Composition on the spot

Discussion in 'Photography Techniques' started by ReD, Oct 16, 2014.

  1. ReD

    ReD Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    I wish I could compose on the spot, taking everything in before pressing the button.
    Being aware of all the settings & choices available. being able to determine which is best suited for what.

    This is from a very heavy crop - now if I want to get a better photo I'll have to re-visit

    Cropping does teach me stuff but obviously not quickly enough

    any tips?

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  2. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    I find composition a hard topic to generalize about. I guess that it is based on proportions, symmetry or asymmetry, and how an images flows and leads your eyes across the frame.

    I tend not to be a big cropper after the fact, with most of my cropping being within the margin I leave to apply perspective correction during processing.
  3. Richard

    Richard Top Veteran

    Feb 1, 2013
    Marlow, UK
    I suppose one approach is to take a few more pictures from different angles, locations and focal lengths even after you're fairly happy that you've got "the one". You might notice something when reviewing the images later which hadn't occurred at the time, and which favours another image over heavy manipulation of "the one".

    That said, I'm trying to get out of the habit of taking clusters of pictures quickly in the hopes that one of them will be a winner. You can end up with a lot of mediocre snaps that way. I used to think a lot more about composition when I had film cameras, and that was a good thing.

  4. ReD

    ReD Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    I'd like to get to the point where I can look & be aware of what is there & then position myself - It seems like the better shot only occurs to me afterwards
    Cropping has helped train my eye but I still miss the potential
  5. nippa

    nippa Top Veteran

    Aug 7, 2010
    Cheshire UK
    I'm reluctant to recommend any photobook but recently I bought a scrappy little black covered thing called "Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs" by Henry Carroll.
    I saw it on a bookshelf , started to look through and ,for the most part , I liked the author's approach to composition.
    I have more glamorous publications on the subject but this seemed to distil the essence.

    Using Classic Photos the book provided a useful refresher to what I should already know.
  6. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I'm not clear whether the issue is about composing pictures or whether it's about time on the spot to set the camera for "optimum" results.

    If shooting digital the latter is easily resolved by using an automatic mode and using post-processing to clean up any problems.

    If shooting film, it's a question of understanding your materials.

    One of the self-imposed tyrannys of photography for many is the desire to take every picture seen and have the results come out "perfectly"; another tyranny is the belief that cropping is cheating, and so on ...

    Given what I see of the pictures you like to take, Roger, I find it hard to believe that you're a slave to either of the photographic tyrants I mentioned ... so the only thing I have to offer is that you pay close attention to what you're doing and how you're doing it, and then when reviewing the results later walk yourself back through what you did and how you made the decisions you did before you pressed the shutter release.

    This sounds very mechanical. That is because it is. But I can't think of a better way of allowing the decisions you take (but didn;t quite realise you were taking) to come properly into your awareness.

    The process is iterative: as you review your process later, you become more able to notice what decisions you are taking as you are taking them ... then you review the more conscious decisions later again ... and so on.

    This is a fairly simple cognitive learning model, but it's amazing how much you can learn about your own actions this way. Of course the aiming point is to become "unconsciously conscious" of what you're doing all the time. The Buddhist idea of mindfulness is extremely similar.

    That sort of consciousness can support the "artistic eye" in the process of making the photograph.

    An anecdote: I watched a TV programme about F1 racing, in which a member of one of Jackie Stewart's teams related how in the post-race debriefing, Stewart was able to describe an incident in which he briefly lost control of the car exiting a corner. The incident would have been over in perhaps 60 or 90 seconds at most, but Stewart spent 30 minutes describing exactly what the car was doing and what he was doing, without repetition, hesitation or deviation.
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  7. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    What are you using to compose your shots? The rear screen? An optical viewinder or pentaprism? An electronic viewinder?

    How accurate is it, and what is its coverage?

    What you are using may influence what you are seeing and how well you can compose.

    Cheers, Jock
  8. ReD

    ReD Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    Paul Thanks - its about both and all things at the same time - Control of the camera settings (give me too many options & Its self defeating) - answer is set up for a simple optimum - but what is the optimum?

    I think I'm at an inbetween stage of understanding limitations & haven't mastered it - answer practice & take more photos more slowly with more consideration. Yes I'm not a slave to tyranny

    Jock I use either and both Viewfinder or screen. I can live with the 85% capture of the viewfinder its not EVF in this case.
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  9. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    Don't worry about "optimum", because it changes for every situation.

    Worry about getting the shape of the photograph you want. Once you can do that reasonably consistently, then you can attend to fine tuning the "camera settings", if you want.

    Oh yes, that is completely against the grain for people who believe that you must master everything technically before thinking about the pictures you make ... but Whatever.

    But really, camera settings are shutter speed, ISO and aperture, so there's not a great deal to master. It's how you employ them in the service of the image you want to produce that counts.
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  10. fotobakkerij

    fotobakkerij Regular

    Sep 20, 2014
    Alkmaar, The Netherlands
    Peter Bakker
    When I want to focus (pun intended) on "the composition on the spot" I use this trick (which works on my Olympus XZ-10 and maybe also on other Olympus cameras):

    - set my shooting mode to RAW and monotone
    - set my aspect ratio to 1:1

    Now my LCD will give me a black & white 1:1 view which makes it easier for me to compose a photo on the spot. Because I shoot raw I still get a full 4:3 digital negative which I automatically can crop to the 1:1 JPEG showed on my LCD (with Olympus Viewer 3). Or I can play a bit with the composition by cropping the 4:3 RAW itself.

    Perhaps it looks strange to do it like this but it works for me :)
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  11. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    Reading what you have written there are a couple of points I would make.

    Photography is, for me at least, all about balance, in multiple dimensions simultaneously. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focus are the "technical" variables under your control, but there are a myriad others, ranging from lens choice to where you stand, from time of day to how high off the ground you hold your camera. Each decision made, consciously or subconsciously, has an impact upon your end result - your composition.

    There are many books on composition for artists, never mind photographers. This has been a topic of debate ever since Ug painted a daub on a cave wall and Og said "Mammoth not look like that..."

    Buy a book, read it. Understand about the Golden Section, about perspective, etc. Learn the "rules" - then apply them or not as you wish.

    A couple of technical points.

    Work a subject. Take a number of photos. Step forward and back, portrait, landscape - give yourself post-processing options. Similarly shoot jpg & raw so you have not burned your boats with in camera settings. Use framelines, and composition grids. Use the level.

    Ultimately you have to decide if you want the image you present to be dissonant or not. The image is simply a means to trigger a reaction in the viewer. Decide what you want that reaction to be and work backward from there.

    Hope this ramble helps!
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