This Amazing Presentation Could Take Your Photography Composition Skills to the Next Level

I stumbled across this video that was posted by B&H back in 2012 and was quickly amazed by the amount of information I was able to gather in terms of composition techniques. When starting out in photography, most people learn the rule of thirds, take off running, and never look back. Give this video a watch, and you will open an entire new world of tools for your image creation.

This presentation, "Bridging the Gap: Classical Art Designed for Photographers," is a talk by Adam Marelli that is designed to link composition techniques from the classical art of painting to the world of photography. Marelli goes into great detail about specific techniques that were used by painters and links them to examples of famous photographs. He later goes into different elements of composition while showing examples of famous photographs that use these techniques. One of the standout techniques for me was the talk about figure to ground. Figure to ground is a form of building a scene so that the subject stands out as much as possible. This is done by placing a light colored subject on a dark background or a dark subject on a light background. We see this every day when viewing silhouettes, but Marelli gives other great uses of using figure to ground in images that are not silhouettes.

Is there a technique that stands out to you? What did you take away most from the presentation?

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F F's picture

This is, indeed, a truly great presentation that is unfortunately rare, in that it does not obsess about gear fetishes--or even mention gear, really. Instead, Marelli talks about design principles. I dearly wish there was more content like this out there.

I do have to say that I found the majority of Marelli's photos not at all illustrative, and I wish he had used the work of actual masters. In most cases, his photos lack all context that would identify what makes his human subjects worthy of photographing as powerful avatars or symbols. To a degree, I think that most photography classed as "art" occurs in a series vs. as individual shots. But in this case, I think Marelli is using that principal to skate by.

Anonymous's picture

I thought his art and photography choices were good. Rather than being distracted by subjects that, of themselves, are powerful, you're able to see how everyday subjects are affected by the design principles he's discussing. If you have a photo of ET dancing with Bigfoot, nobody would care about the lighting or subject to ground relationships. :-)

Kevin Arburn's picture

This was so good I actually took notes...even knowing that I could watch it over and over. My biggest take-away was one of the most simple: dominant eye in the center of the image.

Michael Rapp's picture

Thanks for the post!
Actually, this is one of the few B&H shows I need to watch over and over again, on a yearly basis. To check on the way I've come and the one yet to travel.

Outta Focus's picture

Thanks for the post, very interesting and quite an education. I liked the concepts and the examples given were illustrative, especially those from "the masters", be that painters or photographers. However, in many of the examples given, mostly with his own work, most (or at least some) of the considerations seem to be post-photo rather than "inspirations" that led to the photo being taken. In other words, they seem post-photo interpretation of serendipitous elements of the scene rather than intentional capture of those elements. Still, very useful. Something that I will bear in mind when I go through my past photos (just curiosity...) and when I press the shutter in the future.

James Cowman's picture

I agree, this was a great presentation. Adam Marelli was trained by Myron Barnstone using a system of design called Dynamic Symmetry. You can find information online. There are several good books available. "The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry" you can find free online as well as Jay Hambidge's Elements of Dynamic Symmetry. A few other good books are Henry R. Poore Pictorial Composition.

Yannick K.'s picture

Thanks for sharing this.
As a novice in photography, I focused on gear and technical aspects. And I'm convinced it's necessary.
But watching this presentation about the fundamental principles of design with all those examples made me realize that a good picture is not necessary sharp or straight, it's all about the strength you feel as a viewer.