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Thread: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

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    PhotoByTrace's Avatar
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    Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Hi all, I found a new spot along a local beach that allows me some nice access to a mangrove where there are some interesting "single" trees and at mid to high tide have a nice covering of slow moving water. I spent some time taking photos last weekend and do intend to try again a few times over summer trying to find the right mix of sky, water and tree.
    However in playing with and reflecting on last weekend's photos I've been trying to decide on how to "best" frame a lone tree. It seems I mostly see it in the middle of the frame. So I tried some different crops on one of the photos from the weekend and would welcome feedback.

    Obviously I realise that the background and sky will play a large part in how balanced a composition will feel and that will change for each tree and each visit, but am just trying to open my mind to possibilities and "things" to keep in mind in the meantime.

    The uncropped photo as framed on the morning slightly off centre:
    Composition and framing a single tree and reflection


    A 5x7 crop with the tree centred.
    Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    A 5x7 crop with the tree on the third. In this instance, with the restriction of a crop I feel the tree is a little high in the frame... but would like others opinions, more sky? fill the frame with more tree?
    Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    A square crop with the tree centred. With the horizon is in the middle of the frame, the tree and its reflection are not centred horizontally. I'm thinking the reflection is too tight to the frame?
    Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    And any other suggestions are welcome. Such as ditch the reflection and get a wide angle lens in nice and close to those glorious roots LOL.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Trace

    For me, the question you're posing is all about balance and harmony.

    The rule-of-thirds is not a rule, but a guide. Albeit, it's a very, very good guide and I always think you should understand why you're deviating from it, if you do.

    Given that it's about balance and harmony (in my view), then it's not just about teh primary subject. It's about what else is on view in the frame. For example, with this one, you have a a grouping of other trees filling up along the right hand side behind the main subject and an isolated crop of trees way over on the left.

    I feel that left hand group unbalances an image that incorporates both the main subject and the trees on the right. So the tree-centred image doesn't work for me because of what I think is that sense of imbalance. The 7:5 with the tree on the left-hand third is a much better balanced image I feel. I don't think the tree is too high because, a) its reflection helps balance that up and, b) it puts the horizon on a good plane. And the landscape format gives it room to 'breath'.

    The square format closes us in much more on the main tree. And because of that I think it is too high in the frame. And the horizon, although not on the centre line, feels too central. With this one I don't feel the subject is the tree and its reflection. Rather it is the tree itself. So, I'm not sure we need to see all of the reflection. So, if you have more at the top that you've cropped, what about moving the whole thing up, so that we have less reflection and more sky?

    I think you have wonderful subject material there and if you have relatively easy access to the location, you could spend all of your summer there and build up a magnificent portfolio.

    Hope these meanderings help your thinking!

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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    When deciding how to crop a photo, Trace, I consider several items.

    What must be removed, what must be retained, how do I want to display the image? Then it is a case of choosing the best balance to achieve a good combination of my requirements.

    So, going on from Donald's valid comments. What ratio (width to height) do you want? This will decide everything else.

    What must be removed? Well for me the sun on the right is too bright and distracting in the first shot. The 'island' on the left can be retained or lost, but I suspect it won't matter if it is lost and this could work better.

    What must be retained? Well I would leave a degree of bright sun on the right but not too much so that it detracts from the tree. Sufficient interesting sky and most of the reflection but these can be trimmed if necessary.

    So for me, your square crop is getting close, but it appears 'too square' because of the tree position. So I would do something similar but more of a 'landscape' crop ratio, say 5 x 4 or even 3 x 2 might work.

    I would be prepared to lose a bit of sky and crop away that dark cloud on the top left, a small amount of reflection could also be lost if necessary to achieve balance. The left edge seems fine to me. The right edge could take moving a touch to the right if needed to fit your desired image size ratio.

    But I suspect that just cropping your square edit a little tighter on the top and very slightly on the bottom will give the balance you desire.
    Last edited by Geoff F; 10th November 2011 at 06:36 PM. Reason: spelling

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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    Hope these meanderings help your thinking!
    Thank you Donald, these are exactly the type of meanderings I was hoping for. I really just wanted another person's eyes and thoughts on the scenes. And all of what you say makes sense to me and serves to remind me of the elements I need to consider when framing the potential scenes.

    The square format closes us in much more on the main tree. And because of that I think it is too high in the frame. And the horizon, although not on the centre line, feels too central. With this one I don't feel the subject is the tree and its reflection. Rather it is the tree itself. So, I'm not sure we need to see all of the reflection. So, if you have more at the top that you've cropped, what about moving the whole thing up, so that we have less reflection and more sky?
    No that was the limit of my sky on this particular photo... but your feedback gives me food for thought on how I might persue a square framing... and thoughts to consider in achieving balance within the square - thank you. Square is not something I've played with much, and certainly not from the outset as I'm actually taking the photo, so it is a challenge for me to consider in the coming months.

