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How to Correct Composition in Camera

Lesson 16 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

How to Correct Composition in Camera

Lesson 16 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

16. How to Correct Composition in Camera


Class Trailer



Course Introduction


Camera Gear for Travel


What Camera Gear Should You Buy?


Gear Bags for Travel Photography


Location Research and Pre-Trip Planning


Importing and Naming Conventions in Lightroom


Processing Images with Presets in Lightroom


Lesson Info

How to Correct Composition in Camera

So now, you remember when I mentioned about thinking about diagonals and how they can add a little energy to your images, make it a little more dynamic? There are some angles that I look out for. There are distracting angles, there are disturbing angles and things, and let's talk about a few of those. Here, if you're wondering where we are, we're in Iceland. And these are some really mossy fields here. And notice, there's a horizon, and the horizon lines up with the edge of the frame. And here, there's not necessarily a horizon, but there's horizontal lines, and they're very close to lining up with the edge of the frame. Being as they're not perfectly straight, it's impossible to get them all to line up. But look at this one, now when you saw it, I don't know if you noticed or not, but the moment I saw it, my brain just went "Huh?" just for a second. Then it might have started thinking about what was in there but I just felt like I wasn't grounded in reality. It felt like "Whoa, am I i...

n some balloon moving or something?" It's because that horizon is not straight. Unless there's a really good reason for me to not have the horizon straight, I almost always align the horizon with the edge of the frame. Here I can't see the horizon but what can I see that would be a straight line? Well, look at the base of this sculpture. I made it align with the edge of the frame. If there's any straight lines near the edge of the frame, and it's not unconvenient to do so, I get them to be at the same angle as the edge of the frame. And so in this case you see a building as a rectangle, and all the lines within it, the verticals, the horizontals, line up with the edge of the frame. Now had I shot it like this, those are disturbing angles, at least to me. That's when you tilt your camera up and suddenly verticals are no longer vertical. How could I have prevented that if I didn't want to shoot it straight on? Why not shoot it like this, where you see the framing is a bit different, or I coulda walked across the street, got further away so I didn't need to tilt. Here, do you see this angle near the edge of the frame? Well, line it with the edge of the frame, and you're gonna take a lot of the energy away from it. And it's just gonna be like, my brain at least just kinda goes "Ah, yeah I accept that" without thinking about it. And so if there are any straight lines near the edge of the frame and they're somewhat close to being at the same angle as the edge, then I kinda make 'em snap to the same angle. And I find that helps a lot. Then, as far as placing your subject, you can think of the middle of your frame as being center stage if you want to, but just like with performances, only certain things are strong enough to hold center stage and really make it feel like they belong there. You don't put an amateur person on the massive arena like a rock star would be on fill it with people and just have him walk out there and go "Hi." It's just not strong enough. But if they're strong enough to get the whole audience going, yeah, you can have a single person out there in the middle and you can place 'em there. And so one thing I think of it is, is this strong enough to stand center stage? And if the answer is yes, then I can put it in the middle of the frame if I want to. But if it's not strong enough to stand center stage, then I think of the center as dead center. Dead center means if you want to take the energy out of your photo, keep puttin' things in the middle. If you grab the random person on the street's smartphone, and just pull it out of their hands, grab their photos app and flip through all their photos, 80% of their pictures, their subject's gonna be in the middle. And it's just where everybody expects it to be, so when it's there, they're like "okay, yeah, it's in the middle." There's just nothing interesting about it. So I'll usually try, unless my subject can really hold center stage, and be strong enough to do it, get it away from the middle. And so if you look at this, my subject is really this, I don't know if you can tell with this small version, but there's a face in the stone right here, it's carved in it. There's also a face over here. Can you see the face there? I don't know if it'll bring in my preview fast enough. So my subject is this guy, this face and that face. And are they anywhere near the middle? No. Look at this guy, he's off to the side. He's near the middle, you could say but no he's off to the side. In fact, if you were to look at the absolute center of the frame, it's a little bit of his shoulder, but otherwise, nothing really there. Look at the middle of the frame, there's a little bit of stuff but most of the action is happening off on the edges and other places. Some people will tell you about the rule of thirds, where they put a grid on top of your image and often times in cameras you can turn on a rule of thirds grid especially if you have an electronic view finder where it will put two vertical lines and two horizontal lines in your image equally spaced across and then if you put your subject at the intersection of those grid lines and you force yourself to do so, it's a nice mental exercise for how to stop putting your subject in the middle. 