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Essential Skill #6: Composition - Rule 1

Lesson 18 from: Real World Lighting: Advanced Techniques

Scott Robert Lim

Essential Skill #6: Composition - Rule 1

Lesson 18 from: Real World Lighting: Advanced Techniques

Scott Robert Lim

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Lesson Info

18. Essential Skill #6: Composition - Rule 1


Class Trailer

Day 1


Course Introduction


What Photographers Should Know


Lighting Gear Box


My Camera Gear


Understanding the Magic of Flash


Shoot: Essential Skill #1 - Lighting Positions


Essential Skill #2 - Bright Light Situations


Lesson Info

Essential Skill #6: Composition - Rule 1

Well, you know, composition is, um, you know, when I do these workshops and like I said before, the students get out there and he gets so concerned about trying to get the lighting right in the posing right, and sometimes we kind of forget what's in the background, and a lot of times we can make that better if we kind of pay attention to it. But it's it's really hard in the beginning to incorporate creating your own light, which is the hardest thing to do posing and then composition. And so I feel like a lot of students lately, not you guys because you're all perfect, but other students out there, wherever they are that it's hard to compose things and figure out where to put the subject and then figure out the lighting on top of that. So I thought I would kind of give some kind of ideas and some rules that I would work that it would at least you could have something organized in your mind so that when you go out there, you have a go to, you know, and that's, the thing about photography...

