Cutting Edge Photographic Composition | David Miller | Skillshare
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10 Lessons (39m)
    • 1. Intro to Cutting Edge Composition

      2:40
    • 2. Fill In The Blank

      6:08
    • 3. Layered Scene

      3:20
    • 4. Sequences

      3:24
    • 5. Scale and Space

      6:55
    • 6. Randomized Reality

      4:44
    • 7. Collage + Alternative Framing

      3:30
    • 8. Glitch Photography

      3:09
    • 9. Graphic Design in Photography

      3:07
    • 10. Wrap Up Cutting Edge Composition

      2:03
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About This Class

Photographic composition techniques often list the same set of standard rules about filling the space of a frame to get your viewers’ eyes to move around and understand the story.  In this course, we move beyond these standard composition tropes to make more challenging and fresh work that stands out.

We explore:

  • ways of creating mystery and mental interaction with your viewers
  • utilizing space to evoke emotion
  • working with analogue and digital means of collaging and glitching up your work

…and much more!

I'll show you some of my work with each technique, and we'll examine the work of world class art photographers who have executed these composition techniques in their own work.

Transcripts

1. Intro to Cutting Edge Composition: hello out there. My name is David Miller. I mean feedings, Arizona multimedia artist, photographer and educator. I want to welcome you to this course on cutting edge photographic composition. Now there are a lot of video classes about photographic composition, and my guess is the majority of them say the same thing. They talk about the rule of thirds. They talk about placing your horizon line in either the upper third or the lower third. They talk about sways to tell a story by placing objects in certain positions throughout your rectangular frame. On all of that advice is good. It's useful. There is more to life, though, than composing a photo. There are ways to be creative for their compositions, though, and there are ways to be a lot bolder than simply operating within those same tried and true composition techniques. Way we're going to be experimental. We're going to try things that are outside of the box, and I'm going to show you a lot of world class photographers who are experimental with their compositions, And one of the things I really try to push in all of my classes is the work that stands the test of time, the work that people celebrate in museums and galleries in history books. It always is the work that pushes the boundaries and creates something new. So if you feel like you're repeating the same compositions in your shots over and over and over again, this class is absolutely for you. If you feel like you're ready for a challenge and you want to be a groundbreaking artist, then hopefully you feel like this classes for you. I'm going to be using a variety of cameras for this class. All you need is one. It could be a simple add your phone camera or as elaborate as a DSLR. I'm also gonna be using some instant film cameras because I do a lot of my work with that. And I think there's some unique composition you could do with instant film. So I'm going to be showing you some of that work as well. I'm going to be highlighting a lot of well known photographers. I'm breaking down what it is they do in their pictures that is so cutting edge composition wise. I'm going to be using Adobe Light Room Teoh do some of my post production so If you have any kind of camera and you have access to Adobe Light Room, you're going to be able to keep up with the class on follow along without any problems. Let's get started. 2. Fill In The Blank: most photographic compositions are in a rectangular format. If you're using a medium format camera or something like Instagram, it's a square format. But essentially you're dealing with a box and what's within the box and without the box. It is very important to understanding photographic composition. Traditional composition might mean rule of thirds, where you divide the picture up into three segments, both vertically and horizontally. The idea is, you put interesting things in these intersections because that way you're creating movement for the viewer's eye. Photographic composition is both an essential way to tell a story, and also to keep your viewer engaged by having them look around your photo, not look straight at the center and see the one important thing that's in a photograph. This particular composition strategy is when I call fill in the blanks, which means you are intentionally leaving things outside of the frame that make the viewer interested in what's going on. And in fact, you're engaging the viewer's mind to fill in what is not happening within this rectangular box. One strategy is to have a viewer gays off of the frame, look off to the side, react to something that we don't see. This is a trick that a lot of times people do at sporting events or other kind of event photography, where they turn around and photograph the audience instead of what is on the stage or on the field. Another way Teoh have the viewer fill in the blanks is to just be very ruthless with where we cut the frame. So we cut the frame down a portion of a person. Now, if you take a traditional composition class, oftentimes you were advised not to cut people off a joints at the hands at the feet at the knees because it does look a little odd. And it begs the question. Why not just move the camera in a very small, uh, quarter of an inch so you can incorporate things like hands and feet? And while in principle, I generally agree with this, it really depends on the kind of story or trying to tell. Not every photograph needs to feature someone's face and someone's facial