New Photography Rules Of Composition By Scott Kelby

A few weeks ago Scott Kelby hosted the Google + conference in San Francisco. In this lecture from the event, Scott tries to shed light on to how photographers should really work their scenes to find the best composition. We've all been taught the tried and true methods like rule of thirds, leading lines, tight crop, repeating patterns, framing, and multi level depth. Shouldn't there be a better way to teach photographers how to compose a better image when a particular scene might not have these classical elements? This video is over an hour long but Scott makes it engaging as he reminds us all to work the scenes that initially grab our attention.

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30 Comments

 I try to remember at least one good photograph by Scott Kelby!? It would worth a thousand hours of instructional videos?!

Dale Richards's picture

 He is not a photographer, he is a salesman!

James Robertson's picture

This video definitely isn't a couple weeks old, I know I saw it months ago, probably on kelbytraining.

EDIT: Nevermind, it is new..he used the exact same speech from another video, just with different photos..

Patrick Hall's picture

 yeah it was just released a few days ago....Google + was the end of May. 

Tobias Solem's picture

OK... I'm thirtyfive minutes in, and the only thing besides the 5 rules that he has covered is "shoot a lot from different angles and vary tight and close shots until you find something you like", the first 5 took him 3 minutes, and the rest has taken 32... :S

Patrick Hall's picture

 yeah the technique his is describing isn't really ground breaking for the average photographer but I think it teaches something that we have all learned at some point in our career.  It's amazing how many people just see something great in front of them and don't stop to think about how it translates through their camera. 

Tobias Solem's picture

Scott Kelby always seemed primarily like a salesman to me, he tends to hype himself and his techniques as revolutionary. He starts out by criticizing education on photography for being outdated and (at least to me) sounds like he wants to innovate, but then goes on by repeating more stuff that both photographers and books on photography have been saying for ages: "Shoot a lot, vary angles and look before you shoot". Kertesz, Capa, Bresson, Adams, Barthes, etc. have said this very same thing. 

Move closer, shoot what makes you feel is right, shoot it several times. I think to try and "innovate" the essentials of photography is extremely difficult in terms of the act of photography. 

What Kelby does that is interesting (and sometimes new) in his books and to an extent here (that I like) is give basic information how he made a certain shot. This is what information videos and guides focus on more and more: "How was this lit?", "What was my thought process?", "What did I do in post?" - this essentially covers things that cannot be simply formulated like the rule of thirds, or "shoot a lot", this is all about experience and the sharing of experience. 

tl;dr: To develop as a photographer I learn more from the experience of others than formulas (that are more for the upstarter photographers).

Dale Richards's picture

 Haha I did not steal your line, I genuinely wrote my comment before I saw this =P

aboutrc's picture

Tobias: 

I think that you are absolutely positively correct.  These are things that I think are -definitely- not incredibly discoverable to many.  There are a ton of people that unfortunately miss out on shooting from different angles, moving closer, varying shots - essentially the 'real' things you need to keep in mind, because they are so mired in the whole "Leading Lines, rules of thirds" mentality.  

The problem is that unfortunately for those who are past that and into a more advanced state, these things -seem- self explanatory.  These things are  -obvious-  to you.  Of -course- we should see all of these things.  This part is the -easy- part.   Thats the problem though - many people still dont see that.. and to them - its revolutionary. 

Imagine telling a person they need to wait for the decisive moment in order to take a shot.  To a new person, they would think you are smoking crack.  What does 'decisive moment' mean?  Im trying to work on dials... 

In short - there is an evolutionary process to photography.. and there are people all over that process.. in many different places in that line. 

That said.. I went to your website and took a look at your portfolio.  I believe you have absolutely no leg to stand on talking about -anyone- else's photography here.  Matter fact - it would have paid you better if you listened to that talk before you made some of those shots.  

And your cat.. seriously??!?!    Remind me to bid on any job you're doing.. :)

I have to agree with a lot of the comments here so far. Can't remember one memorable Photograph by Scott. There is no doubt he is a smart business man and has made his mark as a Adobe educator but as a photographer?! And one I want to emulate? 