and doing it professional league, where you're getting paid is when all chaos breaks loose, do you have a go to technique now? I showed over there and lighting right? If you have a crappy environment with a bunch of junk lay around you, khun, go to eliminating the ambient light and doing a great shot. Right? Well, these are some composition ideas that you can have that kind of some go to ideas that you can put in your pocket and start doing it. Okay, so this is essential skill number six k. All right, composition. Ok. Learn how to shoot landscape orientation. Do you know what landscape means? What shooting last it means what? This way. Not this way, but this way I noticed that a lot of photographers. Now look at your images. If they shoot this way a lot, that means a lot of times they have a hard time with composition. And the reason is, is when you shoot portrait like this, you can just shoot in tight. You worried about background at this point? No. Because it's easy. You have to worry about any other element, but the subject. So that's, why? A lot of photographers just especially starting out. Just shoot portrait orientation, use a ah shallow f stop to shoot anything that way and just crop it in tight. So I want you to go and review your images, do you shoot, I mean you gotta have images like this that's that's true you gotta have tight ones but it can't be the majority because what you're doing with your photography is you're not telling the whole story sometimes you're showing the story of the person but sometimes you have to shoot landscape and show more elements because this tells morva story but it's harder to incorporate all these elements shooting at this way so you can try shooting it landscape and try making your subject small in the picture and then that's a great exercise for you to try to find a nice iconic setting um and it's good practice and it's working on your composition now I didn't realize that this was you know, kind of hard for people I thought it was kind of a given but I forgot I forgot two that I was a graphic designer for twelve years before I became a photographer so every day at my job for twelve years I was arranging elements I was placing them I was knowing about all that stuff so when I came into photography the composition was kind of easy for me now I've been doing photography for fifteen years on top of that so how many years have I didn't dealing with composition thirty years I'm not like super awesome amazing at it right but I know I have some skill at it and I could do it for thirty years wow that's a long time so review your images and see what they look like on dh just be aware of that because when your portfolio starts showing you should show a wide variety of things on there okay um so practice with a wide angle lens yes jodi has a question other picture for the landscape yeah whenever you're setting that up like that with like a rule of thirds would you put would you focus trying to put the couple and like a rule of thirds area or would you focus on putting the landscape oh well ok talking great question I talked about that a little bit but what I do is I take a picture and then I go well work and I possibly do what can I do with the couple this and I might go you know what I like that but let's maybe try having the couple walk across here right and put him in there are you know what if I get a empty spot I could maybe put them right here and do something with them so I take it and then I kind of look at it and it's not necessarily rule of thirds it's it's where do they fit in this particular picture okay so I kind of throw that rule off I just shoot it and then look at it and try to analyze it at that point I'll talk about that a little bit later on okay good question all right, so practice with a wide angle lens c I when I shoot and I'm walking around my favorite lends to use is that cocaine in nineteen to thirty five and this is what I use for that okay it's like I'm going to talk about it later on tomorrow but it's it's like under two hundred bucks but it won't be probably after tomorrow that anyways it's a great lengths and when you use a wide angle lands and you're shooting um landscape you're going to be forced to add a lot of elements into your airframe is forcing you and it's great practice to walk around that way I know I guess we got our iphones and stuff like that so but anyway ah that's great it's not super wide but I think that maybe it's twenty eight millimeters or something like that but practice shooting that way and use a wide angle lens right and it may be a little bit foreign to you and it you get frustrated with it but it's really a good exercise okay so twenty four millimeters or wider and I said this before try to create a pro scarred war the image so like you could take this exact same shot we were goingto go to venice anyways next august and come with me and so now I'll take a shot like this I go ahead I know exactly where I shot it and so if I ever if I'm thinking about possibly doing a portrait session here, or I could use an image like that as just part of the album to add to the kind of editorial, ah, scene of the album, right? And then you can just have this shot as a page, and then, you know, the next shot is somewhere the couple in venice somewhere, but this is kind of an ass establishing shot to let you know where you are, but if I were to actually, you know, be quick, and so this is what gives me ideas. A lot of times when I'm shooting composition, I'll shoot it like this. I go where would be the most amazing thing if I had the couple? What do you guys think if I actually have them in there, right? That would be great if I could, but I see a lot of times I have these ideas, but I don't know if it's possible, right? But if the situation comes, if you talk to the gondolier and go showing this picture and I want to do this, but I just kind of want to fit here and wait for a time where there could be nobody there aa lot of times, these people there, you want to get paid to try to help you out to go hey. During this time, there's less people there and don't worry about it. I'll stay up there until you ready and I'll call, you know I'll be in that position, you just let me know. So that's what you do, you take a shot when you're in a kind of an environment where you can't control things is great ask people who are there locals, people gondolier is people are working it, they can literally work miracles for you. You just have to ask you just have the boldness of a imagination to think is something what could be out of the park here? Oh, yeah, I get them here and they're coming and they're right there making out right there and in love, and I shoot it. Oh, man, when they love that picture, that would be amazing make it happen. So when I walk around trying to get these postcard images, I'm just kind of trying to get ideas, and then something clicks in me and then it sometimes it works for portraiture. