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“It’s The Composition, Stupid!”: Studying the Essence of Good Photography by Examining Classic Paintings on Zoom!

Photography, like painting, is all about composition!

Quick Details


You cook a wonderful meal and your friends say: “WOW! That was GREAT! Delicious! What kind of OVEN did you use? You must have a great OVEN!”

You would be miffed, right? Because you know it’s not the oven, it’s the COOK who prepares a great meal. Great soufflés were prepared by Julia Child, not by her pots and pans. And the same is true in photography: it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer who makes the image. Here at Washington Photo Safari, we firmly believe you can take a good or bad picture with ANY camera!

Photography, like painting, is all about composition: the symmetry, the balance, the leading lines, the framing, the perspective, the points of interest in the image that draw the viewer’s eye. So this safari is all about training you to see and capture good composition in your own photographs, following many of the same principles that visual artists have followed for centuries.

We are proud to announce this new Zoom-based photo safari which teaches photographic composition by looking online at some of the most famous paintings on display right here at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, which is presently closed.

Gathering together on a zoom call, we will look at each of the following paintings and study them from the point of view of artistic composition looking at such elements as the rule of thirds, foreground elements, leading lines, use of color, the use of light, and the position of the artist Clients will then photograph the images of the paintings from their computer screen to have a record of good examples of composition.

The safari will then conclude with a question and answer discussion about composition, how to make your picture INTERESTING so that other people will want to look at them!

Clients who have registered will be sent a zoom link for the session and an online link to some of the most famous paintings on display at the NGA, such as:


  • Woman with a Parasol, by Claude Monet
  • Little Dancer of 14, by Edgar Degas
  • Girl with a Red Hat, by Johannes Vermeer
  • Family Of Saltimbanques, by Pablo Picasso
  • Woman Holding a Balance, by Johannes Vermeer
  • The Sacrament of the Last Supper, by Salvador Dali
  • Farmhouse In Venice, by Vincent van Gogh
  • The Houses of Parliament, by Claude Monet
  • The Boating Party, by Mary Cassatt
  • Breezing up a Fair Wind, by Winslow Homer
  • The Bridge at Argenteuil, by Claude Monet
  • The Railway, by Edouard Monet
  • The Dancing Couple, by Jan Steen

Looking at these paintings, we will study them carefully from the point of view of composition: where does your eye go when first look at the photograph? Where are the leading lines? What is the subject? How is it lit? Check out the use of doorways, archways, trees and flowers used to frame the subject. Check out the placement of people as bookends to make the composition more interesting.

Here is what one WPS client had to say in anticipation of the Zoom Safari: “I have often looked at a painting and remarked that it would make a great photo. This class is an opportunity to judge or analyze photos from the unique perspective of artists. I like the concept. Painters use all the elements of photography – dof, light, rules of thirds, etc. This should be very interesting.” Stephanie B.

The safari is led by architectural photographer and Washington Photo Safari Director E. David Luria, who studied photography in Paris with a protégé of the French photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson, famous for capturing “the decisive moment” in his classic photographs. And we are pleased to announce that artistic and historic commentary on the paintings themselves will be provided by Dr. S. Hollis Clayson, Professor Emerita of Art History, Bergen Evans Professor Emerita in the Humanities at Northwestern University!