TIPS FOR COMPOSING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

This is a photograph that I made in Central Park in New York during my recent Street Photography Workshop. I took it so that the students in the workshop could observe how I get in close without disturbing the subject.

I arranged myself next to the subjects so that I could include the elements and details that would help give the photograph meaning. I was attracted by the arms of the couple in the background and also the arms of the woman in the foreground. The two children in the stroller, I considered were another “pair” of elements, or factors, that I thought would help the photograph. Two of a kind, three of a kind ect., similar to some card games, are considered more valuable.

Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote “Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact.” This advice was very valuable to me, as it explained to me that a composition is not for balance or beauty, but is a way of collecting the important details, elements and factors in the frame of the viewfinder. The effective organization of these facts take the mystery out of the word “composition” which to me means very little in the way of explaining what to include in the frame.

Accurate framing is very important to me, because I do not like to “crop” my photographs later in the darkroom because I messed up the framing of the photo in the first place. Cartier-Bresson’s photographs have a black border so that the clear edge of the negative will print black to show that the image was not cropped.

Choice of a camera that shows 100% in the viewfinder is also important to accurately frame a subject. Unfortunately, most cameras don’t do this. That’s why I use a Nikon F-3 that shows 100%, so that I can frame as precisely as possible so that I don’t need to crop.

To achieve the black border in the darkroom I take a small metal file and slightly enlarge the rectangular hole in the negative carrier of the enlarger, which allows the clear edge of the film to show black in the print. To eliminate the black line, I can raise the head of the enlarger slightly and the black line will disappear.

This entry was posted in Street Photography Tips.

One Comment

  1. Gary Thursby February 4, 2013 at 12:06 am #

    Hi John! I remember you telling me in your workshop about how you use facts to create images. You would tell me, Gary that railing is right there so use it as an element in the photograph. I never thought about using all the seemingly mundane objects in our everyday life to help tell a story in our pictures. I used to try and strip out all of what I thought was clutter to just get a shot of subject and not much else. As a result I felt my pictures would become a little too predictable.
    One thing I would like to ask you about Bresson is his use of geometry. Bresson is famously known for being a master of incorporating geometry between his subjects and the other elements in his photographs. I even see it in your photographs as well John. In your great shot of the runaway, the two girls and the train conductor form a triangle. Does the use of geometry ever enter your decision making process when your evaluating a potential photograph.