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Composition Always Happens, With or Without You

Auto exposure, auto focus, auto white balance, auto everything. But did you know your camera can auto compose images for you too? Don't let it.

Modern cameras have come a long way since the simple light-tight boxes with a hole in them of the early days. Over the years, they've gotten a lot smarter, able to assist with an increasing number of decision making tasks. As a photographer, it's almost certain that you routinely rely on at least some of these capabilities. You'd be foolish not to. Or at least camera manufacturers are betting that you'll use them since they keep adding more and improving the sophistication of existing automated capabilities.

Cameras have long had auto focus for instance. But with each new generation of hardware, this auto focus capability gets better and better. Cameras have increasing number of sensors to better detect edges. These sensors are now arrayed across the frame rather than just in the center, and they are oriented in varying directions to sense both vertical and horizontal edges. Many cameras can now even predictively pre-focus to where a moving object will be when the shutter fires before the subject gets there. And cameras do all this far faster than any human photographer could do on their own. This same sort of evolution of technology increasingly aids photographers in so many ways and with so many decisions that it can be hard to even list them all. Photographers from amateur to professional rely on this technology, often without even being aware of what must go into making it all possible.

It is often said though that one thing a camera can't yet do is auto compose images for you. I've written as much here on Earthbound Light myself. But the more I think about it, this isn't really true. In fact, cameras have always been able to compose images on their own. Even very early, non-digital cameras could perform this feat. They just weren't very good at it. Camera's still aren't. They likely never will be.

But the truth is, if you as the photographer totally ignore composition, you will end up with an image with objects in some sort of arrangement. Press the shutter release and you will indeed fill the frame with something. Barring a failure to remove the lens cap or insert a memory card, and other obvious exceptions of course. The truth is, composition is unavoidable. Deliberate, accidental, or purely the result of random chance, every image you ever take will indeed be composed in some way, with our without you. You may or may not like the result, but composition is unavoidable.

So the question you need to ask yourself when taking a photo is whether you're going to take control of the compositional decision making, or whether you ignore such matters and allow your camera to compose the shot for you. Based on the direction your lens is facing and what's in front of it, you will end up with an image one way or another. But if you take control, you can adjust your shooting position slightly, or reorient the camera to recompose things to your liking. It's your choice.

Composition always happens, with or without you. Don't let it be without you.

Date posted: May 8, 2016


Copyright © 2016 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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