expression for me to capture on emotion. In fact, things that are cut off that are left a little bit more anonymous or mysterious tend to engage the wider public mawr, because not only are we filling in the blanks with our own mind, but we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of what is happening on the screen are Dominican is a self portrait photographer, and he has made an entire career of photographing himself in mysterious circumstances amongst landscape features. So you'll see portions of his arms, his legs. A lot of him is cut off in these images, and hey blends in incredibly well with whatever environment he finds himself in there. Very mysterious. They not only beg the question, where is the rest of this guy, but also how did he do it? Ah, lot of these circumstances seem quite dangerous, or they seem impossible. By having the viewer fill in the blanks. Arno is engaging his audience and keeping them looking at his photographs a lot longer than the kind of images that present everything to the viewer. Another of my favorite photographers who uses this technique a lot is Ren hang and Wren was a Chinese photographer who did these very bright color images used very strong flash that knocked out most of the shadows, and in a sense, there's no mystery, but because the scenarios he presents are so strange and where he places the frame tends to be very strange. That is something that has just this incredible oddness and artificiality. Yet it feels very organic at the same time, because mostly Ren presents people in plain circumstances. He presents them nude. Sometimes he features plants or animals. Very rarely does he have anything that's not on organic substance in front of his camera. I love the near randomness at his placement of the frame. In these images, though, things aren't cut off in awkward fashion, as if there's action happening not just in front of the camera but on the other side of the camera. And by action, I mean, the photographer himself is falling over or running and chasing things, trying to capture moments without deliberately aiming his camera. And it's a strategy. I've used a lot myself. I utilize a lot of instant film cameras where I can't necessarily compose the way I could with a DSLR or a Marylise camera, where it could actually see 100% what I'm aiming at, and I find that the images that have this unusual off balance to them that have the frame chop off some important features. These are the images that keep my interest the most. In my opinion, whatever you can do to activate the mind of any one in your audience, any viewer get them to try and solve the puzzle that you're presenting that can only be a good thing. 3. Layered Scene: in this section. I want to talk about the layered scene. Oftentimes, when people address composition, they think of everything as two dimensional elements. And certainly if you are doing some sort of portrait session in a studio where you have your portrait subject and you have a flat background, it's hard to get away from the idea that this is just a simple, two dimensional scene. But if we think three dimensionally and we're outs in an environment that has space, you have subjects that are near. You have subject matter that's far, and you have subject matter that's very far away. And then you have contrast ing natural elements like clouds, stars, sky, the sun, trees, mountains and so forth. Ansel Adams made very layered compositions in his works, and they're very traditional compositions. To be sure, Ansel Adams emphasized a large dip the field in his compositions. So everything is sharp when you have a layered seen, though, you can create some really interesting compositions by utilizing small depths of field, meaning that only a small percentage of your photograph is in focus and you can really accomplish this if you pick something that is in the middle ground. So not something that's super close to you and not the things that are very far away, but something in the middle. So the objects that are near are out of focus, and the objects that are far away are out of focus. Famed band photographer Anton Cor Bean is a master of utilizing this technique, and while some of the photographs I'll show you have the objects in the very front foreground and focus, one of the most common techniques is to blur those objects and have this relationship between near far, very far. It creates a very rich, unbelievable environment for the overall photograph. One of the added benefits of the layered photographic approach is the sense you give your viewers of actually being there. It's a very cinematic approach to photography. If you think of movies whenever they change from one setting to another, they have to use an establishing shot to showcase where you're at. So you, the viewer, can readjust your mindset of what's happening. This is usually done through a wide shot, maybe a crane Sean, something that's overhead and gives you the lay of land. It might be through a tracking shot or a dolly shot where the camera is moving at a particular angle until we arrive at our subjects. But when someone like Corbyn does this layered approach, I have a sense that I could move one direction or another in the photograph. I could actually interact with this thing. In a way, these shots are a little more difficult to compose in person because you're involving a moving part that's close, moving part that's far away and some elements that are completely out of your control. But when you pull this type of shot off with many layers to it, it is highly rewarding. 