Before the pandemic last year, Shainblum had the opportunity to visit Yosemite just after a snowfall which gave him the opportunity to shoot snow-dappled images of one of the most photogenic National Parks in the United States. After revisiting that shoot recently, he realized that he went the entire day shooting almost exclusively on a Sigma 100-400mm zoom lens.
Part of his goal in these images was to capture the look of being there — that is to say, the atmospheric conditions.
“The way the fog has moved every few minutes, the scene changes, and new compositions get revealed,” he says. “There is just some beautiful atmosphere.”
In the several images Shainblum discusses, the lighting he captures and isolates thanks to framing is only made possible thanks to the extended zooms he has at his disposal.
“I think it’s easy to get into the mindset of ‘well this place has been heavily photographed, is there anything else I can say about the place?’” Shainblum says. “There are tons of images that exist of Yosemite National Park. It’s one of the most famous places for landscape photography. It’s easy to take a look at that and say ‘I just want to go somewhere that hasn’t really been photographed or that isn’t very popular so I’ll be able to take images that are more unique and more interesting.’ And while I do enjoy exploring new places, I don’t think you always have to do that to create interesting and unique photographs.”
Part of what makes using a zoom lens so beneficial for landscape photography is that it forces you to see environments in ways others have not. Wide-angle landscape photography is much more common, so detail shots like the ones Shainblum shares here are wildly compelling because of how unique they are.
“Try not to have those preconceived ideas of what a place is supposed to be about,” Shainblum says while discussing how photographers might come to a location thinking that all the photos that could be taken of a place, have been. “Create your own experience with the place, and I think you’ll be able to tell better stories.”
Photographing snowflakes doesn’t have to be expensive. In this short 4.5 minute video from photographer Jens Heidler on his YouTube Channel Another Perspective, he teaches you how you can replicate these larger-than-life photos with even entry-level equipment.
While you can use extremely expensive high-end equipment to shoot super high-resolution photos of snowflakes, most people don’t have access to the ability to do that. But just because you don’t own a microscope and a medium format camera doesn’t mean you can’t make great photos.
Heidler explains that because snowflakes are so small, between 1mm and 10mm across, in order to accurately capture that entire range, you need a 5:1 macro lens. While you could buy one of these, you can also combine a 1:1 macro lens with something like the Raynox DCR-250 which can give you enough magnification to capture larger snowflakes without breaking the bank.
Using a 1:1 magnification macro lens with the Raynox adapter will work for the larger snowflakes, but if you want to capture the smallest ones (down to 1mm in size) you’ll need more magnification. To do this, you’ll need at least a 2:1 macro lens combined with the Raynox DCR-250 in order to get enough magnification.
Once your optics are taken care of, you can really use any camera you like. Heidler is using the Sony a6000 series, for example, but any entry-level camera body that is compatible with the optics you choose will work great.
As for actual photo-taking techniques, Heidler recommends using a dark background so that the snowflakes stand out. What he does is place a black t-shirt in the snow and wait for flakes to fall onto it and then photographs them as he sees ones that catch his eye.
“What also works great is a glass table or a black plexiglass table,” Heidler says.
Heidler says that it can be challenging to find a snowflake using such high magnification optics once you see one with your naked eye, so another great tip that may sound simple is to have something you can use to give yourself a starting point. Heidler recommends using something like scissors, and placing it below the snowflake you want to find before you try and search for it through the lens.
Heidler mentions several other techniques such as stabilization on hand-held shots and the best way to light snowflakes, in his video above. If you’re interested in taking your snowflake photography to the next level, you can learn how to add vibrant colors to your snowflake photos here.
Let me begin by saying I am in no way a professional sports photographer. I am simply a high school math teacher who loves three things: teaching, mathematics, and photography. As a serious photographer in my school, it often fell upon me to document sporting events for the benefit of the school and the students themselves.
The yearbook requires more than simple iPhone game photos, and the students love photos that they can post in their social networking world.
