Composition Practice Exercise
Here's a little exercise in controlling shapes in your composition and I want you guys to learn how to see these shapes and you don't have to have your... You can just have your smartphone with you and you can practice this. Let me give you a little example. So last weekend, after Thanksgiving, my family and I took a little vacation and let's see... Okay, yeah so here's what you do in your exercise before I give you the example. Learn to see shapes, right? Adjust the shapes by just changing your perspective, right? So what does that mean? Look at it from a lower angle. Look at it from a higher angle. Look at it from the left. Look at it the right. Do it close. Do it far away. Often, as photographers, we tend to just wherever is most comfortable for us, that's where we shoot. So we're walking along, everything is shot like this because that's the most convenient for us, but if you really want to improve your composition, start taking a lower angle or raise your camera higher and see wha...
t it looks like. You can have full control of those shapes by how you see things and that becomes very powerful once you start understanding that. So then not only do you shoot an up and down portrait, you got to shoot it landscape. Now I review hundreds of photographs of students all the time every year. I want you to analyze your photos. If you, most likely, if a person has trouble with composition, they shoot a lot of portrait which means up and down. Why is that? The reason is it's easy to shoot portrait and eliminate all the other elements in a story, right? If I just shoot up and down, I can just fill that person up in that shape and I don't have to worry about anything else but once I turn the camera this way, uh oh. What am I gonna do with this stuff over here? Then you have to actually think more and you have to arrange more information in elements and that's hard to do. I want you all, even you folks at home, to look at your photos. If you have a lot of photos that are portrait, up and down, that means you probably not comfortable with composing more than one element in your photo and you need to work on that so both, shoot in portrait and landscape. Practice in ordinary places. You just don't have to practice it when you go to Paris or Italy. You can practice it here, wherever you are because that's in the real world, you're gonna get a hum-drum place and you're gonna have to make your magic and that's how you get paid. You need to learn how to see interesting shapes in the most ordinary places and so that's actually a great exercise. So here I am, after Thanksgiving, we're gonna go to Palm Springs and take a few days and of course I'm working on this lecture. And I look over there and I go, "that would be a typical situation, you know." It's like you're there up by the pool area there and most people would say, "hey, go up on that bridge there "and let's take a picture." Right? So just a very common thing. So here's what typically someone would do. You bring, I had my daughter around. Okay, why don't you go up there and take a picture? What's wrong with that picture? Big old tree coming out through her head, right? So this would be... I'm sure there are thousands of pictures right here like that, right? People not aware of their surroundings. You take a picture, ooh distracting so what's my next step? I'm shooting it, oh a tree. Maybe I can raise it higher to see if I can place them in a better open space. I do that and I go, "well it still looks like "she's got horns and trees, that's not gonna work." Maybe I can go landscape and see what I can find. So I turn the camera in a landscape position and I actually find an open spot, okay? Oh, put her right there but the problem is is don't you see those palm trees and her head all at the same level? So your eye tends to just stay there because I'm not creating a diagonal with those elements so what do I do? There's some stairs there so I take a lower position so I could raise her head higher and so now this is even stronger because now you can see a diagonal across the entire frame and it leads your eye to look at the entire thing. Now guess what. She, the subject, did not move one inch. She stayed where the light was great. I moved. I changed my perspective. People don't realize how much power they have by just changing your perspective. You can take somewhat of a hum-drum spot and take a good picture by just changing your perspective. I look at this. Now, I always think in terms of, like, shooting and I think in terms of, "wow my couple would look great there." so I go, "oh shoot, if I was a wedding photographer here, "I could actually out of this ho-hum place, "I could actually take a great picture. "I could put my subjects there, I could shoot up "and I would have a beautiful picture "in the most typical places." That's what I really want you to concentrate on is just going into your most ordinary places and trying to make that magic happen by just changing your perspective and looking for those scot spots or those clean backdrops where you can put your subject, okay? The subject never moved here.
We have a question about just being on location, Lorraine Best asked, "do you scope out these locations "in advance or are you familiar with the areas you shoot?"
Most of the time, I'm not familiar with them. For example, if I'm doing a destination wedding or something like that, they don't want to pop an extra few days for me to hang out. So a lot of times when I do a session, it's the first time I'm meeting them and it's the first time I've ever seen that spot but if you are going to a very popular place, I highly suggest that you search Instagram or Pinterest and see what's available there and then you can get ideas that way. Even though you can't physically be there, the internet is a great tool and we can get ideas from that. Look at their pictures, and then improve on top of that or put your own creative twist to it. Good question.
We've got one in the studio.
So I notice a lot of your, like this image in particular, what would you say your F stop was on this or most of them that you show with a big depth of field?
Okay, yeah so when I'm doing my epic landscape shots, what's kind of like my camera setting? Okay so when you do wide angle shots, now one of my favorite lenses is a 16 to 35, so when I'm shooting landscape I'm using a 16 to 35 millimeter lens. When you're shooting that wide, you can't get blurry. It's really hard to get blurry depth of field. When you're shooting wide, it makes your composition skills even more important. Why? Every detail is gonna be in focus and so I actually use that to my advantage when I post process, it's that I make everything a tack sharp so you can see all the texture in there and the colors, but at the same time, I need to find a place where my subject just pops immediately. That's why I'm saying if you shoot landscape, and you make your subject really small or smaller, that is a great exercise because it takes great skill in your compositions to make everything pop out at you but still have really tack sharp detail in the background.
Okay so now for the stupid question, gotta have it. Do you put your focus point on your subject or is it...
Yes, I put the focus point on my subject but because a lot of times, because you're shooting wide and a lot of times I'm shooting at F 16 or whatever, everything is in focus anyways, pretty much and so it's not as critical as if you were shooting a 1.8 shot, then you gotta be tack on, but if I'm shooting wide, your focus point should, usually it's very easy for your camera to focus at that point, it will grab something and a lot of times, everything is gonna be in focus anyway because you're shooting wide. What you can do is download, everybody should download those DOF calculators, depth of field. That tells you, okay what camera are you using? It needs to know the size of your sensor, right? Then it asks you what F stop you're shooting and then how wide you're shooting it and how far your subject is away. I know from shooting group photos for weddings, if I'm ten feet away from my subject and I'm shooting wide say like at 24 millimeters, pretty much I'm gonna have 20 or 30 feet of focus area. I don't have to worry about it. Because of my training in shooting group shots and making sure that everybody's in focus, I kind of understand that concept, but if you don't it's very interesting to just get that program and change the parameters and see how much depth of field you have so like if you're shooting, let's say with a 50 millimeter 1.2 lens and you're like five feet from your subject, you've got about that much focus area right? One eyelash will be in focus and literally on the other side it will be out of focus. You might have that much depth of field, but you have to understand that when you're taking pictures to have the right camera setting.