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  • 7/29/2019 Focus on Composing Photos


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    Focus OnComposing Photos

  • 7/29/2019 Focus on Composing Photos


    The Focus On Series

    Photography is all about the end result your photo. The Focus On series oers books

    with essential inormation so you can get the best photos without spending thousands

    o hours learning techniques or sotware skills. Each book ocuses on a specic area

    o knowledge within photography, cutting through the oten conusing wafe o

    photographic jargon to ocus solely on showing you what you need to do to capture

    beautiul and dynamic shots every time you pick up your camera.

    Titles in the Focus Onseries:

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    Focus OnComposing Photos

    Peter Ensenberger



    Focal Press is an Imprint o Elsevier

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    Focal Press is an imprint of Elsevier30 Corporate Drive, Suite 400, Burlington, MA 01803, USAThe Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford, OX5 1GB, UK

    2011 Peter Ensenberger. Published by Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.

    No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronicor mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system,without permission in writing from the publisher. Details on how to seek permission, furtherinformation about the Publishers permissions policies and our arrangements with organizations suchas the Copyright Clearance Center and the Copyright Licensing Agency, can be found at our

    website: .

    This book and the individual contributions contained in it are protected under copyright by thePublisher (other than as may be noted herein).

    NoticesKnowledge and best practice in this eld are constantly changing. As new research and experiencebroaden our understanding, changes in research methods, professional practices, or medicaltreatment may become necessary.

    Practitioners and researchers must always rely on their own experience and knowledge in evaluatingand using any information, methods, compounds, or experiments described herein. In using suchinformation or methods they should be mindful of their own safety and the safety of others, including

    parties for whom they have a professional responsibility.To the fullest extent of the law, neither the Publisher nor the authors, contributors, or editors, assumeany liability for any injury and/or damage to persons or property as a matter of products liability,negligence or otherwise, or from any use or operation of any methods, products, instructions, orideas contained in the material herein.

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataEnsenberger, Peter.

    Focus on composing photos / Peter Ensenberger.p. cm.

    Includes index.ISBN 978-0-240-81505-3

    1. Composition (Photography) I. Title.TR179.E57 2011770.1dc22

    2010048143British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

    A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

    ISBN: 978-0-240-81505-3

    For information on all Focal Press publicationsvisit our website at

    Printed in China

    11 12 13 14 15 5 4 3 2 1

    Typeset by: diacriTech, Chennai, India
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    To my parents, who probably didnt realize when theygave me my rst camera that they also gave me adirection in life.

    Peter Ensenberger

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    About the Author

    Throughout his career, Peter Ensenberger has crossedphotographic boundaries to explore dierent styles anddiverse subjects. Ater studying fne art photography

    in college, he went on to win awards as a staphotojournalist or several newspapers. More recently,he served 25 years as director o photography orArizona Highways, the award-winning nature and travelmagazine. His responsibilities or the magazine covered awide range o rolesphotographer, photo editor, writer,and project manager. Peter letArizona Highways in

    2009 to devote ull time to his own photography business.Currently, he resides in Tempe, Arizona, where he is areelance photographer or Black Star, an international

    photo agency based in New York. Corporate and editorialassignments make up the bulk o his work, with anemphasis on travel and liestyle. In addition, he leadsgroup and individual photo workshops to Arizonas mostbeautiul and remote locations.

    Peter Ensenberger

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    I wish to thank Valerie Geary, Stacey Walker, GrahamSmith, Laura Aberle, Kara Race-Moore, and all at FocalPress for their patience and guidance in sharpening both

    thought and presentation. For shedding light along theway, much appreciation goes out to Derek Von Briesenand Scott Condray. And for her loving encouragement,

    support, and advice in bringing this book into clearerfocus, I would like to give special thanks to my wife, Kim.

    Peter Ensenberger

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    Introduction vii

    PhotograPhyisauniversallanguage capable o commu-nicating to a wide audience.But photography also is a verypersonal aair. No two o usapproach it exactly the sameway. You bring to bear yourown personal experiences and

    infuences every time you pushthe cameras shutter-releasebutton. Each image captures amoment in time seen throughyour eyes, processed by your wayo seeing the world.

    Thats the appeal o photographyas a orm o sel-expression.It allows each o us to artullyinterpret the world around us orcreate our own alternative reality.For many, its our principalcreative outlet, producing imagesthat can be easily shared withothers.

    With the advent o digitaltechnology, photography has

    grown into one o the mostpopular hobbies in the worldtoday. Its the most accessibleo all art orms. As a un andaordable pastime, photographytruly is the art o the masses.

    Those committed to improvingtheir skills and techniques mayenjoy lielong partnershipswith their cameras, producingphotographs to be proud o.I youre persistent and willing topush yoursel to achieve lotiergoals, your images will begin

    to reveal a personal style allyour own.

    A good rst step in rening yourstyle is learning the undamentalso composition that have stoodthe test o time. Its worth notingthat many o the worlds greatphotographers had no ormalart training. They developedtheir visual sensibilities throughobservation and perception.Aspiring photographers shouldollow their lead.

    Dening the artistry o compo-sition, photography pioneerEdward Weston cut straightto the heart o the matter

    with an economy o words.Composition, he said, is thestrongest way o seeing.

    All around us, the elements ocompositionobjects, lines,

    shapes, colors, and shadowscoalesce in apparent disarray.By raising your awareness othe orderly way these elementst together, youll realizethe strongest way o seeing.Learning the basics o goodcomposition helps you recognize

    the essential components anddesign artistic arrangementsrom the chaos. Youll producebetter photographs that combinebalance, simplicity, and style.

    For anyone whose design skillsare not intuitive, practicingthe undamentals o goodcomposition will lead toinormed decisions. Its helpulto understand the reasonsbehind the so-called ruleso composition. Whetheryoure a beginning studento photography or someonewho has been working at itor a while, improving your

    compositional skills will helpyou create photographs thatare visually pleasing and standup to critical scrutiny. Knowingthe basics allows you to quicklyrecognize the potential in any


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    scene, design an aestheticallypleasing composition, andthen capture it the best waypossible. With a little practice andrepetition, applying the rules o

    composition will become secondnature to you.

    First, the rules o compositionare meant to create balance andvisual harmony in any work oart, be it a photograph, painting,or sculpture. Better photographscan result rom knowing the rules

    o composition, and its okayto bend or even break the ruleswith good reason. Sometimesdisregarding the rules introducesdynamic tension to good eect.But its important to knowand practice the basics beoredeviating rom them.

    Second, the purpose o goodcomposition is to orchestratethe viewers eye movement asit explores the image. Criticalplacement o compositionalelements eectively leadsthe eye into and through thescene, containing it within theboundaries o the rame and

    eventually leading the viewerseye to the ocal pointthecompositions visual payo. Thelonger viewers are engaged bythe composition, the more o theimage they will see.

    Another important basic step inevery photographers educationis learning to work with light.Composition and light go handin hand. The prominence and

    placement o highlights andshadows become importantcompositional elements whenproperly incorporated in yourphotographs. Using the pre-vailing light to its best advantagein any situation will have animmediate positive impact onyour images. Making sure thatthe direction and quality othe light avors your subject issometimes more important thanthe subject itsel. Conversely,a poorly lit subject can ruinthe success o even the bestcomposition.

    Much like the human brains let

    (analytical) and right (intuitive)cerebral hemispheres, photo-graphy has opposable sidesthe technical and the creative.The technical side is restrictedby absolutes. For each desiredresult, there is a required action.I you need more depth o eld,

    adjust the aperture. I you wanta lighter exposure, change theshutter speed. Understandingphotographys technical processis straightorward and can beeasily learned.

    Rules governing the creativeside, on the other hand, areopen to interpretation. Theyserve more as guidelines thandoctrine, providing a ramework

    within which we can evaluate theeectiveness o visual design.There are no absolutes that,when aithully executed, willguarantee a well-designedphotograph, and even a perectlycomposed image can be deadlydull i the story is boring. Yourcreativity is the X-actor inelevating your photographsabove the ho-hum.

    Photographys greatest assetsare its abilities to visually commu-nicate ideas and to bring a height-ened awareness o beauty toour daily lives. When ideas andbeauty combine successully with

    sound compositional techniques,a photograph can achieve thelevel o art.

    Getting started

    Youll need a ew essentialtools to get started. And withthe wide array o photographicequipment available, youvegot some important choices tomake. Those choices shouldtake into account your current

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    Introduction ix

    Critical placementof compositionalelements and using

    the prevailinglight to its bestadvantage willhave an immediatepositive impact on

    any image.

