What I Look For the Instant Before I Shoot.

There’s a saying around here, “If you throw a rock in Portland you will hit a Photographer.” And it’s true! When ever I go out to shoot I have to be prepared to see my exact same shot hanging in a coffee shop somewhere in town for sale for $200! So when I do decide to capture an image I take a lot into consideration.

Before I shot digital I worked in film, so did my Dad. I only had a roll or two to work with at a time, so I had to be choosy.  A little of that has stayed with me as I moved into digital photography. When something or a scene catches my eye I try to find the best perspective to show only what is important or makes it unique or beautiful. When I frame up the shot I look for Elements of the composition that will either enhance or subtract from the shot. I start with the background and work my way forward and from left to right. I the city I try to start by eliminating distractions like power-lines, traffic signs, billboards, cars, even what people are wearing. I will make slight adjustments in my stance to use less distracting objects to conceal what I don’t want. I like to use a narrow depth of field so most of the background will be out of focus. My favorite lens, especially for street photography is my 50mm. It allows a lot of available light in and has a really narrow depth of field, so street photos come out really sharp. Once I get my subject in focus I try to place them a little off-center, if I want the viewer’s eye to come to rest on the subject I place them to the right. If I want to convey a sense of openness or the unknown I leave the right of the frame free of much information and place the subject to the left, looking to the right. If I want the subject confronting and engaging the viewer directly I may put the dead center and looking straight at the camera.

Everyone talks about rule of thirds, which I do use, but I also try to find the golden ratio, Golden Mean or Golden Triangle.

Golden mean intends to divide the plane in three unequal parts (horizontally as well as vertically – as in the rule of thirds) such that two adjacent parts are in golden ratio and the subject is placed along the lines which divide the plane in golden proportion.GoldenSpiral“The golden spiral on the other hand replicates the golden mean exemplified by the curves of the nautilus shell (exhibiting logarithmic spiral growth). The golden triangle is used for implementing the golden ratio diagonally; where the plane is divided into two equal halves diagonally and a perpendicular line is drawn from the opposite corners. The points where the lines intersect form the power points.”

Confused yet? This is what it looks like.

With all of that said, I don’t always have time to line everything up perfectly, so sometimes I do a little Zen trick of shooting with no mind, but responding to a feeling or sense I get when everything is in it’s correct composition. I check later and find the Golden Rule repeated over and over most of the time I use this method. It might be a result of practice and my eye just knows, or it could be the natural response to a well composed image. A kind of peace we feel when we see beauty. Above all else I try to find an interesting way to convey the nature of whatever it was that caught my eye. I keep these principles in mind: Simplicity, Balance, Proportion and Mood to make it interesting to someone else as well.



3 thoughts on “What I Look For the Instant Before I Shoot.

  1. Very informative. Should like to add a few things. First of all rules are there to be broken ( 😀 ) Depending on the background (perspective etc.) the main subject can be better of in the centre of the composition. Architects work also with the rule of 2.78 meaning instead of 33% (rules of thirds) 27.8% and a multitude of it or half it to 1.39 (13.9%). It’s all mathematical in a way and a good guideline to photograph ‘safely’. Also look into the old Chinese Tangram http://www.mathematische-basteleien.de/tangrams.htm and use your imagination ….

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