Over the years I have photographed many amateur events which required spending considerable time reading and studying the world of the sports photographer. Let me simply say their world is not an easy one. The following is a collection of techniques that I have used to record that critical moment of an action photo.
The life of a sports photographer is vastly different from that of other photographers. While all photographers face challenges, the sports photographer faces diametrically opposing forces. The landscape photographer must by the nature of the work, travel. As Scott Kelby says,” If you want prettier pictures, you must go to prettier places.”
The landscape photographer must therefore travel far and then also rise from bed around 4:30 in the morning. It is imperative to arrive at the specific location prior to sunrise in order to be ready for that golden hour. That is what separates the great from the mediocre. However, once there, life is relatively simple. Set up the tripod, take a trial image, check your histogram, and then have fun. The amateur sports photographer may only take about a 15-minute drive to the local school gym, but once there, the real problem solving begins.
But before we get to the school, let’s talk about finances. Everybody knows that digital photography is an expensive hobby. However, for the sports photographer, this is an understatement. For any serious photographer, it can be argued that a full sensor camera is a must. However, for the sports photographer, the bar is raised even higher.
For my amateur needs, the basic full-frame $3,000+ camera body will function, but in the pro world, it is surprisingly insufficient. In the gym or on the field the professional photographer needs the $6,000+ top-of-the-line body for one basic requirement alone. The reason is the need for that extra high-speed continuous shooting rate. These additional three to five frames per second could be critical in freezing the action at the precise “decisive moment” for that epic action pic.
However, the photos above by John Rooney and Morris Berman are the polar opposite of the norm, yet they are perhaps my favorite. These did not freeze the exact moment when a ball hit the bat or the precise second the receiver was flying prone above the ground. These photos showed the world the emotional heart of sports. They captured the true agony and ecstasy of an athlete.
As with the photos of Muhammad Ali and Y.A. Tittle above, sometimes the role of the sports photographer is to capture the highs and lows of the game. The challenge is that to do this, photographers must take their eyes off the field in order to catch the behind-the-scenes drama. One needs to be aware of the entire arena.
The best way to begin a discussion about the challenges in the sports world is to note the obvious. Capturing photos on the field of play requires knowledge of two distinct things, light and again light.
The first light refers to the amount or brilliance of the available light. If anyone has ever witnessed their son’s or daughter’s sporting event at the local high school gym on a Friday evening, one thing becomes quickly apparent. The arenas are not that bright. Normally in photography, this would not be a major issue. Simply open the lens to a larger aperture or crank up the ISO a bit! In sports photography, these options are not that simple.
There are two uncompromising absolutes for action photos. The first is the requirement of a high shutter speed of at least 1/1000 of a second that is needed to freeze motion. The second is a long lens necessary in order to “reach” the action. In a dimly lit high school gym, besides this being a major problem, it is more importantly an expensive one.
Personally, as an amateur, I use a $3,000+ Canon 5D body, with a $2,000+ Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. This is a great body and super lens combo that is indeed sharp and fast enough. While shooting wide open at f/2.8 and at 1/1000 of a second, it quickly becomes apparent that an ISO of at least 20000 is required. These requirements are pushing my camera body and lens to the maximum.
Realize, however, that my basic $5,000+ investment may indeed be functional for many settings. However, in football, I am limited to the area of midfield to my sideline. The far side of the field is simply out of range. This limitation is something I can live with as an amateur, but for the professional, this is totally unsatisfactory. They must cover the entire field. For the professional, this requirement easily doubles the price tag of the camera and lens.
Now for the second issue related to light. This time it is not the brilliance of the light, but its actual color. The light in amateur gyms and fields is fine for the parents to watch their children play. However, it is horrible for the photographer. Obviously, it is not color balanced for outdoor shooting, but the problem goes beyond this. The issue is that the balance is not even uniform throughout the gym or field. Some overhead bulbs are new, some others are old, and some are simply vacant. The light balance on the near court is often very different than that on the far court.
