Sept 25/18 Session – Composition

As a group, we are all amateur photographers, and as such we have the luxury of photographing anything that is in our sphere of interest. Without constraints or time limits. This is quite different for the professional photographer who has to satisfy the expectations of a client within a certain amount of time. Yet many professionals in their professional work as well as in their private work make images that are wonderful examples that we can aspire to in our own pursuits of photography.

Our aesthetic sense is heavily influenced by images made in the past by established professionals in the visual arts. As hobbyists we evaluate our images against these standards, and try to improve our skills through reading books, taking courses and of course practicing photography.

We (Jim, Bill and Henri) have tried to think about the best way to present this course and specifically about teaching composition in this session. However we are not sure if there is an approach that is effective for everyone. All I (Henri) know, is what was effective for me. Over the years I have looked at a lot of picture books, and images on the internet. By doing this I have slowly distilled what I like and maybe even developed a style. This process is still ongoing. It is a circular process that repeats itself over and over again. It goes something like this:

  • I look at picture books from the library, or photography essays on the internet.
  • I take note of images that I really like, and try to understand why I like them.
  • I take my camera on walks and just experience the things I like.
  • I then think in terms of a picture frame, and take the best position with my camera.
  • While moving around I take a number of different pictures of the subject.
  • At home I load them on the computer and then critically look at all the images.
  • The next step is rating the images on a scale of 1 to 5 stars.
  • I keep all the images, and then try to learn from my mistakes.

In this session we will look at the basics of composition, the established standards developed over many years. We will use a book on composition by photographer Michael Freeman called “The Photographer’s Eye”  (Click on this link for the book preview “The Photographer’s Eye”.)

Composition standards are there to help you evaluate opportunities to capture the essence of your subject. When I am on a photoshoot and have decided on the subject, I am often overwhelmed by all the clutter and unwanted elements that “spoil” the image. For me the composition guidelines help to “hone-in” to the subject, to decide what is possible, and also what can be reasonably “fixed” later with editing software.

So what are these composition guidelines. And what have other photographers done with these guidelines. Some of these are familiar such as “The Rule of Thirds”, “Symmetry”, “Balance”, “Foreground interest and depth”“Frame within a frame”, “Leading Lines”, “Diagonals and triangles”, “Patterns and textures”“The rule of odds”, “Fill the frame”, “Negative space”, “Simplicity and Minimalism“, “Isolate the subject”, etc. (Click on the highlights to view a series of examples from the Google search engine.)

Great examples of simple composition guidelines can be found on the website “Seing Fresh: The Practice of Contemplative Photography” This website inspired by the book of the same name shows clean and simple design principles. Another website where these basic design principles are applied in far more complex environments is the website of Joe McNally, an American photographer based in New York. Another great example of beautiful photography that adheres to strong design principles is the work of Barb Kreutter, a local Calgary artist and CALL member.

Have a look at these links in preparation for the walk around Rosedale we are planning for the second hour of this session. So bring your cameras and walking shoes. We are not sure what the weather will do, so dress appropriately.

Henri, Jim and Bill

Here is a preview of the second hour walk we are planning. The weather forecast looks good for Tuesday Sept 25. The walk will be around the Rosedale Community Centre, then east along 11th ave and south along 7a street to the escarpment. I went out today (Sept 19) and took some shots. Here is a collage.