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Framing a Rapidly Changing Scene

Steve Leenhouts

New member
One of the great challenges for me, in using a small sensor camera (lens: 28mm equivalent) to record interesting moments of city life, has been the difficulty in intellegently framing rapidly changing scenes. Sean's article on Photographing Strangers describes how he approaches this:

Another factor that can be important for this kind of work is speed…the finder is just in front of my eye for just a second. It’s the last stage in the picture rather than the first. Before the camera ever comes to my eye, I have a fairly good sense of where the picture’s edges will fall, where the focus will fall,, and how the elements of the picture will be seen not only from the left to right but also from near to far. In other words, the picture is largely constructed in my imagination before I ever see it in the finder. - from Reid Reviews, Photographing Strangers

He is visualizing prior to the actual act of framing. I am not there, yet. In my own early practice I found that there was a lot of hit and miss, and the overall experience was that of shooting without any precision. Recently I find I am improving by paying attention -- as best I can in the split seconds available -- to just the bottom edge. Pre-visualizing the bottom edge would be a nice leap forward for me, but it is slow to come.

I would be interested to hear of other people's experience regarding the challenge of rapid composition in urban life photography. Does it just come with practice? Is it an inate skill, much like perfect pitch is for a musician? Are there any tricks or techniques to improve this aspect of making pictures? Can you show us some pictures?

Here are two pictures that I recently made that relate to this. Both are from an open taxi window.





Thanks,
Steve
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Steve,

I see great pictures. I don't see problems. The very fact that the cyclist is coming into the frame, which goes against he expectations of most of us, adds some character to the photography and creates immediacy. The same with the cutting of the end of the foot of the wonderful young woman engaged in her own thoughts. You have caught life as you saw it without disturbing anything. They are not reacting to you.

Now artistically I find the second picture poignant. I feel for the young woman and wonder about her. She's young and seems lost in her own thoughts. This is often seen when there is no one to react with. We are social and when alone people can turns to have conversations with themselves.

The color is very attractive but not pretty and empty. I like he blue dress and the split color immediately behind her, serving as a mini studio "back ground". The horizontal red of the man on the left points us towards her and adds to her importance as she moves from one half of the picture to the other.

What's wrong with it then. I don't know that anything is wrong at all. Only you can know it because you see into the scene and then wanted to frame a certain portion to express you own idea. We just observe and then see though your delivered photograph. I for one am not disappointed. In fact I'd feel pretty good about the second picture.

Print it and then look at it more and see how you feel.

If BTW the way you do regret not including all of her right shoe. Here are some suggestions.

Take several shots slightly moving the camera angle to include a tad more. I have no idea what camera you use, so I can't say zoom out to give yourself margin to account for the movement of the car. However, a slightly wider lens should have gotten the scene as you want. Then however, you might have to crop. That might or might not be what you like to do. Everyone has their own feelings on this. Similarly, some would frown at even the idea of adding the tiny missing fraction of her right shoe from a second image.

To me, however, I am impressed as it is and would be happy. But it's you, only you that needs to be satisfied in the first instance.

Just my $0.02.

Asher
 

Tim Ashley

Moderator
I echo Asher's thoughts. Here's a tip: get a book of great photos - say the huge anniversary Magnum book - and look at all the shots imagining that you took them. Be as critical of them as you would with your own work. Think how you wish that foot wasn't cut off, or the man on the bike was on the third, rather than his bike tire.

You'll find that a lot of amazing images take their strength from the energy, rather than the perfection, of their framing. For me, your two shots fall into that category!

Best

Tim
 

Sean Reid

Moderator
Hi Steve,

The first step is to pick a lens and learn it inside and out. If you're using just the 28 that's on that camera, that simplifies things. But a 28 tends to give one a lot of picture space to resolve and, very often, the really active space in a picture ,made with a wide angle lens, sits well inside the borders of what the lens recorded. So, consider learning this first with a somewhat longer lens or, if you're sticking with the 28, be sure you're filling the frame with *only* the elements you want. Sometimes that may mean working quite close.