This is a major difference between the worlds of the amateur and professional photographer. In the professional setting, the light balance is mostly uniform and adjusted for television coverage. At the pro level, photographers are therefore free to shoot JPGs, rather than RAW.
This advantage is again twofold. Shooting JPGs allows the professional to increase the high-speed rate for continuous shooting. A camera can function at a much faster continuous rate handling the smaller files of JPGs than those of a larger RAW file. Secondly, after shooting, the professional can now simply upload his files to a laptop, do a little cropping, and quickly send his selected images off to the publisher.
For amateur photographers, this light issue means that they must shoot RAW files. We definitely need all our available data to color balance our photos correctly. This balance also needs to be tweaked for each photo. Processing high school action photos is definitely time-consuming, but it is by any measure a labor of love. The time involved is later rewarded with the smiles on the students’ faces when they see the final product.
The next area to be discussed involves possible techniques to capture the desired image. The first point is perhaps counter-intuitive. Action photos should be tightly cropped, yet this is a function for post-processing. While shooting, try not to crop too close. Arms and legs are flying all over the place, and the players are jumping, diving, and sliding. The worst thing to have is a great capture with a missing hand or foot. Remember in the final image, two things are usually desired – the player’s eyes and the ball. However, if you clip a hand or foot, that is a flaw.
Another of the critical elements of sports photography relates to position. This is not the position of the athletes, but the position of the photographer. This is especially important when shooting action shots that involve jumping. It is always considered best for the photographer to simply take a knee. If one looks out over any pro arena, a standing photographer will never be seen. Shooting from a low vantage point tends to exaggerate the space between the ground and the athlete. Shooting action while standing has the opposite effect. It minimizes this distance which tends to flatten the action and takes away from the drama.
The final concern is where to point your camera. There is one principle that definitely holds true. Once the exciting moment happens, it is too late for the photographer to capture it. Looking at this from the other perspective, one must anticipate the grand event. The basic key to this is to study and know the sport.
Each sport is by definition different. There is nothing to compare when shooting football in contrast to baseball. Sometimes you may simply follow the ball and trust something exciting happens in its path. Other times one may center on a key player with the same hope. Finally, the photographer could concentrate on a position on the field or a base where you anticipate action. This decision-making process comes from experience and studying the game and the players. Obviously, there is always a little bit of luck involved, but the great sports photographers create their own luck.
Sports photography presents challenges and obstacles unlike those of other genres. The problems of mastering light and freezing action are in constant conflict. Adding this to the fast pace of the game allows for no time to stop and think. The photographer is constantly engaged throughout the entire game. Any break on the photographer’s part can result in that iconic missed shot. Planning occurs prior to the event, and evaluation happened at the closing buzzer.
The above photo was my first-ever outing in a professional arena. I was a young college student with my Minolta SRT 101 and a 135mm prime lens. My goal was simple – to capture on film a shot of the hero of Baltimore, Johnny Unitas. I hope today there are young people in my home city who are trying to freeze a moment in the life of their hero, Lamar Jackson.
About the author: Charles Levie is a photographer and math educator based in West Friendship, Maryland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Levie’s work on his website, Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram. This article was also published here.
The first half of Heidler’s video beautifully shows how the bubbles form and freeze in real-time. But what if you want to make these effects yourself? The next portion is dedicated to answering ten common questions that address the specific ways he is able to reproduce the effect.
Firstly, Heidler explains that the temperature he uses to capture the freezing action is -5 degrees Celcius, or 23 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, it takes about 20 seconds for the freezing to start. It can take anywhere between five seconds and two or three minutes depending on how much glycerin is used and the freezing temperature you choose.
Building on this point, Heidler says that -10 degrees Celcius, or 14 degrees Fahrenheit, is the coldest you will want to go for this kind of work. Any colder, and the bubble freezes too fast and you won’t be able to capture some of the intricate beauty that occurs as the bubbles freeze.
The bubble mixture that Heidler uses is 80% water, 10% dish soap, and 10% glycerin.
