Viewfinder and composition

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by jernejk, Dec 19, 2009.

  1. Hi,
    I have a big problem seeing a picture when I look into viewfinder, I just see objects. Consequently I have probems with composition when using viewfinder. The more I think about it, the more I feel it's kind a natural: since the picture is so close large part of it falls into peripheral vision.
    I love using live view, but unfortunately it's only usable for still life photos.
    So, how do experienced photographers overcome this problems?
  2. hello jernej,
    i am finding this to be a difficult question to answer so i hope you would qualify the problem a little more with examples. are you experiencing problems with landscapes in particular or all types of photography with a wide angle lens?
  3. Jernej,
    Experience is probably your only real solution.
    Try experimenting a bit more with live view for starters. Look at a scene with live view. Then look through the viewfinder and mentally re-construct what you saw in live view. Next, try it the other way ’round: compose a scene in the viewfinder and imagine what it will look like in live view. Have a look in live view and see how well you did.
    There’s a drawing exercise you may find particularly useful. Get a sheet of plexiglass, approximately 8″ × 10″, and a grease pencil. Frame a scene with the plexiglass, and then trace the outlines of the object in the scene with the grease pencil. (The next obvious step would be to sketch the scene in a sketchbook using the plexiglass tracing as a guide — and then eventually omit the plexiglass entirely.)
    I have one of these, and I find it a very useful aid in composition — not the least because I’m a bag o’ primes guy. You could do a lot worse than to spend a day “photographing” things with a visualizer.
  4. The more I think about it, the more I feel it's kind a natural: since the picture is so close large part of it falls into peripheral vision.​
    The image from the viewfinder is focused on the center of the eye. It does not fall on your peripheral vision even though you are very close to it.
    When you look through the viewfinder, what exactly do you see.? If the camera is pointed at a red rose with a all black background do you see a red rose or a red fuzzy object? Does the view of the rod look the same as shown when using live view or in the final photo or is it different?
    The view through the viewfinder should be about the same as that see with live view or in the final picture. If it is not it could be diopter adjustment. The viewfinder has a lens on it designed to focus the image onto your eye. For people with normal vision the diopter is set to zero. For people with glasses they may not want to wear the glasses when using the camera. In that case the user can adjust the Diopter to match his glasses.
  5. ". . . when I look into viewfinder, I just see objects . . ."
    I take it that you see with your eye through the lens, but that you are having a hard time composing an interesting photo?
    There are a few approaches to solve this problem:
    • Learn to see in areas of tone. This approach has been taught to painters and illustrators for years. Main idea is to break the picture down into about a dozen areas of two tones (light and dark). Then, mix and match the light and dark shapes so that the picture becomes organized. If you have some education in drawing, this approach might be helpful to you. One of the older, historic methods, but maybe not the best for beginner photo if you are not into illustration.
    • Learn several guidelines of composition and apply them. This is the method I was initially taught. My teacher sat us down in front of a textbook with about two dozen examples of different types of compositional techniques, and we learned each, and tried to use them.
    • Topic/Subject/Path.
    This last one is the most basic. It entails three very crude ideas:
    • The topic of the photo is the general scene or object that you want to make a picture of.
    • The subject of the photo is the eye's main destination within the picture
    • The path is the route the eye used to get to the subject
    Almost all compositional techniques provide a path for the eye to find the subject. They can be lines, patterns, placement of the subject within the frame; use of color and contrast; there are many variations. Yet, all working photos take a topic area, break it down with framing choices, have a subject (decided by the photographer), and a path for the eye to find that subject within the frame.
    This last method seems to be the easiest to coach, because topic choices or genres are less important. Sometimes merely being able to identify topic, subject and path, can help us coach ourselves.
    We had two recent threads in Pentax forum related to this. Links here: (Has a longer discussion and some examples). (Brief chain of examples, one photographer after another).
  6. I'm not sure if the original poster means there is a vision problem or a composition problem, using the viewfinder vs. the LCD.
    I guess the questoin needs more info.
  7. Thanks guys, specially Ben and John - very interesting answers.

    Just to clarify, there's nothing wrong with my equipment. It's just my perception, or as John put it "you see with your eye through the lens, but that you are having a hard time composing an interesting photo?". Yes, that's the problem.

