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What is "composing in camera"?

jodad

Member
Clearly this is in the wrong sub forum bit I wasn't sure where to put a question like this.
A couple of times I've read that XYZ photographer is known for "composing in camera", most recently about Shinya Arimoto and his SWC/903 street portraits. What is composing in camera? Is it the thing that almost all of us do when we look through a VF and compose? LOL If so, why mention it specifically?
 

pegelli

Well-known member
I think it refers to not doing any cropping, straightening or perspective correction of the file and show all the pixels captured (or the full negative in case of film)
 

rdeloe

Active member
Do you crop extensively to create the final photograph? If you do, you're not "composing in the camera". People who say they "compose in the camera" tend to be unhappy if they have to crop, straighten, etc.
 

Shashin

Well-known member
It is known as "shooting full frame." It is part of the idea of "straight" photography, where cropping is not done in post, but when in image is taken. I compose in the camera.
 

spb

Well-known member
One always learns something on this forum! So that is what 'shooting full frame' meant. I try to do that a lot but I have to admit I to sinning and I crop too, I must reform.
 

vieri

Well-known member
Indeed, that's what it means - composing precisely (or as precisely as possible) at the time of shooting, rather than composing loosely and "fixing" composition in post-processing.

To me, composing in camera is the way to go; however, there is one important caveat - image ratio. When we choose a camera system, we also buy into an image ratio, given to us by the manufacturer. I.e., digital medium format uses 4:3; so-called full-frame 35mm uses 3:2; film medium format used 1:1, 6:7, 4:3 and a variety of other formats, old tech cameras used 5:4; and so on.

The problem with that is the world, unfortunately, doesn't always "fit" into what image ratio our manufacturer of choice imposed upon us. E.g., my cameras for the last few years (and for most of my career) have featured 4:3 as image ratio, but for landscape-oriented images I often go for wider than that (rarely 3:2, more often 16:9, rarely 2:1), while for portrait-oriented images I often go for 5:4. I also like to use the square format, when the subject matter allows. Therefore, I am forced to crop.

So, perhaps it is good to split cropping in two:

1. Cropping for "artistic" reasons, e.g. to solve the image ratio problem;
2. Cropping to "save" a badly composed image;

The former is fine by me, in fact I encourage it when needed to strengthen compositions; the latter I try and not do.

As well, there are a couple of instances of cropping we need to consider, when needed:

1. The cropping caused by straightening titled horizons, and by straightening converging verticals in post-processing;
2. The cropping caused by compositional issues that couldn't be solved in the field, or constrains that couldn't be dealt with at the time of shooting, i.e. having prime lenses and no room to move around in order to avoid including something, and the like;

In these cases, cropping is just a necessity.

Finally, if you use a very high megapixel camera (such as a Phase One 150 Mp, or Fuji 100 Mp), you can consider the use of cropping rather than carrying extra lenses: skip a lens, make your bag lighter, and crop to gain "reach", so to speak while still having enough Mp for a good resolution image.

One anecdotical thing: Cartier-Bresson was famous for not cropping, and he said

"If you start cutting or cropping a good photograph, it means death to the geometrically correct interplay of proportions. Besides, it very rarely happens that a photograph which was feebly composed can be saved by reconstruction of its composition under the darkroom’s enlarger; the integrity of vision is no longer there.”
– Henri Cartier-Bresson"

However, what is probably his most famous image - Behind Gare St. Lazare (the jumping man over a pool of water) is heavily cropped :D Clearly, he couldn't compose it as he would have wanted to, but the image was so strong that he decided to "save" it by cropping the negative. Erwitt cropped, the famous image of a woman's feet + dog is cropped; and so on.

So, I wouldn't get too "religious" on the "composing in camera" thing :) Whatever works for you, and whatever results in a strong, powerful image, while keeping the "technical" side (final resolution, and so on) good enough, is fine by me. The biggest reason I recommend "composing in camera" is to help people develop their eye, their shooting discipline. The occasional crop, I am perfectly fine with.

Just my .02, of course. Best regards,

Vieri
 

ErikKaffehr

Well-known member
Clearly this is in the wrong sub forum bit I wasn't sure where to put a question like this.
A couple of times I've read that XYZ photographer is known for "composing in camera", most recently about Shinya Arimoto and his SWC/903 street portraits. What is composing in camera? Is it the thing that almost all of us do when we look through a VF and compose? LOL If so, why mention it specifically?
Essentially, I would mean that composing in the camera means that the photographer shoots the images with a clear concept of the final image in mind.

For me, that doesn't mean avoid cropping and it can include combining several images.


This image is a good example, it was shot as two images that were stitched to include a bit of the sky.


This one was shot as 2-3 images with different focus, intended to be blended.

Best regards
Erik
 

Jorgen Udvang

Subscriber Member
There are many ways that lead to a good photo. Still, I find creating the final image in camera is the most satisfying. I frequently go out with a camera and only one prime lens (mostly a "standard" lens) to practice and to achieve the dicipline needed to "see" compositions.

