Classes begin May 7th /// Next registration opens June 4th
Composition Clinic for Documentarians


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Composition Clinic for Documentarians


Next class starts TBD
Registration opens TBD
Teacher Zalmy Berkowitz

Documentary photography is unposed and unscripted, but it's not uncontrolled. As the photographer, your decisions in framing and composition (as well as camera setting and lens choice) have a powerful impact on the story each image tells.

Composition is to images what grammar is to words. Without it, your stories can be incoherent, aimless, and confusing. It’s what takes a plot and turns into a story, sometimes even into poetry. In this class you will learn to use all the elements of photography (focal length, aperture, shutter speed, etc.) and the world out there (the “things” that come together to make a photo) to tell remarkable narratives.

This class is not geared specifically for wedding or family photographers, rather, it's for anyone wanting to take photos of life and the wonderful and crazy things that happen in it – be it weddings, or family, or street, or war (or some sort of combination).

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WEEK ONE: Introduction to composition. How our eyes see, and how our brains process the world around us. Taking the idea of composition from “how do I make this photo interesting” to “how do I use the elements available to best tell this story.”

WEEK TWO: Let’s talk in-camera choices! Choosing a focal length, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and processing to elicit the intellectual and emotional response we are looking for. We’ll look at samples from documentary photographers, as well as our own and talk about why they (and we!) chose to shoot the way they did.

WEEK THREE: Let’s break this down!! Over weeks 3 and 4 we will cover all (okay not ALL) the different elements of composition starting with balance, cropping, contrast, repetition, complementary elements, and adjectives (and more). We’ll talk about what they are and aren’t, and how they can help us tell our stories.

WEEK FOUR: Continuing with the elements of composition: Lines, layers, light, and again, how each affects the meaning of the image and story. We’ll also talk about about playing to your strengths while not letting them limit you, and finish off with putting it all together, and creating a longterm plan to constantly grow (it’s one thing to learn about composition, quite another to put it into action!). To top it all off, we will have live video chats to critique the final assignments, answer any remaining questions, and see everyone’s faces!

The Schedule

All participation and interaction for this class will take place in a private online forum. (Registered students will receive instructions on how to access the forum a few days before class begins.)

On the first Monday of class, Zalmy will share Lesson 1 in the forum. He will also be available during the week to answer questions and facilitate discussions in the forum as you read and work through your lessons.

Homework will be due on Sunday and critiques/reviews will take place the following Monday. Each week will follow the same pattern.

The beauty of this class and every other class at DEFINE is that you can read, practice, and participate throughout the week whenever it is convenient for you- from any timezone, anywhere you have Internet access, at any time of day. Most students spend 3-5 hours per week “in class.”

If you have any questions please feel free to email

Is this class for you?

This class is specifically geared towards those who want to up their documentary game. It is NOT a class on posing.

Note: This class is geared towards those who already know their way around a camera and it’s settings. You do not NEED to know these things, but Zalmy will be throwing around camera terms without explaining each :)

Material(s) Needed

A camera with adjustable settings. Preferably a wider angle and a normal lens (a 24mm and 50mm, for example). But an iPhone or the like would work as well!



  1. :

    This class opened up so many new ways to look at documentary photography. I took the class because I loved Zalmy’s work and ended up learning aspects of photography I never knew existed. I would even take this class again!

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