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When I first started shooting I became so captivated with what I saw in the center of my viewfinder I would just clicked away. Only to find, after sending hours in the darkroom, there was some distracting detail, or worse, a missing detail that I didn’t see in the viewfinder.
Even today, the last step I take before pressing the shutter is survey my edges.
Surveying your edges improves your compositions by reminding you to reduce or eliminate distracting details missed when you concentrate on your subject. It also helps you discover details that can strengthen your composition – taking your photographs from good to great.
Some details to look for include:
Lines. For lines entering, exiting, or running parallel to an edge, can you re-position them to strengthen the visual geometry? Do they need more room or less… or should they be eliminated?
Useless (or missing) space. Look at the space around your edges, is it useless? If so, re-compose to reduce or eliminate it. Or could your subject benefit from more?
Secondary subjects. Look for other subjects – people, objects, colors, shapes – that compete with your subject, or that can enhance it. If you find one, re-compose to reduce, eliminate, or include it.
Missing body parts. For people and animals, look for cut off body parts – avoid slicing at a joint. If a limb is almost all there, show it all – such as a hand, foot, or the tip of a tail.
Tops and bottoms. Check if you are chopping off the top, bottom, or side of an object. If something is almost whole, should you make it whole or take more away?
Details found along the edges of your photograph can give your composition strength or create a distraction, weakening your photograph. Relying on post-production doesn’t always work – especially if a detail is missing or you needed to re-compose the shot.
So always remember to survey your edges!
Notice the distracting blue light from the TV.