Composition:Having Fun Seeing


Early morning sun illuminates the facade of Riverside’s Municipal Museum.

A Photowalk can be just the thing to energize your tired eyes. It’s a nice break from the kind of photography I do for paying clients.

vert_stairsIt gives me a chance to reconnect with why I picked up a camera in the first place.horiz_stripes

Downtown Riverside has some visually interesting buildings.

The trick is to get there at the right time.

For these two pictures of the steps with strong graphical elements, I intentionally underexposed the image so that details in the shadow area wouldn’t be visible and distract from the design of the steps. I also adjusted by aperture to give me the maximum depth-of-field. So in this instance, underexposing was just a matter of raising the shutter speed 2-stops. So if my exposure was iso 100 1/60 sec @ f16, all I needed to do was set a shutter speed of 1/250 sec @f16. Canon 40D with a 50 mm lens.

Overcast days and foggy mornings may be  alright for some landscape type pictures,  but not for this exercise.

If you’re just looking for some exercise in composition, I’m sure you’ve read and heard this a million times–early morning or late afternoon is the best time.

That’s the time you will get the best modeling from the sun since it’s just above the horizon. It’s also when the light has warmer tones. Just keep an open mind and study your subject in your viewfinder.


Most mornings after dropping off my kids, I grab my camera and my favorite lenses,  the 50 mm and 17-35 mm wide angle zoom.

Traveling light is important when just exploring the downtown.

If you get so bogged down with gear, you won’t be able to enjoy yourself as much.

The Municipal Museum has a strange enough facade.

There is a round cement orange just to the right of the stairs leading up to its entrance.

The edges of the steps are painted in white. When you move in on the steps you can find interesting graphical elements. Intentionally underexposing makes the white paint pop even more.


If you time your arrival right, the statue that is upfront can be rim lit by the sunlight while the rest of the building is in shadow.


Don’t forget to turn around and study the statue. With the blue sky as a backdrop, and the statue lit with strong side-lighting, this can be different view from what you usually see.

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Try to come up with a different view of the mundane. Study the backgrounds. What’s not adding will take away from your main subject.


bougainvillea_closeupA block to the south on the north east corner of Lime Ave and University Ave, there’s a very nice bougainvillea plant in the facade of the Life Arts Building.

Depending, again on the time of the day and the time of the year, the blooms from that plant is lit exquisitely from the early morning sun.

Anyone driving by downtown won’t help but notice it.

feet_stepsOne final tip: before you call it a day and head home. Ask yourself what else would make the picture better?

In the case of those steps, I could see a foot with just the right shoe might make it stronger.

And in the shot of the bougainvillea plant, maybe a mysterious hand watering the plant?

Something more obvious now that I look at the picture is what I said about backgrounds, the reflections in the window bother me.

If I had to do this over, I would try a different angle so that the reflections don’t show.

That means I have to stand in the middle of the street to take this picture.

In the city, sometimes it just takes some patience. Wait for a big dark truck to pass in front of the storefronts across the street. It will block out the reflection.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

4 thoughts on “Composition:Having Fun Seeing”

  1. So Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow on Groundhog Day this year or are you being optimistic Steve? I can completely understand. I went to school in Ohio. After a long brutal winter I was always amazed at how locals would be in shorts and tshirt when the temperature was in the 40s.

    But you are right about a point and shoot being a good choice. That allows you to just concentrate on composition. Using a 4 x 5 view camera in many ways teaches you to be selective since you can’t carry a lot of film with you. It’s should be more about shooting with premeditation, instead of indiscriminately firing off pictures at every little thing.

    Thanks for sharing Steve.

  2. A day walking around town with nothing but a camera is a rite of spring for me here in the Midwest US. The winters are to cold and we are lucky enough to live in a part with a proper downtown which means that there are lots of alleyways and older buildings to explore and photograph.

    I tend to use a P & S for these excursions as this gives enough reach yet still allows wider shots, close up capability for textural shots. Allso allows for 100% focus on composition.

    Another 2 weeks or so and I’ll be out there – can’t wait!

  3. DeeAnn,
    There’s something to be said about living out in the sticks. You can take your dogs on those photowalks. In the city, you can’t. I can picture walking on the San Jacinto wash in the mornings. There’s a lot of peace and quiet there. Hopefully it hasn’t changed that much.

  4. That would be my dogs & Kiwi the Conure. Every morning, like kyds, they restart their clock of messes. Photo walks are respite, especially when found in mundane but inspiring everyday spots.

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