I'm curious how you go about composing?
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.
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!
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:
[COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]
Rio Rancho, NM
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.
Quick setup, point-and-shoot 5x7" in 2 minutes...
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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!
Originally Posted by Ole
Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.
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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.
Film is cheap. Opportunities are priceless.
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.
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.
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.
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
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.