Capture and Composition

January 21, 2021  •  1 Comment

Blog 21 01 22 Capture and FrameBlog 21 01 22 Capture and FrameCopyrighted Digital Image


As much as I would love to emulate Henri Cartier-Bresson, my photographer icon, I am incapable of implementing his policy of: if it’s not perfect ‘as shot’ then it is unusable. Having viewed some of his contact sheets in exhibitions and observed his rigorous process of choosing images, I witnessed the amazing fact that he refused to allow his images be manipulated in the darkroom. His images were either useable “as is” or not at all.

This was only possible because perfection flowed from his rare, combined talents of: technical mastery, choice of subject, instinctive composition and, perhaps most importantly, patience. I can humbly state that I share some of the first three, but definitely not the last.

Given his avoidance of the options which were made possible in the darkroom, I do wonder how many stunning images were left on the proverbial cutting room floor. Perhaps this may become the topic of a future exhibition at the Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson in Paris? Although I imagine that they would never dare to betray a foundational principle – no pun intended – of their eponymous subject, I would pay a lot of money to see it.

A Lesser Mortal

I, on the other hand and to the degree possible, consciously frame my captures to allow some adjustment in the digital darkroom. This basically means opening up the area of the capture beyond the “perfect” minimum necessary. I do try to follow the spirit of my mentor’s example and not overdo it, but, as I have previously written, I love post-processing and many of the possibilities it affords to fine-tune images. Thus, after technical adjustments for sharpness, light and colour, I pay particular attention to cropping for composition. 

Resolution and Cropping

I mentioned “to the degree possible” in reference to captures where a sudden opportunity does not allow a premeditated choice of equipment or settings.  Such a case might be the sudden appearance of a moving object in the distance, where the best that can be done is snatching an image “on the fly”. In order to be useable, such an image will most likely need to be heavily cropped, with all the deterioration in quality which that implies.

However, my latest D850 camera body gives me a major advantage in such a situation, due to the resolving power of its 45.7 Megapixel sensor, combined with the excellent resolution from using Nikon lenses. Even heavy cropping can produce remarkably sharp and useable images, obviously with a trade-off on the maximum viewable and/or print size.

Unfortunately, although the lenses on this occasion were Nikon, the sensor on the D300 I was using in 2008 was only 12.3 MP, so no luck there! I had to capture any subject fully in the frame.

Bird Watching

I am not a bird watcher, do not use ultra-telephoto lenses and am not trained in the expertise needed to capture such fast-moving, beautiful creatures. That said, during a visit to the beach in Cancun, I was near where some birds were flying around an area of interesting fencing. I had a sense that the combination of the two had potential and took a series of images as the birds settled and took off. I framed the fencing in a shape I found satisfying, creating a left-to-right triangle and shot the birds as they came and went.

The late afternoon light was excellent, so that when I adjusted the speed up to 1/1600s, I was able to maintain the aperture setting of f/9. I felt this was necessary, given the level of my speed photography skills and helped to keep focus in following moving objects. Nevertheless, the images were poorly lit, but I do love silhouettes and the final effect pleased me.

Due to my lack of training in the bird-watching department, only this image out many was useable and provided me with a potentially satisfying composition. This was not the case in-camera, but I looked forward to adjusting it later.

Breaking from Henri’s philosphy

The following, original version of the image shows the source of my preferred composition above. As stated, I first adjusted exposure and focus to suit my taste and then concentrated on composition.

Blog 21 01 22 Capture and Frame 2Blog 21 01 22 Capture and Frame 2Copyrighted Digital Image

My Thinking

For me, the prime element in the image needed to be the fencing. After experimenting with different options, I was most attracted by emphasising the diagonal of the fencing, which had attracted my eye at capture. This was best achieved by using a vertical frame. Equally the space inhabited by the bird created a pleasing shape around it.

The crop had the secondary benefit if improving the viewability of both bird and fencing, allowing a subtle sense of the colours of the fence and body of the bird.

Finally, the elongated shape of the bird in flight, its trailing talons and speed-blurred wingtips were a perfect counterpoint to the even curves of the fencing. I had found my most impactful choice from the opportunities offered by the image.

The proportions are not perfect. The fence lies below a diagonal of the rectangle and the bird is not centred, but for me, there is movement  from top to bottom, emphasising the effort to escape the ground in the leap from the fence. I find it pleasing overall and my eye is drawn to study the different elements and remember a beautiful moment in a peaceful place




Camera: Nikon D300

Lens: Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8

Vibration Reduction: Off

Drive Mode: Single Shot

Focal Length: 210mm

Focus Mode : AF-S

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single

Aperture: f/9

Shutter Speed: 1/1600s

Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority

Exposure Compensation: -1.3 EV

Metering: Pattern

ISO Sensitivity: 400

Format: Raw

Hand Held

Place : Cancun Mexico

Year: 2008


Copyright Paul Grayson 2021 All Rights Reserved



Eric Bontemps(non-registered)
Le recadrage est bien vu. Belle image graphique. J'aime la similitude du graphisme entre l'oiseau et la barrière.
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