Tag Archives: composition

A little less tech a little more art

A personal rant. Running around all these National Parks here in the US with a camera and tripod one meets and talks to a lot of other photographers. I guess as in all things life, some are great people and fascinating and inspiring…some not so much.

At Momument Valley I met 3 guys absolutely packed with very expensive gear complete with camera vests and survival gear. They couldn’t spot a composition if it was bended in neon for them so they spent all their time trying to outdo each other with gear talk boring me to tears. No, I simply do not care how much headroom RAW has nor do I care how much you are bracketing, HDR processing it, genuine fractals blowing it up etc. etc. 

It boils down to: it’s the photographer never the camera. Why are you shooting this? What are you trying to express? What made you choose that composition? How are you using the light, foreground, middle ground, background, leading lines, colours, contrast? What do you want your viewers to feel when viewing this? What are your favourite locations? The artistic not the technical side is the interesting part for me.

Monument Valley Totem Pole - blog Better post an image as well, this is what I shot while some of the gearheads in Monument Valley discussed bracketing and RAW headroom. Of course, they might have shot something much better, I hardly broke the world record for best composition (actually it’s stolen from Art Wolfe). But I at least kept quiet and enjoyed the sunrise while shooting.

Somewhat ironical this post comes right after I wrote a post on mirror lock up, purely technical – Not saying I am any better myself, just as boring! Still the next person to ask "what camera are you using" I’ll reply "Polaroid. It’s a polaroid!"

The Last of the 617 and panorama composition

When I left for Australia I returned the Fuji G617 camera to owner Ivar Mjell (thanks again mate for letting me use it). Just before returning it I got in one last shoot on an August evening where the weather was very kind to me.

On this evening I finally got a big cloudscape at Lake Peblinge so I could use the 617 at my favourite spot in Copenhagen:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Søtorvet Sunset in Velvia 617
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This shows the massive view captured by the Fuji G617 with the fixed 105mm lens. I would have liked to zoom in a little, those buildings on the left are ugly.

Another option is rotating this massive camera! I have attempted a vertical 617 shot many times but this is one time where I feel it actually worked. To fill a 3:1 frame at such a wide angle view you need something very tall in the composition – in this case the gorgeous clouds.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Søtorvet Sunset in 617 – vertical
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The 617 conclusion

If someone made an affordable practical 617 digital camera I would use nothing else. I really enjoyed shooting in the 617 format and being able to compose a 3:1 panorama in the viewfinder, no guesswork and no digital stitching. Nothing beats that. I am addicted to the creative power of the digital darkroom and the digital workflow so I didn’t enjoy the slow process of using transparency film again, getting them processed and scanned etc. But a digital 3:1 camera would be the best of both worlds. Note to camera manufactures: It does not need to be a 6x17cm sensor, just do 2 x 35mm sensors next to each other!

During my recent photo trip to Australia there were many times where I really wished I had the 617. Looking at some of my stitched digital panoramas I just know that on some of them I would have improved the composition (more about this later) a lot could I actually see the end product in the viewfinder. Then again; of course there are some shots I would have missed altogether because I would have been changing film or mucking with the manual settings etc. Some day when I can afford it I may end up carrying both a digital camera and an old 617 film camera.

Panorama composition

I read a lot of photographer blogs and books. I spend hours at every gallery I visit be it online or in real life. I view perhaps a hundred photos everyday for inspiration and enjoyment. Photos shot with everything from digital point and shoots to DSLR’s to 617 pano cameras to 8×10 view cameras. There are many brilliant photographers out there using whatever equipment they choose to use. No camera ever took a photo anyway. Photographers take photos! Not cameras! Is there a point coming up? Yes!

Based upon the millions of photos I’ve viewed and my own experience I generally find 617 panorama photographers do better and stronger compositions than photographers doing digital stitched panoramas. I know that’s a strong generalisation and it’s only my opinion of course. There are great 617 photographers out there; there are great digital stitched pano photographers out there.  But generally; I find the compositions stronger in true panoramas like the 617 (I don’t mean my own feeble attempts).

If you know how to work a composition you know one step makes all the difference. One step in the right direction makes all the elements line up in your composition. Or maybe you need to get down lower. Or up higher. This is much easier when you can see your composition in the viewfinder than when you’re stitching many vertical shots together. That’s why I find 617 shots have stronger composition. There are probably other reasons. The 617 photographers have probably been doing it much longer; more experience. Half the planet doesn’t own 617 cameras; only pro photographers and pano enthusiasts meaning the quality should be higher in general. Of course there are many boring 617 shots as well and many brilliant digitally stitched panoramas.
Still; in general the 617 pano compositions look stronger to me!

I usually shoot a cropped panorama of the same scene as I shoot a stitched panorama and often the cropped has better composition. That’s why an affordable digital 3:1 camera – like a digital Hasselblad X-pan – would be most welcome!

Simplicity equals Longevity

I am a firm believer in keeping it simple in just about every aspect of life and living. Simple solutions are my preferred choice and photographic composition is no exception. It’s what you leave out that makes the difference.

Shooting landscapes with a wide angle lens it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of a big sprawling beautiful landscape and attempt to include everything. I believe it is much better to leave almost everything out. Nature can be quite chaotic and messy and I find it makes for a much better photo if you can isolate just a few elements in a strong composition. You would be forgiven for thinking that simple isolated strong compositions are the easiest to shoot. They’re not. They demand an eye for simple composition, an eye you have to constantly train. It is much easier to point your wide angle lens at everything or shoot a stitched panorama with a huge viewing angle. Much harder to isolate and pick out the best composition from the chaos.

