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Photo of the week: January 25, 2013

Compass

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One hundred and forty miles southeast of Barcelona, in the middle of the “wine-dark” Mediterranean Sea, lay the Balearic Islands. It was there, on the tranquil island of Menorca, in October 2010, where Ben Visbeek of Amsterdam captured This Yahoo! Travel Photo of The Week.

In our discussions of previous Photos of The Week, we’ve talked about applying geometric formulas when composing photographs: The Golden Mean; triangles, spirals, etc. What sets this photo apart is… framing. While walking through the Moorish style village of Binibeca Vell, Mr. Visbeek saw an arch that framed a fine cat sitting comfortably in a window frame. He then framed the scene with his trusty Panasonic DMC-FZ38 camera: three frames, one good photo.

Once, at a party many years ago, the famous National Geographic photographer, Robert Madden asked me if I was a “framer.” It was a question that cut right to the heart of being a photographer: we frame what we see and framing is the very first step in composing a photograph.

We’ve all seen photographers, on TV and in movies, use their thumbs and forefingers to frame a scene; it’s a way to explore the possibilities without actually looking through a camera. Although it looks like a cliché, it’s actually quite useful. In days of yore, when we shot film, we would use an empty 35mm slide frame – held close to the eye for wide angle, further away for telephoto – to accomplish the same goal. It’s a good exercise, because in all photography, where artistic expression is important, framing comes first.

If thought isn’t given to the framing of a photograph, there is little that can be done later to make it look better. Cropping can help, and as the sensors on new digital cameras have gotten better, an argument can be made for not worrying so much about framing. To be sure, if you are a combat photographer, framing and composing might not be an option, but it is for the rest of us.

Since Mr. Visbeek did take time, and gave his photo some thought, we have been given lots of information and it’s fun to look at. The cat is defiantly the focal point, but we also get to see its world. Certainly, if Mr. Visbeek wanted, he could have gone closer to the cat, if it were obliging, and taken a perfectly nice close-up of it looking out the window/picture frame. It’s all about framing.

Many of today’s digital cameras have a viewfinder grid, which can be turned on and off. Check your owner’s manual and see how to activate yours. Usually, you will find that it turns the rectangle of your view finder – proportioned very much like the Golden Mean – in to thirds: three squares on the top, middle and bottom. With the lines activated you can easily start appreciating the various elements in your photo; how they interact with each other and ways to refine the composition.

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