I would like to improve my compositional skills, suggestions for educational resources wanted

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by Jock Elliott, Feb 17, 2013.

  1. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    I was looking at some street photography the other and lamenting that, while it was technically very good, the composition wasn't very compelling.

    Then the thought occurred to me that my own compositional skills could use a lot of help. So I am looking for suggestions of resources that could teach me the principles of good composition. I am a top-down kind of guy: give me the principles of a thing, and pretty often I can apply them. But I am not very good at a looking at a photograph and figuring out what makes it work or not.

    So, are there any books, websites, videos, or other resources that you think would be useful in learning to compose compelling photographs?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    Cheers, Jock
     
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  2. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    What helped me understand this was not only looking at some of the fine street photography from the forum members here but also watching clips on youtube of street photographers who actually explain what they look for and how they get their shots. Look up Joel Meyerowitz on youtube for example, he's one of my all time favs. I just looked him up to show you some links but there are quite a few, I would just watch them all.
     
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  3. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
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  4. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    • Like Like x 2
  5. Boid

    Boid SC All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    Rajiv
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  6. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    Boid,

    I, too, am a left-eyed shooter. Now, thanks to you, I'll have to investigate what I am screwed about! (grin)

    Cheers, Jock
     
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  7. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    ok well... uhh .. fuhgeddaboudit.
     
  8. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
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  9. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    I've enjoyed Don's photos for a couple of years, but after visiting his site and reading his words, I have a great deal more insight.
    Just wow. In fact, some of the shots that I previously couldn't care less about were suddenly amazing. Now I gotta get a cup of coffee and watch those videos. Maybe I'll become a street photographer.
     
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  10. Gary

    Gary SC All-Pro

    Aug 19, 2012
    Southern California
    Gary Ayala
    Jock, are you looking for assistance in the selecting element(s) to photograph, or help in how to arrange the element(s) you selected into an image which is pleasing/impactful, or both?

    Gary

    PS- I shoot with both eyes. Often, I'll switch eyes just so I can keep a watch on the action and not get blindsided. Particularly useful for sports/motorsports. Like when I'm shooting American football and the action is flowing from left to right, I'll switch eyes and shoot with the left , using my right eye to peak around the camera every now-and-then, looking for a 250 lb. linebacker barreling my way.

    G
     
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  11. Xuereb

    Xuereb SC Veteran

    380
    Nov 5, 2010
    W. Australia
    Beg, borrow or steal any book with images of the work of Cezanne, Edward Weston, Paul Strand and Henri Cartier Bresson. With each image you see, look at the frame edges, then to how the eye wonders across and in what direction, look at where shadows, highlights and the main shapes are placed; count the number of 'principal elements' in each.

    William Klein said in a workshop that a frame with 3 principal elements works well. John Berger's books on art will tell you much but principally which shapes the eye recognises immediately: triangles, circles curves.

    With images which compel you to return entranced, do the looking and analysis again and again and again.

    Then look at books of classical and impressionist painters you like and do the same. It is a life-long pershoot (as they say here in Australia) which affords much pleasure. Currently I am stuck on Michelangelo Merisi's paintings.
     
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  12. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    Ok, two suggestions... First, learn about the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Mean (Section). These principles are the basis for many effective compositions. Then decide if you are going to seek the action or wait for it to come to you. By this I mean do you intend to walk the streets in the hope that you will come onto something worthwhile or are you going to find somewhere with potential and wait for the elements to come together? I find the former results in more dynamic but looser compositions while the latter is more measured, more previsualised and results in tighter compositions but less variety. Personally I like to combine the two and work a fairly small area and the way people interact with it.

    Sent from another Galaxy
     
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  13. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    Gary,

    I am interested in both, but with emphasis on arranging the elements into an image that is pleasing or impactful.

    And -- a clarification -- I am not just interested in street photography but also in landscape, daytime sky, and wildlife.

    Cheers, Jock
     
  14. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    Bill,

    Thanks for the advice. I have it on good authority that you have "the compositional skills of Raphael."

    I am familiar with the rule of thirds, but I'll have to study up on the Golden Mean.

    I have adopted a philosophy of "take a camera everywhere and see what happens" so I guess you could say I am an opportunistic photographer, but not just of people being themselves but of landscape, daytime sky, and wildlife as well.

    Cheers, Jock
     
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  15. Briar

    Briar SC All-Pro

    Oct 27, 2010
    Scotland
    Karen
    Hi Jock

    You started off talking about street photography, but then talked about the composition in your own general photography. Have you shot any images recently that you can share that you'd like advice about?

    Sometimes looking at books, etc can make you a little downhearted because the images in the books don't present themselves in your own environment (i'm thinking street photography here). No point me looking at street photography images in New York if I'm in the Highlands of Scotland where the only other life on the street is a sheep chewing the grass at the side of the road!

    So is it street photography or general composition for any genre of photography you are interested in learning more about? Do you have a flickr account that we can go and look at?
     
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  16. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    Photos for compositional critiquing

    Karen,

    I don't have a flicker account, but your idea is a good one. Below are four photos that I have posted here that I would welcome suggestions to improve.

    D550_clouds_005-001_Medium_.JPG

    Peebles_Island_008_Medium_.JPG

    Peebles_Island_059_Medium_.JPG

    Prospect_Park_015-001_Medium_.JPG

    Cheers, Jock
     
  17. Hikari

    Hikari SC Veteran

    292
    Jan 5, 2013
    Maine, USA
    Get books of photographs taken by masters and study those. Go out and shoot and then study those. Learn to shoot full-frame where you only crop in the camera, but never in post. Your photography will improve.

    Learn the "rules" of composition and your photographs will look like everyone else's photographs that learnt the "rules" of composition. Your work will then have a really good shot to be mediocre.
     
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  18. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    Hikari,

    Very interesting comment. Sometimes, though, I feel that mediocre would be a step up for me!

    Cheers, Jock
     
  19. Gary

    Gary SC All-Pro

    Aug 19, 2012
    Southern California
    Gary Ayala
    Two real simple and rules to help get you started:

    1) Full the frame. (This is especially true and tough for street.); and

    2) When all else fails, follow the rule of thirds, (or any other compositional rule/aid/suggestion).

    Gary
     
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  20. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    Gary,

    That's useful stuff. What I want are principles that I can have in mind when I am shooting and when I am later critiquing my own stuff.

    Cheers, Jock