Practice photographing anything (with that camera and lens) with an eye to first imagining the edges of the picture and then seeing those edges after its made. Keep going back and forth between the two until you start to see what the lens sees even without the finder. It's mostly a matter of practice and one of sticking with just a couple of lenses at first. Ultimately, a person who wants to learn how to do this must learn every one of his or her lenses thoroughly.

Zoom lenses, which I appreciate for their virtues, makes this process much more difficult.

You're right to give priority to the bottom edge.

Tim's book suggestion guides one to the next step which is figuring what you want to make and how you want to make it. But first, it seems, you're figuring out *how* to do this.

Thank you, BTW, for contacting me and asking permission before quoting from RR.

Cheers,

Sean
 

Nolan Sinclair

New member
Hi Steve,

Good work not capturing the girl through the awkward-looking part of a stride! I enjoy the photos; the second one in particular. I like how there's a girl in what looks like a clean dress proceeding through what looks like a rather filthy area. Nice contrast.

Steve Leenhouts said:
I would be interested to hear of other people's experience regarding the challenge of rapid composition in urban life photography. Does it just come with practice? Is it an inate skill, much like perfect pitch is for a musician? Are there any tricks or techniques to improve this aspect of making pictures? Can you show us some pictures?
I was in the same boat a few months ago.

I didn't even realize it happened, but now I'm pretty good at looking at something and figuring out what will be in the picture. I'm not consciously trying to visualize the frame lines; I just look at the subject then something like tunnel vision kicks in and I know. I just practiced for a few months and it came to me, so I imagine it's a skill anyone can learn.



I like this shot.

I'm familiar with the area. I noticed how people tend to huddle around the crosswalk in the rain while they wait for the light, so I kinda saw what I wanted to see, brought the camera to my eye, did a little bit of repositioning to get the window frame where I wanted it to be, waited for a split second then hit the shutter a couple of times. The first time I was certain and deliberate and the second time was just to make sure I got the shot. The second shot had cut the car in the distance in half, so either refined skill or dumb luck made the original picture turn out the way I wanted to.

Lately I've been doing a lot more of waiting of for photos to happen rather than chasing them, if that makes any sense, and I've had a (marginally) few more keepers.
 

Wouter Brandsma

New member
Thank you for starting this thread Steve. I think the second photograph is a very good attempt. Maybe a bit lower angle, but it is still an interesting photograph. It is something I wanted to get familiar too. When I get near an interesting location I already look at how the light and mostly shadows are, to previsualize the scene. Besides that, like Sean mentioned, I try to work more often with 35mm.

Here are some two examples from the Liberation Day on May 5th in the Netherlands (at 35mm), and two examples from a primate zoo (at 28mm).









All these scenes changed very rapidly.
 
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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Hi Wouter,

What are the features of each image that you wanted and what is missing? Are you making these images for fun or a particular end use where some external standard or style has to be met?

Also, especially in the first one, do you consider opening the deep shadows or they work for you?

Asher
 

Ray West

New member
I think many of the comments are sort of 'out of the window', since Steve was out of a window of a taxi (I'm not sure if it was moving at the time). In that sort of situation, then a whole new set of uncontrollable things can happen, including the difficulty of getting the best camera position. I'm thinking that luck has a huge part to play, but it is possible to increase your good luck opportunities, by shooting wide and often. I believe that hdtv cameras are now used used for some newspaper images, at least to get the 'fast' bit.

wrt the bottom edge, I think that is similar wrt shooting clays. You look at the target, work out where it will be, point (not aim) and squeeze the trigger. So Steve, on that taxi trip - how many shots, how many clays did you powder? Sean is especially right wrt the zoom lens part, if you and the subject are moving.

(viewfinders are for wimps ;-)

Best wishes,

Ray
 

Wouter Brandsma

New member
Hi Wouter,

What are the features of each image that you wanted and what is missing? Are you making these images for fun or a particular end use where some external standard or style has to be met?

Also, especially in the first one, do you consider opening the deep shadows or they work for you?

