Composition Photo Workshop

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Understanding Composition
Approaches to Composition
How You See
The Origins of Composition
Understanding Linear Perspective
Composition and Photography
Chapter 2: The Elements of Design
Understanding the Elements of Design
Arranging Design Elements in the Frame
The Rule of Thirds
The Golden Rectangle
Chapter 3: Depth of Field Decisions
The Plane of Critical Focus
Understanding Aperture
Selecting Lenses
Previewing and Predicting Depth of Field
Using the Hyperfocal Distance to Deepen Depth of Field
Chapter 4: Slicing Time: Designingwith Shutter Speeds
Shutter Speed and Depth of Field: A Delicate Balance
Freeze or Blur: How Shutter Speed Affects a Shot
Using a Motor Drive
Chapter 5: Capturing Light
The Quality of Light
The Direction of Light
The Intensity of Light
Harnessing Sunlight
Chapter 6: Working with Color
Color Theory
Color Temperature
The Color of Sunlight
Controlling Colors by Using Filters
Chapter 7: Thinking in Black and White
The Zone System
Metering and Exposing for Black and White
Working with Contrast Filters
Chapter 8: Arranging Appealing Portraits
A Little History
Framing Your Photo
Lighting the Scene
Color Versus Black and White
Metering the Scene
Photographing Kids
Chapter 9: Travel and Scenic Photography
Packing Your Camera bag
Scoping Out Your Location
Photographing People on Location
Chapter 10: Still-Life and Close-Up Photography
Photographing Still-Life Images
Macro and Close-Up photography
Chapter 11: Improving Your Images
Understanding File Formats
Cropping or Resizing an Image
Adjusting an Image’s Contrast and Color
Correcting Imperfections
Fixing the Lighting
Applying Special Effects
Backing Up and Archiving Your Image Files
Taking the Next Step

Composition Photo Workshop

About the Author

Blue Fier studied art extensively while in college, receiving a Bachelors of Arts degree in Art from Occidental College; a Masters of Art degree in Art from California State University, Northridge; and a Masters of Fine Art degree in Art from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before committing himself to photography on a full-time basis more than 20 years ago, working with clients in the travel, real-estate, sports, and environmental industries, Fier was an exhibiting artist for nearly two decades. In addition to working as a professional photographer, Fier has taught photography for 15 years.

114360 fgFM01.tif

© Photo by David Paul Bayles, 2007


Acquisitions Editor

Kim Spilker

Senior Project Editor

Cricket Krengel

Project Editor

Kelly Maish

Development Editor

Kelly Dobbs Henthorne

Technical Editor

Larry D. Sweazy

Editorial Manager

Robyn Siesky

Vice President & Group Executive Publisher

Richard Swadley

Vice President & Publisher

Barry Pruett

Business Manager

Amy Knies

Book Designers

LeAndra Hosier
Tina Hovanessian

Project Coordinator

Adrienne Martinez

Graphics and Production Specialists

Joni Burns
Brooke Graczyk
Jennifer Mayberry
Barbara Moore
Shelley Norris
Amanda Spagnuolo

Quality Control Technician

Todd Lothery

Cover Design

Larry Vigon
Daniela Richardson

Proofreading and Indexing

Broccoli Information Management
Sossity R. Smith

Wiley Bicentennial Logo

Richard J. Pacifico


Many extremely talented people collaborated on this book. My utmost gratitude and appreciation
goes to Kate Shoup Welsh, my personal editor, who clarified my thoughts, organized my ideas, and researched topics above and beyond my expectations. I’d also like to acknowledge all the editors and staff at Wiley for allowing me the opportunity to work with them. Next up, thanks to the many students I have taught at Santa Monica College, who have been the testing ground and inspiration for my ideas; also, thanks to my clients, who have trusted me to bring back images of beauty out of seeming chaos. My wife, Kim, and sons, Zack and Easton, have enthusiastically supported me in undertaking this lengthy project in lieu of other events. I am grateful for the ideas and suggestions offered by my close friend, David Paul Bayles, in addition to his excellent portrait of me. Special thanks go to Robert Farber for suggesting I get involved in this series. I would like to thank Christian Erhardt of Leica USA for loaning me the latest Leica digital cameras and the Lifepixel Company for converting my Canon digital camera to an infrared one. In creating this book, it helped immeasurably to be a part of Ian Summers’ Heartstorming group, which encouraged me to pursue my vision.


After 10 years of helping photographers hone their skills on, I’m thrilled to present this new line of books in partnership with Wiley Publishing.

I believe that photography is for everyone, and books are
a new extension of the site’s commitment to providing an education in photography, where the quest for knowledge is fueled by inspiration. To take great images is a matter
of learning some basic techniques and “finding your eye.”
I hope this book teaches you the basic skills you need to explore the kind of photography that excites you.

You may notice another unique approach we’ve taken with the Photo Workshop series: The learning experience does not stop with the books. I hope you complete the assignments at the end of each chapter and upload your best
photos to to share with others and receive feedback. By participating, you can help build a new community of beginning photographers who inspire each other, share techniques, and foster innovation and creativity.

RF signature.tif

Robert Farber

RFheadshot Jay Maisel.tif

© Photo by Jay Maisel


Every waking moment of every single day, you face choices. Toast or bagel? Decaf or regular? Paper or plastic? The list is endless. Some of these choices, like those listed here, are of little importance. That is, choosing one or another option might improve your day, but probably won’t change your life. Other choices, however, can have a tremendous impact: where to live, whom (if anyone) to live with, and what type of work to do.

Like life, photography — indeed, any art form — is about choices. What type of camera should you use? Should you orient the image vertically or horizontally? Should the image be in color or in black and white? What settings — ISO, aperture, and shutter speed — would work best? How should your subject be arranged? How should the scene be lit? Should you use a tripod, filters, or special lenses? Where should you position yourself relative to your subject when clicking the shutter button?

Each of these choices factors into your photograph’s composition — that is, how your picture looks or, more precisely, the information or idea that your photograph conveys. A well-composed picture communicates its message clearly and effectively, inviting the viewer both to further examine the work and to appreciate it.

Just how do you create a well-composed picture? That’s where this book comes in. In its pages, you can discover the tools necessary to compose photographs that urge the viewer to look more closely. Specifically, you explore the following:

The elements of design that represent the building blocks of any photograph

How depth of field can factor into your composition

The compositional effects of using different shutter speeds

The various ways you can use light in your images

How shooting in color versus black and white (or vice versa) can articulate your photograph’s message

Armed with this information, you then investigate how best to compose images of various kinds, including portraits, landscapes, and other scenic shots, still-life pictures, and macro photographs. You then survey how to use image-editing software to enhance your photograph’s composition. Along the way, you complete assignments designed to illustrate the principles of composition explored in each chapter and apply what you’ve learned.

However, this book is intended to do more than teach you a bunch of compositional rules. Its true goal is to help you develop your own unique compositional style. Using what you learn in this book, you can discover the ways in which to make your photographs, well, yours. If you’re ready to change the way you take pictures, to choose between creating images that viewers pass by with barely a glance to ones that stop them in their tracks, then read on.

For comments and up-to-date information regarding this book, as well as future workshops, podcasts, or to purchase prints by Blue Fier, please visit and, or e-mail me at Many images in this book are available through or

May good light follow you wherever you go.

~Blue Fier