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Fundamentals of Photography

Lesson 101 of 107

Visual Drama


Fundamentals of Photography

Lesson 101 of 107

Visual Drama


Lesson Info

Visual Drama

Visual drama, things that, once again, are intrinsically interesting to the eye. In some ways, this isn't really a composition section as how to compose your photograph, but this is a section on, these are just things that work well in photography. They make for good subjects. First thing is contrast, and we like seeing contrast. I think this is one of the areas in future classes I may do on photography that I would like to expand upon 'cause I think there's a lot of ways that you can have contrast because there is the actual contrast, how bright certain pixels are versus other pixels. Having an image that has a lot of lights and darks tends to be interesting for us to look at. There's a lot to take in in any particular situation. A contrast here is in a rough area versus a very smooth area. This gets to be a very common theme, a lot of times, when you're shooting water 'cause it looks very different than the environment around it. Those rocks and those roots are a very, very big contr...

ast to what we're seeing in the water. Having those two elements together is kind of like having the two subjects together that are playing off of each other. Having this nice, pink, soft sky, and then these rusted, hard metals in the same photograph work well together 'cause they play off of each other. Using those skies and other structures you find around it tend to work really well. Lightning storm, that hard, crisp, bright light of the lightning versus the soft fluffiness of the clouds, a very different feel and contrast there, so that plays off against each other. It's a nice background for that subject. In some ways, these are two completely different subjects, the soft clouds, and the nice colors in the sky versus these very jagged and hard rocks. They play well together, so that's an element that works well in a photograph. We talked about this before in what we look at in a photograph, in sharpness, and it's really important that you get your pictures focused as properly and as best you can because the eye is drawn to those sharp areas, and they don't tend to want to go to those other areas that are out of focus, so you have to be very sure about getting the focusing spot on 'cause if it's a little bit off, once you start looking at it closely, you're not gonna be able to read that image properly. As I've said before, you're the director of a small story that you're telling here. When you put something in focus, you are telling it's the most important thing. When it's out of focus, it's kind of like a supporting character in a movie. It's not the main reason you're there, but it helps tell the story of other things that are going on, so this technique works very well for a lot of different types of photographs where you have some things in sharp focus, and some things in soft or blurred focus. There's a lot of different ways of doing it. One of my favorite techniques is, of course, panning. I love doing this in Cuba 'cause they got these old cars which are really nice, colorful, big objects, and they're moving at nice, consistent speeds, and there's interesting things in the background. Let's just have a small little diversion here, and let's just talk about panning for a moment. It's a great technique for using on anything that's moving that you want to show it in a way differently than using a fast shutter speed, and just show it in a different way in a different environment. When I'm panning with the subject, I am trying to track where that subject is going, and I'm trying to be perpendicular to that subject, and I'm gonna shoot as it's approaching my perpendicular point, and then, once it moves past the perpendicular point, I stop shooting 'cause I'm more interested in the front of that subject than the back of that subject in most all cases. There's always exceptions for the rules, of course. Let's go ahead and start playing around with some different shutter speeds with panning. If you were to not pan at a quarter of a second with the streetcar going by, you're gonna get the streetcar blurry. If you pan in the right way, you're gonna get the streetcar sharp and the building blurry in the background. The question is, which one do you want in which way? I think they're both interesting photos that are good for different types of purposes. One of the key things with panning is the shutter speed. What exact shutter speed should you use? It depends on the movement, your angle of view, and the lens that you are using. Photographing a runner on a track at a thousandth of a second, the chain link fence in the background, the runner itself, the shoelaces, they are frozen at a thousandth of a second. 