Asher
I want to learn to give my personal view on the things I see. My documentary so to speak. Maybe, eventually to document my home place. There is no external standard or style that has to be met, no obligations. I am an amateur photographer. I enjoy photography. I have been doing landscape photography primarily and I would like to expand my horizon.

For me the first one works with the deep shadows and the subtle highlighted faces.

Could you give me an idea what you think about the photographs, Asher?
 

Steve Leenhouts

New member
Thank you all for an incredible amount of good advice! And for your encouraging reactions to the two pictures. Just to wrap up the thread with a bit more info that I did not provide before: I am using the GRD-II (fixed 28mm equivalent). I take approximately 250 pictures a week from open taxi windows enroute to and from places of work, ending up with 5 or 10 that seem good. Traffic often slow, sometimes stopped. I have also used the LX-2 zoomed to match a 70mm viewfinder stuck on top, but not much recently. Excited to continue onward. Will post again as things progress.

Thanks,
Steve
 

Steve Leenhouts

New member
Woops! Didn't mean to suggest closing the thread! There are questions hanging. Sorry 'bout that, Wouter.
Steve


Don't worry! We don't close photography threads! Neither do we delete or censor (except under the TOS). Asher :)
 
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Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
I want to learn to give my personal view on the things I see. My documentary so to speak. Maybe, eventually to document my home place. There is no external standard or style that has to be met, no obligations. I am an amateur photographer. I enjoy photography. I have been doing landscape photography primarily and I would like to expand my horizon.

For me the first one works with the deep shadows and the subtle highlighted faces.

Could you give me an idea what you think about the photographs, Asher?
I like the quick capture you made of the scene with the shadow of the monkey on the fine gravel. This I'd crop. It's interesting as is but I'd prefer to use it as the basis for making my own derivative from within it. I'd say, now if I was not rushed, if I had more time, how would I have framed it. You may think this is somehow not your idea of photography, altering what got caught in your camera.

However, if you don't mind cutting into that picture, look at what you found demanding. Did it include the feet of the guy on the right, for example. In an ideal composition what would you have included and what would you have bent over backwards to exclude. With that in mind, you can simple crop a new image from your current one.

So yes, I like that photograph, but for my taste I'd crop it, add an S-curve and sharpen. If you don't understand, ask.

Asher
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Wouter ,

Let me have a try.



This picture has some very dark shadows. If you open them up the picture might work better as then we will see what's going on. OTOH, if what they are doing is worse than the shadow, you gain nothing. Maybe one would lighten just the main figures. It all depends on what you feel you like. first it must satisfy your own vision. Then you can offer it to the world. Let's try this:

When you took the picture did that dark group of people mean something to you or it was something you could not avoid? Let us know the difference. If you just are not able to alter the shadows we can help! you might be expert so forgive me!

I like the pictures of the kids in the zoo. The youths in the street we could return to later.
 

Wouter Brandsma

New member
I like the quick capture you made of the scene with the shadow of the monkey on the fine gravel. This I'd crop. It's interesting as is but I'd prefer to use it as the basis for making my own derivative from within it. I'd say, now if I was not rushed, if I had more time, how would I have framed it. You may think this is somehow not your idea of photography, altering what got caught in your camera.

However, if you don't mind cutting into that picture, look at what you found demanding. Did it include the feet of the guy on the right, for example. In an ideal composition what would you have included and what would you have bent over backwards to exclude. With that in mind, you can simple crop a new image from your current one.

So yes, I like that photograph, but for my taste I'd crop it, add an S-curve and sharpen. If you don't understand, ask.

Asher
Thank you Asher for responding. I think that showing the pavement and the person gives a better idea of the fact that I made that photograph in a Zoo park. Cropping is not really a thing I like to do.
And these monkeys were so fast anyway. It was absolutely not possible to do some preframing. I looked around and saw the shadow of the rope and the person. Than all of a sudden this monkey appeared and I immediately pressed the button.
 

Wouter Brandsma

New member
Wouter ,

Let me have a try.



