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Do you think about it or do you respond to it?
Old 06-18-2018   #1
Dogman
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Do you think about it or do you respond to it?

My wife and I were visiting friends yesterday and I was showing some recent prints. The friends--the female is an artist and her husband is a psychologist--looked through the prints carefully and both commented on how the elements were composed. The photos were all either candid pictures of people or scenes and objects "found", not arranged.

The psychologist took one of the photos and pointed out the various elements and inquired about how I went through the process of composing them for the photo. The artist then asked, "Do you even realize you're doing this at the time?"

Interesting. Fact is, most of the time, I don't really think about it--I just do it. I'm responding to what I see instinctively. And I can't even articulate why a subject interests me, it just does. Maybe it's because I've been photographing stuff for over 45 years and I can arrange the elements in my head before arranging them in the viewfinder. Or not. But it does generate some thought on my part.

I'm curious about others. Do you consciously think about your framing and compositions? Or does some instinct come into play that takes over the process?
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Old 06-18-2018   #2
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Usually something will catch my eye as being of interest. Then I will try to arrange things for the composition. Perhaps not analytically, but by moving around and seeing how things change in relation to each other. One thing that I am obsessive about is the background. I'm always moving or asking my subjects to move so that the tree or telephone pole is not growing out of their head. Similarly, if there is a large pane of glass in the background, I'll angle the plane of the subjects so that the glass is not parallel to the film plane, and give me a reflection back from my flash.


Composition is perhaps the hardest thing to learn and teach. There are so many rules if you look in a book. However, I tend to just keep moving around until I find something that seems satisfying. Too hard to keep all these rules in my head.
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Old 06-18-2018   #3
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See it,snap it. It seems to work a lot of the time.


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Feeling and Responding!
Old 06-18-2018   #4
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Feeling and Responding!

To me, photography is more about feeling than seeing and responding instead of imposing.
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Old 06-18-2018   #5
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Same here. Most of the photos I'm OK with I don't know what I'm doing.
But I understand why I'm doing it. I have no clue about geometry and arts.

Why HCB photos are special? Half of it because he learned and practiced in geometry.
Then he was asked what makes good photo his answer was - geometry and else.
He described "else" as energy later on.
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Old 06-18-2018   #6
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When you have been shooting for many years, you do many things instinctively and automatically. From experience you have a feel for what works and does not work as well. For the psychologist's and artist's questions, I might try to convey to them that like many things, your experience and knowledge come into play in composing and framing a shot. In a sense, you've done much of the work before the shot.
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Old 06-18-2018   #7
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Excellent topic.

Seeing and snapping from the beginning was the point of the Leica. Seeing and snapping is not the willy-nilly enterprise it seems to be. Seeing and snapping is informed by years of studying good photographs and knowing your camera. So there is thinking; but maybe not deliberation. Oddly, this is true for me also in shooting architecture. I see the picture in my mind and take it. My more "studied" compositions are hardly ever as effective as the "intuitive" compositions.
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Old 06-18-2018   #8
Peter Wijninga
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Spice things up a bit and show some of the pics you shared with your friends.
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Old 06-18-2018   #9
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I see something and respond. Of course with the view camera I then have to think about it an awful lot, but with handhelds I tend to just walk up and make a picture. Often several frames to account for the framing inaccuracies of a rangefinder or a TLR.
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Old 06-18-2018   #10
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I'll respond to something that catches my eye, by grabbing a camera (or lifting it to my eye).
But looking through the viewfinder, I slow down quite a bit and move the camera a bit and check metering mode, etc because I know when I get home to the computer I'm going to wish that I had ......
Most times I take a few slightly different frames (composition) because I am hopelessly insecure.
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Old 06-18-2018   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogman View Post
....................... I'm curious about others. Do you consciously think about your framing and compositions? Or does some instinct come into play that takes over the process?
I think this is totally a function of your style, what you photograph, and how much effort you put in advance. Experience and effort does seem to improve "your luck". There is the continuing effort to subconsciously previsualize and be ready.

I was using this old photo this morning but remember shooting it. There was probably 1/4 - 1/2 second when I saw the 3 subjects lift their hands, raised my camera, instinctively framed and pressed the shutter.

BUT:
* It was no coincidence I was seated where I was. I had previsualized a potential photo, framed it in my mind as I was familiar with the FOV of my 40mm lens. I had moved to the front pew, then moved over a seat just to be ready in case a photo unfolded.
* It was no coincidence my lens was set at f1.4 and the shutter at 1/125. I already knew the light intensity in front of me.
* It was no coincidence my lens was already focused using the distance scale on the lens.