500th is good for fast human action, so we're not gonna get any panning motion here. As we work our way into slower and slower shutter speeds, you're gonna start noticing more movement in that fence in the background, a blurriness in that background. If I am tracking my subject, keeping him in the same spot in the frame as I'm moving and following him, he's gonna appear relatively sharp, granted his feet and hands, which are moving at a different speed than his torso and head, those are gonna end up being blurry, but the slower we go, the blurrier the background gets, but also the blurrier he gets. There is a balance between enough blur to get rid of the background, but then too much blur to actually ruin the subject, you might say. You would have to have a subject moving very quick in order to blur them at 250th of a second. In this case, you're just not getting much blurriness of the background caused by movement. If you get a plane going really quick, yeah, you might be able to blur the background a little bit. 125th of a second, we are having some areas in sharpness, and we are blurring that background a little bit, and some pretty fast movement here. Now that we've entered a 60th of a second, we've entered what I like to call the panning zone. This is where you're gonna likely get good panning shots depending on the variables that you have in panning. A subject moving pretty fast with a longer lens, yeah, you'll be able to get a good panning shot at a 60th of a second. Moving down to a 30th, we can pan with subjects that are moving a little bit more slowly. We can get more of a blur if they're moving extra quickly here at a 30th of a second. My favorite shutter speed for panning is a 15th of a second. It seems to be a perfect balance between blurring the background, yet getting at least a reasonable number of shots in focus 'cause the problem when you are panning is not panning smoothly, and everything being out of focus, which happens quite frequently. 15th of a second seems to be a real good in-between spot for most subjects that you see panning. I got lots of 15th of a second. I like this panning shot, but there's one thing I don't like, and that is the blue sky day. One of the things I learned about panning is that you need a bad background in panning. You need a contrasty, cluttered background. When you have a clean background, you can't pan. Let's say, if you had a perfectly white wall, you can't pan on that 'cause you need something that's light and dark to move over each other. In some ways, panning works and is a solution in the worst of environments. When you have the worst background possible, a panning shot can work here. The other thing is that, you need to back up from your subject. It's very hard to pan in a tight alleyway as something is going past you. This is the slot canyon leading down to the treasury building in Jordan. The reason I shot a panning shot here is because it was the only place I could shoot a panning shot 'cause the trail widened up, and it was maybe 100 feet across at this point in time, and if I backed all the way up against the wall, and if the horse carriage came down all the way on the other side of the wall, it would work out. With a longer lens, you're not turning as much. If you were to try to pan with a car coming right down the street in front of you with a wide angle lens, because you're viewing at such a wide angle lens, the panning speed is different because of your angle of view. What happens is that you end up getting a little tiny portion of the car in focus, but the rest of it out of focus. It's kind of interesting at first, but you're not able to hold a lot of focus. What I'm trying to do when I'm panning is, I'm trying to find an area where I can back up far as I can. This is a special street in Havana where, it's a boulevard that has three lanes in both direction. When I'm on one side of the street, and one of the things you've noticed about all my panning shots in Havana is, the cars are all going from right to left. That's because they're the cars on the other side of the street. When I go down to Australia, I guess I'll be able to shoot cars coming the other direction. I don't know if they have as many old cars, but I'll shoot them in the other direction. That's why they're almost always coming right to left, is I'm shooting cars on the other side of the street in the far lane where I can use a normal to short telephoto lens over there. In some cases, it's kind of hard to back up very far. This is a wider angle shot, and you'll notice, the top of the frame, there's a little bit of curvature to this, and that's because I'm using a wide angle lens because there's just not a lot of places I can back up and safely shoot this. This is in Bhutan. Dance festival, and once you've got all your sharp photos, start experimenting around with slow shutter speeds. It can be a lot of fun. This was just one of these shots where I was like, "Let me just play around "with something really strange." As slow and as out of focus as they are, the coaches and all the athletes can identify every one of those individuals, and all their parents know exactly who they are. They don't have to be really sharp, and that, once again, is adding a little bit of mystery into a photograph. It's a fun thing to do from time to time. You do have to shoot a lot of shots. I will shoot 100 shots and get two or three keepers out of it. As you go down to the slower shutter speeds, what I do when I have a group of people, and we're all doing panning, and some people are doing it for the very first time, what I tell is, start out at a 30th of a second. You're not gonna get a lot of blurriness on the background, but you'll get a fair number of sharp images. Once you get a few of those sharp, then step it down to a 15th of a second. You're going to get more blurriness, but you're gonna end up more throwaways. I'm always trying to push the edge of what I can do, so I like trying to get down to a quarter second, but I still have a pretty relatively low hitting ratio, you might say, as far as winners in this category 'cause there's a lot of movement that can happen in a quarter second. The stabilization system in the lenses will often help you out here just to keep things a little bit stabilized 'cause they know not to correct for that type of movement. It's usually not the first technique when I'm trying to get a photo that documents a particular