This picture has some very dark shadows. If you open them up the picture might work better as then we will see what's going on. OTOH, if what they are doing is worse than the shadow, you gain nothing. Maybe one would lighten just the main figures. It all depends on what you feel you like. first it must satisfy your own vision. Then you can offer it to the world. Let's try this:

When you took the picture did that dark group of people mean something to you or it was something you could not avoid? Let us know the difference. If you just are not able to alter the shadows we can help! you might be expert so forgive me!

I like the pictures of the kids in the zoo. The youths in the street we could return to later.
The persons were passing by. Often talking, and drinking. I saw the light on their faces and the framing worked well for me. So I made the photograph. The scenery was already very contrasty and there were large portions of shadows. The group couldn't be avoid. Most groups passing by where often larger and that would have too cluttered.
Now I know how to recover shadows and I know a thing or two about post processing, but filling in more light did just made this photograph look flat and uninteresting.

Again thank you for taking your time Asher.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Thank you Asher for responding. I think that showing the pavement and the person gives a better idea of the fact that I made that photograph in a Zoo park. Cropping is not really a thing I like to do.
And these monkeys were so fast anyway. It was absolutely not possible to do some preframing. I looked around and saw the shadow of the rope and the person. Than all of a sudden this monkey appeared and I immediately pressed the button.
Still, Wouter, just as an exercise, cropping to experiment with what you already own is after all what many great photographers have done and do in the darkroom. By removing yourself from othodoxy, you have an opportunity to let a stage be set, with that current image, in what I call "the Cathedral of the Mind" (a term coming from Daniel Sperber in the book Relevance. Now you are free to call up your library of esthetic values, impulses, feelings, icons and other resources and try out different possible variations that you might be even driven to print. This very personal work is what happens anyway in making any art, even in the planning, motivation and physical taking of the artistic or "street" photograph.

You still have the pictures as made so far. That can be printed. The new derivatives are also true, since you made them. As honey is natural so is artistic selection at the time of pressing the shutter and at every one of thousands of moments until the print is delivered and even displayed.

I do not diminish in anyway being truthful to the intent at the moment of recording some light. However, all art is an iterative process between you and the work in progress. So to experiment as if seeing you picture anew, as Ansel Adams did years later with some prints, is in no way selling out the rather different esthetics of the original version.

Just something to think about. :)

Asher

The Shadows: Thanks for explaining how you considered this!
 
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Wouter Brandsma

New member
Still, Wouter, just as an exercise, cropping to experiment with what you already own is after all what many great photographers have done and do in the darkroom. By removing yourself from othodoxy, you have an opportunity to let a stage be set, with that current image, in what I call "the Cathedral of the Mind" (a term coming from Daniel Sperber in the book Relevance. Now you are free to call up your library of esthetic values, impulses, feelings, icons and other resources and try out different possible variations that you might be even driven to print. This very personal work is what happens anyway in making any art, even in the planning, motivation and physical taking of the artistic or "street" photograph.

You still have the pictures as made so far. That can be printed. The new derivatives are also true, since you made them. As honey is natural so is artistic selection at the time of pressing the shutter and at every one of thousands of moments until the print is delivered and even displayed.

I do not diminish in anyway being truthful to the intent at the moment of recording some light. However, all art is an iterative process between you and the work in progress. So to experiment as if seeing you picture anew, as Ansel Adams did years later with some prints, is in no way selling out the rather different esthetics of the original version.

Just something to think about. :)

Asher

The Shadows: Thanks for explaining how you considered this!
I fully understand what you mean Asher, and I often make multiple versions of my photographs (and even try to crop). I try different methods for processing as well. Until now, mostly the first version (the one I made with the camera) remains still my favorite one.

I am still trying to understand the work of others (and even my work). New ideas, interpretations, receiving critics, and reading (like Sean says to me) really helps. So thank you Asher.
 

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief
Hi Wouter,

This particular picture is an opportunity that begs to be used. I have looked at the image and the texture of the gravel against the shadows is remarkable! Have a look again!

Asher
 
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