Class Agenda – Wednesday Feb. 1

Composition 101

When you think about framing your shots, you’ll be using rules of composition that are very similar to what you would do in still photography. The obvious difference is that with video, there’s the additional element of movement.

Here are some basic rules and guidelines of composition to keep in mind as you start developing your eye:

1. The Rule of Thirds.

If you pay attention to only one element of composition, the rule of thirds should be it. If you start shooting with this “rule” in mind, your images will look a lot better immediately.

The general idea is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. If you place the main points of interest in your photo where the lines intersect, or along the lines themselves, your image will be far more visually interesting than if you just put the subject smack in the middle. Studies have shown that composing images this way draws the human eye far more effectively.

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 9.52.17 AM
Screen Shot: Google Images
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Credit: Emily H. Johnson
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Credit: Emily H. Johnson

Typically, this is how you will frame your talking head interviews: with the subject on one of the thirds, looking slightly into frame.

Bold Content

Traditional broadcast video usually has a slightly wider view of the subject, as it’s meant to be viewed on a larger screen. But with the shift toward web and mobile video, more close-up interview shots are common.

2. Use color.

It helps to know what combinations of color to look for if you want your images to really pop.

Credit: Steve McCurry
Credit: Steve McCurry

You probably recognize this photo. Known as Afghan Girl, it is one of National Geographic’s most iconic images and was taken by color master Steve McCurry. One of the reasons this relatively simple picture is so stunning and so well-known is the colors: red and green, which fall on opposite sides of the color wheel.

Credit: Wikipedia

Opposite colors, paired together, can make each other look more vibrant. Notice how the green of the girl’s eyes is picked up by the wall behind her and set off by the rusty red of her scarf.

Images with variations on the same color, known as monochromatic images, can also be quite striking:

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
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Credit: Emily H. Johnson
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Screen Shot: Google Images

3. Photo: Capture the decisive moment. Video: Capture the action.

“The decisive moment” is a term that was coined by renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. It refers to that fleeting instant that photographers love to capture: When someone leans in for a kiss, when a soccer player connects with with the ball, or when a protester throws a rock. If you aren’t ready with your finger on the shutter, you’ll miss the moment. If Bresson had taken this photo a split second earlier or later, it would have been a very ordinary photo of a man walking through a puddle.

Credit: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Another decisive moment, this one also by “Afghan Girl” photographer Steve McCurry.

other moment
Credit: Steve McCurry

The decisive moment doesn’t always have to be dramatic. Sometimes just showing people doing a task is all you need.

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson

With video, you have a couple of options for how to capture these moments. You can frame a static shot, anticipating that the motion will pass through it, or you can follow the action with what’s known as a tracking shot.

4. Leading lines.

Leading lines are lines that move the eye from one part of the image to another part, or sometimes out of the image. They add a sense of drama and perspective, so it’s always good to be on the lookout for roads, bridges, fences, shorelines and the like.

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Screen Shot: Google Images
Screen Shot: Google Images

5. Symmetry and patterns.

Symmetry and patterns exist everywhere, both in nature and man-made sights. Looking for repetitions and symmetries, while staying alert to things that then break those very patterns (especially on the thirds!) is a sure way to make an arresting shot.

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson

 

A moment of political passion breaks out amongst tens of thousands who gathered for a pre-election protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: Amanda Mustard

6. Layers.

Another great way to make sure your images are visually interesting is to keep an eye out for what’s happening up close, in the middle distance, and far away. Think in layers. If you can frame your shots so that interesting things are happening in the background as well as at your focal point five feet away, you’re onto something.

Layers will be one of your greatest tools as a photojournalist, because layers add context. They tell a story.

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson

This is a famous photograph by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter. He won a Pulitzer Prize for this image, which showed the effects of the 1993 famine in Sudan.

Credit: Kevin Carter

With video, you’ll have to ability to shift focus between layers in what’s known as a pull-focus shot. With these shots, you’re playing with depth of field. With the DSLR cameras you’ll be using this semester, you will need to do this manually.

7. Get close. Then, get even closer.

Photographer Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Proximity with your subjects makes for more powerful and intimate photos. Don’t be afraid to get right in someone’s face with your camera. It may feel intrusive and strange at first, but a huge part of being a reporter is engaging with people and making them feel comfortable.

Credit: Emily H. Johnson

8. Think in sequences.

Five-shot sequences are a fundamental storytelling skill everyone will use (at least variations of them) frequently. The purpose of a sequence is to visually orient the viewer as to what’s happening, who’s doing it, where we are, etc. so that they can follow the story easily.

Discussion:

Together, we’ll look at the videos everyone selected, analyzing them for composition and sequences. How effective are they?

NEXT CLASS: DSLR tutorial and workshop.

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