When (if?) I retire, I plan to take one year shooting with one camera and a 50mm lens only. Interestingly, that is what I mostly did until digital came along. I didn't see it as much of a limitation back then, but more like a challenge and inspiration.
 

rdeloe

Active member
So, I wouldn't get too "religious" on the "composing in camera" thing :) Whatever works for you, and whatever results in a strong, powerful image, while keeping the "technical" side (final resolution, and so on) good enough, is fine by me. The biggest reason I recommend "composing in camera" is to help people develop their eye, their shooting discipline. The occasional crop, I am perfectly fine with.
I'm glad you said this part Vieri. People often will turn a technical question about work habits into a moral narrative.

I compose for the whole frame most of the time simply because that's my preference, and it works well with how I like to make photographs (almost inevitably on a tripod). I think I make better photographs that way than other ways. Mind you I also worry at times about being trapped in my own style, so perhaps I should try not using a tripod and shooting loosely!

There are many paths to strong work.
 

vieri

Well-known member
I'm glad you said this part Vieri. People often will turn a technical question about work habits into a moral narrative.

I compose for the whole frame most of the time simply because that's my preference, and it works well with how I like to make photographs (almost inevitably on a tripod). I think I make better photographs that way than other ways. Mind you I also worry at times about being trapped in my own style, so perhaps I should try not using a tripod and shooting loosely!

There are many paths to strong work.
Hey Rob,

indeed there are. It takes a lot of time and experience to fine tune our own path, and perhaps this investment of time and effort is part of the why many people tend to absolutise what works for them into universal rules of sort :) Once one absolutises things, the step to getting religious about things is very small, and from getting religious to getting into wars of religion the step is even smaller :)

Best regards,

Vieri
 

budfox

Member
Vieri- and to add to that more serious narrative, it’s hard for people to back away from a previously expressed ‘universal position’ - and they become more entrenched in defending it for reasons of ego rather than rational thought.

But it’s only photography. Hopefully there will be no loss of life over say, differing position on full frame vs medium format!
 

vieri

Well-known member
Vieri- and to add to that more serious narrative, it’s hard for people to back away from a previously expressed ‘universal position’ - and they become more entrenched in defending it for reasons of ego rather than rational thought.

But it’s only photography. Hopefully there will be no loss of life over say, differing position on full frame vs medium format!
Indeed, ego is a powerful force in slowing down (or impeding) growth and exchange of knowledge :) The funny thing (or the sad thing), IMHO, is that we are a relatively small community of people sharing a common love for something beautiful, and rather than cultivating and nurturing that, we spend most of the time fighting over brand X vs brand Y and similar BS :D

Best regards,

Vieri
 

Shashin

Well-known member
The funny thing (or the sad thing), IMHO, is that we are a relatively small community of people sharing a common love for something beautiful, and rather than cultivating and nurturing that, we spend most of the time fighting over brand X vs brand Y and similar BS :D
The funny thing is, when I was taking my undergraduate degree in photography at RIT, no one every talked about brands, formats, or resolution. The judgement was simply on whether an image worked or not. A great image was going to be great no matter the technical criteria behind it, at least not in an absolute sense (you might shoot 35mm Tri-X and boil it in the developer if you wanted a particular look). This really led to a great deal of experimentation. I shot everything from 35mm to 4x5. I used swing-lens panoramic cameras, high-speed cameras, and streak cameras (think finish-line cameras at a race track). I even mounted a door peep hole in front of a 210mm lens to make a fisheye image on 4x5 film. I did discover "composing in the camera" there and, for me, it led to the greatest jump in the quality of my images. I think it is a great discipline. But Arnold Newman cropped, and his images didn't turn out too bad. (Even HCB cropped.)

But seriously, Fuji makes the best cameras and only serious photographers like me use them... ;)
 

Jorgen Udvang

Subscriber Member
The funny thing is, when I was taking my undergraduate degree in photography at RIT, no one every talked about brands, formats, or resolution. The judgement was simply on whether an image worked or not. A great image was going to be great no matter the technical criteria behind it, at least not in an absolute sense (you might shoot 35mm Tri-X and boil it in the developer if you wanted a particular look). This really led to a great deal of experimentation. I shot everything from 35mm to 4x5. I used swing-lens panoramic cameras, high-speed cameras, and streak cameras (think finish-line cameras at a race track). I even mounted a door peep hole in front of a 210mm lens to make a fisheye image on 4x5 film. I did discover "composing in the camera" there and, for me, it led to the greatest jump in the quality of my images. I think it is a great discipline. But Arnold Newman cropped, and his images didn't turn out too bad. (Even HCB cropped.)

