Thursday, August 27, 2009

Can composition be taught?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the most technically-minded of photographers. Sure I know about apertures and shutter speeds, how to mix flash with ambient and do what I need to do in post processing. But I don't use a big studio lighting kit, tilt/shift lenses for architecture or do big production advertising shoots with catering, tethered shooting and make-up artists. It's just not my thing.

But I do consider one of my strengths to be composition. Whether this is a misguided opinion or not you guys will have to be the judge on that one, but at least allow me the fantasy to think I'm OK at it. :)

Anyway I was thinking about doing some blogs on composition the other day and sat down to nut out some ideas when I came to the conclusion that it's actually a really hard thing to teach.

The technical side of it is easy - slow shutter speed equals blurry moving subject, small aperture equals big depth of field - blah, blah, blah. But when it comes to the topic of where to put the elements within a frame that's a whole different ball game. And yet composition is one of the biggest things that can make or break a picture.

We're constantly bombarded by various compositional rules such as the rule of thirds, don't have the horizon in the middle, have people looking into the frame etc. But then we're told that we can also break them. So they're not really rules but guidelines, which you don't have to follow if you don't want to. If you stick to them you may or may not get a pleasing shot, and if you break them you may or may not get a pleasing shot. Confused yet?

So what's a poor photographer to do? I think it's one of those things that has to be felt. It's an intuition tied in to the emotion you feel looking at a great picture. The trick is to find the compositions that speak to you. And the way to do that is to look at and take as many pictures as you can. The ability to feel what to put in and what to leave out is a very personal one and no two photographers will line up the universe in the same way.

Having said that I'll try and post some images and talk a little bit about the thought process behind the composition. Yes I use the rule of thirds quite a bit, but I tend to put the subject even farther to the edges of the frame sometimes. One thing I have learnt over the years is that your composition has to be used to emphasise the subject of the image. If your viewer doesn't instantly know what it's a photo of then you're composition's no good. As the famous photojournalist Robert Capa once said, "If you're not happy with your pictures get closer". Or something along those lines.

What do you all think? Can composition be taught? Can it be broken down into a few simple rules or does it have to come from the heart and intuition?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are you shy when it comes to photographing strangers?

Then you need to head straight for a place where there are thousands and thousands of people! Namely a festival.

If you feel slightly nauseous at the thought of asking somebody if you can take their photo why on earth would you go somewhere that's all about people photography? Because festival-goers are happy people.

You're not disturbing them while they're trying to work? You're not putting them through an unpleasant experience? You're not doing anything new - they've probably already been photographed 100 times that day! In fact people at festivals are often there to be photographed. They want to have cameras pointed at them. That's why they get all dressed up - to show off.

And they're all happy. Often a bit of amber fluid might be helping the feeling but take it any way you can get it. Happy people looking to show off are the perfect recipe for shy people photographers.

The other day I got together for drinks with some students from my latest course. Mary asked me how I took photos at night. She had tried at a friend's wedding reception but found that using aperture priority gave her too slow a shutter speed to handhold and so the flash went off but everything was blurry. Putting it in idiot mode gave her big black backgrounds because the shutter wasn't open long enough to let the ambient burn in.

So whenever I shoot events at night I put my camera into Manual mode. I set the shutter speed at about 1/15 second or thereabouts, I put the ISO up to 400 and open up the aperture to about f5.6. Then I don't change a thing for the rest of the night. I put a little bit of orange cellophane over the flash to balance the light and bob's your uncle.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday's Photography Links

Alright for the first cab off the rank I couldn't resist sending you here. Local Cairns magazine In Touch In Business did a feature on me which has just been released. I was actually interviewed over a year ago so a few things have changed but it looks pretty good. Oh and my wife doesn't work for Virgin? :)

By the way. the photo of me in the article. That was taken by my wonderful friend and colleague Louise Southerden, who on the weekend was crowned the Australian Society of Travel Writers' Travel Writer of the Year - yet again! Congratulations and big hugs Lou.

For those of you thinking about a career shooting stock photography go and have a look at this great post by Paul Melcher. It really is an interesting insight into where things might be going from someone with a lot of experience in the industry.

And for those of you who just love to look at great photography and read interviews with those behind the lens head here. One of the best Canon sites out there. I'll have something for you Nikon heads next week!