The Tuesday Composition: Just Move!

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

Keep moving!

Skägafoss Detail
Skägafoss Detail

One of the best things about giving “shoot and critique” workshops is that I get the opportunity to see what participants can make out of a given situation. It’s great to see how different and interesting their visions are-I constantly learn things from my students by observing their photographic vision. But it’s also a great environment for me to be able to give knowledgeable feedback. Over the years, one of the most common themes I’ve seen in my feedback, particularly to beginning photographers, is suggesting that the image might have improved if the photographer had moved a little-whether left, right, forward, back, up or down.

Every movement of the camera and photographer changes the “choreography” of the images, some subjects get bigger, some smaller, and the position of the elements involved changes as well. Perhaps some appear – or disappear – around other objects. The positioning of the objects in the frame changes as well, movement is a powerful photographic tool. (more…)

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The Tuesday Composition: Anatomy of a Puffin

Puffin IV
Puffin IV. Látrabjarg, Iceland.

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

I was recently struck by the fact that one of my puffin images, Puffin IV, had been selected into two different shows by two different groups of jurors for two quite competitive shows. I was a little surprised–I would not have thought, of my various images that have been included in shows in the last year, that it would be this particular image that fared best of the images I submitted.

My surprise, plus a sale or two, led me to “take another look” at the image. As you might expect (it is, after all, Tuesday), composition was at the heart of my surprise. If the main parts of a photograph are subject, light and composition (I think beginning photographers often focus too much on subject)   it’s light on the subject and composition that really tend to pull together an effective photograph. There are far more interesting photographs of mundane subjects in interesting light and/or interesting compositions than the other way around. (more…)

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The Tuesday Composition: Communicating Immensity

Cerro Torre
Cerro Torre, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

One of the most common challenges in landscape photography communicating the scale of large objects. Photographs seem to resist conveying the sense of scale we often feel in a landscape. When we take the photograph, we have the opportunity to move around in the landscape, to hike a half-mile and notice that our view of the mountain hasn’t changed much. Our brains unconsciously integrate that information into our perceptions of the world around us. Viewers of our still photographs see things much differently.

Small prints and web images are particularly challenging. Our minds seem to resist  perceiving  a mountain that stretches a mile into the air within a photograph that fits inside a lunch box. Even large prints sometimes seem to lack any real ability to communicate the size of the landscape they portray.  As a result, rather than relying on making large prints, we have to understand how our brains perceive scale in still images, and take advantage of the cues our brains use in that process. (more…)

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The Tuesday Composition: Telephoto Compression

Layers, Yosemite National Park, California
Layers, Yosemite National Park, California. A classic viewpoint, 300mm focal length. While we intellectually understand that the elements of this image are at quite different distances from the camera, telephoto compression seems to take away some of the cues our brain uses to perceive depth.

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

Just as I often turn to wide-angle lenses when I want to create images with a sense of depth and perspective, when I purposefully want to lose a sense of depth, when I want to compress elements of an image in order to abstract or combine them, then I’ll often look to the longer end of my over-abundant collection of lenses.

First, it’s worth acknowledging that, pedantically, telephoto lenses don’t change perspective (warning: PDF document).  Seen from the same point, two objects will change in size, but proportionally, when you change lenses. Of course, if you change your shooting position to compensate for the new focal length, that’s a different matter entirely. So I’ll avoid saying that telephoto lenses change the perspective in a scene.

But there is a real, identifiable “look” to images we extract out of a scene using a long telephoto lens. We often talk about telephoto images as looking “flat” or “compressed”, these images do not seem to trigger our visual system into perceiving an illusion of depth in the image the way that many wide-angle shots do. Where does that look come from? I believe it primarily comes from two factors. (more…)

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The Tuesday Composition: Both Near and Far

Bleached bush skeleton, Mono Lake, California
Bleached bush skeleton, Mono Lake, California. This image would have been more effective if I'd used a bit of flash to highlight the dead bush to emphasize that it's the subject of the image, I'll almost certainly dodge up (brighten) the bush in printing.

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

One of the more common idioms in landscape of photography is the near-far composition, a powerful technique for creating depth and relationships within a photograph.

In a near-far composition, a small foreground element is emphasized and placed in a background that establishes context for that element. For example, the dead bush in Bleached Bush Skeleton, the bush remains are the subject of the photograph. The lake, the tufa in the lake and the Sierra Nevada all tell us something about the location the bush remains are in.

Put another way, if you were to try and write a sentence describing what a near-far photograph is about, it would usually be something like, “This foreground (thing) is in the background (environment).”  The foreground object is the subject of the sentence, it is in general the more important of the two elements in a near-far image.