    I am doing some exercises, for example this:[​IMG]
    I did did this using live view and this is the image out of the camera, no croping. I was trying to compare what I see through viewfinder and live view, but really, when I look throug the viewfinder, I'm lost. I think I couldn't take this photo without live view.
    I remember having this problem since ever. My father used to have one of these [​IMG]
    I absolutely loved playing with this camera, specially seeing the whole picture right away (it was flipped horizontally IIRC).
    The problem is, live view usability is quite limited. It works for still life and architecture, but it's useless for chasing my 9 months daughter around.
    I guess it's just practice, practice, practice....
  8. It'll come to you. A period of feedback helps; you will get to looking at your photos after you make them; it'll help you think about others before you make them. Proceed with confidence.
  9. This is interesting, but confusing to me. I hope no one minds if I ask more.
    When I look at a LCD panel or through a viewfinder, I see the same thing. The stuff I am pointing the camera at. The only difference is that with the viewfinder, it is surrounded by black and with the LCD it is surround by the back of a camera. I haven't done any checking to see if a given viewfinder shows more or less of the scene than the LCD, but I can't imagine it is much different. So, how does looking at the scene in two methods change a persons ability to get the shot they want ? Now that I think about it, the viewfinder uses just one eye, and the LCD allows you to use both. Is there something to that ? What happens if you use the LCD and close the eye you don't use in the viewfinder ? Is it the distance from the LCD versus being close to the viewfinder ?
    It's an intriguing thing to me. Something I never considered.
  10. John, viewfinder coverage depends on camera. My camera (Canon 1000d) has 95% coverage. 5D has 98% and the new 7D, has 100% coverage.

    5% missing coverage does not sound like much, but it actually is a huge difference when composing image (for example, you get something in scene you did not see through the viewfinder). But that's the technical part.

    The more important, I think, is the psychological part. Brain (the left hemisphere, more precisely) tends to "see" objects even if they are not complete. That's why it's very common to "slice off" a person's feet when you take a full length portrait. The left hemisphere focuses on "person" not on "shape of person".
    I, for some reason, recognize "shape of a person" much, much easier on the LCD than through the viewfinder.
  11. Jernej, while Johns comments will help with composition (I have used some of them myself), However if you are seeing the image differently between live view and the viewfinder, they won't be of much help. I get a very strong feeling that there is something more. You keep using words like lost, objects, and referring to your peripheral vision. I might be able to make more suggestions that would help but I need to ask some question.
    • When you look through the viewfinder is it hard to make out things because they are dark?
    • When you look through the viewfinder, without moving your eye, how much do you see clearly? All of it, half or it, or less?
    • Is one side of the image in the viewfinder clearer then the other?
    • What lens are you using?
    Most people don't have problems with view finder coverage be it less then 95%, 98%, or 100%. My first camera had only 92% coverage. In your first posted image, if taken with the view finder would only have a slightly larger border than the version composed with live view. Yet you say you were lost. Also how the brain "perceives" an image should be the same on live view and the viewfinder, regardless of which eye is being used.
    For most people, using the viewfinder is instinctive and they need no practice using it.
  12. There is an new post about viewfinders in the Canon forum about viewfinders with a link to technical information. You might find it helpful.
  13. Although it is an old thread I came across it by a google search since I have the very same problem. I have no problem with my vision nor the coverage of my camera. Yet I noticed that no matter how hard I try, my images often come out horizontally / vertically incorrectly aligned, and with a meaningless composition. I have to crop and angle almost all my images in post. I have been shooting for many years and so far I haven't used the LCD at all because I didn't even think about using it for shooting. Recently I had to try it out and I was surprised how I immediately noticed those things that I can't see through the viewfinder. Your explanation about how the brain works sounds convincing to me, and I will try to use the techniques that you mentioned.
  14. I wouldn't feel too guilty about cropping a little in post - if anything I find I keep forgetting to leave room for this. It's rare that 3:2 is exactly the right aspect ratio for an image, and even "100%" viewfinders aren't perfect (especially allowing for lens distortion corrections).

