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Author Topic: Photographic Composition Book  (Read 30116 times)
Steve Miller
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« on: December 17, 2011, 01:13:30 PM »
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I'm looking for a book on photographic composition for my mom. She loves taking pictures, has a decent eye when looking at other photographers' work, but has trouble creating images with compelling composition. I know this is a very subjective area, but I'd love to get her started with a book (or two) that could help her to better understand what I think she's already able to see in other people's work (but doesn't seem to be able to incorporate in hers).

Any suggestions are much appreciated.

Thanks,

Steve
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2011, 01:29:53 PM »
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The best book on photographic composition I can not recommend enough does not have a single photograph in it. It looks, quite deceptively, as a kindergarten-level children book: Picture This: How Pictures Work
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Slobodan

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« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2011, 03:04:19 PM »
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Its not a book, but take a look at The Mindful Eye. This site contains many hours of videos of images and what the instructor, Craig Tanner, likes and dislikes about the composition. Many of the videos show PS processing to modify the image to change it to meet the compositional elements described.

This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it may be the resource you are looking for.

Alan
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Steve Miller
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« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2011, 07:31:28 PM »
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You're right, it does look like a kindergarden book, but I'm intrigued. For $10, it's definitely worth a try. May even order one for myself.

Thanks,

Steve
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Steve Miller
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« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2011, 07:34:47 PM »
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Re: The Mindful Eye, I'll check it out. Thanks.

Anyone have any traditional book suggestions? I'm ordering the Picture This book, but I'd love to find another book with great images used as an illustration for strong composition.

Thanks,

Steve
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2011, 08:44:45 PM »
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... I'd love to find another book with great images used as an illustration for strong composition...

Then I'd recommend this one: The Photographer's Eye, by Michael Freeman.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2011, 10:06:10 PM by Slobodan Blagojevic » Logged

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Isaac
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« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2011, 09:34:13 PM »
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Is the local public library any good?

"Understanding composition : the complete photographer's guide"

And I found this art book discussion of "traditional approaches to composition" gave me food for thought.

Also National Audubon Society Guide to Nature Photography: Digital Edition.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2011, 04:01:07 PM by Isaac » Logged
Rob C
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« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2011, 02:51:34 AM »
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There used to be a tv show called Painting by Numbers; perhaps a video is available, even a series of them.

Rob C
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RSL
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« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2011, 08:42:41 AM »
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Steve, If you want pictures with strong composition find at least one with Cartier-Bresson's work in it and another with Ansel Adams's. I'd also add W. Eugene Smith and Edward Weston to the list. There are many others worth studying and you can find some of them in a bibliography I've posted at http://www.externalconnections.info/lula/NewBib.html.

I respect Slobodan's recommendation and I'm going to buy Picture This, but I don't believe you can learn photographic composition by reading about it. When you paint you can create anything you want to create, and you can follow all the formal rules of composition, but more often than not the subject of a photograph is fleeting. You have to develop your eye to the point where you compose reflexively. The only way you can do that is to internalize good photographic composition by studying the work of the masters until properly framing a picture becomes instinctive.
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walter.sk
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« Reply #9 on: December 18, 2011, 11:25:49 AM »
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I find "The Photographer's Eye" to be one of the most useful and least doctrinaire books around for teaching about composition.  Rather than present "rules,"  Freeman presents all of the elements that could be weighed as part of a composition, suggests ways of thinking about them, and also has suggestions for assignments based on each element or group of elements.

A beginner might be daunted by the seemingly endless aspects of composition that are considered in the book, but taken slowly one chapter at a time, with the warning that these are not rules to learn but elements to become conscious of, will give the beginner a way of conceptualizing composition without becoming tied to what often become "commandments" not to be broken.
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #10 on: December 18, 2011, 12:18:28 PM »
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... I respect Slobodan's recommendation and I'm going to buy Picture This, but I don't believe you can learn photographic composition by reading about it. When you paint you can create anything you want to create, and you can follow all the formal rules of composition...

Thank for the vote of confidence, Russ!

