Why can't some people compose a picture through the viewfinder?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Gary Edstrom, May 11, 2008.

  1. Gary Edstrom

    Gary Edstrom Guest

    Why do some people seem to have such a problem composing a picture
    through the viewfinder?

    Last year, I finished scanning every one of my father's approximately
    5,000 transparencies dating back to 1951. During the process, I had a
    chance to really look at each picture in detail, although I had seen
    them all before.

    While my father was pretty good at composing pictures, there would be
    times he would hand the camera to someone else so that he could get in
    the picture too. More often than not, the picture would be VERY poorly
    composed. I have one where the camera was tilted at about a 30 degree
    angle, and you only see my dad's head down in the lower-left corner of
    the picture. This was not just a one-shot blunder...all of the pictures
    in the group are similar, although not as bad. The rest were
    recoverable after rotating and cropping the image.

    What is so hard about looking through a viewfinder? It seems so trivial
    to me.

    Gary Edstrom, May 11, 2008
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  2. Gary Edstrom

    Roy Smith Guest

    First, why do you assume they were looking through the viewfinder? For all
    you know, the person taking the picture didn't even know what a viewfinder
    was and just pointed the camera in the right direction and pushed the

    But, to really answer your question, composing a picture in a viewfinder
    really is an abstract skill. You look into the window and the stuff you're
    looking at certainly looks straight. To visualize it as the camera sees
    it, you need to mentally transpose the scene into another coordinate
    system. The camera is tilted to the right, the image will be tilted to the
    left. It's not as obvious as it may seem.

    One of the difficult things about teaching a skill to other people is
    remembering what it was like when you first tried to learn that skill.
    Roy Smith, May 11, 2008
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  3. One reason is that we often see what we EXPECT to see. This is a
    characteristic of human vision. The brain does not receive a
    "photographic" like rendition of the external scene. There is a
    fantastic amount of data compression in the human visual system. If
    we think we are looking at a familiar object, we will see the
    "object", not the pixels that make up the object. This is the origin
    of so many optical illusions.

    One result is that we do not see what we do not expect to see when we
    look through the viewfinder. I myself have shot oh so many bad shots
    because my brain ignored distracting objects that obviously must have
    been in the viewfinder, but they were not what my brain was expecting,
    so it tuned them out. Composing through a camera viewfinder is a
    learned art.

    In one of the examples given, everyone knows the horizon is level, so
    it "sees" the image that way.

    Now, unfortunately, because of some quirk of the vision system, it
    does NOT do the same processing when viewing a print as it does with
    the original scene, even when viewed through the viewfinder. This is
    weird, in my mind, but true. Best example is when we see the scene
    that has a non-normal color temperature. We do not notice that
    coloration, but boy when we see a print, even a colorimetrically
    accurate print, we really notice the color :-(
    Don Stauffer in Minnesota, May 11, 2008
  4. Gary Edstrom

    Paul Furman Guest

    I wonder if some people naturally see things correctly in the
    viewfinder. I'm not one of those people, it has taken me training.

    Paul Furman

    all google groups messages filtered due to spam
    Paul Furman, May 12, 2008
  5. Gary Edstrom

    Bob Williams Guest

    I have had many similar experiences. And with an SLR no less.
    It blows my mind!! I will compose the picture, mark an X on the ground
    where to stand, set all the controls and tell the shooter to just make
    sure that everyone is in the picture before pressing the shutter button.
    I emphasize that what you see on the screen is what will appear on film
    (circa 1988). But what do I get?.....Nice shots of the group's shoes,
    but nary a complete head shot of anyone!!! Unfortunately, in the old
    days, with film cameras, you had no way to tell how the picture would
    turn out. Some irreplaceable memories were lost because some people just
    can't compose, even in an SLR viewer.
    Bob Williams
    Bob Williams, May 12, 2008
  6. Gary Edstrom

    tony cooper Guest

    My wife is famous for photographing feet. Most of the pictures she
    takes result in headless figures and a good view of the lower body.

    I think this is because she first used those cameras with the
    plunger-style shutter release. It took more force to release the
    shutter in old-style film cameras. So, she mashes down the shutter
    release button on my digital, and this pushes the whole camera down.

    There's also the tendency of the inexperienced to frame the image in
    the viewfinder or screen, and then to look up and at the target before
    actually snapping. This often results in the camera being moved
    downward in opposition to the chin moving up.

    P&S digitals are lightweight little things. Camera movement is
    exaggerated compared to SLRs. I notice that my wife does better with
    my Nikon d40 than she does with my Nikon Coolpix.
    tony cooper, May 12, 2008
  7. Gary Edstrom

    Ed Mullikin Guest

    Give my wife a camera and her IQ drops about 50 points! We were in Africa
    about a year ago and we separated for some reason. I gave her a camera and
    asked her to take photos while on her side trip. "Sure I did!" was her
    reply when I asked she if she took any photos. Turned out that she FOCUSED
    the camera a number of times and never actually took any photos.
    Ed Mullikin, May 12, 2008
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