In The Zone – Searching For Composition Through The Viewfinder

by John Downey

At times, we can look at something through the lens and the subject is right there, perfectly framed and GTG.  Everything is more or less in place and you press the shutter.  However, you get to a new place and sensory overload takes place.  Sometimes, a warm-up is needed to get a feel for things before images fall into the box.  I converted the following frames to black and white for the sole reason of conveying composition.

I began to frame this scene, wanting to get a sense our our camp.  All but this one kerosene lamp was still burning, so I thought it might give a sense of stillness with the tents and first light beyond the trees.  But the main elements were too small and the trees made the frame too busy.  Where’s the subject here?  Additional exposure would have rendered the sky pure white and too much contrast, so there was no way to expose the tent without a strobe.

Here, a few elements fall into place.  I realized with the lamp close in the foreground, the tribesman in the middle and a single stand of trees in the back, a vertical orientation would work better.  But the straight line between the lamp and the trees wasn’t working.  The person in the image was in an awkward position.

Things are shaping up here (this is a copy of the first image at the top) and I liked the lamp and the elder sitting opposite from one another.  For me, this one worked well in black and white.

Then, I realized I had spent the previous afternoon with this guy and he was very quiet and amenable to being photographed.  But he was praying and I’m wasn’t sure if I’d interrupt his meditation so I took a slow approach.  He’d glance over at me but didn’t appear annoyed, so I kept pressing the shutter and adjusting my position.

Note what happened here.  I wanted as much of his form to stand out from the dark background but couldn’t get low enough.  My hands were in the dirt to get as much sky as possible, but it wasn’t working.  Needed to get closer and get that coffee pot out of the way.

This is it.  I was inches from his mat and he didn’t blink.  The color, right out of camera was fantastic.  Later that morning, Haile approached me, called me by name (we only introduced ourselves once – can’t believe he remembered), and asked me when I was coming back.

“I don’t know but maybe soon.”

(translated by our guide…)”Will you come back and see us?”

“Of course.”

“Please bring me the pictures of me and my children.”

“Absolutely.”

© 2011 John Andrew Downey II Photography.  All Rights Reserved.

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