    A zoom lens allows

    you to easilyselect the bestperspective forany subject. Goodoptical quality isvital to capturing

    sharp imagesrendered withaccurate color andcontrast.

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    skill level and the level to whichyou aspire. Knowing this helpsyou select equipment youll becomortable using now, but italso allows room or growth.

    Your equipments sophisticationlevel should increase right alongwith your improved technique.

    Photography magazines andonline orums are saturatedwith acts and opinions aboutthe latest-and-greatest gearon the market, and user

    reviews can be invaluable inmaking inormed choices onequipment you are consideringor purchase. But buying thenewest and best camera willnot necessarily result in betterimages. In short, camerasdont make good photographs;photographers make good


    You already possess the mostimportant piece o equipmentyoull need to become a betterphotographerits between yourears. Studies estimate that 80percent o the human brain iswired to process visual data. By

    honing your visual-awarenessskills, you can train yoursel torecognize the potential in everyphotographic situation. And youdont even have to download thelatest rmware updates!

    O course, the camera is theprimary tool youll be using. Itmakes sense to start with a airlybasic model oering intuitiveoperation and one- or two-step

    controls with user-riendly menuunctions. Advanced equipmentwith complicated eatures canbecome an impediment to theimage-making process, so donteel like you need to spend a loto money on bells and whistles.The easier the thought processor your cameras operation,the more likely you are to besuccessul at it. And the moresuccess you have, the moreyoull enjoy your photographicexperiences.

    In the beginning, set aside timeto use your camera every day,i possible. Read and reread

    the users manual until you areable to operate all the camerasunctions without reerencingthe instructions. There areno shortcuts to learning yourcameras operation. Hands-onexperience is the best teacher.With repetition comes amiliaritywith your cameras unctions,allowing the image-makingprocess to become more fuid.Ultimately, the goal is to makethe camera an extension o you,operating almost automatically in

    your hands. This rees your mindo technical concerns so you canconcentrate on the artistic side othe process.

    The next tool youll need inyour equipment bag is a lens.I youre currently using a point-and-shoot camera with built-inlens, the choice has alreadybeen made or you. However,most digital single-lens-refex(DSLR) cameras allow orinterchangeable lenses. Zoom

    lenses oer the most versatility,including eatures such as autoocus, ast aperture, close-ocus capability, and broadocal-length range. A zoomlens with coverage rangingrom wide angle to telephotoprovides the most options in onepackage. Zooms also are budget

    riendly, with one lens takingthe place o several xed-ocal-length lenses.

    Only the best optical glassshould come between you andyour subjects, so dont skimpon quality when purchasing alens. Good optical quality is

    vital to capturing sharp imagesrendered with accurate colorand contrast. Optics can varywidely among lenses and brandnames, so a little research is

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    Introduction xi

    well worth the time invested inselecting the proper lens or yourneeds. Buying the best lens youcan aord will help ensure goodimage resolution.

    Another tool essential to imagesharpness is a sturdy tripod.Mounting the camera on asolid base prevents cameramovement during exposureand helps maintain sharpedges on your subjects. Itsdicult or even the steadiest

    o hands to hold the cameraperectly still at shutter speedso 1/60 o a second or slower.Photographers who pay extraor the sharpest lenses and thenhandhold their cameras maynegate the advantages o buyingexpensive glass.

    Tripods, like lenses, call orquality. Beware o cheap, fimsytripods with weak leg joints. They

    dont provide proper stability orstand up to the rigors o use, soyoull be replacing it every timeit breaks down. Paying moreor a sturdy, carbon-ber tripod

    with a solid ball head and aquick-release mechanism is awise investment that should lastyou the rest o your lie. I youvespent your hard-earned cash ona good camera and lens, youdont want to risk mounting themon a shaky tripod.

    Using a tripod also has theadvantage o slowing downthe image-making process,which reduces mistakes andwasted exposures. Mounting thecamera allows time or you toclosely scrutinize a compositionand tweak adjustments toraming. Its dicult to steady

    the camera in your hands longenough to identiy problems

    and make nuanced corrections.By slowing down, youre moreapt to notice subtle distractionsaround the edges and cornerso the rame, where attention to

    detail can mean the dierencebetween a good compositionand a mediocre one. Othertripod benets include preciseleveling o your camera andalignment o parallel lines in yourcompositions.

    Camera, lens, and tripodby

    utilizing these three tools asyour basic setup and becomingprocient in their operation,youll be ready to delve into thecreative side o photography.In this book, I have attemptedto explain the artistic approachin a straightorward manner.Now its time to play with the

    spatial relationships within yourcameras viewnder.

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    3A Strong Focal Point

    What is my subject?

    Ourdiverseplanet offers a vast array of

    subjects to arouse our imaginations. This

    fascination with the world entices us to

    explore its creative possibilities through

    photography, focusing on such themes

    as landscapes, nature, abstracts, and

    people. Although the approach to pho-

    tographing each of these subjects calls

    for a different strategy, they all require

    sound techniques to become successful

    compositions. By learning how, when,

    and why to apply a few artistic standards,

    youll be able to capture any subject

    at its best.

    Chapter 1: A Strong Focal Point

    Composing an aestheticallypleasing scene aroundyour subject requiresan assessment ofthe subject and itssurroundings; lightdirection and shadows;viewpoint and perspective.

    Normally, the subject is the impetusfor a photograph. Start by asking

    yourself this simple question: What is my

    subject? It may be majestic snowcapped

    mountains dominating the landscape,

    a hummingbird hovering at a purple

    ower, or your child blowing out the

    candles at a birthday celebration. Thesubject is the central gure around

    which a photographs story revolves. Its

    striking qualities attract our attention

    and draw us in for a closer look.

    But while it may be the subject that

    rst attracts people to stop and look

    at a photograph, it is the artistry of

    composition that holds their attention.

    Composing an aesthetically pleasing

    scene around your subject requires a

    quick but studied assessment of several

    factors: subject and surroundings, light

    direction and shadows, viewpoint and

    perspective. Every situation presents

    a unique set of variables, and its up

    to the photographer to make sense

    of it all by combining the elements

    as artfully as possible so that the

    resulting photograph communicates

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    Focus On Composing Photos4

    a narrative or informs the viewerabout the subject.

    The importance of a subjectsstrong presence in any photo-

    graph cannot be overstated.Objects offering interestingtextures, colors, shapes, andlines often make the best sub-jects. The more interesting yoursubject, the more obviously itbecomes the focal point of yourcomposition, so play up thoseinteresting qualities. Boldly

    featuring the subject in a

    composition leaves no doubtabout the story being told.

    Compositional elements mayinclude colors, patterns, textures,

    leading lines, highlights andshadows, main and subordinatesubjects, and even blank or neu-tral space. These are the buildingblocks of visual design. The wayin which they are arranged withinthe composition should worktogether to deliver the viewerseye to the subject, the composi-

    tions visual payoff.

    In basic terms, composinga photograph is an editingprocessdeciding whichelements to include and whichones to leave out. Look through

    the cameras viewnder. This isthe decisive moment. You mustaccount for all of the physicalcomponents laid out before youand make critical decisions aboutthem based on the story youreattempting to tell about yoursubject. The nal images successor failure depends on the consid-ered choices you make.

    Start by asking yourself this simplequestion: What is my subject?

    Composing an aesthetically pleasing scenearound your subject requires a quickassessment of these factors: Subject and surroundings Light direction and shadows Viewpoint and perspective

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    A Strong Focal Point 5


    Compositional elements are the building blocks of visualdesign. They include the following:




    Leading lines

    Highlights and shadows

    Main and subordinate subjects

    Blank or neutral space

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    Focus On Composing Photos6

    Main subject versusfocal point

    Fortunately, centuries of artisticexpression have given us a few

    useful rules for good compositionto help with those decisions. One ofthe most important compositionalrules to know and understand isthis: The viewers eye always goesto the brightest part of a scene.

    It has to do with genetic infor-mation encoded in our DNAthats been passed downthrough millennia of humanevolution. Like moths to a ame,

    our eyes are drawn to anythingshiny, white, sparkly, or bright,so be certain that the brightestparts of your compositions areworthy of the attention they willreceive.

    In the grand scheme of a pho-tograph, the brightest objectbecomes the focal point bydefault. Watch out for distractingbright spots around your subject.

    Even a tiny speck of sunlightpeeking through tree leaves thatgoes unnoticed in the viewndercan have a negative impact onthe nal image. This results inthe unintended consequences









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    A Strong Focal Point 7

    One of the

    most importantcompositionalrules to know andunderstand is this:The viewers eye

    always goes tothe brightest partof a scene.

    of pulling attention away fromthe main subject and creating avisual conict in the composition.