But seriously, Fuji makes the best cameras and only serious photographers like me use them... ;)
Yes, yes, yes, yesyes, sey and yes (y)(y)(y)(y)

Few things are more rewarding than experimenting with a somewhat offbeat solution, or simply a camera considered "obsolete" by the masses, and then get a satisfying and/or interesting result.

Unfortunately, we are seeing a "disneyfication" of cameras and photography, where images are sanitised and edited to "perfection", and mostly to boredom. It's enabled by the advances of technology and encouraged by the society we live in. There are exceptions of course, like Fuji Instax (Yes Will, your Fuji joke has some truth to it.), but the "ha ha factor" is mostly gone. No more chopping off grandma's head.

I have been venturing into video production the last few years. One of the challenges have been that with video, one must compose in camera, or at least that was the situation until recently. With 8K video on a 1080 timeline and fantastic new editing software (1080 is 25% of 8K's linear size, 6.25% of the surface, like 6 MP compared to 100), one can crop, rotate, do whatever one wants, to get the desired result. And it took just 6-7 years to happen.

It will always be a question if what we lose has any significance. Young people tend to say that those old skills, like composing in camera, aren't relevant anymore, and that it's a waste of time to learn them. My fear is that with improved computer abilities and more advanced, miniaturised electronics, very few skills will be needed in the future, and that people's ability to think, to reason will be affected. That will have consequences way beyond photography.
 

fmueller

Member
Very thoughtful comments from all.

My addition is:

Whenever I ignore "composing in camera", I often wish I had thought just a bit more about the edges of the frame. It's not that I'm afraid to crop, I will and I do, but failing to include something in the frame is a much harder fix "in post" and usually the basis of my regret.
 

fotografz

Well-known member
Interesting take on this subject ... perhaps tainted by the format?

I guess I'm a slob ... I shoot for the moment and the content and composition is intuitive at best. I'm a Designer and Art Director by training and profession so I do relish well composed images ... but mostly well thought out, non-spontaneous ones.

To me, still photography's greatest claim to fame is that it snatches an actual nano second from the rushing stream of time and freezes it forever. It is unique in that attribute. No other art does that, not even the photography of motion pictures.

That slice of time can be captured while locked down on a tripod, or spontaneously in a flash of recognition of unique content. One favors composing in camera and the other doesn't care as long as the moment speaks to the viewer in a way only a still photo can.
 

dchew

Well-known member
One thing that I find interesting about the "crop or not crop" discussion is related to what Vieri said in his well-thought post:
...
As well, there are a couple of instances of cropping we need to consider, when needed:

1. The cropping caused by straightening titled horizons, and by straightening converging verticals in post-processing;
2. The cropping caused by compositional issues that couldn't be solved in the field, or constrains that couldn't be dealt with at the time of shooting, i.e. having prime lenses and no room to move around in order to avoid including something, and the like;

In these cases, cropping is just a necessity.
...
There is the obvious difference between perspective and crop. Traditional perspective is defined by the camera position relative to the subject. That defines how the subject appears relative to other things in the frame. Focal length used doesn't change that; it only changes what is included vs what is not. With some photographers, I find it very interesting how much time is spent adjusting the precise zoom position vs how little time is spent adjusting the precise camera position. My workflow is to find the precise camera position that gives me the desired perspective. Then I choose whatever lens will give me at least what I need in the frame. I don't have any zoom lenses for my technical camera, so I only have one of five specific choices between 35mm and 250mm.

I would never move my camera position (and therefore preferred perspective) in order to "fill the frame." For me, the perspective is a whole lot more important than whether or not I'm going to crop the extra stuff away; I have a relatively coarse choice between focal lengths.

Dave
 

vieri

Well-known member
One thing that I find interesting about the "crop or not crop" discussion is related to what Vieri said in his well-thought post:

There is the obvious difference between perspective and crop. Traditional perspective is defined by the camera position relative to the subject. That defines how the subject appears relative to other things in the frame. Focal length used doesn't change that; it only changes what is included vs what is not. With some photographers, I find it very interesting how much time is spent adjusting the precise zoom position vs how little time is spent adjusting the precise camera position. My workflow is to find the precise camera position that gives me the desired perspective. Then I choose whatever lens will give me at least what I need in the frame. I don't have any zoom lenses for my technical camera, so I only have one of five specific choices between 35mm and 250mm.

I would never move my camera position (and therefore preferred perspective) in order to "fill the frame." For me, the perspective is a whole lot more important than whether or not I'm going to crop the extra stuff away; I have a relatively coarse choice between focal lengths.

Dave
Totally agree with you, Dave. I should have mention the "composing in my head" part of the process, happening before I even take the camera out of the bag. Before photographing, I walk the scene until I find the spot I like, including camera height. Only then I take my camera out and make do with the lenses I have - hence the necessity to crop to fix compositional issues that couldn't be fixed in the field (i.e., as you mentioned, not having the perfect focal length needed to exactly frame the image as we would like, to save perspective & composition).

Best regards,

Vieri
 
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