#CreativeFriday – Another way to improve your picture composition in camera

Most of us as Photographers are always looking for ways to improve our photography in camera, this may be experimenting with different compositions, ISO, focal length, different lenses, filters etc. It’s so easy to experiment in the world of digital, we are able to obtain instant feedback from the LCD screen at the back of the camera and review our pictures in near real time. Sometimes though, seeing the image on the LCD screen in colour is too quick, and judgements can be made, forgetting the basic composition. Composition for me is really all about the connection with the image, the involvement in the process and the final vision for each picture. I find that seeing a quick flash of a picture and it’s colour doesn’t help with ensuring that the right shot has been captured, I am always trying to find ways to slow this part of the image making process down. I actually sometimes wish that i didn’t have the LCD screen available to me on the back of the camera, this would empower us as Photographers to focus on the in-camera craft and the compositional elements of the image capture process, before the shutter is released, and possibly bring back the anticipation of “Did i get the shot?” (On the other hand i do think it is great that we have all of the flexibility and different ways to change our workflow). I know there is an option to hide the preview of the image, but there is always temptation to hit the play button to have a quick sneak. I also meet a lot of Photographers that delete images based on the picture that is shown on the LCD screen, and make a quick decision about if the image should be kept or not. I personally find it most of the time difficult to choose if an image needs to be deleted or not (unless obviously somebody walked into the frame), just based on the representation of a low res image on the LCD screen, rather than waiting to see the final high res image on the screen back in the studio.

I have been exploring different ways to use both the LCD screen and view finder techniques to improve my own photography. But to do this, had to socialise the problem with different people and share the issue, and also look back at history on how photographers used to compose pictures in the camera. My goal was to find a solution that would allow me to compose and framing up in the view finder, removing personal attachment from image and to think about the structure and form of what i am really seeing. I guess to summarise, treat the picture as an object rather than the real world.

If we take a trip into the past for a minute and into the land of Rolliflex, View Cameras and traditional cameras, composing images was different from today. Typically the photographer would need to focus the image on a ground glass screen, and the picture would be upside down and left to right. This way of composing has an ability to detach the image maker from the scene and think about structure, tone and how the objects and shapes interact with each other in the frame (I’ve wanted this option in the digital camera for a long time, but i know it will probably never happen).

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Since using more range finder based cameras, slowing down and thinking about the composition is a large part of the picture making process, but to truly embrace the whole experience i have found that using a Black and White preview on the LCD screen supports my goal of finding a different way to compose, and allows me to make much better images out of the camera and truly meets my vision and expectation of the scene that i saw, before i picked up the camera to take the picture. Removing the colour from the preview and using a black and white representation of the image on the LCD screen, enables me to detach from the scene and changes my thought process about the image. The black and white preview allows me to look at how shapes and objects interact with each other, how the tones are working together, if the image makes sense and meets my vision of the final scene, it fundamentally allows me to start “Seeing” the image from a Photographic point of view. 

To demonstrate this, here is what the image looks like on the back of the camera when previewing.

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I have been using this technique for a while now across all of my cameras and can honestly say that my image making has improved, i am questioning the image and it’s composition much more. Then when paired with the Histogram/Shadow and highlight clipping on the back of the camera, the structure and tones of the image are represented in a very obvious way.

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I can see exactly where the tones of the image are and make sure that i have the right exposure, and image composition in one view.

Implementing preview of Black and White on the camera

If you would like to try this technique then there are a few guidelines i would like the recommend and things that you need to be aware of.

– Turn on the camera Black and White preview profile option. This  option should be inside your camera menu system, you may need to refer to your camera’s owners manual for more information.

N.B JPG images will be Black and White and you will NOT be able to recover any colour information from them.

– You should shoot your images in the RAW format, and would suggest that you shoot a JPG image as well (this should be easy to configure using the menu of your camera. This is completely reversible if this technique is not for you)

– RAW images will contain all of the colour information, but will contain a preview of the Black and White image.

– When you bring your RAW images into Lightroom or Camera RAW (ACR) from the camera, the images will appear Black and White for a few minutes, until Lightroom has brought the colour back, Lightroom or ACR will show the colour RAW version within development module.

– The actual JPG file is handy, you are then able to see how the camera saw the original image. I find this helps me work the tones of the image, as well being able replicate this look, using the Black and White option in Lightroom or Camera RAW (ACR).

– If you are using Lightroom, there is an option on the preferences panel under the General tab that will treat the JPG file as a sperate file next to the RAW file. If this option is turned off, then the JPG files will NOT be imported in Lightroom as they are considered duplicates of the RAW file.

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