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copake_ham
05-15-2007, 10:34 PM
I've always been just a "shooter" with not much more knowledge of "composition" other than "The Rule of Thirds".

Can folks here recommend a good intro text on Composition?

I know I should just go to the ICP or SVA and take a course - but would like to "read up" first.

Peter De Smidt
05-15-2007, 11:12 PM
William Mortensen's The Command To Look

phaedrus
05-15-2007, 11:17 PM
I'd recommend Rudolf Arnheim's "Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye" (http://www.amazon.com/Art-Visual-Perception-Psychology-Creative/dp/0520243838/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/102-5066847-3790544?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1179285126&sr=8-1). It marries perception psychology to art history to not only give you "rules of composition" but also the reasons behind them. A real eye opener!

Peter De Smidt
05-16-2007, 12:12 AM
There's also Perception and Imaging by Richard Zakia.

juan
05-16-2007, 07:27 AM
I think I learned more about composition from really studying a book of photographs by Atget than from reading any text. First step is learning to see the edges of your viewfinder.
juan

smieglitz
05-16-2007, 08:28 AM
OOP for a long time but Harald Mante's Photo Design:Picture Composition for Black and White Photography is a good one. ISBN 0-442-25150-5

mmcclellan
05-16-2007, 09:05 AM
I would skip "composition" books entirely and go straight to the painters. Study the work of Johannes Vermeer, especially, as well as virtually any painter from the "Golden Age" of Dutch painting. Their compositions still rule the roost, for the most part, and studying them closely will really help you to develop a good eye for alignment of the various elements in an image.

Pieter Saenredam is another of my personal favorites, but you can learn volumes by visiting any art museum and studying the compositions in paintings carefully. And, needless to say, study the compositions of great photographers, most especially Paul Strand, Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, and many others.

Personally, I favor the study of compositions by artists (to include painters and photographers) who work slowly, thoughtfully, and deliberately -- and that includes Cartier-Bresson who often composed his photos and then waited for a decisive moment to happen in front of a good backdrop.

Even if you end up doing spontaneous street shooting, I think these purveyors of superb compositions will serve you well and your eye will improve greatly from the study of images, FWIW. :)

DougGrosjean
05-16-2007, 09:10 AM
I would skip "composition" books entirely and go straight to the painters. Study the work of Johannes Vermeer, especially, as well as virtually any painter from the "Golden Age" of Dutch painting. Their compositions still rule the roost, for the most part, and studying them closely will really help you to develop a good eye for alignment of the various elements in an image.....

<snip>

.....you can learn volumes by visiting any art museum and studying the compositions in paintings carefully. And, needless to say, study the compositions of great photographers, most especially Paul Strand, Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, and many others.

You just made my day.

The above is the advice I dish out to people asking about composition and learning to photograph well. Photography is closely related to painting in the composition, we're just using different instruments to actually play the final score.

Course, nobody ever actually visits the museums and studies the things I suggest, but I keep on giving the same advice....

Early Riser
05-16-2007, 09:30 AM
An understanding of the basic rules of composition is helpful in forming a foundation, however the best way to learn composition is by viewing really good work. Paintings, photographs and drawings can be a clue as to how to employ the rules of composition and how to break them. Ultimately it's the breaking of the compositional rules that can lead to the most interesting compositions.

BWGirl
05-16-2007, 09:37 AM
I agree with a visit to the art museum (you can tour the Louvre online here: http://www.louvre.fr/llv/commun/home_flash.jsp?bmLocale=en).

What may also be of some help is to actually make a 'primer' of your own. Take photos of something from different angles and placing the subject in different parts of the window. I'd pring them out 3x5 and put them in one of those photo albums with pockets so you can see them side by side. You will begin to see the types of arrangements that attract you and can start to define a compositional style that you like. Hope this give you an alternative idea! :D

phaedrus
05-16-2007, 10:13 AM
Allow me a meta-comment to this very interesting thread: two approaches toward learning composition come to the fore, one analytic, one synthetic. Or: one decomposing existing compositions, one builing one's own from abstract elements.
I think and whish everyone that both form the descending and ascending arcs of a creative circle.