So how much of all of that was conscious vs. instinctive? How much was effort to be in the right place at the right time, ready to fire the shutter if a photo emerged in front of you?


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Old 06-18-2018   #12
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Well, it's a visual thing, not a thinking thing. Still, one needs to know the fundamentals. Like most skills, you have to learn how it works, then forget about it. By that I mean you no longer have to ck to see that you have a crooked horizon, the wrong exposure for that film or shot, an unbalanced composition, the wrong lens/film/light, etc for the portrait....all that stuff. After you learn all that, then you just see the shot and go for it. This is probably what the artist meant when she asked if you knew what you were doing when you were doing it. She has to do the same thing in whatever medium she works in, and the less you have to think, the better.

Leave it to the psychologist to over-think things :[

Everyone is different though. Ansel Adams liked to pre visualize the shot beforehand, then make it happen. This technique is more suited for large format landscape work, where you approach the shot at a leisurely pace and have to make a lot of preliminary adjustments before tripping the shutter. Whatever works.
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Old 06-18-2018   #13
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At 67 I would trade a lot of my experience for passion and "the eye".
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Old 06-18-2018   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
I think this is totally a function of your style, what you photograph, and how much effort you put in advance. Experience and effort does seem to improve "your luck". There is the continuing effort to subconsciously previsualize and be ready.

I was using this old photo this morning but remember shooting it. There was probably 1/4 - 1/2 second when I saw the 3 subjects lift their hands, raised my camera, instinctively framed and pressed the shutter.

BUT:
* It was no coincidence I was seated where I was. I had previsualized a potential photo, framed it in my mind as I was familiar with the FOV of my 40mm lens. I had moved to the front pew, then moved over a seat just to be ready in case a photo unfolded.
* It was no coincidence my lens was set at f1.4 and the shutter at 1/125. I already knew the light intensity in front of me.
* It was no coincidence my lens was already focused using the distance scale on the lens.

So how much of all of that was conscious vs. instinctive? How much was effort to be in the right place at the right time, ready to fire the shutter if a photo emerged in front of you?


Bob you do some knockout work! That's an excellent image.
I
For me decades of experience leads to a strong instinct and a huge base of experience. Instinct plays a part as does being concious of the elements in and around the frame. A constant awareness and evaluating the environment around you weigh equally with instinct.
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Old 06-18-2018   #15
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I think Bob pretty much nailed it for candid photography, where candid includes all spontaneous types of photography.
With experience you end up consciously doing some things (setting the camera to the correct light and focus distance) and unconsciously doing other things (moving a good angle to create opportunities for good compositions (like Bobs excellent photo) and avoiding bad ones (distracting backgrounds, poles coming out of heads etc). All of those things lead to an increase in the chance of getting photos with pleasing compositions.

The second half of the equation is after the fact. Can you select the best photos from the bunch you took? I often can't. As an example, my neighbour is a painter, and likes to paint from photographs. As such, he constantly goes through my photos looking for compositions he likes and so many times he finds real gems in the pile of rejects. I hadn't selected them based mostly on some preexisting condition when I took the photo, such as I was in a bad mood, or didn't see the composition I subconsciously captured at the time. I think this is the area where I, and I assume many others are lacking. It's almost like I can't objectively evaluate my own work.
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Old 06-18-2018   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelwj View Post
It's almost like I can't objectively evaluate my own work.
So true.. especially shortly after creating the images.

What factors in my evaluation is the amount of effort I put into a shot. If I had to work hard to make it, or made a very conscious decision about composition, it should be good, shouldn't it?

But when I look back at older photos, I tend to favour quite different ones, often even the snapshots.. perhaps because those captured the feeling of the moment best.
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Old 06-19-2018   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by michaelwj View Post
....... Can you select the best photos from the bunch you took? ...... I think this is the area where I, and I assume many others are lacking. It's almost like I can't objectively evaluate my own work.
I sense this is commonly a result of not acknowledging what the purpose of the photograph is. There is no such thing as a universally good or bad photograph. It is a matter of the photograph accomplishing the photographer's goal, something that is commonly undetermined by many.

Are you seeking an impactful way of grabbing the viewers attention and communicating information?
Are you seeking a neutral comfortable way to provide a pleasing visual background?
Do you want a record of a personally important event or location?
Do you just want to show what can be done with the very old / very latest zipdeedoodah camera or the boken of the omygoshigon lens?