    A vital distinction must be madehere about the difference betweena compositions main subject andits focal point. The main subjectis the primary element aroundwhich the photographs narrativeis arranged. The focal point is theprecise spot in the composition

    that draws the attention of theviewers eye. The basic objectiveof good composition is to makesure that your subject and yourfocal point are one and the same.

    That way, there is no conict overwhere the viewers eye shouldcome to rest.

    Its usually best to have onemain subject as the focalpoint because a photograph

    generally can tell only one storysuccessfully. The main subjectcan be one object or several,and you may decide to includea secondary subject. But make

    sure nothing distracts from themain subject. Lacking a strongcenter of interest forces theviewer to search for somethingto observe, eyes seeking a rest-ing place.

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    Focus On Composing Photos8

    This composition leaves no doubt that the cow is the focalpoint. The scenes simple design and subordinate elements allwork in support of the main subject.

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    A Strong Focal Point 9

    Harmony and emphasis

    Your subject should look perfectlyat home within the frame. As arule, the subjects surroundings

    and other subordinate elementsthat you choose to include shouldbe in harmony with the story ortheme of your photograph. Har-mony refers to the inner sense oforder among all elements in aunied composition so that eachcontributes to the overall storybeing communicated. Including

    elements that are not harmo-nious leads to chaos that canmuddle your message. The goalis to engage viewers with precisecontrol over the sequence inwhich visual events in the frameare observed. Anything thatinterrupts this sequence con-fuses the story, which can leadto premature termination of theviewers experiencethe viewerlooks away.

    The subject of a photograph ismore than a mere componentof the greater whole. It is thestar attraction and should betreated to a place of promi-

    nence in the composition. Thereare several ways to give yoursubject sufcient status so thatall other elements are subordi-nate. Size, color, and placement

    within the frame play importantroles in differentiating betweenthe subject and the supportingelements as they compete fordominance and subordination in

    the scene.

    The most direct approach forconferring emphasis on yoursubject is through size andproportion within the frame. Anobvious association is that largerobjects dominate smaller ones.Positioning your camera closest

    to the intended subject usuallyaccomplishes this effect. But evenif your main subject is small, youcan give it prominence as thefocal point by composing emptyspace around it. Lens choice andperspective also have a decidedeffect on the subjects proportionto other elements in your scene,

    and well delve deeper into thoseissues in Chapter 3.

    Color itself can set a subjectapart from the rest of yourcompositional elements. Warm-colored objects dominate cool-colored ones, and saturatedprimary colors tend to predomi-

    nate paler tones. Complemen-tary colors such as yellow andblue (warm versus cool) workwell to establish a compositionshierarchy, whereas harmonious

    colors such as blue, green, andpurple tend to keep composi-tional elements on equal foot-ing. Some colors are associatedwith specic moods or elicit

    emotional responses. Othersappeal to our senses in a purelyabstract way. Composing aneffective color photograph ismore involved than the basicconsiderations of shape, line,and texture that apply mostly toblack-and-white photography.The interplay of color, tone, and

    hue and their effects on compo-sition get a fuller discussion inChapter 2.

    A third way of bringing empha-sis to your subject is through theplacement and positioning ofelements within the frame. A cen-trally located object draws more

    attention than those around theperiphery. However, the center isnot the best place to position adominant focal point. Its oftenmore effective to place it to theleft or right of center in an asym-metrical balance of elements.This is part of the theory behindthe infamous rule of thirdsand, as well see in Chapter 4,deserves heavy considerationanytime youre composinga scene.

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    Focus On Composing Photos10



















    The main subject is the star attraction and shouldbe treated to a place of prominence. There are threeeasy ways to ensure your subjects importance

    within the context of the visual narrative: Large size and proportion Warm or primary color Placement within the frame

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    A Strong Focal Point 11


    The subject should look perfectly at home withinits setting. The environment and all subordinateelements should be in harmony with the theme of

    your photograph. Harmony refers to the sense oforder among compositional elements so that eachcontributes to the message. Including elements thatare not harmonious muddles that message. Thegoal is to engage viewers with precise control overthe sequence in which the viewers eye explores theimage. Anything that interrupts this ow could loseyour audiencethe viewer looks away.

    Keep it simple

    When it comes to visual design,a key ingredient is simplicity. Itsimportance in photographic com-position cannot be overstated.

    Simplicity is an easy concept tograsp but often a difcult resultto attain. Inuential photogra-pher Pete Turner summed up thedilemma this way: Ultimately,simplicity is the goal in every art,

    and achieving simplicity is one ofthe hardest things to do. Yet itseasily the most essential.

    As weve seen, a single photo-graph can usually convey onlyone story at a time. The bestway to present a clear messageis to keep the composition asclean as possible. The fewer ele-ments you have to deal with, theeasier it is to feature your subject,

    orchestrate viewer eye movement,and inform the viewer. When pre-sented with too many composi-tional elements, consider splittingthem into two or three simplerphotographs rather than trying to

    pack everything into one compleximage. The decisions you makehere will impact whether yourvisual message is properly com-municated to viewers. Chancesare, you wont always be present

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    Focus On Composing Photos12

    to explain it to them, so your com-position will have to do the talkingfor you. To keep your visual mes-sage clear, strive for simplicity. Ifyour viewers must work too hard

    to gure out the story, they willbecome bored and move on.

    Although it is often preferableto keep every element in sharp

    focus from foreground to inn-ity, as with landscape subjects,sometimes a shallow depth ofeld is benecial in achievingsimplicity. A telephoto lens and

    a large aperture setting caneffectively shorten depth of eld,isolating the subject from a busybackground by defocusing objec-

    tionable background clutter. Inthe right situations, it may evencreate soft pools of complemen-tary color behind the subject.

    A common faux pas in photog-raphy is setting up the cameratoo far away from the subject.Twentieth-century photojournal-ist Robert Capa, famous for his

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    A Strong Focal Point 13

    Moving closer to thesubject simplies yourcomposition, isolates and

    emphasizes your subject,and eliminates distractionsand other superuouselements.

    documentation of ve wars, mayhave said it best: If your picturesarent good enough, youre notclose enough. Tragically, Capadied following his own advicewhen he tripped a land minetrying to get closer to the action.But for the rest of us workingunder safer conditions, moving

    closer to the subject can lead tovast improvements in a compo-sition. Dont be shy. The closeryou get to your subject, the moreimportance you bestow upon it.

    Moving in closer to your subjectsalso has the effect of reducing theamount of space you have to workwith, essentially simplifying the

    composition. Whether you physi-cally move the camera closer orzoom in optically, getting closerallows you to pare the compositiondown to its essential components.It removes visual distractions fromthe edges of the frame, eliminatessuperuous elements, and defo-cuses the background.

    Subject and Simplicity

    Even though this photographs main subject, the human gure, is small, the photographer has given

    it prominence as the focal point of the composition by allowing plenty of neutral space around it. Theprimary color of her shirt also gives added emphasis. The tree, though larger than the main subject, hasbeen given subordinate status as a secondary subject because the photographer has positioned it on theperiphery of the composition and created a buffer of space between it and the main subject. Includingonly a few compositional elements keeps the scene simple and the message clear.

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    15Light, Shadow, and Color

    Sharpen your awarenessPhotograPhersareobservers. Their ability toanalyze light conditions is one profounddifference that sets them apart from snapshooters. By denition, a snapshot is a hur-ried shot red with little aim or preparation.Snap shooters go willy-nilly into every photosituation without taking time to consider the

    all-important interplay of light and subject.They point the camera in the general direc-tion of a subject, click off a shot, and moveon. Unfortunately, their lack of attention todetail shows in the results. Their picturesusually feature confusing composition andharsh or indifferent light. Its pure luck if oneof their snapshots happens to turn out well.

    Of course, everyone can use a little bit ofluck, but its best not to rely on it for suc-cess. As the saying goes, Luck favors thewell-prepared. That preparation includessharpening your awareness of light and howit interacts with the subject. Being acutelysentient of your surroundings at all times ispart of the photographers job description.

    Because not much can be done to control thelight outdoors, photographers strive to alwaysput themselves in situations favorable to goodlighting conditions. Usually, that means beingon location during sunrise and sunset hoursto take advantage of the low, warm tones ofrst and last light. It can be the most reward-ing time of day. Photographers call it primeor sweet light, when the sun is only a few

    degrees above the horizon. At these times ofthe day, sunlight carries with it a lot of extracolor that enhances everything it touches.

