Composing, Following and Focus


Isn’t funny how we look for composition. Some of us practise it and for others it comes naturally.

My mother was an artist so composition came naturally to me. Maybe I was born with it….maybe its…..oh no that sounds like an ad! Seriously if you’re not born with composition then you will find it comes with practise. I think I learned how to compose an image as a child. Television and movies were my forte. Living in Sydney I would visit the cinema with a mate at least three times a month and the video rental card certainly got a work out too – normally 7 movies a week. When I watched a movie or TV show I would constantly look at the way the Director of Photography composed a scene. People were allocated head room and looking space…it was always consistent teaching. Two thirds looking room with the subject on a third line.

Want to learn composition but you don’t have the time to watch movies and TV? Don’t stress there is another way – bucket practice!

What the? Bucket practice I hear you say? Let me explain….start with some strong rope, a sturdy bucket (with metal handle) and some rocks. Attach the rope to the handle of the bucket. Throw the other end of the rope over an overhead strong horizontal beam. Measure so the bucket is hanging around chest height and tie off the rope again to the handle of the bucket. Add some rocks to the weigh down the bucket. Now your bucket will be hanging freely from a horizontal beam.

Hold the bucket and walk away from the hanging position so the rope is pulled tight. Release the bucket in any direction..for example swing the bucket left or right in circular motion or simply in a release it in a straight line. Once the bucket is in full swing pick up your camera with a telephoto lens attached and proceed to follow the bucket with the lens zoomed in all the way. This will take a bit of practice.

Once you have mastered following the bucket with the lens zoomed all the way try keeping your framing consistent by zooming in and out as the bucket moves towards or away from you. Try and make the bucket stay the same size. Spend about 10 minutes on this step. Once you have mastered following and framing proceed to the next step.

The next step requires a tripod and lots of practice. Set the camera up and turn your focus to manual. Proceed to do everything I mentioned above, keeping framing and zoom…..now simply add focus to the mix. This is hard but possible! You will now have two hands on the lens; one operating the zoom the other operating the camera’s focus…..let me know how you go!

All the hours of bucket practice has really helped my wildlife and sports photography. To this day I feel quite comfortable following a small bird through the viewfinder whilst maintaining framing and focus at 800mm.

Now back to the composition…

When out and about I’m constantly looking for leading lines and composition angles within my photographs. If I need to crop an image in post processing then I use the common third lines as a guide.

Don’t get me wrong. Not everything needs to be perfect. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken you simply just have to have the correct photograph to do it. I hear you say, when should they be broken Leigh? Simple answer….you just know…that’s what composition is about – producing a photograph that pleases the eye.

Take this photograph as an example. The birds lined up on the railing create a leading line to the bird looking in the other direction. See it?

So now I challenge you all, next time you are out with your camera don’t press the shutter button until you have composed the image first. In other words know what to shoot before you shoot it. Be sure to look for those leading lines too – they will make a big difference to your photography.

Until next time – Happy Shooting.

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4 comments on “Composing, Following and Focus

  1. Mondrak says:

    Definitely reposting this :-) Great information Leigh

  2. Mondrak says:

    Reblogged this on Mondrak's Blog and commented:
    Great information on how to…

  3. […] can be quite challenging  A steady hand, long lens and quick focus certainly help. I think all my bucket practice certainly came in […]

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