You cannot score the answer without knowing the question.
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Old 06-19-2018   #18
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This is a great thread. I have wondered about this myself.

When I was doing interiors photography I though a lot about the composition. This was commercial work so, it was important to focus the viewers' attention.

For candid scenes I have to rely on instinct. Spontaneity is crucial so there is limited time to contemplate composition. I use an optical finder (X100T, X-Pro 2) with virtual RF frame lines. I suspect it takes me less than a second to consider what's outside the frame line before I compose the photograph.

For other documentary work (buildings, neighborhoods, retail spaces, etc.) limits on where one can stand limit composition options. There's a compromise between perspective and field of view. Spontaneity is not a priority.

During post-production I only crop to minimize tilt and converging verticals. I never crop as a means to compose.
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Old 06-19-2018   #19
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When I'm walking I am always looking around, for many reasons. If something catches my eye that looks interesting, fun, unusual, etc., I make the decision to get a picture or keep walking. I look at it and work through the composition and whip out my little friend. These days (being 100% digital) I'll often take the initial picture and then look around and think about what drew me to it, different angles, exposures, etc. When I was shooting film I would jump to this step before exposing a frame.

Some times I go out with specific types of pictures in mind (e.g. an Ice Storm, Flood, Obama's First Election Night in Chicago) but keep my eyes open for other stuff.

I can't say what triggers my interest, but it's worked out ok.

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Old 06-19-2018   #20
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I'm guilty of being a "snapper". Now, if we went through my images I doubt anyone would recognize a pattern, or even make it through the stack -- they would proclaim, "maybe you should consider pottery".

In truth, I get a few keepers; and I definitely try to grab a few snaps to account for my RF framing slop -- as mentioned by a few others above.

I also do a bit of very contemplative photography too. That tends to be stuff like my "tools as art" project where I have a small still-life studio set up and a camera on tripod, and some lighting. The process is very intentional and deliberate.

So, can we be both snappers and thinkers? I hope so.
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Old 06-19-2018   #21
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I’ve long forgotten about any ones’ evaluation (critique as some title it) except a client. Every client likes what I do as they review my work before hiring me.

The fact is, quite a few years ago I thought I would try out an amateur photo club. It was a disaster for me as the presenter first started out dissing professional photographers. Most of the members were more interested in points scored with their work rather than learning. Learning even the basics of photography.

I quickly found that beauty is in the mind of the checkbook holder.

The rest don’t count.
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Old 06-19-2018   #22
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A little of both usually, maybe at the same time or not.
With walk around photography, on occasion, I had previsualized pics based on what I had observed from across the street. I had in my minds eye how excellent the composition would be only to find the scene had changed from what it was to what it is by the time that I made it across the street. Well I'm here now anyway, might as well attempt to salvage something by composing a few snaps.
Perspective, composition and exposure settings are controllable. Most of this is learned behavior which becomes second nature after time/practice.
The only way that you'll know whether you have something or not is by 'doing' and then by confirming through 'looking' at the neg/file.
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Old 06-19-2018   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ko.Fe. View Post
Same here. Most of the photos I'm OK with I don't know what I'm doing.
But I understand why I'm doing it. I have no clue about geometry and arts.

Why HCB photos are special? Half of it because he learned and practiced in geometry.
Then he was asked what makes good photo his answer was - geometry and else.
He described "else" as energy later on.
I think Ko.Fe. is onto something here. Cartier-Bresson's photos indeed were constructed around the geometry of the subject matter. He was so practiced at it, I wonder if he even noticed this construction when he was shooting many of those great photos.

The photos that the psychologist and the artist were commenting about were very "geometric"--angles, shapes and lines of various subject elements forming the composition. It's something I've noticed in my pictures when I look at them later but at the time I'm actually clicking the shutter I don't always consciously see the geometry present. It's more an unconscious process for me.
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Old 06-19-2018   #24
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The problem with that analysis is that you can fit virtually any photo within a geometric construct. Just look at the number of compositional rules.
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Old 06-19-2018   #25
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The problem with that analysis is that you can fit virtually any photo within a geometric construct. Just look at the number of compositional rules.
That's true. But do we consciously follow those compositional rules?
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Old 06-19-2018   #26
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Probably at first and then it becomes a habit.


