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Old Mar 4, 2013, 09:44 PM   #1
kallisti
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Genesis of an image: composition

There are many levels of photographers on this forum ranging from professionals to amateurs to beginners.

Wanted to post a thread that deals more with photography as opposed to gear.

Two of the most important elements in any photograph are composition and light.

This thread is specifically concerned with composition.

Light is vitally important, but is often ignored for various reasons by those just learning photography. Topic for another thread

Composition is something that impacts everyone, even those that don't have time to worry about the light. Whether you are taking snapshots or using a tripod, shooting with an iPhone or a DSLR, *every* photographer has to think about composition.

I'm going to provide 3 examples with images I posted in the February POTD thread. All examples were shot with a 35mm lens on a full frame sensor. The differences in perspective were from moving my feet, not from zooming

While I welcome feedback on these examples, my real hope is that others will post examples of their own showing the nuances of composition to help educate others or that people will post images looking for the advice of others on improving their composition.

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Example #1.

Broad image of the subject:



Moved in and shot it from several different vantage points.

Vantage point #1:


Busy on several levels. What is the light post doing there? What is the tree branch doing there?

Vantage point #2:


Better on some levels. Some of the distracting elements aren't there anymore. But the power lines are still cutting across the image and the light isn't optimal.

Vantage point #3:


Still better composition. Now the power lines aren't crossing the elements of the image but are instead serving as leading lines drawing the eye into the image.

Final image:


Best composition and also waited for the light (and the clouds) to bring everything together.

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Example #2.

Providence hurricane barrier. I shot a series of this while waiting for the light on the previous series of images.

Vantage point #1


While it has some foreground elements, the light post is just out of place and dominates the composition without adding anything--and in fact it seriously detracts from the composition.

Vantage point #2


I posted a similar image to the POTD thread. A better composition as the light post is now off to the left and not the dominant element of the image. The arch of the bridge is there and the hurricane barrier is also there. The light post is still kind of distracting.

Vantage point #3


A closer view of the hurricane barrier without any foreground elements. A simpler composition with the subject front-and-center.

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Example #3.

This is a more complicated composition.

I was playing around with shooting a 35mm lens wide open at f/1.4. Decided to take a photo of my kitchen from my porch. Was prone on my elbows looking in.

Vantage point #1


Noticed that the frames of the glass on the door could be positioned to frame the background. Decided to play with this a bit.

Vantage point #2


A different view with a resultant different framing of the door frames with the background.

Vantage point #3


I liked this better as the door frames lined up with the background. Part of the reason this was a challenging composition relates to the distance between the frames on the door and the background doorway. Relatively small changes in camera position had very large effects on the relationship between the two in the composition. Shifting the camera even a small amount changed the relationship of the elements in the image dramatically. Additionally, I was trying to maintain a relative "dead on" position with the door. So I found myself crawling a bit to the left or a bit to the right and then "chimping" to see how the composition looked. This is an example where shooting with a rangefinder complicated things compared to a DSLR, as parallax entered into the equation: what I was seeing through the viewfinder wasn't what the lens was seeing. The slight offset between viewfinder and lens created a huge difference in the relationship between foreground and background elements. I had to adjust for this on the fly after reviewing each shot.

I almost went to bed after the above photo (this entire exercise was done at around 1 am). But I noticed the smudges on the center glass of the door, realized they were made from cat noses looking out of the door, and thought it would be cool to have a cat in the image.

So I went inside, woke up the offending cat knowing how much he loves to look outside this door, and went back to my previous position.

I was able to capture this image:
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Last edited by kallisti; Mar 5, 2013 at 05:33 PM.
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Old Mar 5, 2013, 03:28 PM   #2
ijohn.8.80
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Enthusiast.

Going from original to final, it is amazing how a different perspective can change something so much! Thank you to those here that told me to go left, I was really stuck on the diagonal approach as I'd been spending a lot of time poring over John Gollings architectural shots at the time!

I'm really pleased with the final shot, I love the perspective and the difference of the very still older couple on the right and the dynamic movement of the young Indian couple just sitting on the left!

I dare say I'm not finished with this spot though, it has so much potential to me.