    During mornings rst minutes after sunriseand evenings last minutes before sunset, thesuns light passes through more of the earthsatmosphere than at any other time of day.The combination of airborne dust, pollution,

    and moisture acts like a giant diffuser tosoften the suns light, ltering it toward thered or warm end of the spectrum. Becausedaytime activities and winds stir up a lot ofextra particulates in the atmosphere, andthey tend to settle during the calm of night-time, sunset hues are usually warmer andmore diffuse than the purer light at sunrise.

    Chapter 2: Light, Shadow, and Color

    Long shadows and reddish light make sunrise andsunset the best times to photograph dramaticlandscape subjects, such as the Grand Canyon.

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    Focus On Composing Photos16

    Morning and evening also providethe strongest directional light ofthe day, creating long shadowsthat add drama to a scene andmake subjects appear more three-

    dimensional. Low cross light rakingover the landscape at right anglesaccentuates the form and textureof everything in its path. With onlya few minutes of prime light inwhich to work, you must move

    Shadows create a

    sense o drama in aphotograph.

    Assignment: Awareness

    You can train yourself to become a keen observer by developing yourconsciousness of light and shadow. A good exercise to hone your aware-ness is studying the light in images you see in magazines, books, andgalleries. Consider the lights source, direction, and intensity, and payparticular attention to the way photographers use the lights best quali-ties to favor their subjects. When touring art exhibits, make it a point tolook specically at the quality of light that artists create in their paintings.As you go about your daily routine, take time to observe the differentways light and shadows play on common, everyday objects. Awarenessand recognition of the quality of light around you should become secondnature. Once it clicks in, you probably wont be able to turn it off.

    As discussed earlier, the photographic sequence normally begins by ndinga subject, then watching and waiting for the light to reach peak enhance-ment before tripping the shutter. But photography doesnt always have tobe subject driven. Being cognizant of the way good light quality can atterany subject is the best way to develop your awareness. The beauty of light

    can transform even the most ordinary objects, so sometimes its good prac-tice to turn the equation around and let the light be your motivation. If dra-matic light presents itself, seek out subjects that are elevated in stature bythe attering light conditions. Its a great way to test your newly heightenedawareness of light. When the prevailing lightnot the subjectbecomesyour rst consideration for making a photograph, youve got it gured out.

    quickly to capture outdoor subjectswhile light conditions are optimal.

    Light creates highlights and shad-ows of varying intensity all aroundus, and in a photograph they can

    become powerful controllers overthe sequence of a viewers eyemovement. Weve already seenhow bright spots can affect theow of a composition by attracting

    attention. Shadows have the oppo-site effect, allowing the viewerseye to skip easily past darkerareas of a composition wheretexture and detail are muted. They

    serve as an important ingredient inthe recipe for control of eye move-ment. Highlights and shadowsmust be accounted for in the sameway as any three-dimensionalobject in your composition.

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 17

    1.00 PM 4.00 PM Sunset


    Working in the light that occurs early in the morning and late in the aternoon will have immediate positiveimpact on your photography. Rising early or the best light o the day costs you only a bit o sleep, but the

    benefts are worth the price. Sunlight is sotened and warmed as it passes through long, dense swaths o theearths atmosphere. Low angles o the suns rays at sunrise and sunset also provide the strongest directionallight o the day. Position your camera to take ull advantage o the long rays raking across the landscape atright angles. Directional light accentuates a subjects orm and texture by casting highlights on one side andshadows on the other or a three-dimensional eect. But prime light is eeting, so be prepared to makecompositional decisions quickly. This is a time when amiliarity with your equipment pays dividends.

    Make the light workor you

    Once youve determined themain subject as the startingpoint for a photograph, your

    next consideration is how toskillfully work the prevailing lightconditions into your composi-tion. Light is an integral part ofthe compositionas importantas the subject itselfso make

    it a priority in your assessmentof the scene. Start with a closeinspection of your subject withthe naked eye. Pay particularattention to how the prevailinglight conditions play upon it.

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    Focus On Composing Photos18

    Does the light complementthe subject, or does it interferewith your ability to show off thesubjects best attributes? To giveany subject the prominence it

    deserves and make it the focalpoint of the composition, theprevailing light should alwaysfavor your subject.

    As implied earlier, the prime lightof sunrise and sunset is often thebest light of the day in terms ofquality, color, and direction. But

    there are no absolutes regardinglight. Optimal light varies witheach situation and subject matter,and its up to the photographer todecide when the most appropri-ate light is striking the subject. Youneed not become an expert in thephysics of light, but awarenessis key in anticipating the optimal

    moment to trip the shutter.

    Your subject might be bathed ingolden sunset light with dramatichighlights and shadows accentu-ating its form and texture; if over-cast conditions prevail, soft, atlight will be evenly spread over

    the subjects surface with noapparent shadows; or it may bebacklit, appearing as a shad-owy silhouette. The lightingpossibilities are endless, and

    you must decide which light-ing best portrays your subject.If possible, take a 360-degreewalk around the subject, view-ing it from all angles. This helpsyou nd the precise spot thatmakes best use of the prevailinglight on your subject, and itsthe best camera position from

    which to start building yourcomposition.

    The way your subject is illu-minated plays a huge rolein the narrative presented inyour photographs. Light setsa tone and creates a mood.If your aim is to inform the

    viewer about your subject,strong directional light thatreveals all its detail is bestsuited to the task. If the storyis one of mystery, light andshadow effects that obscurethe subject will leave more to

    the imagination. Light holdsthe power to elevate a sub-ject, express a mood, andaffect the way people respondto your photographs, so be

    certain it is consistent with thenarrative.

    Of course, nature does notalways present beautiful primelight. Clouds and weather canget in the way. Overcast, hazy,or foggy conditions will softenand diffuse the light, robbing

    your surroundings of shadows.But good photographers adapt.On dull, overcast days, pointyour camera down towardintimate landscapes or close-upsubjects that benet from soft,even light. When a storm movesin, turn the camera skyward totake advantage of the dramatic

    play of light unfolding above thelandscape.

    Weve looked at the positiveeffects of working in primelight. Now, lets examine thecreative use of other types oflight.

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 19

    Light is just asimportant as yoursubject, so give itpriority in buildingyour composition.

    Beware osunlight striking

    the ront oyour lens. Usea lens hood oryour handsshadow toshade the ront

    element romthe suns directrays.

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    Focus On Composing Photos20


    Budding photographers learnfrom the start that front-lightingtheir subjects usually rewardsthem with safe and satisfactoryexposures. The problem is, itsnot very creative, and it tends toatten the subject, voiding anytextural interest. Safe and satisfac-tory is just not good enoughwewant the wow factor. One wayof defeating the hardness of directsunlight is to backlight the subject.

    Light coming from behind thesubject can help to create moreinteresting visual and graphiceffects. Backlighting producesstrong separation between

    subject and background bycreating a rim of light or haloeffect around the subject. Use thistype of lighting to emphasize theshapes of subjects. Backlight also

    is best for capturing the translu-cent quality of ower petals andfoliage, such as colorful autumnleaves. And backlight can beused to silhouette a subject,producing images with stronggraphic qualities.

    When utilizing backlight, bewareof sunlight striking the front ofthe lens. Use a lens hood orthe shadow from your hand toshield the front element of thelens from direct rays of the sun.

    This prevents unwanted haze andlens are in the photograph.

    Because backlighting can trickthe camera light meters expo-sure settings, its a good idea

    to bracket exposures to ensureproperly exposed highlights andshadows. Exposure compensationsettings also allow you to overridethe meter and lighten or darkenthe scene to suit your vision. Andanother way to achieve just theright amount of shadow detail ona backlit subject calls for the useof ash or a small solar reectorfocusing light on the front of it.If a silhouette effect is desirable,no shadow detail is necessary.

    Backlightand unusualatmosphericconditions turnan ordinary

    grouping o treesinto a dramaticsubject.

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 21

    A halo o warm backlight accentuatesthe shape and textures o an egret atsunset.

    Sot, nondirectional light leavesthis scene o bare aspen treescompletely devoid o shadows.





















    l h d f d l h d f h

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    Focus On Composing Photos22

    Sot light

    Overcast conditions providesoft, diffused light that spreadsevenly over the landscape withno discernable direction. Withoutstrong highlights and shadows,its nearly impossible to constructa dramatic composition. Anovercast sky doesnt necessarilymean that you have to put awayyour camera for the day, but it

    does force you to adjust yourphotographic strategy. These aregood times to focus attentionon smaller subjects or work onclose-up or macro techniques.

    Soft light is usually nondirectional,making it acceptable for portraitsand other situations where con-trasty light is not aestheticallypleasing or complementary to thesubject. Photographing under soft

    lighting conditions often enrichessubtle hues and emboldens pri-mary colors.

