Composition tips. a.k.a. "where did the rest of my subject go?"
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Composition tips. a.k.a. "where did the rest of my subject go?"
Experientia Et Progressus
Since we are talking about composition I often see mistakes made in the heat of the moment that could have turned into a better image had the framing been handled better. A few basics to remember are timing, distance and angle. We'll talk about those later.
There are several different methods you can use to correctly frame a subject. Many times fins are clipped, heads are clipped or the composure just looks odd. Your camera can take picture both horizontally and vertically, don't be afraid to rotate the camera! By doing this you can drastically alter the aesthetic effect of the image and seriously improve the artistic quality as well. The image layout takes on a whole new meaning by simply turning the camera 90 degrees and the most common mistake made is keeping the camera in the horizontal position while taking the shot. Ever seen movie directors use his/her hands as a framer to visualize how the image layout will look before touching the equipment? They do that to see how it will look and to find out which way displays the best intent of the scene.
Cropping is where the clipped fins; the cut off head or missing vital sections of the body comes into play. One common mistake is the photographer will be either to close to the subject or to far away from the subject with the equipment they are using. The human eye is about equal to a 50mm lens, in 35mm format. If you have any other size lens the camera will see totally different than what our eyes will see. Take a 15mm for the nikonos for example. If you see an awesome shot and a good layout then cut the distance in half and take the shot. Visually the shot will not look the same but the camera will pick up what you visualized before you cut the distance in half.
Often times we are unable to get close enough to the subject for the shot so the solution is to get as close as possible and take the shot then crop the image. When you do this the maximum size of this image will be reduced but at least we have an image. When composing the image mentally note that you do NOT want to create a full frame image, always leave room for some slight cropping action to avoid clipping. If you do need to clip you have the full object in the frame to work with. Remember, oftentimes you can get more interesting images by not including the entire subject in the frame.
If you shoot film you have to consider that the edges of the slide may not scan that well, some labs are unable to print a true 100% full frame image. If you shoot digital the end result may not be exactly as the viewfinder shows.
This is perhaps the hardest and most critical part about framing. One of the easiest ways to avoid headaches is what we call pre-visualization. This means you have to learn to see the world exactly how the camera does. This I might add is no easy task but it is possible and highly desirable. While in the water you look at the potential subject and visualize how it will look. You consider the framing, the cropping and the exposure then decide how best to proceed. If you can truly understand how the camera will see things, you can look at a scene, visualize how you want the camera to see it and make your camera see the world the way you want it to. This is where manual focus comes into play and presetting your camera to the desired settings. You preset the camera and you move into the position and take the photo. This is what separates the pro's from the snap shooters. The pro's will have an image in their minds and orchestrate the situation to yield the desired effects. The snap shooters will simply pass by, see something in the area and take the photo then move on. This is also why when you see the end results they look different than you remembered. This goes into our next subject
By timing I am referring to when the shutter is fired. If you are following my suggestions on presetting the camera then you simply wait for the golden moment and everything is preset so the only thing that needs to happen is the shutter. Again if you are not using presets you have to make those settings and could easily miss the golden moment. When the action is fast, like with dolphins, presetting the camera is the best way to go. In the Bahamas using f/5.6 and1/250, along with the hyperfocal distance set, will guaranty you an extremely sharp image and everything will be in focus.
Framing based on distance is an amazing concept. You can have both near object and far object in the frame, just near objects or just far objects. By including nearby object, either in focus or out of focus, you can add stunning effects to the main subject.
If you use presets you need to put yourself into the picture by moving into place. Stalking is a very powerful tool when used right. Say for example you are in a pod of dolphins and a mother swims by with her baby. You know she will not let the baby be on the same side as you are due to safety reasons. The solution is to keep your distance and eventually she will warm up to you and allow the golden moment to happen. When it does happen you need to be cautious of your distance to not violate that unspoken trust you worked so hard to build.
This is where things turn interesting. Creating the perfect angle is one of the most critical challenges faced by photographers. Being in the wrong place at the right time is what we don't want to happen. Sometimes we have no choice in the matter. I have seen time and time again dolphins herding photographers into select premeditated areas for various reasons. This is almost always a very undesirable angle for viewing. By understanding your subject, understanding your camera, understanding your limits and pre-visualization you can create stunning wonderful results.
If anyone has any questions, concerns about anything I wrote then please post a new thread about it or contact me about it. Please remember there is no stupid question. I do expect that some terminology I used to confuse some people so please ask!