Finding Your View

At the outset, let’s get something out of the way. Cameras do NOT take pictures. Our brains do. It doesn’t matter whether you use an iPhone or a Canon EOS 1Dx. What your camera captures depends entirely on what you SEE. And, what you see depends on HOW you see. It’s that simple, and that’s what we’re going to explore now.

Let’s talk a bit about how our brains work. When you have your camera with you, shift part of your brain into “capture mode.” While we’ll talk about the elements of composition in later articles, capture mode is when you’re open to seeing colors, angles, shapes, and forms and other compositional elements. A good way to start is by not identifying THINGS in a scene. Instead, try to see the scene as color fields, triangles, forms, shapes and lines. And, then, become aware of their interrelationships. If they are interesting to your brain, you’ll automatically raise the camera’s viewfinder to your eye or look through its display screen. That’s where the fun begins!

As you are viewing your potential image, it is important to frame it as best as you can when. It will help to ensure a good quality image right “out of the box.” And, it will reduce the amount of time that you need to spend “fixing” it. Time may be money, and, if it’s not, time is precious; you’ll never be able to get it back. Finally, it will help to ensure that, if you do have to crop the image, your crop will be minimal, thus helping to maintain the necessary resolution to later print or otherwise exhibit the image.

Let’s start out with a simple image that I took with an LG-VX8700, a camera phone, way back on July 30, 2007. This is a “grab” shot of Castine, Maine’s harbor. It’s definitely not a masterpiece. Please study the image and list all the things wrong with it.


If I had been more careful framing the shot (I shouldn’t have had those beers at Dennett’s Wharf), I likely could have avoided all of the elements around the frame’s edges or at least minimized their appearance. I’m sure that my eye was locked into capturing the “V” shaped forms giving apparent depth to the image — the dock and lower walkway, the water without boats, and the water with boats. Those were the image’s central elements. My eye unfortunately ignored everything else. I also committed the common mistake of placing the horizon smack dab in the middle of the frame. Ideally, horizons should be placed in or near the upper or lower horizontal thirds of the frame.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself! Perhaps I couldn’t walk forward a bit or couldn’t use the zoom feature of my phone to reduce the image’s boundaries, thus cutting out the offending forms. I don’t remember . . . .

So what can we do about this mediocre image? Remember, if this were back in the good old film days, unless you developed your own color film, which was rare, you’d be stuck with this crummy shot. Lucky for me (and you), we now can easily fix this image. Again, knowing you can fix your bad image is no excuse for sloppy photography. Get it as right as you can straight out of the camera and spend the saved time on enjoying a nice swim in the ocean on a hot day.

Now, pretend you’re at your computer and viewing this image in your favorite photo-editing program. Go ahead, choose the cropping tool and have a go at it.

Let’s see how you did!!

Here’s my final product. I also brought out the image in a few simple steps that we’ll discuss later. Note that I didn’t remove that distracting form center-left in the frame. It can be easily removed, but that’s for another time.


Does your image look like this? If it does, then you get an “A”!

The take-away from all this is to study the WHOLE frame, knowing that you have to view the image within the camera’s native framing area. Then, adjust your view to eliminate as much as possible any incomplete and/or extraneous forms and areas around the main subject. Don’t forget that you can walk closer or farther away or zoom your lens in or out to do this. This may affect the sharpness of some of the elements in your image, but we’ll talk about that later.

Now, go out and take pictures!!

IMG_3145Marc Weinberg is a semi-retired lawyer and a professional photographer in Frederick, MD. Marc picked up his first camera in 1959 and has been at it ever since. He is a juried member of Frederick’s oldest gallery, The Artists’ Gallery, maintains a studio and is a resident artist and instructor at The Griffin Art Center, and teaches photography at Frederick Community College.