place or location, but I know it's a technique that I can pull out of my back pocket that gives me a different view of that subject when I'm trying to tell a more complete photo story. I will go down to really long shutter speeds, one second. This is pretty good for one second. This is what most of my one seconds look like, so this is what you can expect. Now, if you want, you can call this art, and just say you love it, and it's great. There is something that is kind of interesting to it, but it is kind of nice when you get him at least reasonably well. This is about as good as I can do on a one full second shutter speed. You can also add in a zooming effect too, and I don't do this very often, but this first one was actually more by accident than anything else. I was shooting at a slower shutter speed. Then, as they ran past, I zoomed in a little bit, and it adds just a little bit of radial zoom in there, which really makes you feel like you're moving into the scene with them. If you want to add a crazy zoom, you just zoom your lens right as you're doing it. It mimics extra movement that wasn't originally there in the first place. This can be fun with nighttime and light painting. There's some unusual things that you can do by zooming the lens during a long exposure. I'm wondering if you're handholding all of those panning shots, or if you put your camera on a tripod and lock it down so it can just move horizontally. I think it works best handheld in most all situations. I believe, for some of the cycling, what I did is, I brought out a video head, and video heads are typically very smooth about going from side to side. The ball head that I normally work with is just too loosey goosey for it to really pan evenly, but a video head could work in that situation, or if you have a head that moves really, really smoothly. Most of the time, it's gonna be fine. What I found best is, I don't play golf, but apparently, you're supposed to move your hips. Rather than panning with your hands like that, just keeping your eye in the same position like that. Now, one of the problems I've had, 'cause I've used a number of different cameras, is the blackout time. You can't see what you're shooting during that one second, either with mirrorless cameras or SLR cameras, so what I'll do with some cameras is, I'll line things up, and then I'll hold them right here, and I'm looking over the top of the camera right now, and I know that I'm shooting wide enough, and I'm not trying to shoot too tight. I'll just follow it, and I don't have a gun sight, but I'll look at a little mark on my lens, and try to line that object up as I'm panning it. The other thing is, it's just that it's really hard to stay on your subjects. Another technique I use for looking through the viewfinder is, I turn on the grid lines. When I'm panning with a car, I try to figure out my composition, and it's like, "Okay, this grid pattern, this little intersection, "is what I want to keep on the door frame, or the head lamp, or something on the car." So I have one little spot that I'm trying to keep lined up rather than just looking at the whole image, just trying to stay on, to keep those two marks as close as I can. The hard thing is that we're dealing with relative speed. We're not dealing with actual speed, because when you follow a car down the street, it's barely moving, and it's accelerating, and then it's at maximum speed when it's right in front of you relative to your position, and then it slows down. You have to get used to this acceleration as it comes down, and that's why it's sometimes good just to pan a bunch of cars. Don't even shoot picture, just get a feel for your legs and your hips moving. In some cases, it was helpful for our group when panning to sit down so that they weren't using their legs at all, and they were just using their hips. It's a zen thing. You're just becoming one with your subject, and it's like, "I have become a taxicab in Havana." (laughs) Just regarding the panning too, the ISO and the aperture that you use? That will depend on the lighting condition. Generally, I prefer to set everything up manually perfectly, but this is one of those cases where shutter priority and auto ISO can work quite well. These pictures are gonna be a little bit on the rough side, shall we say, so if the ISO gets bumped up a little bit, it's not that big a deal. You could shoot it in manual exposure and auto ISO as well 'cause you know that there's a specific shutter speed, and this is where, not near shutter speed, it's exactly the shutter speed that you want to get, you set that first. You can set aperture. What's kind of nice is, aperture doesn't really matter too much. Depth of field doesn't get you anything. That building in the background isn't gonna be in focus, so you could set the aperture pretty much wide open. It depends on how thick or how many different subjects you might potentially want to be panning with, 'cause if you are panning a group of marathon runners that's a whole block wide, that could be an unusual circumstance, but specifically set your shutter speed first. You could set your aperture middle to wide open. Then that's a good case for using auto ISO in that particular situation for some people. Other people, it would be manual. The reason we were using auto ISO, now that I think about it, in Havana is because the best time for panning in that particular scenario was right at sunrise when the light was changing, so you're constantly having to change. If you're in a consistent lighting environment, I'd probably go with manual then.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

