Composition is the conundrum of photography, how to capture and compose images. Some people seem to come to composition naturally while others struggle exhaustively. I suspect most photographers struggle. We have composition rules or guidelines based on masters of painting and studies of how humans instinctively observe. Some think these observations are scientifically derived, while others dispute the science. I don't intend on going down that rat hole, other than to say the average photographer who has been at it for a while knows these rules and is trying to find their way to a composition perspective that works for them. I don't have answers or a simple solution. Brian talked about some of this in a recent class he teaches and wanted to cover the topic this week in our podcast. You can find the podcast here or in iTunes under the topic;
Composition, Shoot From Your Heart Not The Rule Book?
Ok, start off shooting yourself trying to get a good selfie! This isn't easy, you have to get over vanity...and everything else. Notice I hid behind my camera!
Next shoot a friend doing something with you. This is easier because vanity only comes into play if you show it to him or her. A trick, shoot wide open, hides a lot of sins, figure out what you want to focus on. Here's Professor Montana doing a podcast with me.
Ok, your too sensitive to shoot yourself and you don't have any friends, photograph your cat, dog, bird, or squirrel. They could care less, doesn't have to be great, but a good one takes cunning. I mumbled "want to play ball" in a low voice which got my dog's attention for a second, long enough for me to snap. Sharkey doesn't like cameras because of me and my compulsion to photograph him.
If you don't like yourself, don't have any friends and no pets, photograph something of others.
Just peak in a window of somebody's car window don't put your hand in, you will get arrested. Don't try this with someone's house, they have a place for folks like that and you don't want to go there. They will not let you take your camera with you!
And if none of this works for you take a picture of your favorite eatery, at high noon!
And if your picture is bad as this one, not even in focus, you will tell yourself "I can't live like this with a camera" and you will be extremely motivated to get out and shoot lots of photos to get better.
"Humans Of New York" has a lot of lessons for we photogs. Brian and I have been talking about this project, looking at pics, quotes, and concepts. We talk about those lessons in our lates podcast. Check it out here or in iTunes under Hold the Eye Images.
There are lots of ways to learn photography. You can go to school, buy video training, join Lynda.com or Kelby. Watch Creative Live and buy the ones that you love, or simply buy books and read. But if you follow this blog and podcast, you know that whatever road you choose has to be mixed with lots of shooting. Without shooting, the ingredients I began this blog with will not work. But there's another method. One I used simply because when I began photography, I didn't have the money to buy many things other than a camera and film. And only black and white film in bulk, processed by me in a darkroom because I couldn't afford the processing costs(the darkroom was free). So here's my simple two step approach.
Step 1: Buy a camera, preferably one that can be adjusted manually, i.e. you can adjust the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Next, spend some time learning how to use it. If the camera doesn't have a fixed lens, select one lens, my recommendation is 50mm. The reason for the 50mm, it's close to the human eye, and you can pick up a great one at a reasonable cost. The 50mm is the biggest bargain in lenses today.
Step 2: You now have a camera and lens you know how to adjust. For the next 6 months shoot everyday manually. By that I mean you adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and select the ISO yourself. Try different perspectives, high, low, very low, very high. Put the subject in different locations within the viewfinder, try different focal points, shoot everything from people to objects. Gradually you will learn to like a perspective/subject/and a framing method. This step of learning to like your own photography is step 2A. After reaching this step, you begin the process of refining what you like and this can take a lifetime. But reaching Step2A is critical because it launches you. It begins the process of "seeing" in photography, the holy grail of images. You are not constrained by figuring out your camera, worrying about the right f/stop or shutter speed. You are simply focused on composition and subject matter. I'm not saying the technical settings don't matter, they do; but what really matters is the subject and composition. Your composition interpreted through your camera and lens. To get to this point competently, the road is paved with lots of shutter snaps, and lots of ugly pictures. There is no reasonable alternative. You can sit in classes until your ears ache, you can watch videos until you can't see, or you can read forever, but you still have to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.
I'm not denigrating learning via books or video but just emphasizing the importance of taking pictures as a learning process. I'm obviously a big fan of learning by taking pictures. It sounds simple but the discipline of doing it on a regular basis, rain or shine, making mistakes, being disappointed but carrying on, is a hurdle most have difficulty following and keeping up with. I know this because I have stumbled many times. When I have stayed the course, my own photography has improved significantly, when I stumble, it slips, progress slows dramatically. The good news, progress stays with you, your eye is not like a sport where you lose skill as you age. Your skill becomes part of you. Bye the way, this process of learning through shooting is largely a product of the digital age with the immediate feedback and virtually zero cost except for your time.
An easy method to keep you shooting is a personal project that means something to you. A personal project helps in the motivation to shoot, keeps you in the game. And, it takes out one variable that causes many to stumble, "what to shoot today". It really helps with a project you are invested in. Something that interests you beyond photography, something that you can use photography to add value to your interest. For the last couple of years mine has been the blues music scene; the ups and downs of a music genre that has a small but dedicated following, and little opportunity for financial reward as in pop or country music. The musicians have character, talent, and dedication but they don't generally have much money but they love what they do, almost drawn to the music. And for the most part, they love what they do. As a photography project it has lots of angles; portraits, venues, dancing, crowd interaction....etc. I'm not sure if I know them all yet. I shoot one angle, move on to the next. Often I don't know what is next, but it always comes. That's my current example. A friend of mine is shooting Tango dancing, something he's practicing and photographing. Another great project with lots of layers. The very popular book and blog; Humans of New York is another example. Photographing people on the street and including a statement about them in their own words. Simply brilliant!
Step 2 is about shooting but just as important, shooting with purpose. Find a personal project, embrace it and keep at it. It will work.
I have been away from the blog for a while, a gall bladder surgery sidelined me as well as some catchup work following that ordeal. But I'm back and just attended the Aki Kumar Jam the other night. A new band to the Jam showed up and while they were outside getting in the zone to play, I snapped a few photos. So the theme of this blog is making the most of the moment. Standing outside is not exactly the best place to photograph. No flash, existing light, sidewalk, what to do? Well to start with the street lights are wonderful, so I positioned the band so the big street light would act as a colored back light. A shallow depth of field allowed me to take advantage of the environment and I just asked them to stand. They didn't need posing which I rarely do anyway, these are not candid but they seem to know what to do with a guitar in hand. You can see the funky look which I really like.
Bye the way, these guys were really good and got the place jumping. Here's the second band member. This guy is just made of charisma!
Next is one of the singers and he really has good stage presence, along with skills at reading the audience. I post processed his photo a bit more using black and white and an old school look.
Finally the band wanted a quick photo of all three and the first thing that struck me was the symmetry of the guitars. So I fired one shot and it was over. Shooting wide open creates this blur.
This is kind of like walking in your closet and grabbing something that works and going with it rather than fussing around with looks. I just looked around, the guys were standing there, and made the best of it. Are they award winning no, but they work ok. Many, many times I have to make the best of the moment, looking around doing a quick read, making some decisions and going with it. And guess what, the more I do it the better I get! No surprises there. Shot with Leica M/Summicron 50mm.
I have not forgotten the blog! Unfortunately I had a couple of minor health issues that kept me occupied for a few weeks but I'm back. Here's our latest podcast, but you may have missed last weeks since I didn't post on this blog. You can check it out on the sidebar or go to iTunes under Hold the Eye Podcasting.