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Lesson 13 from: The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

13. Composition

Lesson Info


This is the artistic arrangement of the parts of the picture. Boy, this is the make or break point on a lot of photographs. We've covered all the technical stuff. Now this is your eyes, and your brain's working to make the most interesting picture possible. First thing to consider is your point of view. Where are you in relationship to your subject? Tell you what, Let's head back to the cross country race. Okay, so here's a standard shot of a runner. Now, one of the things the way humans look at photographs is one of the first things they look at is whatever is brightest. And in this case, this pathway is very, very bright, and it's distracting or attempted our attention from her face. What can we do to adjust that? Well, we could go shoot at a different part of the course, But what if we want to shoot pictures right here? Well, by getting down very low on the ground. Look how this trail has been minimised. Now, from shooting from a lower angle, I've minimized that distracting element.

I've also by shooting up a little bit. I've made this runner look taller and I would argue even faster, more powerful by shooting at that low angle shooting up now granted, I did get grass stains, but I think it was really work fully worth it. You got to go through the effort, folks. Seattle, as many of you know, is a long in skinny city. How far is it from the Columbia Center to the Space Needle? It's no, it's over a mile a couple of kilometres. But if you line up on Kerry Park on clean and Hill, you can get all the buildings all scrunched up together because you're at the right point of view for that. If you're photographing animals or kids, you often want to get lower down to the ground to shoot them at their eye level so that you're not looking down at them. You're looking straight at them. Sometimes you do have the option of getting very high up, and this is a great place to get for shooting very simple backgrounds. And so if you can shoot from balconies and rooftops, there could be some great angles of view there. Long time ago, I mounted a camera on the end of my handlebars to get a very unusual look of me riding my bike. The cross country team I work with, they usually get together before a big race and they do this big chance. I'll get psyched up for the big race, and I've been wanting to shoot this and I've shot this picture a dozen times, but I wanted to get something different. So I took a camera, I put it on a mono pod and I held it over their head to get this shot. Completely different angle of you. So when you're thinking about shooting your pictures, you're gonna choose your subject and then you're gonna be thinking about what's the best angle with best lighting, the focus and probably one of things that's most important. That a lot of people don't take seriously enough. Is the background thinking about the backgrounds? One of the things that you want to have is a clean background, because a cluttered background will be distracting for your subjects. So here we have the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers and want Washington D. C. And we have all these tourists in the background, vory wearing very bright clothing, reflecting a lot of light. What can we do about it? Can we ask them all to leave? That doesn't work too well. And so maybe we can use a slightly different lens in a slightly different angle of you to clean up our backgrounds who are subject really stands out. So look very closely at the background and see if it's distracting. What you're the story that you're trying to tell in that particular photograph. A concept that is true in a wide variety of different art forms is that darks tend to retreat to the back of the frame and lights tend to advance in Australia, photographed a dingo, and it's a fairly nice shot, and I don't mind this one too much, but I really like the shot of the dingo in front of the dark trunk tree. For me, the ears really stand out. There's a halo around the ears that you can really see those triangular shapes very, very easily. So I like that dark background. The Arboretum at the University of Washington, Seattle. Once again, you're I often goes to the brightest area of the photograph by literally moving the camera about four feet to the side. I was able to shoot the same subject, but with a nice clean background. And now we don't have that distracting white sky poking through those trees in Africa. Photographing people in doorways worked out very well because inside, it's generally very dark and very bright outside, which is a great place. You can see there in evenly lit situations. The outside light is illuminating them, and it's nice and dark on the inside. And so the subjects really kind of pop out of the background. He might say. Think about the lenses that you have. You probably have a zoom lands or you have a variety of lenses to choose from. Which one should you choose? Well, as I mentioned before, the photograph you take is like a story, and you are the director of your story. What do you trying to tell you? Trying to tell a big story that's got a lot involved? Are you trying to show some details? Look at your subject. So in this case, these