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Old 06-21-2018   #27
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An Interior Designer for 30 [very] odd years , I seem instinctually to create interiors with others respond to as 'safe'.
In retrospect , it seems to be autistic response to create 'safe' which others respond to.
My snapshots tend to be equally 'instinctive' but I suspect another element is at work here .
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Old 06-21-2018   #28
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When I see something that catches my eye I respond quickly on a gut level. I do look more carefully at the framing to make sure I am including all lines and important objects. It all happens quickly. - jim
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Old 06-21-2018   #29
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I previously said that the nature of my photography requires that I be almost totally instinctive. Any time spent dwelling or thinking about a potential photo usually results in whatever interested me disappearing. Photographers with other styles may have much more time.

But, I need to clarify an important point. I already know in general what I am looking to photograph. I work on projects almost exclusively and very often have a good idea of what I am looking to photograph before I see it. That certainly speeds things up.

Now this does not mean I will pass up a potential great photo when it appears in front of me even if not a part of my current project. But that does happen very seldom.
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Old 06-21-2018   #30
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I just don't talk to psychologists about my photography. Nothing any good could come of that.


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Old 06-21-2018   #31
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Well, when you know what you are doing because you've been doing it for years it will be easy to do. That's not the same as doing it badly.

And from time to time we all do something new and learn from it and that's not bad either.

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Old 06-22-2018   #32
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I would have to say response based on my own experiences. When I see something I want to photograph that I know won't change immediately, so not candid people or moving scenes etc obviously, I will take an initial pic then progressively take more as I think about composition etc. The amount of times that first exposure has been my ultimate selection never fails to surprise me.
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Old 06-22-2018   #33
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Quote:
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I would have to say response based on my own experiences. When I see something I want to photograph that I know won't change immediately, so not candid people or moving scenes etc obviously, I will take an initial pic then progressively take more as I think about composition etc. The amount of times that first exposure has been my ultimate selection never fails to surprise me.
I find the same thing. I end up burning half a roll when the first shot is the best. Maybe this means we are naturally gifted?
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Old 06-22-2018   #34
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I never frame my stuff, I just shoot what's interesting but that's just my style.
Studio however or work, prob framing is a much needed thought.
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Old 06-24-2018   #35
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Quote:
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I sense this is commonly a result of not acknowledging what the purpose of the photograph is. There is no such thing as a universally good or bad photograph. It is a matter of the photograph accomplishing the photographer's goal, something that is commonly undetermined by many.

Are you seeking an impactful way of grabbing the viewers attention and communicating information?
Are you seeking a neutral comfortable way to provide a pleasing visual background?
Do you want a record of a personally important event or location?
Do you just want to show what can be done with the very old / very latest zipdeedoodah camera or the boken of the omygoshigon lens?

You cannot score the answer without knowing the question.
Can this singular post above get a STICKY?

It nails so perfectly the core problem of many people who are "all over the place" with their photography. If you just want to use your camera and happily snap away, occasionally score a nice shot, then it doesn't really matter at all, what questions your shots do answer. But when you want to create a body of work and there is no question (or "project") that you have in mind, there is no connection between the images. They look like a collections of the best shots from a big shoe box.
Sometimes people resort to a certain workflow of Photoshop processing to get a "signature" look to make the images recognizable as their work, simply because they all look alike. If it serves the goal and get's them lots of clicks and likes on social media, well be my guest and process away...


To respond to the OP's question ... I think you have to practice, practice, practice until certain aspects of balance and composition are just second nature. If you have to think about it too hard, typically the scene or the light is gone before you are about to press the shutter release.
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Old 06-24-2018   #36
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For me, it is the spatial relationships of objects that piques my interest and catches my eye. Then the goal is to photographs that geometry in an interesting way.
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Old 06-24-2018   #37
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Everyone who has looked at my photos over the years agrees that it seems to be an unconscious process.
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Old 06-24-2018   #38
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Put two people in a setting with the same equipment and you get two different photos. For the most part we take photos that we like, our compositions tend to repeat as we take variations on a theme.

The result is a body of work that shifts and changes. Everything that came before, including our vision of the future, is present in that moment. World Cup passion played out on the backyard pitch or a 2-2 tie at 1:30 AM local time... we bring it, but being able to adapt is key.

Great question...
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Old 06-24-2018   #39
charjohncarter
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charjohncarter is offline
Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Danville, CA, USA
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I try to compose every shot, but in the viewfinder. Before that I say to myself 'look at that.'

One thing that I do is think about DOF and often change my aperture then go back to composing in the viewfinder.
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