'Cause you have these grid lines to constantly remind you, no put them here. But in the end, I don't use the rule of thirds. I only would use the rule of thirds if my current default is the middle. It's just a technique for getting you away from that mentally. But once you get used to the fact that the middle is either center stage, and something needs to be strong enough to hold it, or is dead center and if you keep puttin' things there, it's taking all the energy out, then you put it wherever it just looks best. And in this case it might not be right where the rule of thirds would dictate. But you see where my subjects are, on that one tree in the middle of the rest. That's in Glacier National Park. Now there it's centered horizontally which makes it somewhat less exciting but it's not bad but the very center has next to nothin' going on and it's all moved down below. You see where my horizon line is? Not in the middle. That's centered but it's like, not so great. Then other things that I think help to make a strong photograph. Contrasting backgrounds. In this case I could have shot this this hoodoo, the Wahweap hoodoos, I could have shot this from if I walked over to the left so that this over here would be it's background, and if I did, the background would be very similar to the subject and it would be about the same brightness, but I chose not to do that or I might have also shot that. But it searched around the scene and I just said "Is there anything that contrasts with this subject?" It can contrast in brightness, it can contrast in color, it can contrast in focus, if I can knock it out of focus. And here's another version of it where I really got it down and more tight because here I didn't like this blue up here that pulled my eye up there, but is there a payoff when you get there? It's just blue sky and it's not like this shape is overly exciting. To me, this is cool because I'm not used to seeing that. So after gettin' that I said, "How could I clean it up more?" And that's more of the end result. So it's just trying to search out there. Here I'm making the background isolate by getting out of focus. It's fall colors in the background, knocking it out. There's all sorts of other things that I think about when I'm out. Here we're at a fish market. This one is not overly into me doing things, taking her photo, so I'm like "Okay, you're not gonna engage with me then you're not gonna be the main part of my subject." I look at all this busy stuff in the background, an I'm like "Well what am I supposed to do with this?" Well I mainly ask myself "What was it that caused me to pick up my camera and actually think about taking that photo?" Was it her? Or was it something else? And in this case it was the fish. And so, I try to isolate the interesting part. And so here's what I ended up with. She might not want to engage with me, so I say okay fine, what can I do that doesn't involve her, but has the interesting part of the photograph? And I got this where she was -- Somebody had just bought this fish or about to, and she was going in for grabbing it. Here I see these little Buddha's in these little indents in a wall. And that's what caused me to pick up my camera, and I take that shot. But then I try to say, not everybody else is going to be as interested in this as I am, they're not gonna be attracted to it, so what is it about it that really caused me to look? And it was the little Buddha's in the wall so I said well how can I get that to be stronger by isolating it more. Trying to get it so just that isolated area. You can isolate with brightness. Here I underexposed to get just the tree tips which I though was the interesting part. Here again is isolating with brightness. So what I'll end up doing is when I'm looking around the scene, if I'm not gettin' just everything that's there, one of the ideas that I keep in the back of my head is look at only where the light is. What is the sun falling on directly? Compared to the other stuff that is in the shade. Now the thing about it is if you have and optical viewfinder, then what you see through the viewfinder is just like what you see with your eyes brightness wise and it's not as easy to pick these out. If you have an electronic viewfinder, what you see looks more like what the end resulting picture is. And there can be a big difference between those two because you camera isn't capable of capturing such a wide brightness range as what you can see with your eyes. And so when you look at a scene, you see these leaves, and you can easily see what's in the background as well. You have no problem seeing the detail that's there. But you pick up your camera and you adjust it such that the leaves are the right brightness where you can easily see them and the background can go pretty much to black. And just so you know, my screen it looks black, up here I can see detail. So I'm gonna search the scene for only what the sun's hitting and say "Would it be interesting to show that with everything else black?" And if so, I'm going to adjust my exposure setting. I'll take that little gage on my camera, where you see it goes, at zero is default exposure, you can do minus one, minus two, on some cameras minus three, or plus. And I'm gonna set it to maybe minus two. If I'm on my optical viewfinder I have to guess at how much it needs and then take the picture. If I have an electric viewfinder, I just start adjusting it and I see the scene getting darker, right there in the viewfinder and I just get it darker until the background goes black, and see what I got. And I search out just where the light's falling, to say "What if I isolate that?" By underexposing everything else, just so that part where the light is hitting is showing up. Here I had no problem seeing what was behind that. But my camera can have problems with that, 'cause it can't get quite as much brightness. So once you find something that causes you to pick up your camera, see if you can isolate it more, make it fill more of the frame, get closer, zoom in further to do so. So you wanna take a mini break for questions so far? Because we got a lot of other concepts, I can just keep going for days. (laughs) That's great, let me know if you have any in here. You've kind of answered this already but Chris M. Gavern had asked "How much of the composition do you do when you take the shot, and