4. Sequences: One of the great things about photography as a medium is that it's very quick to get multiple images. If someone shows to create a sequence of paintings, it's going to take a long period of time. And it's gonna be difficult for the painter Teoh. Get thes micro moments that one might be able to get in photography, where you can take an image and a second later, take another image and second later, take another image and have those add up to be something greater than each individual image in itself. We're gonna look at a couple different approaches to creating sequences of images. One of the classics of the art photography world is Twain Michaels, who creates little stories or tableaus with his imagery. This particular one is simply three stills of Andy Warhol in various states of motion. Other Duane Michals images incorporate writing in the way that a Children's storybook or a common cook might incorporate writing within its paneling. This set of images tell the story of an old woman who takes a child to a park and subsequently disappears by the final frame. This sequence tells the story of a spirit, leaving a dying man's body. Creating sequences is nothing new in art. Ah, lot of religious artwork is depicted as trip ticks or dipped ICS. Individually. It might be hard to determine which of these three images is the stronger one, and certainly there are photographers who would present them each individually. But my sequencing them together as a trip take it not only gives you a sense that this is a family unit, but it also highlights the individuality of each girl's pose. Thes images are unintentional dipped ICS. They were taken of Australian criminals during their mud shot process. And as I mentioned in a previous lesson, history can turn anything toe art. If enough time has passed, the's have definitely become elevated into being art. Not only do they showcase the personalities of their subjects, but they do it in a really gritty environments. Each one has a close up and a full body shot and has a little graphic element of writing to tie it all together individually. These images are great together. They're extraordinarily powerful. The's sequences showcased landscape photography in a whole new way. The elements that are close to the bottom of the frame are much closer. The photographer chose to use close up photos at the bottom of the frame, and as he got to the top of his collaged frame, he utilized elements that are further away in the background. It creates this sense of you being there. It's a way of highlighting particular details, as if to say, Pay attention to this flower. Pay attention to this rock. And it's also a way of presenting a landscape in a really unique new 21st century fashion that feels more exciting, vibrant and fresh than if it was just a single image of the entire scene. Each time I moved from one frame to another, my mind has to connect the two. And as I said in one of the other lessons, anything you can do to get your viewer to interact with the photograph on a mental level can only be a good thing. 5. Scale and Space: if you've ever taken art class, you've heard about the elements of art, and you've probably heard about scale and the use of positive negative space in your drawing or painting compositions. The same applies and photography. And a lot of times when people are talking about photographic composition, they are specifically talking about how to fill the entire frame with stuff, how to tell a story through having things. And all these critical junctures involving the rule of thirds. Having leading lines point this way and that way. And one thing that's kind of left out in that conversation is the fact that you don't have to have anything in those spaces. In fact, you can express emotion by virtue of having anti nous around your subjects. So scale photography does not necessarily mean that your subjects are small in comparison to this vast emptiness around them. Certainly, you could use scale by having something very large, very close to you. You can shoot macro. You can have a subject that is large next to a subject that it's small and utilize scale in that way. But for the purposes of our cutting edge compositions, we're going to look at pictures that have a very small figure and a lot of negative space around them. These figures don't necessarily have to be placed alongside any of the intersections at the rule of thirds would imply you'd have to place objects at. It's just a matter of having a balance between some small figure and some vast sea of color of white of nothing. No matter where your figure is in this negative space, you are portraying the relationship between one thing and another, and that still is valid. Compositionally. One of my favorite photographers of all time guy Bardeen, utilizes this a lot in his fashion and beauty related compositions. In the case of this image are having a large wall with a small hole in its model is essentially reduced to mouse size, even though there's nothing else that's particularly large and scale. It's just the idea of a person shot from far away disappearing into a whole, that whole matching a large field that resembles a wall you have to models interacting across the street. I'm not sure if it's a dance or if it's a fight, but they're very small in scale in relation to the large industrial building that's around them, and that industrial building is by no means the subject of this scene. But it evokes the emotion you get when you witness something happening across the street, and you're not quite sure what it is if people are partying, if they're pranking each other. This is something that's happened to me a few times in my life. And when I came across this guy boarding image, I absolutely recognized that was the vibe he was going for. Then we have this image by Charles Hard, but and this particular image is a person small in a corner there, surrounded by wallpaper texture. And it's essentially a large pattern that has your subject breaking the pattern. So even though the subject isn't properly placed if we were to go by