I'm curious how you go about composing?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by Loose Gravel, Jan 16, 2005.

  1. Loose Gravel

    Loose Gravel Member

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    I'm wondering by what means you frame and establish your point for the decisive moment (primarily for large format). Today I was out and about, photographing old water tanks, cows, and oak trees. I drive down the road until something catches my eye and then I stop by the road, get out, and wonder about until I find the right spot. I move a little this way and that to enhance the composition as much as posibble. I view the scene through a viewing filter and/or a piece of matt board cut as a frame. I figure the exact spot to place the camera and the lens before I start to set up: Otherwise it is too hard to haul that monster about and view everything. After I've set up and focus, I meter and expose and go on my merry way. It might take 2 or 3 minutes, it might take 30 minutes and fail. I seldom wait for light, for if I do, I know that I'm missing it somewhere else. If I get all ready to go and I think it is a dud, sometimes I will not waste the film, but sometimes I figure I've spent the time and here goes nothing. I usually only make one exposure.

    Is it something like this for others? Do you use a frame, viewing filter, or other? Do you shoot the film no matter what after a certain point? Do you make more than one exposure.
     
  2. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    For me, the best answer is to make like a film director and run round with a viewfinder. Whenever I am out with a choice of lenses, I also take my Linhof multifocal finder (very expensive new, but only £80 secondhand). Saves a lot of effort dragging the tripod and camera around and raising/lowering the tripod legs!
     
  3. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    If I'm doing something local, I usually go with at least a vague plan of how I want to shoot the "primary target". Often, I'll estimate the best time of day, etc. of a previous scouting. Once there, however, I also use the framing aid to determine camera position, composition, and preferred focal length.

    If I'm taking a trip to an area I'm not already familiar with, I'll do research on the Web, and look at topo maps. The topo maps, along with a solar position calculator, helps in figuring out in advance where to be at what time of the day. For commercial-style shoots, I'll often do sketches of how I want to compose the object, what things I might want in the background to help tell the story, and how I want to light it. For more complex things that might involve a series of images, I sometimes even do story boards, where I plan both individual shots and the sequence.

    Actual compositions are usually determined by deciding what needs to be in the scene to "tell the story", how I want to balance things within the composition, and what I need to do to focus attention where I want it. I try to be aware of what is going on, too, so I'll sometimes wait for a cloud to move into place, a bird to fly through, a wave to break, or whatever. In this shot, for example, I waited about 20 minutes for the spot of sunshine to move onto the trees:
    [​IMG]
     
  4. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Most of the time I see something I like, set up my camera, select a lens, and shoot. No waiting, framing, composition or indeed conscious thoughts on any of those.

    I do have a Linhof zooming viewfinder, which I find very useful in some cases.

    [​IMG]

    Quick setup, point-and-shoot 5x7" in 2 minutes...
     
  5. Andy K

    Andy K Member

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    Ditto. I go to an area I wish to photograph, then spend a few hours walking around. Shots tend to catch the eye without thinking about it. A good tip (learned from my pot-holing days) is to look behind yourself often, sometimes the shot sneaks up from behind!
     
  6. Mongo

    Mongo Member

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    Most of the time I take about 5-10 minutes walking around looking at things. I never take a framing device of any kind...I just kinda' know what will show up on the ground glass given the lenses I have. I also have a pretty good sense of how a scene might change given different light. If I scout a location for more than 15 minutes, I'll usually give up on it if I haven't found something. Whether or not I have my equipment with me depends on whether I'm shooting 4x5 (when it's always strapped to my back) or 8x10 (for which I have yet to find the right backpack).

    Once I've selected the location, if the light is right it rarely takes me more than 10 minutes to set up, shoot, tear down, and move on. If the light isn't right but I think it might be better at another time, I put it into my mental checklist of things to look at again when the opportunity arises and I move on.

    One of the reasons I love living where I do is that, between the hills and valleys and the lattitude, we not only have four seasons but we also have some fairly predictable light and other features. If I know a scene would look better in the fog, I know about when I'll have to schedule a trip back. The same with bright sun, snow, rain, overcast, or anything else short of frogs falling from the sky.
     
  7. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    My approach to composition depends on the subject matter; in the landscape my first consideration is the light, I photograph where, in my opinion, the light is at it's best or most interesting and when I have decided on that I investigate point of view. I never look through the camera or use a viewing filter, I select the area that I find interesting first, simply by forming a frame in my mind's eye and then decide on where to place the camera. I do this by bending my knees or climbling convenient higher viewpoints to put my eyes where I want the camera to be until I find the preferred viewpoint and only then do I set up the tripod and camera in the position that I have just placed my head. Because I am most interested in photographing the light this process happens very quickly.

    When photographing on the street my interest is events and expression so composition is very much a secondary consideration. Only when I'm interested in juxtaposition do I spend time looking at composition.
     