how much in post?" You're kind of showing us how you work through that, but what would you say, on average, is how you do that? I can't, how would I say it -- if I didn't think about it when I shot it, my success rate with cropping to make a strong image is going to be very low. If I thought about the composition more when I shot it, my success of just cleaning up the edges and making it stronger is gonna be dramatically higher with cropping later on. A weak image, some of them can be improved with cropping, a strong image can just be polished, where it becomes much better. So it's more of an intentional cropping, you've already, you're shooting it wide so that you know you're gonna be able to have space to get those angles Well, it's just either I can't physically get closer to this person and therefore I can't get it that way, or whatever, sometimes it's though you just never notice the stuff. You know when the certain thing's goin' on, and it's attracting your attention you're in the moment, you're gonna get it and later on you can stare at the thing for an hour and it's not like the person that's in that frame is gonna walk out of it and disappear. Whereas when your camera is in your hand, they might, so you can't spend too much time and that's why I always try to get it first, and then start looking to see if I can refine it. But sometimes the moment's gone by then. And so I have to do it through cropping or something else. I just like the intentionality of everything that you're thinking about as you're doing this. You're responsible for every little thing in that frame. And it's up to you what you do with it. So just so you know, here I'm giving you kind of this rapid fire ideas. Here's how I'd suggest you integrate it, use it and make it so you can actually remember these things, because otherwise there's so many ideas that how the heck are you supposed to use all these at once? With this course, remember there's a handbook. If you purchase the course you get a handbook. One part of that handbook is a, let me see if I can find it here quick, is a section that will take these concepts we're talking about right now, and what they're gonna do is, put them in a PDF where we have these things where you could print this out and cut them up to make them like playing cards. And then, you can take just a couple of these with you when you go out in the field. And you can say for today, I'm gonna concentrate on these three concepts. And you concentrate on those three concepts until it's second nature, until you don't need to think at all in order to use them. Instead, you do it automatically. So then you set those three cards off on the side, and you pick three more. And so each time you go out, you're adding to that inventory of concepts that are in your head. And this is in a format where it's designed so that you could put it on your phone. So that the aspect ratio is similar enough to your phone where you can just have it as a PDF file. Each one of these little rectangular areas would be a separate page of the PDF. And so on your phone, you're out in the field, you're like "Man, I took that picture, I wonder if I coulda done better?" You look down and you flip through and say "Maybe I can incorporate three more concepts into this." and if you really want to, there's a lot of concepts you could print these out and you could shuffle them and just say "I'm gonna deal myself three cards" and go out in the field and use 'em this day. And the idea is to keep doing that until you got fewer and fewer cards in that deck and if that deck ever gets empty, you got all this stuff in your head. But trying to do it all at once is overwhelming at first and I didn't develop all the concepts we're using here or hear them from other people all at once, it slowly evolved over time. And so this is just to help you do that. But I will feed you more because you know you'll have these to purchase the course to help you remember and use them. I have a question. Yeah? It sounds like a lot of your procedures are organic like you approach photography as it speaks to you right? And then you're cropping and everything comes a little bit afterwards but you do also think about it in the moment. Do you ever find yourself injecting a mood into photography? Yes, I can do a mood, inject a mood into it. It can be where, it can be through lighting, if I actually put in my own lighting, but it can also be through the angle and other things. I don't necessarily think of mood though when I'm doing things but it can be done. And it's just a matter of how successful you are at thinking about what mood fits the situation and what tools do I have at my ready to get that to happen. It's not something I'm thinking about all the time though, mood wise, maybe it is something I should. I have another question for you, Ben. This is from Ipsy Deprokeche. How do you draw someone's image to the texture of a surface? Do you remove color from the picture? How do you emphasize texture? Sure, if you wanna emphasize texture, try to control the lighting. And if you light the subject from the same direction as the camera, you will not be emphasizing the texture. If you light it from the side, you will emphasize the texture. Texture will pop right out. So it's a matter of getting side lighting involved. And sometimes that's the sun and you're just finding a wall that happens to be side lit by the sun, and that suddenly is what attracts your attention 'cause it made all the texture come out. And other times it's you grabbing a flash or a flash light or any other kind of light and trying to get it so it side lights the texture. So instead of it being lit from the same angle as the camera, light it from off on the side. Gonna make the textures pop right out.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lightroom Presets Quickstart Guide
Lightroom Preset Sampler
Pre-Trip Planning
Actions Sampler Guide
Travel Photography Handbook
Actions Sampler
Lightroom Keywords
Big Set of Lightroom Presets
Practice Images
Travel Photogtaphy Mobile Guide
Gear List
Lightroom Tips and Keyboard Shortcuts

