The Habit of Seeing: Inside the Frame

Figure 1

So after last week, you’re paying much closer attention to what’s outside the viewfinder and outside the frame, right? All well and good, but since we’re dealing with photography here, at some point you’re going to have to, or want to, raise the finder to your eye and actually make a photo. You didn’t think all this seeing business was done just ‘cause you’d figured out what you wanted to photograph, didja?

Okay, so you’re looking through your viewfinder, and there’s your subject, large as life. You’d think you’d be all set at this point. Not quite yet. The same “rules” apply once you’re looking through the finder that applied before you decided on your subject; you still have to apply the same critical process to what’s going on in your finder that you did to what was going on in the larger world outside it.

Figure 2

Consider Figure 1. When I took this shot, I was paying closer attention to the performance artist, capturing her movements and facial expression. It wasn’t ‘til after the shot was made that I took notice of the rest of what was in the frame. Luckily, the apparatus on which she was performing – picture a carbon fiber monopod-cum-stilts thingy, which had her, and the other two women performing with her, tracing long, graceful arcs through the air – was going to bring her back to the area in another swing or two, so I changed my perspective a little, recomposed my shot, waited for it… and ended up with what you see in Figure 2.

There are other things to look for, some of which can be codified into rules (like the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Mean, both of which we’ll stop to consider another time) and others of which have more to do with simple esthetics and personal taste. Sometimes, as with the acrobats shown in the first shots, there’s no getting around the visual distractions, like power lines, traffic lights, and buildings. Among the considerations here weren’t just the crowds, but also the fact that a sizeable area around the performers was cordoned off, for both their and the audience’s safety, so certain shots and angles were off limits. Other circumstances (like shooting on a boat or in a moving car) present similar challenges, since moving in one direction or another can mean the difference between being safe or not.

Figure 3

When that’s the case, you can either look for a different angle, or even for a different subject. Bear in mind that while those background elements can be maddening sometimes – nobody wants a telephone pole sticking out of their head, no matter how good you’ve made the rest of them look – they can also be useful, if used right. You can give a sense of context, or even add touches to your photo that can be a bit disorienting (and therefore compelling in their own right).

Developing a habit of seeing as a part of cultivating your vision means broadening your vision. As we saw last week, we can’t afford to neglect what’s going on outside the frame or the finder; similarly, we can’t ignore what’s going on inside the frame when the decisive moment comes… otherwise, we’re left with a decisively bad photo.

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