It is interesting to see a 'pro' shooting so much dross before he hits a 'keeper', but then again I would question his 'keepers' based on the examples in this video. Of course art is personal but that picture of the coffee was a) representative of the breakfast (which was the brief he got from his wife)? and b) worth printing and hanging on his wall?

So while many master photographers talk about previsualization, and 'thinking' through a scene, deciding on your intent and then picking up the camera to execute; Scott reckons you should a) snap away with wide, long, angled, etc, etc shots from every direction possible and then b) 'work the settings' like shallow depth of field, etc until you happen upon something you like. Really?! Wow truly these are the "new rules of composition" right here!

/* Stepping down of soap box */

Tobias Solem's picture

Agreed, I would much rather see a more inspiring photographer make these types of lectures. Like Nadav Kander, or such.

aboutrc's picture

who?

Scott has the knack of stating the obvious and selling it as if it's a life changing experience.  Read Michael Freeman's series if you want advice from someone who actually creates great images.

Tobias Solem's picture

+1

Thanks for posting Patrick.  This is similar to Ken Rockwell's "FART for better potos" Feel Ask Refine Take. 
http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/fart.htm

Mike Philippens's picture

If you need guidelines on how to shoot, you're in the wrong business.

Personally I would not read too much into Scott's video. The video is targeted to a specific audience… those folks new to photography.

The experienced photographer already knows about composition and how it effects the image. Pros use composition to tell a story and/or direct the viewers eye to a specific detail.

Commercial photographers use composition to best capture a product and show the "features and benefits" of that item. Or we use certain lenses and angles to make the product look sexy. And sometimes the art director just hands me a "comp" that they want me to shoot… a very specific image, angle and lighting technique.

I am not familiar with Scott's negative comments about photography schools nor do I care. I happen to like photography schools and the educated feedback from my working-in-the-field instructors. The weekly assignments exposed me to a variety of subjects that I probably would have never shot on my own.

Not all photo schools are created equal. And quite a few plain suck, nothing more than a business to lighten your parents wallet. The fine print on one schools website states "we train you to be an assistant and you may not be prepared for the commercial world".

I suppose the same can be said for online web courses, some are good and some are not so great. Many are just pure entertainment with great graphics and video editing. Much of the lighting I saw while assisting commercial studios, I never see on web courses.

Web courses or photoschool do not guarantee success. My class began with 60 students, 11 graduated, and 2 of us are still shooting. It is a very tough business indeed.

I have no reason to doubt the quality of instruction provided by Scott's web videos. However, I do question the quality of the 1-on-1 feedback one may get from a web course. My schools classroom critique was brutally honest and I welcomed it. The "nice image" comments of many forums today, have little merit in the real world of photography…IMHO.

The video posted by Scott helped out many beginners. It was not intended for the professional and experienced photographer. I did find it entertaining and with good material for the beginner. Lets hope the audience actually goes out and shoots something.

Finally, as any working pro will quickly point out, lighting, shooting and composition is the easy part…. marketing, client relations, and getting the job is the real secret to a successful photography business. There are no mystery lighting secrets in the real world.

I don't think of rules, either old or new when composing an image, I shoot whatever looks right for the present situation. Rules are a good starting point for the beginner. As we become more skilled in our craft, we learn how to break the rules.

Enough coffee for me this morning…. off to the studio and pre-light this weeks catalog shoot. :)

You'll anger the photography gods, friends! Please, don't put Bresson and "he who must not be named" in the same paragraph:)

To me things look more like:

Ker Rockwell
'SK, who must not be named'
Chuck Norris

:)

One good photograph, worth a thousand hours of instructional videos! 

Dale Richards's picture

The only thing Scott Kelby is a good example of is how Pro gear can make amateur photographs look good. Take away the sharpness of his full frame sensor and the lighting and what you're left with is the work of your high street photographer. There are photographers with lesser gear making more creative imagery.