Ratings and Reviews


This was simply an amazing experience! Without a doubt the best investment of time and money I have experienced in quite awhile. Ben's complete command of the subject, the practical tips, suggestions and reference information was outstanding. I have enjoyed point and shoot photography for some time and recently decided to invest in some decent DSLR equipment (Canon EOS D70). I have a trip to Cape Town and Johannesburg South Africa rapidly approaching and thought it might be a good idea to take some classes and make an effort to get up the learning curve ASAP to take advantage of this travel opportunity. "Discovering" Creativelive and Ben Willmore's class was literally an answer to prayer! There is nothing like sitting at the foot of wisdom, taking notes, and having numerous "ah-ha" moments! This was great....looking forward to more classes. Thanks for the high quality effort!

a Creativelive Student

Genius! Ben is a brilliant master teacher - focused, clear and holds back no information. The best! This course has condensed the equivalent of 10 courses into one. He is a perfectionist in his approach and knows how to present the material. He is the leader in photoshop and photography "par excellence". Highly recommend any of his courses. Save your time and start with the best - everyone loves Ben!!!!

Nichole Sams

I feel the title of this class, Travel Photography, is much to limiting for what you are really going to get. As a wedding photographer, who dreams of traveling, I attending the class live in Seattle, and was hoping to get some inspiration for on location shoots. What I got, however, was a WHOLE LOT MORE. I would recommend this class to anyone with a camera and Lightroom. What I learned about how lightroom works and how to integrate it with photoshop is invaluable. I actually think they should charge WAY more for this course. The bonuses with purchase from the keywords (we are talking every key word you could possibly imagine) and the presets (holycow everything you would ever need) are worth exponentially more than the course price itself. Ben is a gentle easy going teacher and nice to listen to. His ease of teaching pretty complex ideas was truly wonderful. If you are reading this you must buy this course, it is well worth it!

Student Work