Just this week I shot Emily and Kelby's wedding. So before then I wanted to put up their wonderful engagement photos from Naperville.
This week, we are going to chart out the entire life of a photographer.
What's up, welcome back to the Composition Madhouse, last week we were talking about photography and design and about how one of the main reasons why we've got this weird obsessions with gear when it really doesn't matter is that photographers don't typically study design. And in photography that's hard, it's just design. So, if photography is just like design, then what's the difference? Well, the main difference between photography and design is the starting point. The starting point of most types of photography is subtraction where the starting point of graphic design is addition. So, think about what actually happens. If you're a graphic designer, you open up Illustrator and you've got a blank slate. You may have a few design elements, a palette or a logo or something, but you start generally blank. And you start adding things into that palette. And you start adding things into that blank slate. When most people start off with photography, you go into a party or a family gathering, and there's just stuff everywhere. If you think about that party as a visual composition, and you start taking it apart, you can see that there's all sorts of disparate shapes, and lines, and directions and colors and temperatures and all of these things that take stuff out.
This week, we're specifically going to talk about two things. First, we're going to talk about the two main stages that every single photographer goes through to become great. Normally when people first start getting into photography, something happens like this. They see online or they see someone's pictures and they think it's super cool. And they think that, "Wow, what I really need is to get a nice camera." So they go and they do a bunch of research and they drop a few hundred dollars on a nice camera, and they start taking pictures and there is this immediate high of, "Wow. That looks incredible." But, soon thereafter, they come and they realize that, "My pictures aren't that good. I mean, they're marginally better, and we all know that's just because of a bigger sensor and a nicer lens, but they're not really that much better." So what do we do? Well, we either search online or we take a photography class or something like this and the photographer, the teacher starts telling us, "You need to have a subject in your photos, you need to be taking a picture of something. Why don't you fill the frame with something?"
So, you go out and you start doing those things. You start filling your frame with whatever it is you're taking a picture of, you make sure you've got a subject. And that's awesome. You look at your pictures and you think, "This is a million times better than anything I've been doing before." And then the same thing happens again, is that you feel like, "Well, there's got to...I look at these dude and they've got great, great, amazing work, and I look at mine and it's cool, but not that good." So, to get a little better handle on the progression of a photographer, what do I actually have to do to become a better photographer? The entire progression of a photographer look just like this. Every photographer, in their progression to master their skill, there is two main stages.
The first stage is simplification. The second stage is complexification. What's that stuff about? When you first start taking photos, you normally go to a party or you go to a family gathering, or you enter a room or you go into a park and you take a photo and there is just crap everywhere. If you think in terms of simply design, you've got tons of different shapes and different sizes and different colors, and different textures and it's just a smattering of design elements that aren't harmonious, that don't have a flow, that don't have a balance to it. So, the first step is always simplification. Simplifying the composition. The first step to becoming a great photographer is learning all the ways to simplify a composition. In the next video, we're going to look at all of the ways to simply a composition. There is nine, and there is only nine. After you master those nine, of course it takes a lifetime to master those, but you can get a good handle after a few years.
After you master those nine ways to simplify a composition, the next step is to complexify the composition. Now, before we talk about complexifications, we've got to get some definitions on board here, because simplification and complexification aren't exactly what you think they are. Simplicity is not just a reduced number of visual elements. Not having a bunch of subjects or not having a bunch of visual elements. Simplicity is two things. Negatively, it is not having anything extraneous in the photo. Negatively, a simple composition is not having very few things in it, but it is not having any extraneous visual elements or subjects. Not having things in the composition that shouldn't be. A simple composition doesn't necessarily mean there's very few subjects. So negatively, it means there is not extra stuff in there, and positively, a simple composition means a composition where the elements in there are properly ordered. That they are harmonious. That there is a narrative to them.
That there is a proper relation between those two things. So the next video is going to be about all the means of simplification. In the next 60 videos after that, those are all going to be about complexification, and all the ways to complexify a composition. So, when we talk about making a composition more complex, we are not saying that it ceases to be simple. In the words of Neal Plantinga, he said, "There is a simplicity that is past complexity, but yet that includes it." I'll say it again. "There is a simplicity past complexity that includes it." And what does that mean in visual composition? In visual composition, that means that though you have additional visual elements or subjects, they are all properly ordered, there's a harmony, a flow, a rightness about those relations. Many of the great painters will construct their compositions in a way that there is a visual entrance into the composition or a multiple and then you are lead around, by means of composition, through the whole piece, and then you can exit.