    But beware of heavy overcastor dark clouds where minimal

    light will mute the colors andsoften the details of your subjects.Under these circumstances, itmay be better to wait it out, giv-ing the clouds a chance to clear.

    Overcast lightingconditionsoten orcephotographers toocus on smallersubjects andintimate landscapes.They can berewarded with bold

    colors in richtones.

    S li h

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 23

    The clash o sunlight and stormclouds combine to create dramaticatmospheric conditions.


    One strong word o warn-

    ing about working in stormyconditions, and this cannot beoveremphasized: Lightningis unpredictable and mustbe treated with the utmostrespect. Always seek saeshelter immediately whenlightning storms approach.

    A ramada or other rooedenclosure wont provide sae

    haven rom lightning i itsnot properly grounded. Itsar better to miss a great shotthan to suer the tragic eectso a lightning strike.

    Storm light

    The lighting condition that excitesmany nature and outdoor pho-tographers the most is storm light.Photographers are weather watch-ers who keep up with the latestforecasts and storm reports. Theyknow that weather creates uniquemoods and dramatic conditions.They relish the buildup and breakof a storm and scoff at the hazardsto capture awe-inspiring imagesof weathers spectacular fury and

    theatrical light. For them, there isno such thing as bad weather.

    Wh th l di d t ili b f til M t h t h th b t t t t

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    Focus On Composing Photos24

    When the leading and trailingedges of a brooding storm clashwith the sun, the light displaycan be magical. Most mod-ern photographic equipment

    can tolerate brief exposure tomoisture, but be sure to pack atowel, a large plastic bag, anda collapsible umbrella in yourphoto bag in case you and yourcamera gear need protectionfrom a determined downpour.Once the storm has arrived andweather is socked in with dimin-

    ished light and rainy or snowyconditions, photography can

    The unfatteringlight omidday mustbe accommodatedat times. Poppyblooms open theirpetals only in strongsunlight, orcing

    photographersto work in less-than-optimal lightconditions.

    be futile. Most photographerspack up and stay warm and dryuntil the storm breaks and thetrailing edge arrives, when itstime again to turn their eyes

    skyward.Exposures can be tricky whenbright shafts of sunlight piercethrough dark storm clouds. Thecontrast level between highlightsand shadows makes it difcultto get a pleasing exposure. Inthese cases, you can accuratelycapture the brightest high-lights by simply underexposing

    the scene by two stops to getsaturated color and rich blackclouds. Again, bracketing yourexposures ensures that you willget the best saturation level and

    gives you more options whenediting later.

    Midday light

    Unfortunately, we cant always bein the right place at the right timeto capture the prime light. Travelitineraries and other factors occa-

    sionally force us to work in less

    than optimal lighting conditions sunset shoot But if your only and try to emphasize them in your

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 25

    than optimal lighting conditions.Typically, the high, overheadsun of midday is the worst lightof the day. The at, pure-whitelight at high noon is harsh and

    contrasty, washing out colorsand robbing your subjects of theirthree-dimensional qualities. Asweve seen, its the added colorin light that enhances any object.When that color is not present,its tough to make good images.

    Typically, photographers spendmiddays eating lunch, napping,or scouting locations for their

    Avoid shooting in the harsh light o midday.The high, overhead sun casts a poor qualityo light that is fat, white, and unfatteringto most subjects.

    sunset shoot. But if your onlyopportunity to photograph theGrand Canyon presents itself atlunchtime, youll have to make themost of a bad lighting situation.

    Its challenging, if not impossible,to make good photographs undersuch conditions. Adding a warm-ing polarizing lter on your lenscan improve the situation to asmall degree. It will reduce someof the bright reections and enrichthe colors of your subjects a bit.If given no other options, look for

    the boldest shadows you can nd

    and try to emphasize them in yourcomposition. Remember, shadowsadd drama and dimension.

    Avoid midday light when pho-tographing people. It is most

    unattering for portraits, as itcasts deep, ugly shadows aroundthe eye sockets and under thenose and chin. If your portraitcant wait until the sun getslower, move to a place with openshade. Another alternative is useof a ash attachment or reec-tor to soften the offending facialshadows.

    A i t E i t

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    Focus On Composing Photos26

    Assignment: Experiment

    A photographers education is a lifelong work in progress. As with anycraft, we must pay our dues and learn by doing. The late, great photo-journalist Henri Cartier-Bresson famously said, Your rst ten thousandphotographs are your worst.

    By no means are all photographs intended to be art. Many havebeen shot purely for the purpose of experimentation, just as ne artistshave drawn study sketches before painting a grand masterpiece. Itsthe best way to gure out what works and what needs work. Learningfrom mistakes helps you rene your approach, and youll be betterequipped to handle similar situations when they arise in the future.

    One of digital photographys greatest advantages is economic. Youcan shoot as many experimental shots as you like without havingto pay extra for every exposure, as we did back in the days of lm.Experimentation costs nothing but time, so dont be shy about tryingsomething new or different simply as a deliberate exercise for your ownedication. Learning the nuances of light and how it affects the overallpresentation in a photograph is part of your ongoing education. Theonly way to learn how light reacts in various situations is to get out andshoot, and then evaluate your results.

    Many people use the small LCD display on the back of the camera toevaluate and edit their images. Dont join them. The small screen isne for a quick check of basic compositional elements, but dont usethe LCD to make critical decisions. Its best to view your images on acalibrated computer monitor where you can scrutinize them in detailat a larger size. Sometimes a composition that seems so perfect onlocation doesnt look that good when we get back home and view itagain with a critical eye. But the upside of experimentation is unlim-

    ited. It familiarizes you with the steps of the process, corrects mis-takes, and speeds you through your rst ten thousand photographs.

    What is color? Color is its own justication. It ways color affects humans.

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 27


    Analogous colors Colors next to each other on the color wheel.

    Also reerred to as harmonious colors.

    Complementary colors Colors opposite each other on the colorwheel. Also reerred to as contrasting colors.

    Value or tone Brightness or darkness o a color.

    Color relationship The way colors aect each other in a scene.

    Hue The quality that distinguishes one color rom another.

    Intensity Saturation level o a color.

    Monochromatic color Predomination o one color in a photographwith variations only in the values o that color.

    Cool color Includes greens, blues, and violets.

    Warm color Includes yellows, oranges, and reds.

    What is color?

    A brief primer in the properties ofcolor will help you understand itseffects on composition, althoughits pointless to try to apply anyrules here. You dont always getto choose the colors you workwith in a photograph, so itsultimately up to you and yourown color sensibilities to incorpo-rate them in ways that you deemappropriate under the circum-stances. But color is a vitally

    important element in photogra-phy, so a little background on theinherent characteristics of certaincolors is benecial.

    Color is its own justication. Itnot only makes the photographbetter, but at times it makes thephotograph. It has the curiouspower to make viewers identify

    with a scene, even if theyvenever been there before. Andcolor can induce the same emo-tional response in many people.The purple in a photograph of asunset will make almost everyonethink of a particular, spectacu-lar sunset they once saw, eventhough it was quite a different

    purple and in quite anotherplace.

    There has been a tremendousamount of research on the many

    ways color affects humans.Colors psychological effects arehard to measure, but each of ushas color preferences that affectour moods. Some studies suggest

    that men and women respondto colors differently. Personalreactions aside, some humanemotions seem to be generallyassigned to certain colors. Theycan evoke feelings of strength,melancholy, arousal, or joy.

    Reactions to some colors also canbe inuenced by cultural valuesor regional tastes. For instance,green is regarded as potent androbust in arid countries; whiteis more highly regarded in Asia

    than the West; and yellow has an The most spectacular evidence of other hand, are in sharp con-

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    Focus On Composing Photos28

    ; yunusually high value in Thailand,more than anywhere else. Buthuman beings seem to be verymuch alike when it comes to

    our perceptions and responsesto other colors. Gray is typicallyregarded as weak, whereas redis almost universally seen asactive and powerful. Have youever heard a mans red necktiereferred to as a power tie? Blueis accepted as a soothing colorby almost everyone around the

    globe. Those perceptions de-nitely affect the way we respondto colors in a photograph orpainting.

