It’s been a while since our last composition class, so I’m excited to have one scheduled again! We also have the ever popular “Mastering Your SLR” class coming up pretty quick. The Composition Class is May 8th and the Mastering Your SLR is April 24th. For information or to register visit the Mastering Your SLR page or the Composition page on the St. Albert Photo Classes website.
I took this photo in a cave in Cuba. It was a fascinating experience – partly lit because of the holes in the ceiling but still dark enough to need flashlights or headlamps. There were many little bats chittering away. They seemed to be hanging out in little groups (probably with their families) with one in each group keeping an eye on us to make sure we didn’t bother them.
I chose this photo for the Composition class announcement because it is an interesting example of some of the topics we discuss as a group. It is a good example of leading the viewer’s eye with lines and with strong contrast. It also shows how the contents of a photo are always viewed in relation to the edges. I love talking about this kind of stuff (and much more) with students and it’s always interesting to hear other perspectives on this! While everyone sees different things when they look at a photo there are a remarkable number of similarities in what we see. If you’re interested in composition I hope you can join us!
On Saturday January 23rd Eric and I are running the Mastering Your SLR class in St. Albert and it’s filling up fast. This is good news – if it fills up, we’ll schedule another date for people who couldn’t make this one.
We would also love to schedule a Composition & Editing and a Mastering Editing class if we get enough people in the SLR courses. If you’re interested in these, let me know. You can always sign up for class notifications on the right side of the page – StAlbertPhotoClasses.com
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Photo was taken near Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site
40mm, f5, 1/250 of a second
In a lot of ways these photos could not be more different. The top one was taken at Beaverhill Lake, which at this point is a big marshy field in the prairies. The bottom was taken near the Saskatchewan Glacier in the mountains. The top was taken in spring, the bottom one in fall. The top is macro, the bottom is a landscape.
But when I was developing the top one today, my mind immediately went to this bottom photo that I took four years ago. The tones of the images help to group them, but what really strikes me is the similarity of composition. Both are triangles with the base at the bottom of the photo. They both have interesting lines thrusting up at angles through the frame.
When I’m composing an image, I don’t often consciously think about what to call a composition or what photo it will be like. I’m usually trying to balance the elements in the frame once an interesting line catches my eye. After the fact, when I’m looking through my images though, I start to notice themes. In some ways I like this — consistency is good. But I also don’t want to overuse themes and become boring. It’s a constant struggle of evaluation, and I probably overthink it. But it’s something I’ve noticed and thought was kind of interesting.
I often get wrapped up in a composition. I get so focused on the lines in my subject that the surroundings fade away. Sometimes this focus helps, but sometimes I ignore the fact that including some of the surroundings will give the viewer a context for the main subject. This is still a very tightly cropped image (taken at 300mm), but I’ve included the shore in the background, and I think it makes the photo. It tells the viewer the time of year (fall), the place (rocky river), and the fall colors compliment the blue-green water. The violence of the water is still obviously the main subject and the part that is in focus, but now the eye is often pulled between the water and the shore.
This photo was taken while lying down near the Clearwater River, BC. 300mm, f18, 1/15 of a second.
Finally starting to make my way through photos from the last few trips. This is from Abraham Lake, which has been extensively photographed by many Alberta landscape photographers. It’s easy to come up with the standard compositions here, but it’s also easy to come up with new stuff. There’s just so much variety in the ice, water and rocks. These are methane bubbles from decomposing organic matter. The bubbles form in the ice as the water freezes layer by layer.
In a shot like this, composition is everything. It has to balance the visual weight of light and dark. The three smaller bubbles on the left have to balance with the two larger bubbles on the right. The negative space and positive space both have to be interesting — here the textures in the ice and bubbles add visual interest. And because it’s nature and you can never control it completely, there will always be random elements to deal with. In this picture, the shadow of something deeper lies near the top of the frame. I like the visual reminder that in photography, art is created between the artist and the subject: you never have complete control.
This was a 20 second exposure on a clear, still, moonless night in Dillberry Lake Provincial Park. This took some accurate esimating of the distance from me to the tree and a focus distance indicator on my lens. I’m not sure if some modern SLRs could autofocus in this kind of darkness, but mine certainly can’t.
I’m starting to enjoy night photography more all the time. It forces me to slow down — once it’s dark there’s really no rushing necessary. Sunsets and sunrises can be a little more stressful as they’re very time-limited. Finding the balance between enjoying the outdoors and becoming a professional photographer can sometimes be hard. There’s always pressure to get a better shot, a different composition. But coming up with something new is also extremely rewarding.
There are some places on this earth that seem a little surreal. Ice caves are one of those places. And in these strange and beautiful places, I find it really hard to take photos. I’m often overwhelmed with the experience, and focusing on composition becomes impossible. Everywhere I look there is something new. I have to slow down, let the surroundings soak into me, and then I can start to express my response to a place.
Although I would have loved to spend more time here (it’s kind of scary with the falling rocks and ice), I’m pretty happy with how the photos turned out. The lines of the photo lead into a dangerous unknown.
When you see an elk, what do you do? You stop and take a photo of course. And if the elk stays there, you get closer. After all, wasn’t it Robert Capa who said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”?
But for some reason your brain starts to throw up little red flags. Wait a minute, you also want context — the animal acting in its habitat. And maybe you don’t want a photo of an elk eyeball, maybe you want the whole elk. And anyway, isn’t it bad for animals to get accustomed to people? And dangerous for the people?
And then, for some strange reason, you start to think of photographing weddings, of posing and of lighting. Direct evening light is pretty good — it’s warm and lends definition to shapes, but what if you backlight this? That would wash it out and give it a dream-like quality. But animals are not as cooperative as people who hire you to take their photos. You have to do the moving, and there’s no adding light. You know that flash would bother this elk and disrupt his feeding, possibly making him aggressive.
So you do the moving, far enough away that the animal is not disturbed. You wait for the animal to move into a position that works, you get the sun at just the right angle, and you get a photo. You don’t know if it’s a good photo or a great photo, but you’re pretty sure it’s not a bad photo. And that is satisfying.
Below are a series of photos exploring a field of Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium). These are all taken from the same place, at the same time of day. As I’m taking photos, I often move from the literal – capturing a scene as one would usually see it (hopefully with a pleasing composition) and move towards the abstract. Often what I’m after is the abstract photo, but sometimes the original, more traditional landscape is the one that wins out when I’m evaluating them afterwards. It often takes me months to discover if I’m happy with a photo or not. And blogging them is part of this process. I blog photos that I initially think are pretty good, and the ones I’m still happy with in a couple months will likely go in my portfolio.
The curving lines of dry grass provide so much picture fodder.
Taken in Elk Island National Park.
Taken near Beaverhill Lake.
If anyone knows what species of grass these are, I’d be very curious. I’m getting better at my fauna taxonomy, but when it comes to grass, I’m lost.