    On my D810, I have grid lines turned on in the viewfinder - I found this made a significant difference to my ability to get horizons at least close to straight, because there's a line much closer to the horizon line than the edge of the frame; this is true even if the horizon isn't particularly near the grid lines. The in-finder level helps a bit too, but since it's not perfect and many horizons aren't actually horizontal even if they look like they should be, that's not an ideal solution either. As of the D810, Nikon have a live view mode where you can split the finder in half, so long as the two sides are from the same horizontal slice of the sensor - they claim you can use it for checking that horizons line up. (I'd actually, before this was implemented, asked them to provide an independent four-way split so you can arbitrarily position a focal plane with a tilt-shift lens, but baby steps to the right thing...)

    I completely agree about inadvertently slicing things off people, too. And I'm the master of having things growing out of people's heads, even if I'm trying to look out for it. (I see this in relatively professional photos, too.) I probably mostly need to learn to take longer about framing my shooting, but I do enough candids that it's very hard to train myself to look for this kind of thing in real time.
  15. If you like Live View, have tried a mirrorless body with an excellent OLED EVF (electronic viewfinder)? What you see is what you get, just like the back screen, except brighter and clearer. You can set it up with and without gridlines. I find rule of thirds grid useful. I highly recommend either the Sony a9 or the Sony a7R III.
  16. While I believe both the A7R III and the A9 to be exceptionally capable cameras with good viewfinder behaviour, since this is the beginner forum, I feel obliged to point out that there are mirrorless cameras with good electronic viewfinders that don't cost upwards of $3000 (or $4000 for the A9)! In most cases, live view has definitely progressed past the point of "still life photos only" - although Nikon's dSLRs are among the worst at tracking subjects in live view.

    If you do find grid lines helpful, they're certainly available on many mirrorless cameras with EVFs - and also, as in my D810, in many optical viewfinders. If you find composing on the rear screen easier but don't like the ergonomics of doing so, a mirrorless body with an EVF is certainly worth a look; I just wanted to be clear that it's not the only way to get some framing assistance.
  17. I've learned NOT to assume that people can't afford good equipment. Given the OP's problem, one of the Sony's may fit the bill.

    I enjoyed seeing a TLR as a possible solution. That's how I started, many moons ago, with a Yashica 44, which was a very fine camera. It even had a flip-up magnifier in the VF, so you could get critical focus perfect.

    Great as my TLR was, I don't miss it, or my SLRs or my DSLRs. The Sony mirrorless bodies that I own are blowing away any previous camera that I've owned. I pick up one of my high end Canons today and it feels archaic. I suggest to newbies that can afford it, avoid the DSLR road altogether and go straight to mirrorless. Just my opinion, after shooting millions of shots with TLR/SLR/DSLR and tens of thousands mirrorless. (At 20-fps, the ILMC is gaining volume fast).
  18. I do noticed that many people have the same problem like the OP does but just don't realize it. When using the viewfinder I found a lot of people see the subject so well and thus paying no attention to what in the frame. Their pictures when compose this way tend to be too wide and include a lot of extras. The see the faces well so they don't realize that in the pictures the faces are so small.
    When using the LCD everything is small and the shape and location of the subject becomes obvious.
  19. Oh, quite. And there's a reason those cameras are expensive, they're very good. I just don't want everyone reading this thread to feel there's no solution (even if the implementation is slightly worse) if they can't drop that much money on a camera - I'm not disputing your recommendation.
  20. Maybe it is not just "not seeing what is outside of the frame"- I notice a lot of people do not look at light and shadows much. They look at the subject, wanting to make a pretty picture of a pretty subject. But how that subject is illuminated, the contrasts created by shadows, and consequently how it reveals textures, a sense of 3 dimensionality, and how the subject 'interacts' with the surrounding inside the frame. It's good light that helps create tensions, dynamics etc. in a composition, in flat or dull light everything will look more of less the same (murky, flat), and that's where a lot of compositions start to crumble.

    So I wouldn't necessarily say a different camera solves anything here. As said in the original part of this thread, a fair part comes down to experience, but a good part is also looking. And even when you're not carrying a camera, try to imagine how a scene would look as an image and how you would frame it - this way you start to recognise when the light and moment is right, and when not. Working with studio lights is very educational, even if you never work in a studio otherwise, because you can experiment with light setups and learn to see the differences it creates.

    And move around. Don't stand in one position and use a zoomlens to define your composition. Move, watch, move, watch. See how shadows change, and change the appearance, and see if there are different angles that may work better.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2017
    Andrew Garrard likes this.

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