    In a sense, color and photogra-phy were meant for each other.The vivid red of a cactus blossomand the bright yellow of an aspen

    leaf owe their richness to theabsorption and reection of light.At its most basic level, photogra-phy is the gathering of light in ascene that is then assigned to thepixels of a digital le. Every lightsource, be it the sun, a uores-cent tube, or a campre, casts itsown color bias on the surround-

    ing area, affecting the apparentcolor of everything it illuminates.So the answer to the questionWhat is color? lies in the natureof light itself.

    pthe existence of color in light is arainbowthat spectrum of colorsseparated by the refraction ofsunlight through raindrops. The

    addition, subtraction, and mixingof the rainbows three primarycolors (red, green, and blue)creates the entire color paletteof light in seemingly unlimitedpermutations.

    Analogous versus

    complementary colorContrast in black-and-whitephotography simply refers tothe relative difference betweenthe highlights and shadows ina scene. But in color photog-raphy, while light and shadowremain important, the relation-

    ship and intensity of colorsbecome integral elements ofcomposition.

    Its difcult to generalize aboutthe merits of a particular colorscheme. There are, however,objective characteristics ofanalogous colors versus those

    of complementary colors.Analogous colors are closeto each other in value, inten-sity, and hue and often arereferred to as harmonious.Complementary colors, on the

    , ptrast with each other by exhibit-ing wider-ranging color value,intensity, and hue. Juxtaposingcomplementary colors creates

    a clashing vibrancy that dif-fers markedly from the moreplacid, harmonic appearance ofanalogous colors.

    Complementary colors are thosedirectly opposite one another onthe color wheel. When placedside by side, complementarycolors intensify each other,making the colors seem morevibrant. Reddish and yellow-ish hues are often described aswarm, suggesting an associa-tion with candles, lanterns, andres. Bluish and greenish huesare considered cool, reminiscentof overcast days and verdant

    forests.Warm/cool combinations canadd another level of interest toany composition. Research showsthat when asked to judge thepleasantness of pairs of colors,people overwhelmingly prefer thecommingling of complementarycolors. And we have a markedpreference for color pairings withthe widest contrast differencesbetween them in value andintensity. Although the primarycolors of red and green clearly

    complement each other, they

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 29

    p ydont exhibit the sharp contrast ofblue against yellow. The balanc-ing of bold complementary colorsin a photograph can shake upour expectations and achievestriking effects.

    Quite a different mood canbe established just as easilyby incorporating only analo-gous colors. Colors that are inharmony with each other aregrouped closely together onthe color wheel and use only asmall portion of the color pal-ette, usually consisting of twocolors in unsaturated hues. Inthe absence of aggressive color,however, it is easier to appreciatene subtleties between similarhues. Compositions that containonly analogous greens, blues,

    and purples will have a sooth-ing effect, whereas photographscontaining harmonic reds,yellows, and oranges can beenergizing.

    The warmth o an ocotillos orange leaves and the cool bluetones o the shadowy background combine in a vibrant scene ocomplementary colors.

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 31

    Complementary Colors

    The contrast of complementary colors sets up this dramatic street scene of acolytes lighting candles at the Feast of

    St. Agatha in Sicily. In the gloaming of twilight, there was no direct sunlight on the subjects. The scene is colored onlyby the bluish cast of light being reected off the dome of the sky. The acolytes pure white surplices took on the colorof the prevailing light to create a cool background color contrasted against the warmth of candlelight. The tranquilityof soft blue is balanced with the aggressiveness of bright yellow.

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    Focus On Composing Photos32

    Color context

    The perception of color in aphotograph often depends on itscontext. An objects color proper-

    ties will be inuenced by its rela-tionships with neighboring colors,and our judgment of hue may bealtered by the juxtaposition of cer-tain colors. For instance, a pale

    color may seem darker in a scenedominated by lighter colors or avivid color may make the colornext to it appear complementaryeven if its not. A saturated red

    will induce a blue-green tint inneighboring colors, for example.

    Color need not monopolize ascene to gain attention. Often, the

    vitality of color depends more onplacement than size. Some of themost striking color photographscan turn a small spot of intensecolor into the focal point of the

    composition simply by surround-ing it in gently harmonious hues.

    Most colors look their brightestagainst a neutral background.










    Juxtaposition ocomplementarycolors addsinterest to aphotograph.

    This is particularly true of redsand yellows when played against

    Incorporate these color funda-mentals in your photographs

    harmonious scene. In a com-pletely different setting that

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    Light, Shadow, and Color 33

    and yellows when played againstgrays and tans, often giving athree-dimensional effect andturning a drab scene into asplash of color. When sunlightpicks out a bright color againsta dark, shadowy area, the effectcan be doubly dramatic.

    mentals in your photographs,but be aware of the effects theyhave on other elements in yourcompositions. Adding morecolor isnt necessarily better.A yellow object may pull atten-tion too strongly or have a jar-ring inuence on an otherwise

    pletely different setting, thatsame yellow object may be justthe focal point your composi-tion needs. Being keenly awareof colors potential impact on acomposition will help you utilizeit to its best advantage or avoidit completely, if appropriate.

    Assignment: Color

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    Focus On Composing Photos34

    Splash of Color

    The primary colors of the two brooms on the right side of this scene come as a complete surprise, almost glowing outof the otherwise monochromatic surroundings. With only neutral hues of gray, tan, and brown to compete for atten-tion, the relatively small brooms become a focal point in the composition and a counterpoint to the man and his dog.


    With all the vivid colors in our world, the human brain seeks the bal-ance of mid-gray. Each complementary pair of colors combines tomake gray. Because weve learned that red and green are complemen-

    tary, try staring at a red apple for about 15 seconds, and then quicklyshift your eyes to a blank sheet of white paper. For a brief instant, youreyes see the image of a green apple because your brain, while star-ing at the red apple, automatically supplied the green to restore themid-gray balance. For another color exercise, pick a favorite color andspend a day photographing this color everywhere you encounter it.Look for your colors complementary and analogous colors to pair withit. Experiment with the concepts of dominance, balance, and propor-tion to see how your color reacts in different situations. The more youunderstand about the properties of color, the better equipped youll beto artfully incorporate it into your images.

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    Chapter 3: Viewpoint and Perspective

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    37Viewpoint and Perspective

    Clearly dened visionGoodcomposition relies on thoughtfulselection of subjects and creative use ofspace. Its the art of presenting your visionin a clear, uncluttered arrangement ofshapes, lines, and colors. The challengeis creating the perception of depth in atwo-dimensional translation of our three-dimensional world. Selecting and arrang-ing elements in a pleasing compositionenhances the sense of space in any photo-graph. And its almost entirely dependent onviewpoint and perspective.

    Viewpoint is the position of the camera andits angle of view relative to the subject. It canbe high or low, left or right, close or distant.Perspective refers to the way objects relate

    to one another in a composition. Its alsoheavily inuenced by the way objects relateto the lens, affecting the sense of depth andproportion in a photograph. Finding theviewpoint and perspective sweet spot is thecornerstone for a balanced composition with

    seemly relationships between all composi-tional elements.

    The essence of the photographers craft isto carve out a small piece of the world andartfully give it a context that supports andadvances the narrative of the photograph.That context is contingent on positioning thecamera, selecting a lens, and directing itsgaze with pinpoint accuracy. Knowing your

    subject and what you want to say about italso is important. The disposition of compo-sitional elements will either help or hinder theclarity of the message, so you must decidewhich elements to leave in and which to leaveout. The line of decision between in or out isthe boundary of your viewnders frame.

    Renowned landscape photographer Gary

    Ladd, the foremost authority on photograph-ing the Grand Canyon, had this to say aboutcontrolling context: Photography is a selec-tive stressing of the desirable, and a conceal-ing of the unwanted or unneeded. Landscapephotography at its best is an idealization

    Chapter 3: Viewpoint and Perspective

    Selecting the right viewpoint and perspective providesa sense of space to a photograph. Overlappingforeground, middle ground, and backgroundcompositional elements creates the illusion of depth.

    of reality. It directs our atten-tion away from the ordinary and

    the subject and accurately conveythe message you intend.

    situation by juxtaposing it withcontrary elements. Through the art

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    Focus On Composing Photos38

    toward the quietly spectacular.

    The story told in a photographis almost always quoted out

    of context because no lens iscapable of capturing the entiretyof a subjects earthly context. Norwould we want such a lens. Itsthe photographers purposefulmission to control what an imagereveals about the subject, notsimply to include whatever tswithin the frame (see the discus-

    sion of snapshots in Chapter 2).The language of visual com-munication gives photographersthe power to shamelessly skewreality or subtly slant the messageby merely changing the contextsurrounding the subject. We havecreative license to communicatethe story in any way that suits us.

    This doesnt mean that youalways have to tinker with realityor avoid representing your sub-jects in an honest and straight-forward manner. Photographyshistory has produced many neexamples of candid, sincerephotographs that are considered

    masterpieces of the medium.But certain techniques that helpestablish context will make iteasier to create images thatreect your personal views about

    Always operatefrom a position ofknowledge regardingyour subjects.