men dressed their horses up in the right information, and they're very interesting. But the environment that they're in is not very interesting. What can I do with that? Fill the frame so if you're if the other environment isn't very interesting, have your subject. Fill the frame up in Alaska working with my friend Sean, and he climbed up to this unusual position to get some shots. And I I like the telephoto because it shows him nicely. But if I show the wide angle gives you greater context of where actually he waas and in the environment he was shooting tells a better story. In my opinion, down in South Georgia Island, the penguins down there fantastic, beautiful scenery in the background, and I really like this wide angle shot because it shows the penguins as well as the mountain range and the sky and just kind of a little bit about what's going on that day. But I also really like the telephoto shot because it shows you how the penguins sleep. What they do is they lean back onto their tail as a kick stand, and they kind of bring their feet up, tuck their fat in to stay nice and warm, and so sometimes it's both, and so you have to experiment a little bit to see what the story is that you're trying to tell in that photograph. How you place your subject in the picture is very important. I remember telling you not that long ago to put your subject or use that centre focusing back because it's a very good focusing place in your camera. But you want to experiment, moving your subject out of the center of the frame. Oftentimes condone, start to tell a different and new type of picture that's more interesting than leaving it simply in the middle of the frame. The easiest way to think about this is the old rule of thirds, and the rule of thirds is pretty simple. You break your frame up into thirds top bottom left and right where these lines are, where they intersect are good places to put your subject. You know, people are going to know where to look in your photograph. They're gonna be able to pick out the subject, and when you put it off to the side, it tells them, Yes, this is the main subject. But in this context, in this environment, it is also important to know where this subject ISS, and it's probably going to be pretty easy lining your subjects and moving it off to whatever side just naturally feels right, there's usually going to be other accused in The photograph is, too. Which corner you want to use it in. And it doesn't have to be exactly on these lines or at that intersections. It's just generally getting it out of the middle of the frame. Shots in the middle of the frame can sometimes seem a little static and maybe even boring. And if you put your subject way off to the side, well, that's just weird. A subject needs a little bit of space, and when it's not in the middle and it's not in the corner, it ends up being in one of those for areas of the rule of thirds. I recently went to Cuba, as I've mentioned a couple of times, and I posted on my website 16 of my favorite photographs, and I looked at all these photographs and I kind of thought for a moment that's kind of interesting. In not one single case is my subject directly in the middle of the frame, Whether it's the primary subject or a secondary subject, it's a little off to the side. It's not in the middle of the frame. It's very rare that the subject just happens to be directly in the middle of the frame. Not that it's wrong to dio, but really, you want to think about moving it off to the side. When you do that, you're often gonna be working with direction. And so, in this case, this picture here has a very different emotional impact than the next one, which is the most Photoshopped image in the class. Okay, very different feel to this, with the subject looking out of the frame rather than into the frame and up the mountain. Okay, And so if you're not filling the frame with your subject, possibly because you don't want Teoh, you won't allow a little bit more space in front of that. Subject gives a little bit more visual room for that subject to move to, so it depends on where the lights coming from. A slight angle of head. I explained all this to the penguin and asked them to turn around cause it would make better composition. But the rule is, is that the rule is on any of these rules. You can break him whenever you want, and so it tells a different story. If you know the penguins, these air, the baby's there in day care. And this is probably one of the parents whose ignoring the kids who are in day care and so you can tell many different stories playing with these rules. One of the ways that we judge beauty is with symmetry. When we see symmetry, it's sometimes unusual, And so when you see symmetry, just go with it could be a lot of fun. Not sure if this is symmetrical or asymmetrical, but I put it in here. And so when you're finding the left and right, the top and bottom are matching up. This could be great ways of lining up your image. Going from that next is balance. And so this is where you have subjects that have different visual weight to them. But they balance out so that the picture isn't overly lopsided. On one side or the other side, the subjects are scattered throughout the frame. You know, I was really lucky to have these mops. The mops totally made this picture for me because