  8. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    I borrowed an idea from ancient mariners who used a distance finding device called a kamal - it's a notched stick with a string that has a knot at it's end which is held in the teeth...this keeps the kamal a fairly precise distance from the eye. I use a piece of plastic with a 4x5 hole cut in it that has strings of several lengths hanging from it, long for long lens, short for wide lens. These are knotted so when held in my teeth, I see what the film see's when the camera is focused at infinity. By noting what's in the bottom corners of the frame, I can, for example, know exactly when a cloud is just nestled in the top left corner of the frame when the dark slide has been removed. It also helps in isolating a composition from it's surroundings to see if it's worthy.

    I used to only take one image from any one subject matter - walking around, back and forth, moving up and down until I found THE strongest composition. I've lightened up in the last few years as I realize I could walk for hours before finding another equally strong subject, and will now spend some time exploring several different compositions.

    I try to have no preconcieved ideas about what I'm to photograph...they box me in and may make me miss a subtle composition that's just barely whispering to be seen.

    Murray
     
  9. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    Like Les, my first consideration is the light on the subject. If the light is not right, I'm not going to waste the film. I do use a composing card made of 12x12 plastic with a 4x5 hole cut in it. I use it for both 4x5 and 8x10. I use a big piece of plastic because I like to be able to really isolate the window from other information outside the frame. If you like to shoot subjects that require you to isolate forms and details for abstracts from a larger subject this is ideal.

    Depending on the subject matter I will explore the object or the area. If it something that is static like a structure that I have frequent access to, I may make exposures under different light. Here in the Plains the light of winter is drastically different then the light of summer.
     
  10. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    I use a special photographic divining rod to point out the best spot for my tripod. Mine is CF to save on weight, but traditional wooden ones are cheaper. Make sure you buy from a reputable dealer otherwise all you'll find is gold or water.

    Tom
     
  11. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    I look for locations and/or light. If the location is not getting good light, I try to figure out when it will. Equally a so so location in great light becomes the priority as the likelihood of it being repeated is slim. If light is bad, I often take a record shot, jut to have a look at, so I can think about if and when to return.

    One I have a scene, I figure out what I want it to look like and then look for the vantage spot. I tend to be able to guestimate what kinda lens I'll be needing most times. I too find sometimes it takes 2 mins and other 30 mins and I still cannot get a harmonious composition. Just depends. Normally it takes only a few minutes.

    On the subject of chasing light.......once I got into LF, I got better at reading the weather and spend more time looking up than out at the scene itself! (I also know my hunting grounds far better and how they will appear in at different times). I dont often chase the light, preferring to figure out if the scene I want is going to get it. If there is a fair chance (cannot ever be sure in the UK!!!!!!) I wait. I often prefer changeable weather and waiting often results in great transient surprises. I get more great shots by slowing down (I should say being slowed down by the kit) and waiting, having very carefully considered what I am doing, than I did with more nimble kit chasing it (you rarely win in the UK!). Sometimes when I just miss something and it does not return I curse and I wish I had Mamiya 7.......but then I think of those I got when I resisted the urge to pack up and run after the light! My conversion rate is now much better and I end up with a much better 'feel' for the subject. After all If you wait for 30mins, what else have you to do apart from look about, explore other angles (without camera as that is already set up).....take in the smells, sing silly songs to myself, have 38 cups of tea, wonder why I am so obsessed with photography.......

    I am a waiter, not a chaser.........Ole, your 5x7 point and shoot sounds interesting? Not your technica then?
     
  12. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    I never use any visual aids of any kind. My photographic experience, at any location, begins when I set up the camera. For most photographers, it seems, the process ends at this point. I may be under the dark cloth for one or two minutes or twenty. But my images are conceived, gestate and are born on the groundglass, and only on the groundglass. Once my head comes out from under that cloth the act of composition has ended for that particular image.

    To quote one of the most masterful photographic composers ever:

    "Although I view things on the ground glass as if they were abstractions, I am always drawn first to something very recognizable and specific before I set up my camera. It may be an object or the spaces between objects, but as soon as I start looking on the ground glass, the scene before me is transformed. Now the looking becomes a new adventure. The subject matter that drew me in is no longer of primary importance as I am making discoveries of visual relationships that I would not otherwise have made."
    --Paula Chamlee, 9/29/1991

    To me the only purpose of a subject is to catch my eye enough to convince me that I need to set up the camera and begin looking. The photograph I come away with, if I come away with anything, never has anything to do with whatever caught my eye in the first place. And the operative word here is 'never'.
     
  13. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    The very same. I just suddenly one day stopped aiming, framing, obsessing etc... Instead I put up the tripod, screwed the camera on, selected a lens from my "small field pack" of two, focused, exposed. Two minutes from unpack to moving on, which is why I call it "point-and-shoot".

    Then I moved five meters, changed the lens, took another holder with BW film in it, and got another great shot. This one took a little longer as it's more difficult to focus a 420mm f/11 than a 165mm f/6.8!
     
  14. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    I agree with Les on this one, when the canvas is continually moving there isn't a lot of time for composition. Maybe that's why I like street shoots so much, as they go with my lack of patience and any exposure longer than 1/30th seems like a lifetime. I do try to guestimate the composition when I see something happening or about to happen, but that is usually only for a second or two before taking the shot.