rule of thirds, they definitely draw your eye because they are breaking an established pattern by having the person small and in the corner. It really gives you the sense of almost like a mental illness or a sadness or depression, I have heard it said that if you want to draw a sad man, all you need to do is take a regular piece of paper and do a tiny little figure sitting down and having all this overwhelming negative space around them is a great graphic way of representing alienation and loneliness. Known in all of these examples, when I have a subject that small in scale, it's against some contrast ing background that allows me to see the subject. So this is one of the complaints a lot of people have in wildlife photography that the animals they're trying to photograph are way too far away. And they blend in with the background because traditionally, animals live in environments that they blend into its just a survival mechanism. They all developed some sort of camouflage brown animals live in wooded environments and so on and so forth. But I do want to show you some wildlife photographs that showcase animals very small and scale relative to their environments. And because they're shot against contrast and colors, they pop out as much as if you shut them close up and some of my own work. I have definitely placed subject very small and scale in relation to space that's around with person. Oftentimes, when I am able to shoot from a distance I look at the pictures on the computer and realize that not actually as far away as I'd like to be, or that the image would be more striking if there was even more space around them. So in a case like this image, I shot the model from above. She was in a cyclorama, which is a large, curved white field that you find in professional photo studios. And then in photo shop, I expanded this white field around her. So it really emphasized the embryonic fetal position where she's that I wanted to make her seem more like somebody who's drifting through the cosmos through empty space. This image is very similar, was shot in the same studio, but the particular posed the model had really felt like she was falling. And I think it's perfectly fine to go into whatever editing program or darkroom technique you have on do the best you can do. You tell the story you want to tell. So this is another image where I built out the white space around the model to really emphasize that feeling of falling through a large, empty void. And if I did not build out this space around the model than you would have just seen a person in a pose. But by building out the space and shrinking, the subject in scale definitely tells the story in the way that I meant to tell it but couldn't tell it because I did not have a ladder that extended 100 feet in the air at the time of the shooting. 6. Randomized Reality: in this lesson, I want to talk about the concept of randomized reality. Essentially, we're talking about the messiness of the real world, usually presented as a snap shot aesthetic or picking his subjects that have randomness baked into them and presenting that as straight forward as possible. So we'll talk about the snapshot aesthetic. First, this ties into having things cut off in the frame that a magazine talking about perfect composition would tell you not to cut off in the frame. But the snapshot aesthetic is not just the purview of amateurs is actually quite popular and very common in highfalutin photography magazines in fashion magazines. And I feel like the reason why it's so popular and so prevalent is because the majority of the photography of the world is of the snapshot aesthetic. It's of the moment, and what we have come to realize as a society is that time will make anything in tow art. So the idea that you have to have perfectly composed images that air super clean, shot against perfect backdrops with perfect lighting history does not make that any more or less art than having things that have personality that have random it's that showcase rial life. I definitely think it is okay to approach compositions with a snapshot aesthetic, meaning you don't seek perfection. You don't seek proper placement of every single item in the photograph, and you embrace things that are really that air really happening. You don't worry about things like cars in the background, passersby and so on and so forth. My thought process is if you are a creative person and you approach things in your natural life with an artistic mind, you're going to end up with very artistic portrait. It's very artistic landscapes or cityscapes or street photography, even if if you are embracing the snapshot aesthetic. Many of the street photographers of the 19 sixties worked within this snapshot aesthetic because somebody like Garry Winogrand generally didn't tell his subjects that he was photographing them. He did it in a bit more of a sort of spy fashion, and ultimately, if he got a look out of a person that he liked, if other elements fell into place that made him happy, it didn't matter if there were random elements around. Now, embracing subject matter that has randomized elements to it is a little difficult to describe in words, so I'm going to show you the work of some local Arizona artists. Julian On is somebody who is a professor at a issue. When I went there and she had a project where she would demarcate an area and find all of the junk in it. So these air like open lots areas out in the desert. She would pick up all this particular trash, and she would shoot it against a white background and then presented in this sort of gritted format. This is what was where she waas and you might say to yourself, What does that actually mean? Well, in one sense, it's exploring the mystery of what's really in the desert. What's really in these open lots? And in another sense, it's