Leading The Eye

Less philosophy and more actual photography this time, leading the eye into a scene is one of the tenets of composition (at least for me) and there is a multitude of ways in which this can happen. An image of something or somewhere can be a more rewarding experience for the viewer if they are led into, through or across it, spending longer to absorb and take in the scene. Advanced photographers will (I hope) forgive the simplicity of this…

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Beyond The Obvious Shot

Famous scenes — landscapes, wildlife, buildings — are famous for a reason: they are spectacular, and often easy to access. You have seen these photographs, undoubtedly: a sepia-toned photograph of the Eiffel Tower, perhaps, or a dusty herd of wildebeest in the sun. Glacier Point at sunset, and Mesa Arch at sunrise. These are some of the most incredible sights on the planet, and it is no wonder that photographers flock to them; in many cases, photographers are the very reason that these sights are on…

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How Focal Length Affects What (and How) You See

Your choice of focal length will affect what you see. Would you agree with that? What if I also said that your choice of focal length will affect how you see? That’s a whole different story, now isn’t it? Instead of discussing how focal length affects your view when you look into the viewfinder, I want to talk about how focal length can affect how you look at everything around you before you ever even see it in the viewfinder.

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The Myth of the Rule of Thirds

I have never liked the phrase “rules of composition.” To me, it seems too formal, suggesting that such a complex topic as composition can be boiled down to a few quick tips. In this article, I will aim at the heart of photography school’s most basic lesson in composition: the rule of thirds.

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Cropping Images of Birds-in-flight with the Rule of Thirds

As photographers we all do our best to really think about the composition of our images and construct them to achieve a sense of balance. When we do this well we are able to control eye flow and create a pleasant viewing experience for people looking at our photographs. To accomplish that we often use the Rule of Thirds in our compositions. Obviously this is much easier to utilize when photographing static subjects such as landscapes and much more difficult…

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Balance in Photography

Balance is one of the least-discussed principles of good composition, but it is perhaps the most important. Photographers, consciously or not, make an important decision for every image: should the composition be balanced or imbalanced? To some degree, every photograph in existence has elements of both balance and imbalance, which makes this topic crucial for photographers looking to improve the strength of their images at the most fundamental level.

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Negative Space in Photography

You already know a great deal about the composition choices that I make. You know my thoughts on what matters most in photography, the rule of thirds, central composition and element placement at the edges of the frame. Whichever preference is yours, I certainly hope you’ve learned something from reading those articles. Now, I am about to share something else with you, and here is where we start: regardless of where I place the important elements in my photography, whenever…

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Explore the Edges

If we see the rule of thirds as the default, “bread and butter” sort of composition guide, I can think of at least two ways to break that rule and distance your work from it. The first one is to use, against the advice of many photographers, central composition. It is a very natural, simple way of composing an image and generally results in a very “open”, peaceful, calm photograph. You could say it is classic. As I mentioned before,…

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The Sin, the Evil, the Horror of Direct Sunlight

Any photographer will tell you – you do not take portraits in direct sunlight. It’s ugly. It’s much too contrasty. It wreaks havoc on automatic exposure and tests all sorts of other boring technical aspects of a camera to the limit. It’s difficult to pose in, difficult to see in; it creates dark this and blown out that everywhere and one should always, always avoid it. Look for a shade instead. Find yourself an arc, a tree, anything at all…

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Introduction to Black and White Nature Photography

What makes a good black-and-white photograph, how do I take one, and why should I try when I have this nifty hypersaturation preset that makes even my lamest photos look awesome? I’ll answer the last question first – your oversharpened oversaturated photos stink. Their gaudy colors may suck the eye in, but then the eye gets stuck, realizes there’s nothing more to look for in the picture and hastily moves on. When Photography Life has covered black and white photography recently,…

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Central Composition is Brilliant

Central composition is considered by many as downright boring. Here is what I say in return: cliché. When used well, I absolutely adore central composition, there’s nothing else quite like it. Of course, there is a strong reason why so many photographers, when giving advice to beginners, start with the phrase “don’t put your subject in the middle”. So, in order to see central composition for what it really is, perhaps we should first understand why it’s so avoided. And…

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The Importance of Straightening The Horizon and Aligning Lines

One of the most common mistakes I see when reviewing images submitted by our readers, or when reviewing portfolio images during our workshops, is a rather simple case of crooked horizons or badly aligned lines. Although most photographers are very well aware of this one, for some reason many simply fail to see such problems in their images. Now it is one thing when an image is tilted intentionally to create an interesting composition, and totally different when the photographer…

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Using Foreground Elements to Create Added Depth

Often when we are creating images, especially landscapes, we can get so focused on the main subject that we forget to think about incorporating a foreground element to help add depth and drama to our scene. There are a number of different approaches we can use. In this short article I’ll be illustrating three simple and effective ways you can incorporate foreground elements into your images. The first is something that I like to call a ‘bottom band’ during my…

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The Weston Dream

She posed atop a sand dune with wind-gnarled cypress trees clinging to a rocky precipice in the distance. She was nude of course, and sitting on a bedpan. A dead pelican lay at her kelp-entwined feet. In one hand she held a nautilus, in the other the most sensuous bell pepper that had ever grown. As I adjusted my 8×10’s tilts and shifts she gave me that glance – just 1/60th of a second, but in that moment I knew…

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Challenging Yourself to Improve

I believe it was Cartier-Bresson who said that your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. For many hobbyist photographers, myself included, it may be much more than that, as improving our craft means constantly shooting, experimenting, reassessing, and continually culling our very best from our best.

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Open and Closed Composition: Assignment Discussion

A few months ago, I started the Mastering Composition series of articles. The goal of these articles was not only to give some useful composition tips for beginners, but to also engage our readers with small assignments. The assignment given to you in the first article of the series has already been addressed in the recent discussion. In this short article, we will address the assignment given in the “Open and Closed Composition” piece.

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Composition in Photography: Assignment Discussion

A few months ago, I started working on our “Mastering Composition” series articles. The idea behind them was to cover all the basics of composition in photography (and, consequently, visual arts in general) starting with some extremely simple concepts, and also provide assignments for beginner photographers to make the educational process fun and engaging. With some luck and effort from our side, the project would gain momentum and we’d be able to not only touch more advanced composition rules /…

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Interpreting Fine Art Photography

Update: this article seems to have spawn a number of different opinions. Which, we must admit, makes us rather happy – discussion, as someone much brighter than me has said, is an exchange of knowledge. More importantly, argument is an exchange of ignorance. While the photograph described at the beginning of this article is not actually all that important for the said discussion, a lot of our readers have expressed their curiosity and wish to see the reason for this…

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A Fifty for Creativity

Even just a few hours ago, I was once again asked by a reader what lenses do I use most for my wedding photography. The answer is and always has been the same for my wedding, family or general photography needs – a classic fifty. I am sure hardly anyone will find this at all surprising, because fast 50mm fixed focal length lenses have become a legend of sorts. Ask any photographer and he will tell you – that is…

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Open and Closed Composition

In the first article of our Mastering Composition series, we discussed the definition of the term “composition”. We also outlined the main goal of composition and talked about why it is such an important part of any work of art. As we dive deeper, it is necessary to define two discrete types of composition with photographic context in mind. One such type is called “open composition”, while the other one, predictably, “closed composition”. These two types are further split into…

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