Scott Davenport Photography
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Use Your iPhone as a Composition Tool

When I first arrive on a scene, I'm usually anxious to setup and start shooting. For landscape photography, I've learned (the hard way) it's time well spent to survey the scene before shooting - time is precious when shooting during the golden hour. Now, as I walk about a scene, considering different subjects and angles, I snap photos with my iPhone. The iPhone (or any smart phone, really) is a great composition tool.

It's quick and easy to take iPhone pictures, and the display is larger than the LCD in my camera. Once my scene survey is complete, I flip through the iPhone shots and select the subject and composition I like best. I use this technique more and more now.

Here's an example from a recent visit to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park. I'd arrived well before sunrise and spent a few minutes walking around the overlook. I knew I wanted to capture the undulating roll of colors across the hills. Another interesting subject was a shark-tooth shaped peak to the north-east. Here's a couple of the iPhone shots I took:

A nice vista, squeezing in an interesting peak, but a lot of dead space at lower right.

A nice vista, squeezing in an interesting peak, but a lot of dead space at lower right.

Better. A more balanced composition, and the dark wash is a great leading line.

Better. A more balanced composition, and the dark wash is a great leading line.

For the wide vista, leaving out the shark-tooth peak gives a more balanced and stronger composition. Armed with this instant feedback, I setup my Nikon and tripod and awaited the sunrise. The final result:

Sunrise, Zabriskie Point

And just because I didn't include Mr. Shark Tooth in my wide landscape didn't mean I sacrificed it entirely. That peak made for a more intimate composition just as the sunlight began cascading down the peaks and hills.

A more intimate composition showcasing just a few peaks.

The next time you arrive on a scene, take out your iPhone, walk the scene, and snap some pics. It will really help you fine tune your composition.