George Kara
05-16-2007, 10:23 AM
All great answers. I agree that you should study painters as they have been dealing with composition for the longest time. Vermeer was a fine painter (I saw that huge show of his in NYC!).

I believe that the all time greatest master of daring composition is Tintoretto. That being said, learn the rules via some basic text on painting, and once understood, break the rules. Formulas for the most part look contrived and uninteresting.

Truly though, you must check out Tintoretto and if you ever have the chance to get to Venice, go to the academic gallery into the Tintoretto rooms , The roofs open and if you are lucky you will see these works in the light they were created in. Be prepared for the most massive, swirling, vision you have every seen. You cant get the feel until you see them in person.

Sirius Glass
05-16-2007, 11:09 AM
I suggest that you look at Impressionistic painters also. They understood composition and light.

Steve

darinwc
05-16-2007, 01:27 PM
Some other suggestions:
Stop by the bookstore once a month and read sections of magazine where the editors review readers photographs. They will often make suggestions on cropping or reshooting.
Browse an online gallery like here on Apug or on Photo.net. Ignore the ratings that other people give the photos and ask yourself on each one what works or what can be improved.

Most photography books have a section on composition, but they mainly focus on the rule of thirds and such. The books that i have on composition show examples of many different things like color tone, choice of color/bw, perspecive, etc, but they dont really delve into the why. Perhaps some of the other suggestons people made will help.

laverdure
05-16-2007, 02:58 PM
Anyone who's not comfortable composing should stay away from books on composition. Pernicious nonsense, mostly. Just look at pictures (any pictures) and learn to trust your taste. There aren't any rules, unless you want to play particular games, even to break.

darinwc
05-16-2007, 03:53 PM
Anyone who's not comfortable composing should stay away from books on composition. Pernicious nonsense, mostly. Just look at pictures (any pictures) and learn to trust your taste. There aren't any rules, unless you want to play particular games, even to break.

There arent any rules per say, but you can can use certain techniques to change the meaning of an image. For example using selective focus to emphasize a subject. Or filling the frame with the subject vs including background or negative space.

Understanding the techniques of composition will give you more artisic tools to work with. Practicing these techniques will help make it more intuitive.

Jim Noel
05-16-2007, 04:04 PM
If there is a community college or other institution which teaches basic art courses near you, take a course in two-dimensional design. Although on the surface it may seem to have nothing to do with photography, it will improve your compostional skills faster than anything I know. It certainly will do many times as much good as looking at a book and following diagrams.

laverdure
05-16-2007, 04:24 PM
There arent any rules per say, but you can can use certain techniques to change the meaning of an image. For example using selective focus to emphasize a subject. Or filling the frame with the subject vs including background or negative space.

Understanding the techniques of composition will give you more artisic tools to work with. Practicing these techniques will help make it more intuitive.

I think of the tools you've mentioned as being more camera tools than compositional rules. It's theories- admonitions and prohibitions based on geometry or art history or sheer prejudice wrapped up in intellectualism, that I find distasteful. Formalism is all well and good, but do like formalism before you try it. There are better places to start.

Frank R
05-16-2007, 04:33 PM
There are lots of free guides on the WWW. Google phrases like "composing photos" and start reading. Then start taking pictures and studying them.

This is where a digital camera can be very handy. Having immediate feedback on a compostion idea you had in your head makes for fast learning. You can see the results and often reshoot to get what you had in mind.

blaze-on
05-16-2007, 05:47 PM
I agree to look at work by the masters; For "light", there is none more renowned than Rembrandt, though many exude the similar control and quality.

One book that I recall was "The Shape Of Content" by Ben Shahn
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0674805704/ref=pd_sl_aw_alx-jeb-9-1_book_4657301_1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Shahn

Overall I believe composition is not easy to teach or learn from a single book, but by practice and patience once the concepts are grasped.

Shapes...light...relationships...balance...