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes this is just great for my portfolio and it's just kind of like a hobby that I like doing okay practice street photography to improve your composition skills, that actually is something that I love doing. Is I like actually shooting street photography? Um I'm not afraid tio get in there and stand close to this person and she's looking at me or whatever taken my you know, taking a picture of what I don't care I kind of that way I don't care what people think about me I'm weird anyways so just I get in people's faces I talked to them I make them do stuff once in a while but I really like that interaction of that human element and me and on the streets and trying to compose things I feel comfortable with that and I like it but it also helps my composition because you're always trying to frame something on and make it a postcard worthy so we were there also all of the shooting at the eiffel tower and then they have these huge groups that come out and start dancing and so we go over there for a while we quit shooting the models and then we come back and then do this kind of stuff and aa lot of composition and especially on location it's an innate skill in a sense of timing ok, you have to hit that shot and wait for those elements at a precise second and you have to know when to hit that trigger now look at this shot doesn't everything seem like it's in the most perfect place? It could be almost pretty much how in the world do you get her to swing around so the dress comes up they're right there there right there there right there this guy's walking past that way if he was a split second over covering that it wouldn't look as good you know how much practice it takes to feel that sense of timing in the real world and so uh a lot of times it's about waiting and being patient so before you know it was a new photographer my camera with oh yeah take it quickly you can walk on but now I go there I click it you know what I should get a lower angle go down right oh I'm sure I was shooting it this way okay that's good click click wait wait I gotta wait for the perfect moment here sitting around that I might sit there for two three minutes just for this shot so it requires a lot of patients and you it's almost like this you wish it to happen you're waiting for and happens it's like ok well give me a little space right there giving so if you proactively in your mind you know what you want and you mentally start asking for but really what that's doing is preparing you for the moment and when you see that blitz second where the wind is kind of coming up but you got oh yeah shooting up the legs and in the end damn you hit that takes practice that precise timing for that takes years of practice try and extreme lee low or high position ok s so that's what I do a lot of time and that's why I like the live view is because they could pull em in the tilt screen because I could pull the screen out and it makes it if it's easy you're going to do it if it's hard you're not going to get on your stomach and get this shot do it? I'm sorry you're not going to do it okay, but because easy damn I can do that like that aa lot of times I'm shooting like this too and I'm just looking up before when I didn't have it I would just shoot appear and kind of go crazy and do a lot of shots just to see what it is and just hopefully I would get what I want but now I can actually frame it and do it and can be more accurate with it so um that's that's another tip? Okay those air tips these air rules okay rule number one organized elements order and path for the eyes ok, so when youre doing good composition your I should look at the entire frame but you need elements for your eye to guide through that frame okay, so let's take a look at this next picture right ah lot of times I look for pass or I look for stairs or whatever but this is a path here so I look at this one and let me ask you where would you place the subject so I shoot it I look at it and go well well what? I put the subject here what would you guys do at the end of the path here? Yeah, that would work farther back like middle ground here for path leads to them more right on and that's another compositional tipped actually it's the three element trick where you have something in the foreground you put them in the middle and then you put something significant in the background and it's a sandwich so that is actually a technique that people use a lot it's like something in the foreground put them in the middle of something in the background so that is true ok, any other ideas these are all good ideas I would actually try well, I would do that that z that's natural but I would actually try putting them in the negative space popping them with light and so maybe they might stick out right here, right? So ok that's dark there I'll put them in the dark because then they're going to be kind of maur lit maybe I would try that I don't know what actually works but it gives you an idea and a this exercise that you had to keep practicing in your mind here's another situation here's is also in venice even though there's no water there there's this area in venice where they have all these trees in a pathway and a lot of times I looked for repetitive vertical objects. Okay, repetitive vertical objects can create perspective and leading lines dc the lines that kind of lead away from these this couple here this wasn't polls you see this a lot of religious people making out like crazy, but yeah, but see those lines right? So naturally your eye starts here and it has a path the lead out of the picture so you're going to watch the entire thing look at your photos, does it start somewhere and make you end somewhere else? Okay, so use those repetitive lines on those repetitive vertical objects and realize that they create perspective lines the lead to the subject that's a very obvious one. Okay? And this is also using the rule of cemetery right? Making no don't do this too much, but every once in a while it's great to have something that is very, very, very symmetrical save you two if you have things that are equal on both half right, that could be a really good picture and put it dead on straight in the middle don't live by it because it gets very boring after a while. But every once in a while you should use that a rule of cemetery too. So this is both the leading lines. You can see the leading lines, right? Lead right to this subject. And then also that symmetry her pose actually matches that right and debts. Quite honest. That's. Kind of like the lazy man's wedding photography style kind of right this straight a holding hand sound. Everybody does that when they can't think of anything to do kind of think right. You see that a lot, but don't live by it. Here's another. Do you see the leading lines here? I see. What reap edited vertical objects. Bam! Right in here. Now guess what. This wass an overcast situation. What do you I think I did lighting wise? Uh, actually, I would try, but no, this is actually a bear flash. Where do you think I put the flash knows towards the right. So I had the flash out here on ah, like a mano pod back that way because it because look at those statues in the back. That's actually, the lighting situation flat that is back there, there's. Nothing there's, no contract low contrast of lighting there because it's kind of a murky, overcast day and but I wanted to create that contrast in the lighting so you find the vertical lines he stick him there and go I needs a little bit more let's throw the light back there okay but it's figuring out the composition first then putting the couple there where am I going to put the couple could put them back there. Okay right here seems good but not in front but let's do that kind of middle technique where you have something in the foreground there in the middle and something in the background that's a perfect example of that style think