The only image I would credit him for is the second image in this gallery http://portfolio.scottkelby.com/gallery/people/ it is more documentary but it shows story. 

You guys are funny. Truth to the matter is that he is a good photographer and he writes the books that people buy. He can shoot basically ANYTHING and makes it look great. He doesn't have to be a Herb Ritts. He's constantly booked, widely known and widely respected. His portion on portfolio edits was fantastic.

You really don't need to remember one of his shots, just know that very good photographers you do respect, also respect him. Game recognizes game.

Tobias Solem's picture

I guess that depends on whom you compare him to. Scott takes predictable and commercial shots. He picks the subjects that will sell well because they appeal to the buyer. He's above average as a photographer, yes. Only because the average photographer is a snapshot tourist with an overly expensive DSLR set on auto. He certainly is no Dave Hill, or Michael Freeman - with a personal immediately recognizable style. I wouldn't be able to see if it was his shot among a dozen other "above average" photographers.  The fact that he is "successful" economically I attribute more to his nack in using sales-rhetoric and business-sense than his skills in any other field. And some people buy it.

This of course does not mean that the information he is selling is bad, or destructive. He nails down the basics of photography quite well. But like with any education in photography, allow me to paraphraze: learn it and forget it. I've seen more personal style in 15-year olds.

José Tomás Tocino's picture

Well, looks like I'm not the only one who thinks that Kelby's a scam. I'm glad, I was starting to feel like I was crazy or something. 

With the huge amount of photographers that are way better than Kelby, I can't understand how Adobe uses him and all of his useless crew. I mean, come on, RC Concepción, wtf? And that guy Kloskowski, the same bs. All of them are tech guys trying to sell the obvious. 

aboutrc's picture

*Starts Crying in his Cheerios..*

But... but...  I thought I was a photographer...   You mean... I cant Haz Photography?

George Socka's picture

take a close look at that video. Notice where Scott sits most of the time. What rule of thirds is that? Yet the video is immemently watchable, even though completely dead center in the frame. Who would have  known?

he is still repeating the old story of compasition, but with great point of how does real good photo come out. which is not by only 1 click and also need high skill of photo editing to select photo out of the best. also i can not more then agree with the subject matters in the photo. but other thing he didnt mention is the creativly shoot, which have a lot frequency is break out the old compasition technic. all the photo he shows is safe type photo for his job, do not have specific wow effect. even most time look at photos is same as reading book. only people have the samilar experience emotion attarched to the situation as the presented view, then it will consider great for those specific person.

Jason Vinson's picture

dang. A bunch of hating going on in here. 

The best part of this video was the portfolio section.  

 There is lots of crap in the portfolio section as well imo!

There is no magical formula that would work on every subject!
Different subjects needs different treatment and if the picture doesn't work the last to blame is the subject!!!

Scott Kelby is The Perfect example of: 'Those who can, do; those who can't, teach!

All he does is steal ideas and techniques from the really creative people out there, package them cheaply, and sell them as his! Which is probably OK if you'd like to learn THE CRAFT of photography!

THE ART of photography though, one should learn from the work of the real photographers! imo 

As far as this particular video I'd summarize it like this: "The new rules of composition by Scott Kelby:  Shoot away till happen to like something and thank gods you are not using film!

The composition rules are in direct correlation with human perception of  beauty and aesthetics thus they don't change over night and stay relatively the same for hundreds, even thousands of years!

Since huge part of the modern photography books are written by same salesmen as Kellby I find huge inspiration on the topic in the classic Fine Art books! Find one and you'll see that there is a lot more than rule of thirds, leading lines and framing. It's funny Kelby never mentioned the use of negative space, the role of the fore, middle and background, the use of color and value perspective, the use of color and contrast to draw attention, the use of first, second and third focal points, the golden ratio, the shapes the objects form within the frame, etc, etc, etc.

Nothing again the salesmanship - just be careful what you buy! The really good stuff is not for sale!