    Familiarity with your subjects isanother useful factor in providingthe right context for them. Pho-

    tographers always want to oper-ate from a position of knowledgeregarding their subjects. The moreyou know about your subject, thebetter you can depict it in propercontext, especially if a realistic por-trayal of the subject is your goal.

    Ansel Adams, arguably the great-est landscape photographer of

    the 20th century, understood theadvantages of being informed.A good photograph is know-ing where to stand, he said.A great photograph is one thatfully expresses what one feels, inthe deepest sense, about whatis being photographed. Knowl-

    edge of your subjects elevatesthe emotional content of yourphotography by putting more ofyourself into every image.

    Vital to selecting a viewpoint andperspective that is appropriate toyour subject is having a clearlydened vision of what you wantto accomplish in the photograph.

    You may simply want to makea statement about the subjectsbeauty, a common theme of manyphotographs. Or you might decideto show the irony of your subjects

    of selection, youre able to inter-pret the same subject in a numberof ways. It can be depicted asornate or simple, serene ordynamic, delicate or powerful, alldepending on the camera positionand lens you choose.

    When youre in the eld with yourcamera, be alert and receptiveto all the stimuli around you.This is the time to tap into yourimagination, mining for ideas to

    creatively present your subject.Be sensitive to the rhythms ofthe moment, and dont get tooattached to preconceived notionsabout the image you are pursu-ing. Surprises are welcome gifts.Accept them graciously.

    Many variables go into the making

    of a good photograph, but rarelydo they all fall perfectly into place,especially if youre photograph-ing outdoors. Nature has a wayof changing your plans. Allowingyourself the freedom to respond tosituations as they unfold can leadto even better images.

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    Viewpoint and Perspective 39

    The Illusion of Depth

    The challenge o photography is creating the perception o depth in an image. The photographer must decide howmuch depth is appropriate to the scene and then translate that vision to the fnal image. In this case, the desiredeect was to create a landscape evoking the sense o wide-open spaces in Monument Valley. A low viewpoint anda 24mm wide-angle lens with a downward angle o view combine to produce a perspective that exaggerates theoreground and minimizes the background. This optical eect gives the illusion o distance, depth, and spaciousness.

    The right lens

    Lenses come in a broad array

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    Focus On Composing Photos40

    Lenses come in a broad arrayof focal lengths that will helpyou realize your vision. They aregenerally grouped into three

    different categorieswide-angle,standard, and telephotoeachwith its own inherent qualities thataffect the way it sees. Lens char-acteristics impose their own viewon a scene, so part of the compo-sition process is shaping the lensview to suit your creative vision.

    The lens serves two main pur-poses in photography. It gatherslight from a scene, focusingit onto a common pointthecameras sensor; and it controlsthe amount of light strikingthe sensor. The quantity oflight passing through the lensis controlled by the size of the

    aperture in the lens diaphragmmechanism, often referred toas f-stop. Aperture is one ofthe variables, along with shutterspeed and ISO, which measuresbasic image exposure. And, aswell see later in this chapter,aperture size inuences anotherimportant factor in composition,depth of eld.

    Besides focus and exposurecontrol, the lens also adds

    A wide-angle lens and a camera positionclose to the foreground wildowers addsto the sense of depth and perspective ofthis landscape.

    its own optical effects to thearrangement of compositionall t Th l l f i

    lengths will serve you well in esti-mating which lens is best suitedt h it ti

    the way objects in a compositionrelate to a wide-angle lens.

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    Viewpoint and Perspective 41

    elements. The lens angle of viewcarries along with it an opticalbias that may make your scenelook remarkably different when

    viewed through a lens becauselenses dont work the same wayas the human eye. Depending onfocal length, lens optics can rear-range lines in a composition anddistort the perception of depthand space between objects.Angle of view is the precise

    measurement of a lens eld ofvision. A change in focal lengthequals a change in the angle ofview, measured in degrees. Theshorter the focal length, the widerthe angle of view.

    Because our eyes see things inthree dimensions, we have adecided advantage over lenses.Evidence suggests that thehuman eye has an angle of viewof at least 140 degrees, roughlyequivalent to a 15mm lens. Ofcourse, our eyes dont comewith the accompanying distor-tion inherent in most wide-anglelenses, but this gives you a point

    of reference. Getting accustomedto the ways your camera lensesaffect spatial relationships is partof the learning curve. Familiaritywith the effects of various focal

    to each situation.

    Any lens with a focal length of35mm or less is considered a

    wide-angle lens, with lensesof 20mm or less known asultrawide. The wide-angle lenstakes its name from the increasedangle of view that it offers. Withinthe wide-angle classication wend lenses with focal lengthsas short as 8mm, includingsh-eye lenses with coverage

    of a full 180-degree angle ofview. A primary advantage ofwide-angle lenses over lenseswith longer focal lengths is theirability to include more of a givenperspective within the frame.Another is the increased depth ofeld they provide.

    Distance is exaggerated in sceneswhen viewed through lenses ofshort focal length. Everyone isfamiliar with the warning on acars sideview mirror, OBJECTSIN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THANTHEY APPEAR. Convex curvatureof the mirror widens its angleof view so we can see all the

    way across the lane next to us.The perspective created by thiscurvature distorts the way objectsrelate to the mirror. Its similar to

    Close subjects appear muchlarger than they do to thenaked eye, whereas more dis-

    tant objects seem to recede intothe background. When usingwide-angle lenses, be aware ofthis effect and how it changeswith the angle of view. At times,you can take advantage of thiseffect by incorporating its exag-gerated perspective into thescheme of your composition.

    At others, it may distort objectstoo much, making it inappropri-ate to your subject. You mustdecide how much distortion istoo much.

    Wide-angle lenses excel ongrand landscapes and pano-ramic views where their angle

    of view is capable of taking ina wide swath. They relate verywell to foregrounds, by exag-gerating the size of objectsclosest to the camera and addinga sense of three-dimensionaldepth. A common compositionaltechnique known as near/faror forced perspective places

    foreground subjects of stronginterest extremely close to thecamera position, thereby juxta-posing them against other objectsor landforms in the background.

    This combination of close anddistant objects is an effectivetechnique to illustrate spacious

    effective at isolating a subject bydefocusing objects in front andbehind it Placement of the subject

    A normal lens value lies in itsability to interpret a scene ina way that is faithful to what

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    Focus On Composing Photos42

    technique to illustrate spacious-ness in a photograph. It presentselements of the vast and theintimate in a single image.

    Telephoto lenses have just theopposite effect on depth. Theirlonger focal lengths tend toshrink the apparent distancebetween objects. Telephotoscome in a broad range of focallengths, from about 70mm toas long as 2000mm, with an

    angle of view rarely exceeding40 degrees. The characteristiceffects of telephoto lenses areuseful for compositions that needto bring distant objects closer.By optically compressing thespace between foreground andbackground, telephotos havethe power to articially attenthe appearance of a scene. Thecompressing of spatial gapsallows the photographer to cre-ate closer relationships or juxta-position between objects that areotherwise too far-ung to draw aconnection. The longer the focallength, the more pronounced the

    compression effect.Another inherent quality of longfocal length is shallow depth ofeld. Telephoto lenses are very

    behind it. Placement of the subjectwithin a narrow zone of sharpfocus makes it the obvious focalpoint in a composition. Isolating

    the subject using a shallow depth-of-eld technique has the addedbenet of simplifying the com-position, reducing the number ofelements you have to account for,and focusing singular attentionon the main subject. It can solvea lot of problems with surround-

    ings that are too busy or chaotic,making the main subject in thecomposition difcult to identify.

    In between the extremes of wide-angle and telephoto lenses arethe standard lenses. In the 35mmto 70mm focal length range, theygenerally cover an angle of viewbetween 40 and 60 degrees.Lenses in the standard categoryare sometimes called normallenses because their opticalmakeup comes closest to rep-resenting spatial relationshipssimilar to the way our eyes seethem. There is nothing remarka-ble about the realistic perspective

    they bring to a composition, butamong the various focal lengths,standard lenses offer the mostversatility.

    a way that is faithful to whatyour eyes see, with little or nodistortion of subject and space.Because of their direct and

    uncomplicated nature, lensesin the standard focal lengthcategory are generally a goodchoice for people photographyand portraits. Medium focallengths also give photographerstighter control over depth of eld,depending on what the subject

    and situation calls for. Usingsmall apertures such as /16or /22 can keep everything insharp focus from foregroundto background; choosing largeapertures such as /2.8 or /4allows for a much narrower zoneof sharpness, selectively focus-ing on only a small section of the

    overall scene.The magic of lens optics empow-ers you to compose scenes thatgrab viewers attention and pullthem in for a closer look. Under-standing how different focallengths alter the interpretation ofreality lets you see beyond the

    obvious. Their characteristics andoptical effects are tools to help youconstruct your view of the world.Put lens optics to work for you.

