When do you see

Yesterday’s post stirred up in me some procedural self analysis, even healthy self doubt.

When do I “see” an image and how does the process effect my compositional choices?

Before (predictive)

With experience and familiarisation with their gear, photographers get better and better at predicting the magnification and perspective of their lenses. This “pre-visualisation” is a benefit, but can also lead to habits and restrained expectations. A photographer’s style is tied directly to a combination of deliberate decision making, and reacting to changes. We cannot succeed without a pre-conceived idea of what to expect and what may be required to overcome obstacles. It is human nature to repeat what works. Here also lies the path or repetition.

Prime lenses force a certain amount of pre-visualisation due to their limited perspective. Choices made before a lens is mounted on a camera are based on these expectations. They have the effect of settling me (personally) into a comfortable rhythm, working within known constraints. This settling process gives me the solid bedrock I need to work quickly. Your mileage may vary.

This process requires regular re-exploration otherwise the same shots keep getting taken. One of the reasons I find the excellent 75mm a bit limiting to use is I feel it offers limit compositional choices, but maybe I am limiting what and how I choose to see with it?

 Taken late evening with the 75mm. The f1.8 aperture helped both gather light and create the shallow DOF that defines the image. Did I see the image because of the forced compositional limitations and light gathering/DOF benefits of the lens or would I (could I) have found a workable composition using a zoom and different settings? Did I create the image   because   of the lens or did the lens only control some of the choices made when making the image?

Taken late evening with the 75mm. The f1.8 aperture helped both gather light and create the shallow DOF that defines the image. Did I see the image because of the forced compositional limitations and light gathering/DOF benefits of the lens or would I (could I) have found a workable composition using a zoom and different settings? Did I create the image because of the lens or did the lens only control some of the choices made when making the image?

Using a zoom effectively changes this thought process. With an effectively free floating focal length range, choosing a set perspective must be general at best, but with the subtle refinements they allow, perfect framing is always possible.

When using a zoom I tend to approach the subject with a whirlwind of options, usually too many to be helpful, which explains my reluctance to use zoom lenses in dynamic situations. A trend I have noticed in my process is to use the extremes of the zoom’s range almost as if the two ends (tight or wide) are prime lens choices. Something else I have found is I prefer wide or tele only zooms, I think because they are limited to one perspective or look, just more or less magnification within it. In other words, I would find a 16-35/70-200 combo preferable to a 24-70 or to be more precise a 35/70-200. To be even more precise, what I really use is a 35/90 or 150 (equiv) combo on two cameras.

If I tip this on it’s head and pre-select a focal length (literally choosing one on the lens barrel), the process stays much as above, but if I let the visual stimulus of the subject control my thinking, there is a reactive freedom, possibly at the cost of deliberate control. It is just that the options are so many.

It strikes me that the process of zooming vs the process of finding a framing option with a fixed lens length with movement are much the same in theory, but for me personally, the cleanness of the prime wins. I think this is definitely prediction-adaption dominating reaction. I certainly find it faster and less distracting and often more creative.

Prime lenses are (for me) cleaner to use if you like to pre-visualise an image before putting the camera to the eye, then working within that frame work.

During (reactive)

This is where the zoom shines. If we can fully immerse ourselves in the process, then the zoom gives instant satisfaction, changing framing precisely based on how we respond to what we see. All of the variables except for very shallow depth of field are available to us (f2 on the new full frame Canon may be an exception).

Working from a tripod is a logical application of zoom lens use, hence my purchase.

 Tough to frame well without a zoom or choice of primes and time to sift through them (or heavy cropping). This is definitely a case of zooming being the better option.

Tough to frame well without a zoom or choice of primes and time to sift through them (or heavy cropping). This is definitely a case of zooming being the better option.

A prime reduces the variables by fixing the magnification and perspective, making the photographer move their feet, change angle and control depth of field (here the prime has the edge). The skill comes from practicing and predicting the anticipated image, or images.

So, zoom lenses may be better if you prefer to react to your subject after the camera is up to the eye, working the composition from one creative step back, adding in magnification last.

After (post process)

I am often surprised what I find using my post processing editors hat, not my photographers.

Not one to shoot loosely and fix later, I still reserve final judgement until after uploading.

If the body of work is strong and varied enough, there are always surprises to be found. Sensor size/pixels, good technique and edge to edge lens sharpness can all contribute to the quantity and quality of the usable frame and files. Editing software is of course a very powerful tool if not over used.

 A complete write off as a colour image (shot through a dirty, hazy window into the sun), this is as heavily processed and cropped as I have ever needed to go, but is also a lesson to me to look harder and with an open mind. This image was shot using a fixed 400mm, so framing was based on this one perspective. A zoom may have resulted in a different composition, so the skill here is in seeing an image within the limited options.

A complete write off as a colour image (shot through a dirty, hazy window into the sun), this is as heavily processed and cropped as I have ever needed to go, but is also a lesson to me to look harder and with an open mind. This image was shot using a fixed 400mm, so framing was based on this one perspective. A zoom may have resulted in a different composition, so the skill here is in seeing an image within the limited options.


The Steps for me are;

See a potential image using your personal image memory bank of workable situations to draw from. As the image is seen the choice of what type of image it will be must be interwoven in the process. Here is where pre-conceptions and exploring fresh directions collide.

Assuming a lens of the correct magnification/perspective is available, the image is taken as visualised and as circumstances allow. Primes may force movement, where zooms allow framing options, but may (?) distract from moving to a better angle. If the wrong lens choice is all that is available, compensations are made or the image given up on if time is limited (part of step one directly related to knowing what options are available?).

Part of this must be muscle memory and instinctive as many images are taken that I honestly do not remember getting at the time. I suppose if the process is practiced enough, much of it will take care of itself.

 I remember feeling that the frame became generally balanced at the point of shooting, but the facial expressions and their “generational” relation to each other was pretty much in the lap of the gods.

I remember feeling that the frame became generally balanced at the point of shooting, but the facial expressions and their “generational” relation to each other was pretty much in the lap of the gods.

 Again, a bit of luck that came with preparation, awareness and timing, but there was no way that I could arrange these elements with full control “on the fly”.

Again, a bit of luck that came with preparation, awareness and timing, but there was no way that I could arrange these elements with full control “on the fly”.

 A third from a series taken on a day the stars aligned for me.

A third from a series taken on a day the stars aligned for me.

 In this case the placement of the people balanced the frame and the girls look added animation, but the t-shirt characters looking directly at the girl, seemingly in surprise was just lucky. Again effort and preparedness brings luck, but lucky just the same.

In this case the placement of the people balanced the frame and the girls look added animation, but the t-shirt characters looking directly at the girl, seemingly in surprise was just lucky. Again effort and preparedness brings luck, but lucky just the same.

 This is a much easier process. On identifying the strength of the image (repetitious patterns of the tiles and clean lines), compression and a tight abstractness came to mind. The mono processing really only cleared up an idea that the minimal colour version lacked.

This is a much easier process. On identifying the strength of the image (repetitious patterns of the tiles and clean lines), compression and a tight abstractness came to mind. The mono processing really only cleared up an idea that the minimal colour version lacked.

If the image can be, it is improved in post processing along with any others that are discovered. Sometimes the improvements are based on the original concept, sometimes not.

How about you?