they kind of balanced out picture of Fidel up in the corner, having your subject and then, having a little bit of space around your subject, I find out that I framed very similarly in completely different environments. I don't want the overlap or I don't want them just barely touching a one a little bit of space around them. Balance of a bright subject in the sky, balanced with a strong contrast in line at the bottom. So you're gonna be wanting to move left and right to figure out where that balance works for you. Another concept to think about is free me framing up your subject, and sometimes you don't want to get closer. You want to back up and you want include mawr, the environment around your particular subject. And so I'm constantly looking for archways and doorways and caves in anything to photograph us another subject within that part of the environment right there. And so look for these other elements to add a secondary subject. A supporting character to your photographs, just the subtle grasses here on the side, keeping your eyes directed inward and finally in the section. There's a lot of elements of design that are true in a lot of different types of art that are very true and photography. One of the things the human eye looks for is lines. We love lines. It's a it's a handrail for the eyes. And so any time you have strong lines in a photograph, that's a good element to have. One of my favorite places is the wave down in Arizona. Beautiful lines down there. There's all sorts of lines. Wherever you look. There's a lot of natural lines. There's our man made lines, and we love these lines. Now when you take a line and you continue it forward, you'll end up with a shape and we love shapes. We could see shapes is a quick way to identify something so they don't need to have a lot of information. They work very well in silhouettes. Just adds another element to the photograph. Those simple shapes. Next is we take shape, and we repeat that over and over again, and we get what I like to call the photographers best friend. If you have a pattern, you have a photograph. There could be patterns, photographs of almost any pattern that you could imagine, and so just zoom on in, move closer and show that pattern. Natural world man made world patterns are all over the place. We love seeing patterns. The brain loves patterns related to that is texture and texture is like a pattern. But in my mind it also conjures up mawr. Thoughts about set hot cold is a rough. What does it feel like? It's conjuring up more than just visuals. When I was in Cuba, I was pretty sure that I have worn out the word texture. Their buildings have so much texture. They are in desperate need of paint down there. But I love the texture. It works great and photographs the side. Lighting works really good to showcase that texture and those baby king penguins when they're dry, they call him bears with beaks and flippers, and when they get wet, they have a whole different texture to them. So when you look at this photograph, what is your eye drawn towards? And how does that change when we had color into the photograph? So obviously, color is a huge impact of the way we look at photographs had looking for strong color. It's probably a good step in finding a good strong photograph so straight finding these bold colors, the blue and the yellow are great colors to work together. I love working at dusk, just after the sun's gone down, cause there's this beautiful blue in the sky love the scene in Cuba, the green car, the green building, the green shirt. And if you look closely the green hair band so lots of green. The Tulip Festival up north of Seattle is a great place to shoot that abundance of color, just a lot of quick ideas to think about for what makes for good subjects for your photograph.

Class Materials

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The Photography Starter Kit Course Outline

Ratings and Reviews


I'm not sure my first review posted. But I LOVE this class! John Greengo is a great, engaging teacher who is really adept at representing the concepts visually and excellent at explaining them verbally. I love how he goes through examples with photographs he has taken. Even though I only have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, it does have Manual, Shutter priority, and Aperture priority modes. Through his class I've gotten a really good sense of how to balance ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. It's a great overview for me especially since I am new to photography, I can play around with some of these settings, and I have a greater understanding of what I might need in a higher level camera in the future. Money well spend! (For $29, this is an absolute steal). John Greengo is an awesome teacher and I hope to take more of his classes in the future!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!

a Creativelive Student

I am a semi retired hair stylist who is finally following her passion of photography. I have taken a class here and there and stumbled on Creative Live and realized the potential of learning is endless. Love love love the way John Greengo teaches. I am finally beginning to understand and retain so much. Thank you John, your the best. I hope one day I can meet you up close and personal. Thank you!

Student Work