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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

Active 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!
 
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