    Wide-angle lenses = 8mm to 35mmSt d d l t

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    Viewpoint and Perspective 43

    Standard lenses = 35mm to 70mmTelephoto lenses = 70mm to 2000mm

    Telephoto Lens Compression

    Telephoto lenses provide photographers the optical power to shrink the distance between oreground and back-ground, creating closer relationships between compositional elements. Here, neighborhood homes on a distant hill-

    side are brought into closer proximity o the church steeples in the oreground using a 300mm lens. A small apertureo /22 maintains a wide depth o feld to keep everything in sharp ocus rom oreground to background.


    Digital sensors come in various sizes depending on camera make andmodel. The size refers to the sensors physical dimensions, not thenumber of pixels, and has a profound effect on lens focal length. Thecombination of image sensor size and lens focal length determines alens angle of view. Most high-end DSLR cameras have large full-frame (24 x 36mm) sensors that have no effect on lens focal length orangle of view. But the smaller sensors (15 22mm) often used in lessexpensive cameras multiply a lens relative focal length and reduceits angle of view. This multiplier effect can turn a wide-angle into a

    normal lens or a short telephoto into a long telephoto. For example,a smaller sensor with a 1.5 multiplier turns a 24mm lens into 36mm.

    A 200mm lens becomes 300mm with an accompanying reduction inthe lens angle of view. Consult your camera owners manual to ndyour sensors crop factor or multiplier effect.

    Near/far or forced-perspective

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    Focus On Composing Photos44

    Near/far or forced perspectivecomposition exaggerates the size

    of foreground objects, juxtaposingthem against a harmoniousbackground.













    Finding your viewpoint

    So far, weve identied some of

    adjustments are easily made byzooming in or out to perfect yourchosen viewpoint. If framing and

    your inspection. Police the areaaround your subject for anyhand of man distractions that

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    Viewpoint and Perspective 45

    the considerations that come intoplay when choosing your view-point or camera position, such

    as subject, light, and color. Theseinitial assessments can all bedone with the naked eye. Onceyouve established your startingpoint based on these factors, itstime to rene your viewpoint.Lets begin with the importantstep of arranging your composi-tional elements.

    Start by identifying the importantelements present in the scene youplan to photographthe promi-nent objects, lines, and shapes.Then make a preliminary selec-tion of the lens and focal lengthappropriate to the scope of thescene. Choose a focal length that

    comes closest to your vision forthe scene and frames it the wayyou imagined it in your mindseye. Did you visualize a broadpanorama or a narrow abstrac-tion from the scene laid outbefore you? Look through yourcameras viewnder to checkyour instincts on the camera posi-tion and lens youve chosen.

    Framing your scene with a zoomlens really pays dividends atthis point in the process. Minute

    c ose v ewpo . a g a darrangement of elements appearsimilar to your visualization ofthe scene, set up your tripod and

    mount the camera on it. If what yousee through the viewnder doesntmove you, continue exploring.

    Usually, the rst place you setup is not the best. By tweakingcamera position and focal length,you can nd the sweet spot whereall of the compositions important

    elements t together harmoni-ously. Perhaps shifting the cameraslightly to the left or right relievestension created by overlappingelements, or maybe lowering orraising the height of the cameraon the tripod will achieve theangle of view that best serves thesubject. Sometimes the best view-

    point may be only a step away.

    Distribution and arrangementof compositional elements insidethat little rectangular frame willdetermine your next steps incapturing the image. Put yourcritical eye to work, exploringthe scene through the view-

    nder. Carefully scrutinize everysquare centimeter of its space toprevent accidents from showingup in your images. Dont letanything within the frame escape

    a d o a d s ac o s amight pull on the viewers eye,such as Styrofoam cups, sodacans, or cigarette butts. They can

    disrupt the ow of your com-position and are much easierto physically remove from yourscene now than to take them outlater using digital methods.

    This is also the time to inspectyour composition for the visualnuisance known as a merger.

    Mergers occur wherever linesintersect in a composition.Normally, a composition containsmany of these little intersectionswhere lines cross or tones meetand blend together. Egregiousmergers can create an annoy-ing interruption of the viewersexperience, but slight adjustments

    in camera position will usuallyeliminate these unsightly tensionmakers. Most often, minor merg-ers are of little consequence inthe grand scheme of an image,and theyre not necessarily alwaysbad. In fact, some mergerscan be important to the motion

    created by the leading lines ina composition. But be aware oftheir presence and placement,minimizing or eliminating them ifthey are disruptive.

    Often, the most unatteringmergers occur where elementsin a composition intersect with

    alters spatial relationshipsbetween objects in your scene.Even the smallest of incremental

    when exploring the potential ina scene, prefer to work it. Thatis, they move in and around the

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    Focus On Composing Photos46

    pthe vertical and horizontal edgesof the viewnders frame. Lookfor unwanted objects around the

    periphery such as tree branchesor power lines sneaking in at theedges of your scene. Pay par-ticular attention to the corners ofthe frame. In visual design, thecorners of a photograph are con-sidered prime real estate, oftenreserved for placement of impor-tant eye-controlling lines andshadows. To make good use ofthese areas, dont waste valuablecorner space on inconsequentialintruders or counterproductivemergers. Well examine mergersmore closely in discussion ofleading lines in Chapter 5.

    Be deliberate in your assessment

    of all the lines, shapes, colors,light, and shadows that you havearranged. Make certain thatyour main subject is predomi-nantly featured with none of thesupporting elements encroachingon it. Feel free to experiment withother camera positions, being

    mindful of lighting conditions andgiving priority to the lights inter-action with your subject. Surveydifferent angles and observe howthe act of changing positions

    changes in viewpoint creates aparallax that can dramaticallyaffect a compositions lighting,

    balance, and structure.

    The most noticeable differencebetween one viewpoint andanother is often the background.Carefully inspect backgrounds,paying close attention to howthey affect your subject. A messybackground with too much

    texture or overly complex detailintroduces unwanted busynessthat interferes with the ow of thecomposition. If your subject can-not be easily moved to a differentsetting, options for improving thebackground are limited. Often,lower camera angles bring theopen sky into play, which pro-

    vides a smooth alternative to achaotic background. Alterna-tively, you might utilize a shallowdepth-of-eld and selective-focustechnique, or move the camerato a different viewpoint offeringa change in background. Wellexplore these solutions more in

    the Depth of Field and Focussection of this chapter.

    Consider also that your subjectmay have more than one goodviewpoint. Many photographers,

    , yscene for an extended period oftime, alert to the varying condi-tions. Changing camera positions

    in sync with the shifting directionof the light allows you to lookfor different arrangements of thesame elements. Keep in mindthat distinct and unusual perspec-tives can make a photographmore interesting. Try workingyour scene from several otherangles and various lens focallengths to discover its full poten-tial. This also gives you moreoptions when you get back to thecomputer with a digital card fullof images.

    Too often, photographers dontget the most out of a scenebecause they fail to stick with

    the situation long enough forit to reach its peak. As the dayprogresses, highlights and shad-ows advance and retreat in aconstant state of ux. Awarenessof changing conditions will keepyou and your camera on themove. And even though a zoom

    lens makes ne-tuning yourcompositions a breeze, dontrely on it exclusively for compo-sitional adjustments. Use yourfeet as well to move in closer.

    Climb to a higher position orlay on your stomach to get aground-level perspective. Com-

    viewpoint, lens, and perspectivepresents an almost unlimitednumber of options. Sometimes

    necessarily the best one. Experi-mentation with alternatives willlead you to the best vantage

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    Viewpoint and Perspective 47

    bining the many variables of


    Mergers occur wherever lines intersect or elements overlap in a composition. Although not always bad, be awareo them and eliminate or minimize mergers by tweaking camera position or repositioning your subject. Egregiousmergers can occur around people in a photograph, so pay close attention to background objects that appear to be

    protruding rom your subject. Also, be careul o cutting o limbs and tops o peoples heads at the edge o therame. The rule o thumb or photographing people is always crop just above the jointankles, knees, or waist.

    the most obvious viewpoint isnt points.

    The corners of a photograph are considered

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    Focus On Composing Photos48

    gprime real estate, often reserved for placementof important eye-control