showcasing how trashy humanity could be and how environmentally unconscious we are interactions. Another person I knew through a S u pa Howman would simply photograph the drawers of people he knew. And what this did was create a portrait of a person through what they had in their drawer without actually showcasing the person. And you could do this approach with almost any sort of object, like photographing people's beds around the world. This is a product I've seen and felt was really heartbreaking because you saw that Children around the world live vastly different lives, some borderline homeless, sleeping and force other ones living this incredible life of luxury. And when you looked at as a complete Siri's, however, reality set up these environments. That's what was photographed. There were no changes. There was no Mathew Brady style rearranging of the objects or the people. Teoh create a better composition. It was stark reality, and each photo effectively told its story. 7. Collage + Alternative Framing: one of the most liberating ways of creating new kinds of compositions is realizing that your frame does not have to conform to a rectangle or square format. And there are many artists out there myself included, who incorporate a lot of collage elements in their photographs. This might take the form of multiple images collaged together or by using other things like paper textures and physical objects. The artist David Hockney is well known for his Polaroid collages, where he utilizes multiple physical Polaroids and they might conform to a particular rectangle or square shape. But generally it is one that would not fit in the specific type of frame you would get when you walk into the art store. So these air artists who have created unusual perimeters of their frames in the real world there is definitely ways to digitally clause your work and create unusual frames. Within that context, one method I like is utilizing adobe photo shops, photo merge. Photo merges are essentially created by shooting overlapping frames and importing them into the software and asking the software to sich them together. Typically, this leaves you with very unusual border. When that does not conform to a normal rectangle, and typically people will crop these down so they do conform to rectangle. But for maybe visual interest reasons, or for keeping all of the data within the images together, or possibly just the general aesthetic of having a chaotic order, you do not have to crop this down. I utilize several APS that create foot emerges with these unusual glitchy edges. To them, Photosynth is an application that simply requires you to photograph within its and you see ghost images of your previous shots. You can overlap them, and you can walk forward and backwards. Photosynth will create a virtual environment, and it is bound to have a lot of glitches to it. You can use it for landscapes. You could use it for people Portrait's. It's not necessarily the most highest resolution way of doing your photography, but it is a way of creating unusual compositions that really couldn't have been created with any of the past traditional methods. As a photographic artist myself, I feel like it's useful for us to explore whatever new technologies can create new kinds of imagery. It might work for our style. It might not work, but I feel like all artists have a responsibility to themselves. Teoh. Try new things, explore new things and work with some of the language and tools that are unique to the air that we live in. That's how we create artwork that is relevant to our time. There are many alternatives to displaying your work. Besides putting them in a traditional square rectangle frame, you can have them professionally printed at any size and scale and then have the printer cut around the edges of it and mount it onto museum board. For things like my instant film collages, I might utilize a wire and clip system. Teoh, hold them on a wall. I've seen working galleries hung with a simple magnetic system. Don't let an unusual perimeter prevent you from exploring new ways of creating or exhibiting your photography. 8. Glitch Photography: similar to the notion of the glitchy exterior is the glitchy interior. This is where technology introduces randomized flaws to your image making. I actually like glitch photography quite a bit, because as somebody who's done photography for a long period of time, I as an artist want to be surprised. So an analog way of introducing glitchy nous into photography my involve using Lamo style cameras. Lemon was a company that encourages low fi film photography through the use of plastic cameras through old 20th century cameras that have a lot of flaws in them. And by flaws, I mean light leaks symptoms. The film is scratched, their overlapping frames the kind of cameras that low mow cells include the Diana, the holder and many Russian imports from the 19 sixties 19 seventies. When you experiment with Glitch LaMotte, graffiti style photography don't expect to get wonderful results every single time. But do you expect to be surprised and have compositions that would have been part to come up with if you had really took the time to plan them out? In this particular case, theme number on the back of the medium format film imprinted onto the photograph with the young woman I was shooting at the time because light leak through the small window that showed the film sequence number. It burned it directly onto the film and became ingrained within the image. I've utilised applications that introduce a deliberately glitchy element. Teoh the images. It could be a photograph. It could be a video. One of my favorite applications that does This is glitch A, and it's a little more creative than applying a simple filter. It has methods of reinterpreting an image on when you play with