First attempt


Second attempt



Third attempt


Final
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Old Mar 5, 2013, 06:22 PM   #3
AT06
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Nice post - very clear with some very good photos.
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Old Mar 6, 2013, 02:50 PM   #4
Phrasikleia
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Such a great idea for a thread, and a terrific intro to the topic. I particularly like that last set with the cat: adding a strong subject to the composition improved it immensely.

I was hoping to pull out a good before-and-after set from my archives to post here, but I'm not finding any 'before' shots. I do spend a lot of time trying to find a composition, but I tend to work through the problems with my hands and my viewfinder. So my process of compositional decision making isn't very well documented.

I do have the following set of photos, however. These two are both from Sunday; one shows me in the process of setting up for the other and gives some sense of the problems I had to work around.

1. In this first photo, you can just make out a higher ledge behind me (visible through the branches) that is covered in snowshoe tracks. Those are from the previous evening, when I lost track of time, arrived a bit late, and was unable to find a composition before the sun dropped behind a hill. From that rearward position, I couldn't shoot past the trees that you see around me, and they were not fitting in well with my hopes to foreground some terrific textures in a nearby snowdrift cornice (just out of the frame to the left). I considered taking a few steps forward to check the alignments, but was hesitant to add tracks in the snow because then I would not be able to retreat if it didn't work out. Alas, the sun didn't wait for me while I agonized over my compositional problems. It was a long two-hour hike back at -10C, with only a headlamp to see by and no photo in the bag to show for my efforts.



2. So the next day (pictured above) I strapped on the snowshoes and did the same hike again. This time I took those few steps forward (to where I'm standing in the above photo), extending my tracks in the snow and thereby abandoning any vantage points further back (including anything that would include the cornice I so liked). My tripod went right over where you see my feet in that photo. Just a few steps back, the scene looked really cluttered, but from this point, the elements could be simplified and better 'organized.'



Anyway, the point is that taking just a few steps forward made a huge difference in this case!

P.S. This thread is very timely because it enabled me to reuse some examples I had prepared for this thread, which some people here may find interesting.
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Old Mar 6, 2013, 03:10 PM   #5
James Craner
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kallisti View Post

So I went inside, woke up the offending cat knowing how much he loves to look outside this door, and went back to my previous position.

Image
You woke up the Cat - Poor kitty! Joking aside I like you post, more please
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Old Mar 6, 2013, 06:20 PM   #6
kallisti
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AT06 View Post
Nice post - very clear with some very good photos.
Thanks

Quote:
Originally Posted by Phrasikleia View Post
*snipped*
Thank you for this response. I'm really trying to focus on composition at the moment, which means I'm willing to take bad photos knowing that I'll be reviewing them later to try to learn from my mistakes. Makes it easier to have ready examples for teaching threads

Your response here was perfect. Provided a very clear example of the importance of composition and the importance of *thinking* about composition. I fell into the trap when I first started photography of thinking that "zooming" was the most important thing--something catches your eye, stand in the same spot, and zoom your lens until the composition seems to work. It was much later that I realized that you need to zoom with your feet. It usually isn't a question of finding the right crop with a zoom lens, it's a question of finding the *perfect* vantage point that captures a subject with foreground, midground, and background elements all aligning just right to complement each other.

The thread you linked to was a very interesting read. A more advanced discussion than this one, but again very interesting.

BTW, I love the first image in that thread (which you also posted here in the February POTD thread, "Midas Touch" I think). Just a stellar image.

Quote:
Originally Posted by James Craner View Post
You woke up the Cat - Poor kitty! Joking aside I like you post, more please
He didn't mind. He loved the attention

Quote:
Originally Posted by ijohn.8.80 View Post
Enthusiast.

Going from original to final, it is amazing how a different perspective can change something so much! Thank you to those here that told me to go left, I was really stuck on the diagonal approach as I'd been spending a lot of time poring over John Gollings architectural shots at the time!

I'm really pleased with the final shot, I love the perspective and the difference of the very still older couple on the right and the dynamic movement of the young Indian couple just sitting on the left!

I dare say I'm not finished with this spot though, it has so much potential to me.
I agree with you that the spot has potential. I like your final image. Thanks for sharing . I like seeing examples of others "working" a subject.
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Last edited by kallisti; Mar 6, 2013 at 07:20 PM.
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