As a photographer, you will need to master the technical basics of the camera and form an understanding of the kind of equipment you need. The Fundamentals of Digital Photography will also teach something even more important (and crucial for success) - how to bring your creative vision to fruition.

Taught by seasoned photographer John Greengo, the Fundamentals of Digital Photography places emphasis on quality visuals and experiential learning. In this course, you’ll learn:

  • How to bring together the elements of manual mode to create an evocative image: shutter speed, aperture, and image composition.
  • How to choose the right gear, and develop efficient workflow.
  • How to recognize and take advantage of beautiful natural light.

John will teach you to step back from your images and think critically about your motivations, process, and ultimate goals for your photography project. You’ll learn to analyze your vision and identify areas for growth. John will also explore the difference between the world seen by the human eye and the world seen by the camera sensor. By forming an awareness of the gap between the two, you will be able to use your equipment to its greatest potential.


  1. Class Introduction
  2. Photographic Characteristics
  3. Camera Types
  4. Viewing System
  5. Lens System
  6. Shutter System
  7. Shutter Speed Basics
  8. Shutter Speed Effects
  9. Camera & Lens Stabilization
  10. Quiz: Shutter Speeds
  11. Camera Settings Overview
  12. Drive Mode & Buffer
  13. Camera Settings - Details
  14. Sensor Size: Basics
  15. Sensor Sizes: Compared
  16. The Sensor - Pixels
  17. Sensor Size - ISO
  18. Focal Length
  19. Angle of View
  20. Practicing Angle of View
  21. Quiz: Focal Length
  22. Fisheye Lens
  23. Tilt & Shift Lens
  24. Subject Zone
  25. Lens Speed
  26. Aperture
  27. Depth of Field (DOF)
  28. Quiz: Apertures
  29. Lens Quality
  30. Light Meter Basics
  31. Histogram
  32. Quiz: Histogram
  33. Dynamic Range
  34. Exposure Modes
  35. Sunny 16 Rule
  36. Exposure Bracketing
  37. Exposure Values
  38. Quiz: Exposure
  39. Focusing Basics
  40. Auto Focus (AF)
  41. Focus Points
  42. Focus Tracking
  43. Focusing Q&A
  44. Manual Focus
  45. Digital Focus Assistance
  46. Shutter Speeds & Depth of Field (DOF)
  47. Quiz: Depth of Field
  48. DOF Preview & Focusing Screens
  49. Lens Sharpness
  50. Camera Movement
  51. Advanced Techniques
  52. Quiz: Hyperfocal Distance
  53. Auto Focus Calibration
  54. Focus Stacking
  55. Quiz: Focus Problems
  56. Camera Accessories
  57. Lens Accessories
  58. Lens Adaptors & Cleaning
  59. Macro
  60. Flash & Lighting
  61. Tripods
  62. Cases
  63. Being a Photographer
  64. Natural Light: Direct Sunlight
  65. Natural Light: Indirect Sunlight
  66. Natural Light: Mixed
  67. Twilight: Sunrise & Sunset Light
  68. Cloud & Color Pop: Sunrise & Sunset Light
  69. Silhouette & Starburst: Sunrise & Sunset Light
  70. Golden Hour: Sunrise & Sunset Light
  71. Quiz: Lighting
  72. Light Management
  73. Flash Fundamentals
  74. Speedlights
  75. Built-In & Add-On Flash
  76. Off-Camera Flash
  77. Off-Camera Flash For Portraits
  78. Advanced Flash Techniques
  79. Editing Assessments & Goals
  80. Editing Set-Up
  81. Importing Images
  82. Organizing Your Images
  83. Culling Images
  84. Categories of Development
  85. Adjusting Exposure
  86. Remove Distractions
  87. Cropping Your Images
  88. Composition Basics
  89. Point of View
  90. Angle of View
  91. Subject Placement
  92. Framing Your Shot
  93. Foreground & Background & Scale
  94. Rule of Odds
  95. Bad Composition
  96. Multi-Shot Techniques
  97. Pixel Shift, Time Lapse, Selective Cloning & Noise Reduction
  98. Human Vision vs The Camera
  99. Visual Perception
  100. Quiz: Visual Balance
  101. Visual Drama
  102. Elements of Design
  103. Texture & Negative Space
  104. Black & White & Color
  105. The Photographic Process
  106. Working the Shot
  107. What Makes a Great Photograph?


a Creativelive Student

Love love all John Greengo classes! Wish to have had him decades ago with this info, but no internet then!! John is the greatest photography teacher I have seen out there, and I watch a lot of Creative Live classes and folks on YouTube too. John is so detailed and there are a ton of ah ha moments for me and I know lots of others. I think I own 4 John Greengo classes so far and want to add this one and Travel Photography!! I just drop everything to watch John on Creative Live. I wish sometime soon he would teach a Lightroom class and his knowledge on photography post editing.!!! That would probably take a LOT OF TIME but I know John would explain it soooooo good, like he does all his Photography classes!! Thank you Creative Live for having such a wonderful instructor with John Greengo!! Make more classes John, for just love them and soak it up! There is soooo much to learn and sometimes just so overwhelming. Is there anyway you might do a Motivation class!!?? Like do this button for this day, and try this technique for a week, or post this subject for this week, etc. Motivation and inspiration, and playing around with what you teach, needed so much and would be so fun.!! Just saying??? Awaiting gadgets class now, while waiting for lunch break to be over. All the filters and gadgets, oh my. Thank you thank you for all you teach John, You are truly a wonderful wonderful instructor and I would highly recommend folks listening and buying your classes.


I don't think that adjectives like beautiful, fantastic or excellent can describe the course and classes with John Greengo well enough. I've just bought my first camera and I am a total amateur but I fell in love with photography while watching the classes with John. It is fun, clear, understandable, entertaining, informative and and and. He is not only a fabulous photographer but a great teacher as well. Easy to follow, clear explanations and fantastic visuals. The only disadvantage I can list here that he is sooooo good that keeps me from going out to shoot as I am just glued to the screen. :-) Don't miss it and well worth the money invested! Thank you John!


Dear John, thanks for this outstanding classes. You are not only a great photographer and instructor, but your classes are pleasant, they are not boring, with a good sense of humor, they go straight to the point and have a good time listening to you. Please, keep teaching what you like most, and I will continue to look for your classes. And thanks for using a plain English, that it's important for people who has another language as native language. Thanks again, Juan