A Novel Way of Understanding Composition in Photography

Composition in photography is deep if not fairly abstract subject matter, and beyond the Rule of Thirds and Golden Spiral, things can get very subjective or in need of contextualization. This video offers quite a different way of approaching composition, using a technique developed by graphic designers.

In this video, Ted Forbes from The Art of Photography explains how while looking towards other art forms in order to improve his photography, he took a short course in graphic design in order to improve his composition skills. As some of you may already know — and some might be able to guess the relevance here — composition across all the visual art forms tends to follow the same or similar set of rules. That is one of the reasons why, no matter what kind of art you gravitate towards, it's always a great idea to consume other kinds of art if you want to improve.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, though, not just visual art forms. I find much inspiration from books. Even though it's not a visual medium — apart from the text of course — we still form the scenes in our mind's eye. While you might not be consciously drawing inspiration for a photography project or image from a book that you've read, in my mind at least, I can't help but think that these experiences of other mediums have some sort of effect on our ideas, unless you experience aphantasia — in which case, we would love to hear about how you conceptualize an idea for an image.  

Log in or register to post comments

6 Comments

J.d. Davis's picture

On the set of 'A Wedding' (Robert Altman - director) Mr. Altman was asked how he knew what props to put into a frame for a shot. His answer was direct and succinct; Only put things in the frame that belong".

The same holds true for stills.

Jan Holler's picture

Thanks, I like his videos. He gets to the point and even if you already knew the subject matter, it's still interesting to see how he approaches or talks about it.

kentanaka's picture

I generally enjoy Ted Forbes's talks. He's one of the very few vloggers I follow. His figure ground composition 101 lesson is constructive and instructive....to a point. But it's important to understand that f/g composition principles come from 2D organization crafts. It does have application to photography but it's limited.

Taking this one step further, I highly recommend Molly Bang's "Picture This", available in paperback or Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Picture-This-How-Pictures-Work/dp/1452151997/

She takes f/g principles a step further into the 3D realm. Excellent work.

But in general, photography is a craft of EXCLUSION rather than the inclusive dial tone of tablleau rasa crafts like painting, drawing, and illustration. Photographic composition mandates first deciding what to include and then organizing it into a foreground / mid-ground / background space. Viewers don't decode photographs the same planar way they do with illustrations.

Bruno Walther's picture

Good tutorial - but why is it called a novel way?
The content was published in a book in 2012 ( ISBN-10 : 1937538060):
"The Photograph: Composition and Color Design Hardcover – December 10, 2012 by Harald Mante".
Harald Mante is one of the most distinguished teachers of the photographic arts in Germany and an internationally recognized master of photography,
The first edition (in German) was published in 2000.
A Novel Way?

James Cowman's picture

A couple points. Henri Cartier Bresson was shooting in a 1.5 rectangle not a golden section rectangle. Additionally, Dynamic Symmetry is a series of specific sized rectangles. The 1.5 is not part of those rectangles. All the videos online about Cartier Bresson, and the armature displayed is not a dynamic symmetry armature and very misleading. Not to mention inaccurate. The tools don’t fit. Figure ground relationship is one technique among many when it comes to design. Outside of these facts, I enjoyed the video.