So if simple composition is superior, why would you complexify it? Well, two analogies. First musical. If you play one note, it's perfectly lovely. But, if you start adding in notes, two, three, four, six. There starts to be relationships between the notes to bring out textures and colors and dynamics that you didn't experience before. Or think about a story. You can have a story about one person. And it can be interesting. But when you start adding a boyfriend, a mother, a grandfather, they are specific characters and they start interacting in different ways. Grandfather to daughter. Daughter to mother. Mother to stepson. All of these different relationships start bringing out the beauty and the redemption or ugliness of that narrative and so it is with visual composition. You complexify it because you can bring a higher order of beauty when you start to bring together these different visual elements and subjects and colors and shapes together that you couldn't have with one element. Thanks so much for stopping by this week. Stay tuned because in next week we're going to look at all of the nine ways to simplify your compositions.
What's up? Welcome back to the Composition Madhouse, where imitation is mastery, brought to you by Foster Light Studios. My name is John Higgins and in this week, we are talking about photography and design.
This week, I want to talk about how we got into this conundrum, how do we get to this place where we're spending so much time, as a photographic community, focus on the things that won't actually make us a better photographer, mainly gear, and we don't spend very much time on the things that actually will make us a good photographer, composition.
Now, I'm not a historian, but one of the main reasons why we got into this situation is because photographers typically don't study design, and photography, at its most fundamental level, is just design. Photography is about the harmonious ordering of visual elements within the frame. And how do you know if that ordering of visual elements is harmonious? Well, design. You study design, you study the elements of design, of composition, of visual hierarchy, and contrast, and order. And if we would understand that photography is just design, then we would spend much more attention on design. For those of you who are designers, you know that when you're doing your work, you will move things around by pixels. You have extraordinary attention to detail, precision.
That's the type of attention to detail and precision that we need as photographers, understanding how all the pieces fit together well. The main difference between photography and design is the starting point. When you start as a graphic designer, you start with a clean white slate, where nothing is in your frame. As a photographer, you will typically start with tons of things in your frame. So the first step as a photographer is simplification, while the first step of the designer is addition. So the first step in most types of photography is subtracting, taking out the elements in the composition that do not fit. The first step as a graphic designer is to add an element into your composition. So if you really want to master photography, you need to master design.
So we're here at the Composition Madhouse, and our tagline is that Imitation is Mastery. So what are we going to do this week? This week, I want you to start learning design. You can search for YouTube and find many great tutorials on design and design principles. One of my favorite places is Lynda.com, and they have a bunch of great courses where you can start learning design.
Thanks for tuning in this week. Stay tuned. Next week, we're going to be talking about simplifying and complexifying your compositions. If you've not liked or subscribed yet, please do that, like me. Like me.
Hello and welcome to the Composition Madhouse, where imitation is mastery, brought to you by Foster Light Studios. My name is John Higgins and this week, we're going to learn to master anything. If you want to be great at anything, you've got to know how to be great at anything and it's actually quite simple. You find the masters and you imitate them.
Unfortunately for many years, from when we were very young, we were taught that we should strive to be original. The problem is that if you want to be original, you can't try to be original. In "The Academy," C.S. Lewis talked about how PhD programs are setup really are nonsensical. For you to get a PhD in any discipline, you have to contribute a unique piece of scholarship.
Unfortunately we are relying upon the youngest and most inexperienced people to produce the most original work. If you really want to be original, you don't try to be original. You master the masters. You imitate the masters and one day, you will wake up and find you are original.
All original compositions, pieces of art, are simply from past works divided up and recombined in different ways. Solomon was right when he said that there's nothing new under the sun. And if you haven't seen it, there's a great video that you can check out called "Everything is a Remix," which is talking about this very thing. One of the greatest guitar players alive today, his name is Tuck Andress, and in a video you can see here, he discusses how he mastered his craft.