of three things foreground there in the middle something in the background there was the lines so your eye just true like that has somewhere to go you have to give order to your eyes order creates impact because it has a sequence that your eye can follow if you don't have order your eye goes okay it stopped there okay god like you don't look at the hole picture you're kind of like uh there's something else to this picture there's a slight there's a slight confusion of where your I should go then it's not composed right? Okay it has to have an order and and that's what creates impact here's another path right it's very obvious so you have that and sometimes you have to look for a high vantage point to enhance the road or the path so sometimes you're getting on top of something and looking down if you convict, gain a high vantage point, right? Like I like to do low or high single extreme can I get up somewhere and then shoot down at them? Yes, ok, this is another thing when you're going to do that, ok, it's going to take time, make sure it's worth it, don't do it on a picture that you think that might be okay, I only do that on something that I shoot and I have an idea go thiss is going to look amazing then I'll take the extra five minutes to do it if I don't feel like if I don't get that amazing feeling and that happy feeling and you're in me, I can't do it because while you spend extra five minutes, ten minutes, maybe or whatever, to get into business and do that for something you think is okay, right? It's not worth it, you got it with them. So this is another thing about managing your chute is that when you get a shot that you feel is wow, this is going to be good spent some time doing it, but if you get something that's literally just average, just quit it, stop it, move on because sometimes we just try to work something and you're just trying to fight it and I could get this better and you work and work and work and you spent all this time and it actually turns out mediocre to me something when you see that initial image it has to hit you right away that ok, this is good I'm going to spend some time here and you just go and try to get those moments of you feel something if it's just mediocre just cuban maybe it might be a little bit better when you look at it later but I feel that those shots it's really going to like you see it it hits you okay let's complete my vision here and so may you know, quite honestly sometimes it might not even happen for you like at a wedding you have more of a chance doing that in a portrait session because you have time sometimes when you're going out like you know you shooting the wedding couple literally only got fifteen minutes and you run around with your head cut off and sometimes you can't find it that's ok don't worry about it used these rules so you can get something that's consistent that you can use but sometimes you're not always going to get wow but go live for those wow moments and then and don't get caught up trying to make mediocre good and so I used to do that in the beginning of my career doesn't work that way okay here's the same thing higher vantage point same thing creating a path walking him through okay, you can also look for an arch window word doorway that also helps you focus your eyes onto something it creates an order right? I mean, I know it seems obvious but there's different ways to see arches and doorways and things like that but just keep the attention to it right? So this archway right? So a lot of people wouldn't think about taking a photo underneath the bridge I think although they would wait after the bridge to take the shot but I'm using that archway in the bridge to center that shot okay, so like the normal point shoot person one shoot while they're under the bridge like oh yeah not enough light here in this way to get it right okay, now take the shot but actually that negative space helps you set up what you want to focus on okay? This is obvious right? You would think that this is an amazing obvious shot, but believe it or not, when I was doing that session with twenty photographers they all net they didn't even see it at all there's a lot of their made things and amazing stuff this is zander the third bridge in paris, right? But twenty photographers none of them saw that shot until I set her up there, okay so what I'm trying to say is that you can go to an iconic place or you can go to head saying than you day after day after day, but a lot of times you can still pull off a creative shot out of there if you just open your eyes and you look for things it's there it's always there but you just gotta find it, okay? Um windows, right? So we talked about that before bright light windows exposing for the background um centers the person here's, another archway here now here I'm using this light there because that's very bright in the background so I set my camera to the background to get that blue sky and there they're completely dark, so I have my triple mount or something and I'm firing flash knows towards death so you know where the light is it's a way off to the side here, okay, so now if I didn't have them, that would still be a decent picture. What it right? So that's why I'm I'm used to making that sub the subject small so I can have a lot of other elements and information in there that tells more of the story of where they're at you've got when you're not on location photographer you have to add a lot of elements that tell the story, so sometimes you have to make your subjects smaller in the frame and figure out where to put them so a lot of people write they would just crop it tightened just shoot that right there because it's easier, right? They can see that it's more obvious, but then you got to step back look all wait a second, the bill tower and all that now to shoot that I have to shoot like this look att I'm shorter than this guy. So how could I have a camera angle down if I'm actually sure that I'm not? Maybe I'm in the same height, it's because I need to raise the angle because this would block that they're so you have to see all these things organized where's the right camera position put it up so you don't make sure that this is not crossing those bells, so maybe I need to raise my camera empire to raise this line lower. But if your mind is on trying to just get the lighting right, you're not going to think of that. So when so when another person takes a shot who is not so he's concerned about his lining he's going to shoot it and it's not gonna look is clean, okay that's the advanced lighting right there that's it is that making that perfection and managing that and understanding all those elements and how they work together here's another light on and a lot of times I like to create I made her do this it wasn't like oh, she walks over there her little teddy and, uh let me just look at my dress and no this's the idea in my mind that I put over been there so you see a window ok? And you know the lighting thing you know the technique oh bright light I'm going to create a sent a silhouette or semi silhouette okay, I'm gonna put the dress there and then I'm just not going to shoot the dress I'm going to bring a human element to that and that's what I always like to do is always like to do ad that human even when I do street photography I'm always adding that human element into the shop so what's going to make that better oh wow she's got this little sexy little thing night