Exposure and Composition - The Basics and Digital Workflow





Digital Workflow on the Computer

Workshop 1 Web

Navigating this web-

There are internal navigation links and links to example photos throughout this web. The links reveal themselves by their color and/or an underline when you roll your cursor over them.

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Photography Workshop 2

March 24, 2012 - Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex

Tom Carlisle, Photographer

The Artistic Variables of Composition and How to Manage Them

Artistic/Creative Variables of Composition

The Creative Process in the Field

Most of the example photos I used in the workshop are provided within the web or in photo set links in the web. All the photo slide show sets open in a new window.

Artistic/Creative Variables of Composition

  • By artistic I mean those factors that support the achievement of the desired artistic, esthetic or communication result. (And this is not purely an artistic exercise since it requires technical know-how to achieve the desired result.)

  • Power points, the rule of thirds and the golden mean. Divide the photo or scene into thirds on each axis. The intersections of the lines are "power points." We naturally prefer to see subjects at the power point. See the graphic example in the photo set below.

  • Line… The predominant line is often the horizon but could be a tree or a bird in flight, a shoreline or the edge of an area of vegetation and combinations of those things. Lines can give photos defined spaces and movement. See the graphic example in the photo set below.

  • Form… Circles and balls, triangles and pyramids, rectangles and cylinders. Shapes that are natural, common and pleasing to the eye. See the examples in the photo set below.

Photo Set 1, Composition - See the referenced example photos.

  • Texture… Rough, smooth, granular, silky and so on. They help define the characteristics of subjects and the mood.

  • Perspective… Often manifested in converging lines or other visual markers that take the eye from near to far like the lighthouse photo and the shadows of the hikers.

  • Sense of place… Usually means the photo extends from a nearby foreground to a somewhat distant background or that it causes a reaction in the viewer that causes them to identify with the location. Sometimes by their recollection of similar places. As shown in the photo of the lush wet pine savanna and the bayou in the photo set below.

  • Patterns… Usually natural (often repeating) patterns like spirals, branching or fractals, bilateral symmetry, radial symmetry and so on. But sometimes CHAOS is okay! See the natural pattern photos in the photo set below.

  • Weight and balance… A fairly literal evaluation of the “weightiness” and “balance” of the photo. If it has some imbalance, does the “imbalance” contribute to some other feature of the photo like “Perspective”

Photo Set 2, Composition - See the referenced example photos.

  • Subject dominance… Is the subject obvious, regardless of its size... because of it’s color, placement or the perspective or story it brings to the photo. Like that "lonely" kingfisher (bird) in the marsh photo in the morning.

  • Movement (subject or compositional movement) See the example photos of real subject movement and perceived movement.

  • Mood… Usually manifested in the colors or the personal experiences that the image causes the viewer to recall.

  • Flow of the eye through the image… Does your eye follow a meaningful path through the image. Or does your eye wander off the edge or out the bottom or top and miss the subject or “point” of the photo. As shown in exaggerated form in the photo of petrified wood logs in the gully.

  • Color… such as “cool” blues, “natural” greens, “warm” yellows and “dramatic” reds and “moody” grays and “mysterious” blacks. Remember the gray mountain, the red volcano and the blue iceberg? See the photo set below.

Photos Set 3, Composition - See the referenced example photos.

  • Story… Does the photo tell a story (you are lucky if it does and if so, you can call yourself a journalist) Or could it contribute to the telling of a story. Such as in the two photo sets below of the red-bellied woodpecker and the red-cockaded woodpecker bird banding.

Photo Set 4, Composition - Red-bellied woodpeckers

Photos Set 5, Composition - Red-cockaded woodpeckers, including a couple photos of the adults

  • Other things to consider

    Things that intrude into the photo

    Unnatural "hot spots" or bright objects

    Trash and litter

    The potential for dodging and burning or vignetting

    Composing for specific uses such as verticals for magazine and book covers or wide horizontals for the Bing! search engine home page, or stitched panorama photos. See two panorama examples in the photo set below.

    Leave room to crop and adjust spacing for different uses (even for cropping verticals out of horizontal compositions.)

    Focal length/lens selection effects composition. Telephoto lenses compress perspective and isolate subjects, highlighting their essential elements. See the Grand Canyon, sunbeam through the trees and deer photos in the photo set below. Wide angle lenses give perspective and a sense of place to landcapes and animal portraits. See the cecropia moth photo.

Photos Set 6, Composition - See the referenced example photos.

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The Creative Process in the Field

  • Look around first

  • Scout the area

  • Look high and low

  • Listen... the subject of your photo may be calling you

  • Look at what’s at your feet

  • Look at the big picture then look at the details

  • Use that framing technique with your fingers

  • Look for vertical compositions as well as horizontal.

  • Look for panorama photos to put together.

  • Be Ansel Adams (we naturally like the big picture landscape)… but be a birder, a hunter, a naturalist and a gardener too.

  • Consider the technical/exposure implications of photographing your selected subject and composition. Can you even accomplish what you are trying to do? If not, move on or pick a different time to make the photo.

  • Take a photo that becomes the “establishing” shot…then work the subject for a variety of exposure conditions and artistic compositions. There are 4 examples of working a subject to enhance the creative process and story-telling possibilities in the photo sets below. During the process, exposure and composition were varied to generate a series of individual photos that stand alone or can be used to tell a story.

Photo Set 7, Composition - This set shows the series of photos of the cecropia moths from different angles. The "establishing shot" shows the general location in a residential front yard. There are also photos showing the coccoon and the moths in different positions with different backgrounds.

Photo Set 8, Composition - This set shows how very similar compositions can have a very different look and tell a slightly different story about the iris flower and where and how it grows. (Glad I made at least one horizontal photo!)

Photo Set 9, Composition - This set shows a unique feature of the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica.) In addition to some variability in composition the last four photos are two pairs that show how the leaves of the sensitive plant fold up when touched. Click back and forth between the photos to see the folded leaves.

Photo Set 10, Composition - This set includes 7 photos (out of more than 200 made during a two hour period) of American bald eagle chicks on the nest and an adult that came to feed them. The one photo shows the "rugby scrum" in the nest when the adult first returns with food. The other photos can also be used to tell stories about chick and adult eagle behavior.

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