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What's the difference between snapping and composing

81 Bo Kaap
What is the difference between a random snap and a careful photographic composition?

The answer may not appear obvious at a glance. Uncovering the joy of carefully crafted photography requires effort. The viewer must engage with the image. Sadly, too often in our hyper-speed online and social media world, images are swiped past in a split second.

The carefully crafted image loses out but so does the viewer, missing the joyful discoveries that await someone who takes the time to really read an image. Today, image consumption is akin to flying over the grand canyon in a jet at the speed of sound. If you really want to enjoy the view you've got to sit on the canyon rim for an hour and watch the sun go down.

I'll try to illustrate why 81 Bo Kaap is not a random snap. The first reason is something the viewer will not know. The photographer, me in this case, pre-visualised the image. I didn't just lift the camera and press the shutter button. Walking toward these ladies I saw the potential for an interesting image and I started a conversation. At the same time, I was looking at their surroundings, the light, shadows and angles.

The first thing that struck me, besides their friendly demeanour, was how well the dress of the lady on the left blended with the background. Perhaps I could have asked the lady on the right to step out of the frame but this was such a spontaneous moment. I didn't want to spoil it by trying to choreograph a shot. The mood could have instantly changed. Wherever possible I try to shoot what I find, without interfering. If I had interfered I might have lost elements like the lady on the left's hand gesture and its shadow.

I saw the shadow and the 81 on the door, moved to position this element in an interesting way and line up the edge of the gate with the wall join - all split-second decisions that photographers make to enhance a shot. Ultimately it is these small details that help achieve a composition that works and is pleasing.

And there you have it. The difference between a snap and composing an image is:
  • an element of pre-visualisation (even if it just takes a second)
  • asking yourself what can I do to make this image better?
  • attention to detail 
  • alert visual awareness to the possibilities in the scene
  • empathy with your subject, so you preserve the fragile moment that caught your attention in the first place
I'm under no illusions. Many viewers will see this image and just flick past it, mistaking it for just another snap, others may pause and decide they like it but will not be able to pin down exactly why, and a few will read the image and see how it all fits together - and that is the real pleasure, as a viewer, unlocking the puzzle, until you 'get it'.

Enjoy making images and enjoy reading them.

That's all for now,



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