these. Hopefully you find something that you like. A lot of these I have actually pulled from video. One of the great things about the modern era technology that we live in is we can shoot video and a high enough resolution where we can capture a whole swath of motion and select what we want to use as the photographic still long after the fact. So that's what I've done here. I chose particular moments in time from this model shoot, and I utilized the glitch, a app to create this almost three dimensional landscape kind of effect on my model. Whether it's analog or digital means I feel like glitch. Artwork is 100% ballot. It is no more, no less randomized than the street photographers in the 19 sixties who would go out on entire day and photograph what they found, what was presented to them, with no expectation of a particular person or thing or events happening in front of the camera. I also personally feel like blitzed artwork speaks strongly to be kind of half organic, half digital lives that we find ourselves living in modern day America. 9. Graphic Design in Photography: Lastly, I want to talk about adding graphic design elements to your photography, and what differentiates this from the previous lesson on collage and glitch style photography is graphic. Design is little more deliberate with its communication, and typically it ties into some past utilitarian use of graphic design. For example, artists who block out an element of their image really refers to the use of whiteout, correctional fluid or black reduction in government documents so we can have graphic design by addition of elements, be they physical elements or things like stitching, which is something I've seen in a lot of modern day fashion photography. You can have graphic design by omission, which is where you cut things out of a photograph, in this case, actually cutting the middle out of a photograph. Artist John Hartfield utilize thes graphic design approaches and because a lot of Hartfield surviving work was in the form of magazine, publications or posters in the modern era, when we see these in a museum, they have the additional graphic elements of being within a printed page, Frank compels. The third is a modern day celebrity and and photographer who utilises this approach. Ah, lot work that he does for television shows such as Breaking Bad and Madman comes across as a sort of standard advertising fair that fits the aesthetic of those particular shows. But Frank also creates his own personal journal work, where the photograph is really just starting point. And these graphic design elements that Frank includes really have no limitation. They might involve cutting. They might involve Inc But the presentation of the final journal page is the complete page , and the photograph is just a single part of it. In my own personal work, I've done a lot with graphic design of my photographs, and oftentimes it's a good way to approach a photograph that is actually quite generic in its embryonic state. On when I shoot thes. Maybe that's intentional. Maybe I had planned on doing some alteration at a later date, or maybe it was just a matter of me going through my archives and finding photos where I liked something. But overall it was lacking in visual appeal. This particular image had graphic design elements that were shot intentionally, and I've done this a few times where I have a model stand in one place and the camera is locked down on a tripod. I have them change their position or possibly change their clothes and fit back into the previous pose. And once I have the original digital images, they're printed out there, tourney up and then reassembled to create the new gestalt image. I know there are people out there who have a little bit of fear in manipulating or destroying their images. But if it's any consolation, usually we're starting from digital images, which means we can make multiple prints. If you make a mistake on one, simply make another print and try again. 10. Wrap Up Cutting Edge Composition: guys, I want to thank you so much for sticking with this class on cutting edge photography composition. You should never be made to feel like because you are operating outside of rulebooks that there is not going to be a interest in your work. As I said at the beginning, that class almost all of the people that we celebrate as the great artists, great innovators where the people who learned the rules and then went past those rules through the rule book out. And if you are simply aping things that you've heard in classes, it's unlikely that your compositions are going to stand out when placed next to the thousands of other photos that we see in our daily lives. Be them on websites like 500 PX. Things like Instagram. You have to be bold to stand out and really capture people's attention in the modern era. I happen to live in Arizona, and I'm very close to many national parks in California, Utah, New Mexico and, of course, Arizona. And I have always felt if you go to these places, you need to bring something of yourself with you, and you need to make some challenging photographic compositions because what's the point of not doing that? You might as well buy the postcards that they have available unless you're willing to try something different. Create imagery. That's not the same as the postcards. And the same goes for the work that I create, whether it's portraiture, family stuff, fashion stuff, working with objects or pets. There's always a way to push the boundaries of a composition and keep your viewers interest and keep your interest in photography as well. Once again, I hope you got a lot out of this class. Feel free to check out the rest of my courses on my teaching channel. There's a lot about photography and other forms of multimedia art and adobe software as well. Doctor, You next time by