When I say that the foreground is emphasized, it’s important to be clear about how that’s done. For the foreground to be comparable in size to the background, it needs to be much closer to the lens than the background. While it might seem in theory that this could be accomplished with almost any sort of lens, the smaller depth-of-field of telephoto lenses often make it impossible to keep near and far objects both in focus. As a result, the most dramatic near-far compositions are usually made with wide-angle lenses. Hyperfocal focusing is often used to create the greatest depth-of-field. (more…)

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Photographing Bodie

Bodie State Historic Park, California
Bodie State Historic Park, California

East of California’s Sierra Nevada, north of Mono Lake lies the abandoned mining town of Bodie, California. Bodie boomed after the discovery of gold ore in the 1870s, by 1920 the town was in a steep and never-reversed decline. In 1962 the area was designated a California state historic park and remains that today. Several aspects make Bodie a particularly interesting target for photographers intrigued by the Gold Rush era ghost towns.

First and foremost Bodie is maintained in a state of arrested decay, that is, the park attempts to maintain Bodie the way it was in 1962, repairing what’s necessary to maintain that state but no more so. Interiors of many of the town’s buildings buildings still contain original furniture and such. And because Bodie hasn’t been commercially developed, it’s easy to find many places to take unique, “timeless” photographs without anachronisms. (more…)

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The Tuesday Composition: Repetition

Salt Polygons at Sunrise, Death Valley
Salt Polygons at Sunrise, Death Valley

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

A while back we talked about visual echoes–and we primarily focused on repetitions of two similar or contrasting objects. Today I’m going to revisit that topic with a greater emphasis on repetition generally, whether two, eleven or a million similar image elements.  If you didn’t get a chance to read the echoes post, I suggest going back and and reading it now, many of the ideas in today’s post will relate to and reflect on the ideas I presented there.

Repetition is a powerful and amazingly versatile tool.

One of my favorite uses of repetition in composition is in simplifying an image. In general, images with many kinds of disparate elements can be harder for the viewer to make sense of–put enough elements together and you take away an easy sense of what elements of the image are important, dominant.

Repeating patterns in an image can help organize all of those elements into a pattern that’s easier for the viewer to understand. Salt Polygons at Sunrise has hundreds of elements, but our eye quickly integrates the underlying pattern of the salt polygons and makes sense of what’s going on in the image. A random collection of that many disparate elements in an image would feel much more chaotic. (Of course, that might be what you want, but more often, my own work tends towards less chaotic.) (more…)

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Book Review: Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite

One of the larger segments of the photographic book market is the “Photographer’s Guide” segment, numerous authors and publishers have, over the years, covered any number of photographic destinations. Michael Frye’s little  ::amazon(“1930238002″,”Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite”)::  is my favorite of the genre. It’s small, well-produced, and reflects the author’s deep knowledge of Yosemite National Park and surrounding areas. (more…)

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The Tuesday Composition: Visual Echoes

Backlit Foliage, North Falls
Backlit Foliage. North Falls

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

As we discussed last week, centered compositions often describe or emphasize a relationship between one half of an image and another. “What’s similar between these two?”  “What’s different?”  These compositions succeed because the image itself provides the answer to this questions. Reflections are a simple example of this,  answering  “it’s all the same”, making the relationship between the reflection and the reflected object a subject of the photograph.

But simple reflections and symmetries aren’t the only place (by far) where images take on life because of visual relationships we create between parts of an image. I refer to these visual relationships “echoes.”  These visual echoes, like reflections, invite us to compare and contrast. But they can take on others forms as well, based on correspondences between line, form, texture and/or color. (more…)

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The Tuesday Composition: Sometimes Centering Does Work

Badwater Reflections
Badwater Reflections

If you like this article, you can now get the book! Joe has expanded the “Tuesday Composition” series into an inspiring new ebook on composition, especially for nature photography. Check it out: The Tuesday Composition.

As I’ve said before (and will keep saying), these photographic “rules” we talk about are more like dozens of tools in a large toolbox, and the vast majority of your images will only use a small subset of those tools. In fact, often there are very good reasons to do precisely the opposite of whatever one of these guidelines might seem to suggest, sometimes the rules themselves are contradictory. Today’s column is a case in point. Last week I explored a number of reasons you’d usually be better off not centering things vertically or horizontally in your images. This week, I’m going to mention some exceptions, but those exceptions are no more hard-and-fast as the original “rule” was. As such, I hope that you’ll not only get some ideas about why images might work well centered, but also that you’ll get a little better idea of what I mean by the “toolbox” metaphor. (more…)

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