I get asked to review a lot of photographers’ portfolios. Usually they’re asking me for advice on lighting, but I find that I usually have more to say about the compositions than anything else. And generally, it’s the composition of the photo that drives the other factors, especially the lighting.
With that in mind, I asked videographer (and photographer) Malia Campbell to help me record a quick video outlining some of my thoughts on composing for residential interiors. Malia takes you right inside my camera, so you can see exactly what I’m seeing as I compose shots!
Malia did a fantastic job on this – so be sure to click the HD button and see it large. We shot this in one long day, at a house in Oakland California. It’s my first attempt at a true instructional video, let me know what you think!
Composition is an enormous subject and in a twelve-minute video all I could hope to do was get a few concepts out there. I didn’t spend any time at all addressing the foundations – you can look up basics like the Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, and Vanishing Points on your own. I wanted to get people past the “rules” and thinking about nuances. Likewise, I didn’t get into tilt-shift lenses or technical cameras, at all — but of course that opens up a whole other universe of possibilities!
Sometimes we get so tied up in the technical stuff that we neglect the artistic element. No matter now technically perfect your work, if there’s no feeling, people just aren’t going to respond to it the way you want them to. It’s important, then, to step back and view the photo with a different mindset (I often pretend that it’s someone else’s photo) and try to see if the composition works. There are few rules; instead, you have to develop an aesthetic sense of your own. In time, this will become a unique style that can set your photography apart from the crowd. But to accomplish that, you have to relax the left brain, and let the right brain take over for a few minutes.
In the photo above, as my client and I see it, the strong lines of the pendant lamps and cabinetry immediately pull the eye down from the top of the image. Then, there’s a thread of green that pulls the eye from the countertop in the foreground around counter-clockwise into the middle of the image. On yet another level, there’s even more going on – the highly ordered and rigid upper portions provide an almost dissonant counterpoint to the random and chaotic nature of the foreground, with the tile backsplash mediating between the two. This image “works” because of a successful blend of great styling and thoughtful composition (the lighting is quite simple).
This has been said a million times, but it’s true: If you want to learn about composition (and light, for that matter), study the work of the Old Masters. They laid the foundations, and their use of perspective, light, and composition will blow you away once you start examining it. Treat your camera like a canvas to be painted, and you can take your photography to a new level.