count on yeah let's get her over there let's have her do something pretend she's looking at the dress right but it's all set up from that window first but then it's what finished shooting it off, completing it, making it a great picture. Okay here's the same thing using the leading lines right um well that's actually I don't know if you saw that picture already right on so this is interesting so I shot this shot I was here and then I looked at it for a long time until the idea popped up all put them really small down there at the bottom but some video light in there but then it happened I was I was I was at that site probably for a couple hours or so we're just this is our last day we're hanging out and I saw what can we do one more shot like let's get to the bottom there and just try something sometimes you gotta shoot you gotta hang around in that area to figure out the shot it doesn't come automatically sometimes so but it takes work you have to consciously think about it it's just not like composition just comes to you and you get it it's work you have to think how can I make this better? How can arrange the elements better just like with the lighting okay these air stairs right stairs leads up to the pathway knows towards the it poses itself so you've you shooting this and you go ok? I like how it's leading that path up there I know that the light is there well, I khun I know somehow that that the nose is ported to the light so you could do something a little bit more would say the lights here right you could do something more this dramatic there like thiss and you know, giving some shape or maybe you could put her against the wall and have a look back at the light I don't know all you know is you're going to get her up there being a poor knows towards the light and half of the posing is already done for you make it easy for yourself okay stairways a good pass and here's that concept that I was talking about choosing a dark spot or dark shape in the frame this house is the dark spot in that frame but I put my subject in front of it and I pop it with light so now that dark spot is framing him so if you look if you like looking for shapes of dark areas and then you put your subject in there and you know howto light and you're not just a natural light shooter it can have more it wouldn't look the same if I didn't use flash why? Because I couldn't get that contrast between background and foreground but because I could add my own light I could make a darker I could expose for the sky make that contrast in the blackground darker and then pop him but if I didn't know how to use light, I couldn't get this great composition here's a perfect case where the composition and the lighting have to work together and if you don't know both you're not going to get it so you have to that's why this is like, the more you learn, the more you can do it and put it together, the better your shots are going to be here's again looking for the light, looking for the dark and choosing the right angle. So when I this is a new york city, but I think I had to raise my camera here again or something because I had to make sure her head was away from this line. So this is a perfect case of that I'm putting her in the dark area she's, light skinned and then this in there it's natural not this is all natural light, by the way, it was in between two this is a great place to look for light in between buildings, because when you get overcast light and you're in between narrow buildings, that light has only one way to go straight down, and it gives you a beautiful filtered light like this. So when you're this is another thing overcast light, look for narrow buildings, you're going to get beautiful light in between those buildings, and so this was the case here. Negative she's lit up, it pops right there I talked about this picture earlier is the same thing it's under exposing so I get that deep, rich sky, and then I have these black rocks I put my subject there I pop it with light so they stick out and here I am using the hard soft rule here okay, so I got hard light in the back soft life in the front but they pop out better is because their position so I have to have what a higher angle if I shot them lower than them you wouldn't see this black shape here, right? So you can notice the shapes by the angle of up or down because you can make the shape any size I can make this shape any size by my angle, right? So if I choose a higher angle I get I should you know I'm looking at again it's like I should have did it more so he was totally in there right screwed up so it like tang man could have made that better if I got a position higher so those rocks were covering his head it would be even better I can't it's but you get the idea another thing to look for are what what I always say who's been to my workshop so when I talk about composition I look for something jodi lines intersecting lines yeah, I looked for corners corners so whenever I see a corner it kind of leads to them so that's a simple formula that can you use find a corner put him on there, there's different types of corners there's that that's an obvious corner. But there's this shot that was a corner on the side of the car, right? And it kind of gives you more of a perspective. I didn't move over to this angle to see the other end of the car, but I had the same idea. I wanted to get that little part back there, so I changed it a little bit, but I always gave me a place to start. Is that corner because it leads those lots of those lines lied to them and then it gives you see it. Now you have a path. I see a lot of shots where they take a picture and they're just kind of like in nothingness, so you just kind of see him and then your eye doesn't go anywhere with it. You just see him and then that's it there's nothing to lead it out. It just kind of sits there and it kind of becomes a mediocre shot corner again, right? That's? Why? I decided to take the effort to do all this even though there was no light there because I saw the corner I go hey, this would look pretty cool, we got the steps and if we light it up, then it's I can see the steps but it's definitely a corner on the side of a building here's another corner on the side of the truck okay here's another obvious corner under that bridge is that saying bridge it's right next to that area where you saw that kind of dome that door with with the beautiful detail on it right that this is just right across the way here and so I see that corner they're both taller than me but why did I choose that perspective so you can see the corner? So how am I shooting that shot like this till screen down? Why? Because I want that the to be very obvious leading them there okay? And I'm just using natural light to come in here so this was basically all natural light because and then also what I look for okay it's corners I also look for highlight I mean contrast contrasts highlight and dark areas okay? And because the light was coming in this way right? These columns are repeating, but they're creating highlight contrast highlight contrast high like makes it makes it interesting when you see contrast a repetitive contrast it creates an interesting background that's why we're way like this kind of stuff why? Because if we shoot a flash against it and it makes the shadow you've got repetitive contrasts, so look for that look for repetitive contrast also in your images and is going to be interesting