    I think you have wonderful subject material there and if you have relatively easy access to the location, you could spend all of your summer there and build up a magnificent portfolio.
    I have found some wonderful mangroves along my local coastline, though most I would not venture into, especially alone at sunrise or sunset, due to the crocodiles. While it is unlikely I'd have a problem, it is their habitat and it's just not worth the risk, especially with how "caught in the moment" I tend to be with camera in hand. This particular area is just off a small residential area with houses fronting immediately onto the beach. Most mornings will find the local fishermen standing waist deep in water off the sandbank between the mangrove area and the ocean. So it is a reasonably well-trafficked area in which I feel much safer to venture into the water myself and explore these interesting trees. Depending what the weather holds for us this summer, I'm looking forward to seeing what I can capture. This is only a 10 minute drive from my house, and I only have about a 300m hike in to the mangroves, so it is ideal. I can't believe it has taken me nearly 12 months to find it LOL. Now I just need to find some super strength bug spray!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feedback!

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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Hi Trace

    I think the third image has the best balance (5x7 crop with tree on left third). And a lovely image it is too.

    Just watch out for the crabs and the crocs !!

    Cheers Dave

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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post
    When deciding how to crop a photo, Trace, I consider several items.

    What must be removed, what must be retained, how do I want to display the image? Then it is a case of choosing the best balance to achieve a good combination of my requirements.

    So, going on from Donald's valid comments. What ratio (width to height) do you want? This will decide everything else.
    Hi Geoff, thanks so much for your thoughts on the cropping. You've given me more food for thought. I have to admit my aim with these various crops was to get myself thinking more about what I'll need to do to take a photo that won't require cropping, unless, as you point out, I want to change the ratio.

    I'm really trying to give myself some pointers on what to more actively think about when I'm framing the photo in the first place. So essentially your thoughts on the cropping translate to what I need to consider in "the field" in terms of what do I want to keep in my frame and what do want to keep out... so move closer or further away andconsider my angle of perspective to achieve that, also consider the level and position of the rising sun and any clouds, then try to get a balance within that framing. Sounds easy LOL

    But I suspect that just cropping your square edit a little tighter on the top and very slightly on the bottom will give the balance you desire.
    Thanks for that feedback. Have to admit that I'm going to find the sqare format the most difficult to envisage in my mind as I'm framing the photo, but that is why we set ourselves challenges, right??!!

    Really appreciate you taking the time to organise and share your thoughts on this photo Geoff... and I will play a little more with that square crop to try to find what improves the balance! I especially think being willing to "let go" of the reflection is going to be key.
    Thank you!

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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Quote Originally Posted by dje View Post
    Hi Trace

    I think the third image has the best balance (5x7 crop with tree on left third). And a lovely image it is too.

    Just watch out for the crabs and the crocs !!

    Cheers Dave
    Hey Dave, Thanks for that! More worried about the crocs than the crabs... though knowing my luck if a crab did decide to latch on it'd be a Jenny and I wouldn't even be able to keep her for my troubles LOL

    My other concern is the stingers that will float in and out of this area as it warms up. May need to swap out my usual shorts for full length lycra.... the latest fashion in photography

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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Hi Trace,

    Some thoughts to think about ...

    - Shots like this need an "anchor" - and that's the tree. But don't assume that it needs to be all of the tree or all of the reflection ... just enough so that people can see that it's a tree (their minds will "fill in the blanks").

    - Anchors don't belong in the middle.

    So bit hard to show you with that shot because it would crop it too much, but personally, I'd recompose so that you had just a chunk of tree in the frame on the left, and then let the eye drift into the magnificent scenery/sunset.

    This one isn't quite the perfect example of what I mean, but gives you an idea.

    Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Sorta/Kinda like this ...

    Composition and framing a single tree and reflection
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 10th November 2011 at 09:45 PM.

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    dje's Avatar
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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Quote Originally Posted by PhotoByTrace View Post
    My other concern is the stingers that will float in and out of this area as it warms up. May need to swap out my usual shorts for full length lycra.... the latest fashion in photography
    Yes I would definitely be wearing the lycra if I were you! (Not that I'm a lycra wearer )

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Quote Originally Posted by PhotoByTrace View Post
    Thanks for that feedback. Have to admit that I'm going to find the sqare format the most difficult to envisage in my mind as I'm framing the photo, but that is why we set ourselves challenges, right??!!
    Turn the camera round and shoot in portrait mode. What are now the bottom and sides of your viewfinder view are three sides of your finished square image. Now 'see' the top of that square. Ignore everything above that invisible line and compose your image in the viewfinder in that square.

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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    Turn the camera round and shoot in portrait mode. What are now the bottom and sides of your viewfinder view are three sides of your finished square image. Now 'see' the top of that square. Ignore everything above that invisible line and compose your image in the viewfinder in that square.
    What simple but effective advice... I played with it a little this afternoon and found that it certainly helps. Thank you!

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    Re: Composition and framing a single tree and reflection

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Hi Trace,

    Some thoughts to think about ...

    - Shots like this need an "anchor" - and that's the tree. But don't assume that it needs to be all of the tree or all of the reflection ... just enough so that people can see that it's a tree (their minds will "fill in the blanks").

    - Anchors don't belong in the middle.

    So bit hard to show you with that shot because it would crop it too much, but personally, I'd recompose so that you had just a chunk of tree in the frame on the left, and then let the eye drift into the magnificent scenery/sunset.
    Thanks Colin,
    I often do this with my sunrises with rocks... will try with a tree and see how I go. There is one particular tree that was in too deep on my last visit but is quite large and weeping and I think it will give an uninterrupted view of the bay back towards Townsville; so that may a good candidate for that particular framing. I'm also quite fascinated by the root systems on these trees so hope to make that a focus in some way as well.

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