I will present 3 landscapes from my Australia 2007 trip as examples of keeping it simple. These are subtle and simple photos and I didn’t pay them much attention at first among the many thousands of RAW files from the trip. Obvious shots jump at you when sorting the RAW files but obvious quickly becomes boring. Simplicity has staying power. The magic revealed itself later and I now consider these among my very favourite and best shots. For me all 3 of them have a special quality that somehow defies definition.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Uluru and tree in the desert
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

A few but key elements make up this composition. A dead tree in the hot dry arid red centre of Australia is the main subject, Uluru and a deep blue polarized sky serve as a powerful background and colourful contrast to the monochrome tree. Almost every element is placed on a “golden mean”, a “thirds” position. The sky and Uluru divide the photo and create a balance. Something about the photo feels otherworldly to the viewer.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Pandanus Palm and Termite Mounds at Hawk Dreaming
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

A few Pandanus Palm trees and Termite Mounds are the subjects and are balanced by the view of wide open space at Hawk Dreaming. The soft light at dusk lends a tranquil quality to the emotional impact. Most people will also feel the exotic subjects of Pandanus and Termite mound creates an otherworldly alien feel.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Hawk Dreaming Savannah View
Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The cleanest and simplest of compositions, only 3 elements. The sky, the trees, the foreground. To create the dramatic wide angle composition and have the trees line up on the horizontal dividing line, I simply lay down in the grass and almost had the camera on the ground. The clouds create a strong sense of movement balanced by the detailed motionless foreground.

Simplicity demands an effort

I have found that it takes practice and effort to shoot simple. It’s easy to slip and include too much meaning you loose having a simple single focus point in the picture. Next time you compose a photo think about every elements you choose to include. Do they add to the photo? Do they subtract? Study the scene in your viewfinder, try different compositions – and keep it simple!

Shooting Cropped Panoramas

It is no secret that I love the panorama format, I’ve mentioned this in countless posts. Read this one for why I love the wide format. I don’t own an actual panorama camera like a 6x17cm Linhof or 2x35mm Hasselblad x-pan so I shoot panoramas in two ways with my Canon 5D. The first way is to use an ultrawide lens, compose the photo as a panorama and then crop the top and bottom of the raw file in post production. The second way is digital stitching, shoot several photos and stitch them in programs like PTgui. This post focuses on cropped panoramas, the next post will focus on stitching.

Cropped panoramas

It’s simple as…just crop your photo so the width to height ratio is at least 2:1 and you have a wide panorama shot! If you want a good result there’s a bit more to it though. Have a look at these panoramas from Sydney and Perth (click to see large):

Click to see large size on my gallery!

A sunset panorama view of the Opera House, The Harbour Bridge and a ferry.

Click to see large size on my gallery!

A late afternoon view of Kings Park, gum trees, bicycle and person on the left, the skyline of Perth in the top right 1/3 and long shadows leading your eye into the shot.

Both shots are shot very wide with my 17-40mm L f/4.0 lens (which is super wide on a full frame Canon 5D) and then cropped as I developed the raw file. The next two screenshots from Rawshooter Premium shows you the full photos with the crop mask in place:

sydney-blog-crop-pano

perth-blog-crop-pano

Notice how the Sydney shot needs almost every bit of the 17mm wide view to get everything in frame. Also notice how much dead space I have in the top and bottom of the shots? That’s intentional of course, I composed with a cropped pano in mind so the full shots are boring compositions with far too much dead space and the horizon dead in the middle – which leads us to:

Composing the cropped panoramas

Here is what I do:

  • Shoot at around 17mm on my full frame Canon 5D so I can get a very wide shot (equivalent to around 10mm on a crop DSLR camera)
  • Look through the viewfinder and visualize the 3:2 image as a cropped panorama at least 2:1 wide – this is the hard part, you have to compose the shot inside a panorama rectangle you don’t have in your viewfinder, only in your head.
  • Stick the horizon straight in the middle of the viewfinder (the actual viewfinder, not your imaginary pano viewfinder). I’m cropping the shot anyway later and having the horizon in the middle of the original shot greatly reduces the barrel distortion at 17mm.
  • Make sure you get plenty of dead space top and bottom of the shot and look carefully in all corners of your viewfinder to make sure you have your panorama composition inside your imaginary panorama viewfinder.
  • Shoot 4-5 slightly different versions to make sure you have one useable for cropping.

The hard part is visualising your panorama composition inside a 3:2 viewfinder, sometimes I use my hands to form a pano viewfinder (film director style) and sometimes I wonder if I should carry a piece of cardboard cutout as a pano viewfinder. If anyone owns an old Panavision viewfinder they’d love to sell me get in touch! 😀

Cropping the photo in post production

This is the good part about shooting cropped panos, it opens possibilities in post productions. You might not end up with what you imagined when you shot it (you might not even remember what you imagined) but you have lot’s of options since your shot has so much dead space. Remember to crop this dead space though and crop it tight, you want to create a photo with an exciting panorama composition that creates visual tension for your viewer.

Conclusion

I find this method of shooting cropped panos works very well after some practice. If you intend to sell these cropped files or print them at large sizes you need lots of pixels though since you’re cropping away so many of the pixels. I have 13 megapixels of high quality in my Canon 5D and that’s alright, poster prints at 100dpi at 120cm wide  look great. I could use more though and some day I might invest in the new Canon 1Ds MkIII camera with it’s amazing 21 megapixel full frame sensor.

Next time I’ll talk about stitched panoramas but until then, if you like panoramas as much as me – get out there and practice shooting cropped panos, it’s great fun!