera to allow them to breathe properly?".
This Photomaker's got some really good questions. Like I planted them. So, that, great question. You wanna leave some room. As you look at this photo, on the screen here, so you gotta remember that like, I had to crop everything to get into this 16 by 9 format and, you know, when I was putting the slideshow together I wasn't necessarily always thinking about the crop, so to me, the top of that building's a little bit tight. If I could re-crop it, or if I was gonna print that, I might leave a little bit more room up there. And there's been a couple photos that we've gone through that I've noticed that I cropped differently as I put them into the slideshow. But, you know, look at the left hand side. I'd never do that normally, like I'd never, if that were my final shot, I'd never have something cut off, and have that little space up there. That's a little bit tight. This photo actually has more room up top again, it's cropped super wide screen so, but that's even a little bit tight, for a crop, it works, it's not bad, but. That's a little bit tight for me, I'd leave just a tare, just a tad more headroom. That's definitely tight. Don't blame Michael on that one, that was me, that was my cropping put in into the slideshow. But that's a perfect example. That's way too tight, I'd wanna leave a little bit more headroom up there, than that. Jim, is there (laughs)
Yeah I mean like it's funny, you know, we just have so many good questions. Again kind of a beginner question here, from Keith, can you define what the blue hour is?
The blue hour? So the blue hour is twilight, I call it civil twilight, whatever it happens to be, it is the time, I don't know if it's the official definition, I can tell you what I think of it, and it is the time before maybe 20, 30 minutes before sunrise, and 20, 30 minutes after sunset. There's official tables that say what civil twilight is and everything like that, my ballpark is, it's 20 to 30 minutes. And they call it the blue hour because the sun's not up, we've taken away a lot of the warms, and what you get is you get a very blue feeling to it. Just, I mean, just take a look at this photo. Take away the warm colors of the lights, everything has a very blue feeling to it, so they call it the blue hour, same thing as twilight. One of my favorite times to shoot. Over the years, I find some of my favorite photos come after sunset or before sunrise. I used to like, "Hey if I can get there 10 minutes before sunrise I'm good", now I'm like, "I gotta be there 30 minutes before sunrise, 40 minutes before sunrise, 'cause I want the magical colors in the sky". And there's certain photos that, they should be taken with the sun up, canyons, mountains, things like that, you want that color on them. But there's a shot like this, like this is a twilight shot, this is when it should be taken.
Beautiful, and while we're at it we might as well define golden hour.
Golden hour is, I never really, it doesn't feel like an hour, but it is--
In Seattle it is.
Yeah that's true, it's an, so the more north you go, the more that you can kinda get these times to last. Golden hour is that hour right around sunrise, that hour right around sunset, where everything appears gold. So, even if the sun is not at the very very tip of the horizon line, even if it's close within that hour, everything still has a very golden feel to it. I wouldn't, anybody watching this, and anybody sitting in here, I could show you a photo, and I could have the sun out of it, and you could probably still tell me when that photo was taken. Remember the photo with the moss? The moss hanging down and everything like that? I didn't have to tell you what time that was taken. I'm gonna guess you guys could probably have said was pretty close to sunrise, or sunset.