Tuck would go to the library and get an album by Art Tatum. If you've never heard Art Tatum, he is one of the most insane and greatest jazz piano players of all time. And he played fast, really fast. And Tuck would go to the library and he would get albums by Art Tatum. He would play them and he would slow them down and he would copy, he would imitate, and he would master those solos on guitar. That's how you master anything.
One great contemporary example of this is Roberto Valenzuela. In many of his books on teaching, he talks about how photographers never practice. If you ask most photographers, "When do you practice," or, "How many hours do you practice," they'll normally tell you, "Oh, I had my last wedding a week ago." And he says, "No, no, no, no. That's performance, not practice." He used to be a professional classical guitarist and he would practice hours and hours and hours and hours and he took that into his craft. If you don't know the best photographers in your type of photography, both living and dead, you've got to find that out.
Here at the Composition Madhouse, we're going to be talking about some of the greatest photographers alive today. And I will tell you who they are. So here's your homework for this week. Find the five greatest photographers in the world. And no, that isn't subjective. Beauty is real. Beauty is a real feature of the world. Aesthetic properties are objective. They exist in the world. And you are either a poor photographer, a medium photographer, or a great photographer. If you want to master anything, you need to copy, copy, copy.
It has been a goal of mine for some time to start teaching on composition, the heart of great photography. After many months of planning, I have begun. I have the next year planned for teaching intermediate and advanced composition and design. Without futher ado: Introduction to the Composition Madhouse:
Hello and welcome to the Composition Madhouse, where imitation is mastery. Brought to you Foster Light Studios. My name is John Higgins, and this first episode, we're going to get mad at gearheads and get down with design.
In this first episode, I want to talk to you about what the Composition Madhouse is. I think many people had the experience of when they first got into photography, they were trying to get better, they were trying to understand what this whole thing was about, so they started scouring the internet and they looked on blogs and on websites. But the problem is that many times when you're trying to figure something out, simply the questions and the conversations that are already going on aren't the main things that are going to make you a better photographer.
And when you start listening in on these conversations, the thing that I was amazed at was that so many of the conversations were about gear, just gear heaven. And so naturally, I thought that, "Man, to be a really good photographer, I've got to know about gear." But as any good photographer will tell you, gear accounts for a very, very small percentage of what it means to be a photographer. It's incredible to me when you look at all of the major photography sites and the types of content that they're putting out.
Just a few months ago, I saw a very, very large photography vendor put out a review, a video review, on a lens that had been out for 5, 6, 7 years. It was unbelievable. I remember after the Blackhawks won the World Cup, I was sitting waiting for the parade to come by and there were two younger guys sitting next to me and they saw that I had a nice camera and a long lens, and naturally one of their first questions is, "What do you shoot, Nikon or Canon?" I've been asked this question many times and I say the same thing every time: it doesn't matter. And naturally, when I say that, everyone is shocked and they say, "I've never heard someone say that before."
No one, no matter how good a photographer, can look at any photograph and tell you what camera or what lens it's on. So, there's tons of resources on things that won't make you a great photographer, but very few resources on the things that actually will. What really matters in being a good photographer is composition. And when I say composition, I mean composition including light and posing as well because that's part of the visual organization of the frame. What you really need to master and spend your life learning if you want to be a great photographer is composition.
The problem is that when I was searching for a place for people to really learn from and master composition, I didn't find anything. What you do find with composition is you find a lot of introductory material. Time and time again, you see tutorials and you see lessons on leading line, rule of thirds, but once you've mastered that, you get this desire, "I want to know more. I want to master composition." The Composition Madhouse is about mastering composition. How many times can you review one lens? Honestly. The Composition Madhouse is about intermediate and advanced composition. It's about mastering composition.
What we're going to be doing here at the Composition Madhouse is we're going to be looking at the greatest photographers, breaking down their photographs into all their compositional principles, intermediate to advanced, imitate them so that we might become masters.
So, starting next week, episode two of the Composition Madhouse, we're going to talk about how to master anything.
Thanks for stopping in today. Please remember to give me a thumbs up, share and subscribe. We're going to be having one video every week. I'd love to see you come back.