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Crazy Stupid Light Review
Keynote 1
Keynote 2
Keynote 3
Gear Guide
Final Exam
Going Big on a Tiny Budget - HD

Ratings and Reviews

Dan Frumkin

I read several reviews on this site which gave me hesitation to buy this course. Nonetheless, I pressed on. Now I have a suggestion for those considering parting with their cash. Before you buy, go to any of Scott’s galleries online. If you can shoot at Scott’s level move on. If you cannot see the artistry in Scott’s work, move on. If you cannot conceive of the technical proficiency Scott has with flash, move on. But if you are mortal photographer that desires to improve your work, compare your personal portfolio to Scott’s. He wins awards for good reasons. Invest the time and money. You will be amply rewarded. Real World Lighting: Advanced Techniques is worth every penny. So is Crazy, Stupid, Light. I purchased both and now use Scott’s advice and techniques daily. Plus, he provides a good dose of inspiration and humor. Scott is an awesome professional, fantastic photographer and a wonderful teacher.


I already own Lim's class, "Crazy, Stupid Light" as well as two of his Strobie 230 flashes with transmitter (in addition to my Canon speedlight). I appreciate being able to get into lighting with flashes and equipment that costs much less than Profoto lights etc. that I couldn't afford yet. Lim has a very organized and energetic teaching style. He is a great speaker in that he is excited about what he is doing and seems to love to help others learn how to be successful with their lighting. He is very animated and funny and has the right blend of being confident yet self-effacing and admits his mess-ups during class. I find him very engaging and interesting. If you have less than $500 or $600 to spend on lights, but want to start adding lighting to your photo shoots, he is a great place to start.

a Creativelive Student

This class was fantastic! I've always opted for the easy way out when it came to lighting my subjects, usually resorting to using just natural light and a reflector even though I always have my lighting kit with me. I learned in this class how creating my own light can be the easiest way to get the results I want. It's much easier than trying to make the natural light do what I want it to do. Scott's passion for photography and teaching are evident, and his commitment to the success of his students is amazing. I definitely recommend this course for photographers at any level. I came away with many ideas on how to build upon the lighting tips presented here to make it my own. Thanks Scott Robert Lim!

Student Work