As for your thoughts about paintings, I guess that is precisely the reason I, as a photographer, prefer to learn composition from painters: since they can control it, I assume they are using composition in its purest form.

In that respect, I would recommend another book: Pictorial Composition, by Henry Rankin Poor

At the risk of rekindling the old debate on this forum about landscape photography vs. other types of photography vs. landscape paintings, in terms of its inherent creativity (or the lack thereof, or as I my pre-teen daughter would put it: "gee, dad, what's so creative about pressing a button?"), allow me a few observations:

While photographers do not have the same level of control when it comes to all picture elements, we can control our standpoint and focal length until we place those elements in the approximately the same composition as a painter would. That makes landscape photography even more interesting and challenging. In order to be able to recognize the "perfect" painter's composition when we see it, or move until we get it, we, of course, first need to learn from them.

Another value of learning from painters is in the post-processing stage. There we can emphasize or de-emphasize what's already there (or even remove it, up to a point), but it again helps tremendously to know, from art history, what our final goal should look like.



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Slobodan

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« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2011, 12:51:58 PM »
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I don't intend to reenter the debate about landscape versus everything else either, Slobodan. But I don't think I've ever suggested that photographers can't learn from painters.

I do disagree that we photographers "can control our standpoint and focal length until we place those elements in approximately the same composition as a painter would." I'll go back to my argument about the way both Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt conveyed the feeling of overbearing height in the Rockies by distorting linear perspective. There's no way you can do this with a camera, no matter your standpoint or focal length. You can try to fake it by standing off with a very long lens, but when you do that you foreshorten the middle ground so that the distortion is obvious to those with eyes to see. Of course, I live in the mountains and I know what they feel like when you stand beneath them. Bierstadt gets the feeling right. Ansel can't unless he's close to a feature like Half Dome.

But in most photographic situations these are nitpicks. I think we can learn a lot from painters. My all-time favorite is Edward Hopper and I think I've learned things from him. On the other hand, I think we can learn even more from photographers like Atget and HCB who, themselves, have learned from painters and have translated what they've learned into photography.
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Isaac
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« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2011, 03:07:15 PM »
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... but I don't believe you can learn photographic composition by reading about it. When you paint you can create anything you want to create, and you can follow all the formal rules of composition, but more often than not the subject of a photograph is fleeting. You have to develop your eye to the point where you compose reflexively. The only way you can do that is to internalize good photographic composition by studying the work of the masters until properly framing a picture becomes instinctive.

At the risk of misunderstanding your meaning:

It's not obvious that "studying the work of the masters" without also reading about composition is better than doing both.

It's not obvious that "studying the work of the masters" is better than thinking about the different ways a familiar scene could be composed and then working through practice sessions, actually taking those photos. (For other areas of expertise, it seems to be the hours of intentional practice that matter.)

And although "the subject of a photograph is fleeting" it may also be that the appearance of a subject is repeated and predictable - the big wave that explodes over the promenade every few minutes, the bustling crowds that take the same path through city streets, ... That moment is fleeting but there may have been other similar moments to think about and sketch out and practice on. I can work out how I want to take a photo of a snake in the grass without the snake - a fallen tree branch will stand-in just fine for practice - and then when that moment does come along I already know the photo I'm trying to take. (Later "studying the work of the masters" may show what my composition has in common with Natternkopf and how it differs.)

Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.
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RSL
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« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2011, 03:27:07 PM »
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It's not obvious that "studying the work of the masters" without also reading about composition is better than doing both.

I'd certainly recommend you do both, Isaac. But simply reading about composition can't teach you composition, though I think studying the work of the masters can teach you composition even without the reading.

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It's not obvious that "studying the work of the masters" is better than thinking about the different ways a familiar scene could be composed and then working through practice sessions, actually taking those photos. (For other areas of expertise, it seems to be the hours of intentional practice that matter.)

Thinking about the different ways a familiar scene can be composed and then making practice shots probably is a good idea with landscape, especially if the scene is close to where you live and you're not about to go somewhere else. But if you try that with street photography or photojournalism you'll find it doesn't work too well. You can't take time to examine the position of the leading lines and consult the rule of thirds. Composition has to be intuitive. You learn intuitive composition from studying well-composed pictures, not from reading about rules.

