Have You Met The Composition Copier?

Has this ever happened to you? You're setting up for a photo. Maybe it's a crowded or popular place, or maybe there's just a few scattered photographers. One (or more) of these folks slowly, nonchalantly makes their way closer to where you're setup, and takes a photo? This happens to me often.

I'll call this individual "The Composition Copier". And I love meeting him or her! Why? It's a compliment. Well... so long as the person isn't purposely getting in your way and trying to ruin your photo. I've not ever had this happen. I've been photobombed plenty of times... but never by way of nefarious intent.

I met The Composition Copier a whole lot last summer while I was traveling through Spain and Portugal. I'm working a scene, paying attention, subtly or not-so-subtly adjusting my camera and tripod to get just the photo I want. Another takes notice and suddenly sees the same thing you do. His eyes light up. Or, she assumes you must be taking an awesome photo because you look like you know what you're doing. Either way, it's an unspoken tip of the hat to you.

Most of the time, The Composition Copier was another tourist passing through the same area I was working. Many times it led to a nice conversation. In Madrid, he was a psychologist from Connecticut. In Lisbon, she was a backpacker from Canada. In Seville, they were entire high school class from Indiana on a summer abroad.

Am I worried that "my shot" will be "stolen"? Absolutely not. Why? Here's why.

  • First, the scene is not "mine." I didn't build these cities. I don't own the beach front. And in most situations, I'm not the first photographer to take a photo of a given location. The chances that my composition is stunningly unique are slim.
  • Second, unless I've suddenly taken on the role of the on-location coach (which has never happened), we're not talking about f-stops, focal lengths, and so on. My interpretation of the scene may be very different than theirs by camera settings alone.
  • Third, for me the post-processing of an image is an important stage of making a photo. Give the same exact exposure to 10 photographers and you'll get back 10 images that look very, very different. There's artistry in the camera and in the digital darkroom.

So.... I share the composition. I take it as a compliment. And if it feels natural, I strike up a conversation. And know that The Composition Copier is, in their own way, sharing in the joy of photography with me.