Tyler’s Tips Episode 15: Finding the Composition


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today, we’re going to talk about finding your composition. Okay, so first of all, what do I even mean by composition? To me, composition is nothing more than what do we choose to put inside the rectangle, and what do we choose to leave out? That’s it. In principle, it’s really simple. In practice, I find it to be one of the most challenging and compelling parts of photography. I absolutely love it, and it drives me nuts sometimes trying to find a really good one that works to tell the story.

So, I had an interesting conversation with one of my assistants I want to share with you guys, because I think it’s a compelling way to go about finding that composition, or helpful anyways, hopefully. Maybe not compelling, but helpful. So, we were on a commercial shoot. At the beginning of this shoot, as we often do, we took all of our equipment, we dumped it in a back room, and we were getting ready to leave that back room, and my assistant was pulling out a camera. She’s relatively new. We’ve only worked together a few times. So, she said, “Hey Tyler, what lens do you want to put on for the walkthrough?” I said, “Oh, you know what? I don’t take a camera with me when I’m doing a walkthrough. Let’s just leave it here.” So, we started walking out to meet with the client, and she said, “Hey Tyler, I’m just curious, why don’t you like to use a camera for sketching when you’re doing a walkthrough? Most of the other photographers I work with, they do that.”

My answer is what I want to share with you, because I hadn’t thought about it in a long time, and by asking that question, it made me address why I don’t do that, in my own head. I’ve developed the habit over the years of not taking a camera, because for me, here’s what happens. If I have a camera with me, and then I walk into a situation where I want to create a composition, I see something and I pick the camera up, and I put it to my face and I work out that idea very specifically, and then that’s the idea. My brain does not want to explore other options creatively. That’s it. It’s very hard for me to be open-minded about alternative compositions, or alternative ideas. By that, I just simply mean, “What if we stand over here? What if we stand here? What if we turn around and we look back that way?” There are so many ways to compose an image. But for me, if I have that camera, the temptation is just too great to dive into that first idea, and then I’m kind of married to it.

So, what I started doing a long time ago is just, okay, not even allowing myself to take the camera with me. So, I’ve effectively worked on that muscle of pre-visualizing, where I walk through without a camera and it forces me to like, “Okay, well, what is that going to look like with a 35 millimeter lens,” or, “What is it going to look like if I put a 24 on there, or a 17? What’s it going to do?” I think about that and it’s really made me a much more open-minded composition finder, and that’s the part that I really want to focus on with you guys, is taking that same idea and applying it to any photography you do.

It could be if you’re doing commercial work, obviously you have a whole framework you can build that into your workflow. But, if you’re just taking a photo of your kids with your iPhone, which by the way, I do a lot of that, the same challenge is there. If I pull my iPhone out and start shooting, I’ve stopped thinking. If I take just a second … Sometimes you don’t have the option with your kids by the way, because it happens really fast. But, if you can stop and think, it’s like, “Okay, what’s the story I’m trying to tell, and is the place I’m standing right now the spot, or would it be better if I come over here and I look at it from this angle? Is that going to be cooler?”

So, there’s my tip for you today. Take a second, think about the composition before you bring the camera up, because it’ll be easier to stay open-minded if you haven’t sort of seen exactly what the picture’s going to look like, maybe. At least for me, that’s what I experience. Hopefully, that’s helpful information for you. So, as always, thank you for your time, and if you have any ideas or challenges with photography that you’d like to hear me talk about with one of these Tyler’s Tips, shoot me an email and I’ll work it into a future episode. Until next time.