As far as other areas of expertise are concerned, I think it depends on which areas you're talking about. Hours of intentional practice can teach you to read music and to make your fingers respond to the notes, but it can't turn you into a virtuoso. You need a God-given talent for that. Same thing with visual art of any kind, including photography. I'm not knocking the need for hard work. It's essential, but not sufficient.

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Isaac
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« Reply #14 on: December 18, 2011, 04:05:29 PM »
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I'm looking for a book on photographic composition for my mom. She loves taking pictures, has a decent eye when looking at other photographers' work, but has trouble creating images with compelling composition.
Why didn't I ask what your mom loves taking pictures of? Doh!

We pay more attention when we find the subject of the pictures interesting - so maybe Expressive Photography.
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Isaac
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« Reply #15 on: December 18, 2011, 04:32:59 PM »
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But if you try that with street photography or photojournalism you'll find it doesn't work too well. You can't take time to examine the position of the leading lines and consult the rule of thirds.
I'd accept "You can't always take time to examine..." without quibble. Did HCB never find a promising street corner and then wait and wait and wait for the other pieces to fall into place?

Composition has to be intuitive.
As does riding-a-bike and driving-a-car and...

As far as other areas of expertise are concerned, I think it depends on which areas you're talking about. Hours of intentional practice can teach you to read music and to make your fingers respond to the notes, but it can't turn you into a virtuoso. You need a God-given talent for that. Same thing with visual art of any kind, including photography. I'm not knocking the need for hard work. It's essential, but not sufficient.
I didn't realise you held such high ambitions for Steve Miller's Mom ;-)

Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters
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RSL
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« Reply #16 on: December 18, 2011, 06:09:09 PM »
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Isaac, Thanks for the link. Good article.

I suspect Steve's mom isn't about to go out into the mountains for landscape. It might help for Steve to tell us what kind of photography his mom does.

Where in Britain are you? "Realise" gives you away.
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Steve Miller
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« Reply #17 on: December 18, 2011, 07:21:20 PM »
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Okay, first of all, sorry to respond so late. I didn't get any email notifications so I figured there were no new posts. Second, sorry to rekindle an old argument about composition with respect to painting vs photography. Though it makes for interesting reading.

Isaac and RSL, well played in getting back to the subject: my mom and her desire to improve the composition in her photos. Aside from shots of her dog doing goofy things, she has always loved shooting nature. That can mean flowers in her garden, birds in her local park, or scenery and landscapes she can encounter in Asheville, NC (including the Biltmore Estate). She's in good enough shape that she can walk for a few miles, though any climbing is pretty much out of the picture.

She loves photography, and has a passing understanding of exposure. Her biggest problem is that she needs to be able to do a better job of taking what she sees in other photographers' work, and incorporating it in hers. I don't want her to just copy other photographers, but she could do a lot worse than imitating great photos while she develops her own style. I think a book illustrating such basics as balance, rule of thirds, foreground vs background elements, lines, etc. would be very helpful.

Hope this helps to understand the type of book I'm trying to find for my mom. In the meantime, I'll check out the books already mentioned.

Thanks again,

Steve
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Isaac
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« Reply #18 on: December 18, 2011, 07:54:18 PM »
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The best book on photographic composition I can not recommend enough does not have a single photograph in it. It looks, quite deceptively, as a kindergarten-level children book: Picture This: How Pictures Work
Thanks for the recommendation - I just checked it out of the local public library, and can already see that it'll be an interesting read for me.

Preface - "For me, the book looks at only one question: How does the structure of a picture affect our emotional response? It analyzes in very simple terms this one element of how pictures work."
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Isaac
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« Reply #19 on: December 18, 2011, 07:57:58 PM »
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Where in Britain are you? "Realise" gives you away.
My spelling's somewhat variable - for the last 15 years I've had the good fortune mostly to be in California, Silicon Valley.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2011, 01:56:37 PM by Isaac » Logged
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