The images shown here weren’t captured with any special lighting, which makes trying photos like these at home even more approachable. Heidler says that at night, where he gets the dramatic black background to the images, he illuminates them with a simple flashlight. During the day, he uses just sunlight.
Forming the bubbles is done by using a long straw and gently blowing air into the bubble mixture. After you pull the straw away, get ready to take the photo because the bubble will start freezing quickly. Beyond that, it’s a matter of playing with light, angles, and catching the crystalization at just the right moment.
Though there are multiple off-the-shelf solutions for over-head camera angles, DIY-er Jay Doscher decided that there was a better way. By combining a VESA mount monitor arm with a few “universal” parts along with some 3D printed pieces, he made his own.
Initially, Doscher wanted to build his own overhead camera mount so that he would have an easy way to show a top-down angle whatever project he was working on. On YouTube, it’s pretty common to find nicely-framed top-down camera angles for unboxing or maker videos (Doscher specifically references Adafruit’s Show and Tell videos). Especially on a webcam, it can be near impossible to show others what you are working on without a secondary overhead camera angle or the awkward shuffling of your main camera, handheld above your desk.
“For those of us creating video content at home, webcams or full-fledged cameras are the norm. Getting your face on camera is pretty easy,” Doscher writes. “For those of us that create objects we want to share, getting those on camera can be much harder.”
While photographers are used to tripods with overhead angle capabilities, small home office spaces aren’t really the most conducive to a tripod setup and are especially hard to keep tidy if you don’t want to constantly be setting up and tearing down camera rigs. Outside of tripods, other overhead camera rigs can get expensive or even more impractical, which is a significant barrier for the average person.
“I’ve seen all kinds of clever camera stands that look down on the entire desk,” Doscher says. “But they take over your desk pretty quickly- so unless you’re a full-time YouTube person that’s not really great.”
Doscher’s much more elegant desk-ready solution uses a VESA mount monitor arm at its core.
“The idea is pretty simple- a 3D printed mount that attaches to a heavy-duty PC monitor arm. My design supports a full-size Sony mirrorless camera, but you could easily design your own to do the same thing. Given how many different cameras there are I could only design for what I have, so you will need to either invest in the same gear I did, or simply make your own design.”
Below is Doscher’s full parts list for this setup:
If you don’t own a 3D printer, you could theoretically build these parts from wood as well.
The 3D printed parts that Doscher designed fit right into both the camera cage and the VESA monitor arm, so once all the parts have been compiled, putting together the finished product is pretty straightforward.
“The files are specific to this camera frame and camera, but the bolt pattern for the VESA mount is the same,” Doscher writes. “I hope this inspires you to design your own!”
For more from Doscher, you can see more of his projects on his website.
If you are reading this article, there’s a high chance that sooner or later you are going to buy a new camera. And as we all know, photography is not exactly a cheap hobby.
Maybe it is going to be your first more expensive camera or just the next one in line. You might have an idea about specs, brand, and lenses. However, there are still many pitfalls you should watch out for before you make your final decision. Here are 5 kinds of cameras you should definitely avoid.
#1. The Camera That You Will Not Take With You
It was Chase Jarvis who said that the best camera is the one that’s with you. It was then used by many including Steve Jobs while promoting the portability of the iPhone. And when you think about it, it actually makes perfect sense. Whether you buy a camera for work or just for amusement it is an investment that pays off for you by actually using the camera.
That is why the first kind of camera you should avoid is one that you won’t often take with you. Maybe you want to buy a big DSLR with a huge telephoto lens or two. Think carefully: are you really going to take your gear outside that often to be able to justify your purchase? Maybe none of this is the case for you, but it is a consideration worth making before it is too late.
I know because I have been there. I remember my walks with my Leica M240, and even though many people will tell you the camera is overpriced, I loved it for what it did for me and how I felt with it and I still do. But traveling through developing countries or less safe areas, I often felt very uncomfortable carrying around a camera that was this expensive. Now that I have kids and am often packing a lot of stuff for them, I am just happy to slip my Ricoh GR in my pocket and not worry about it.
#2. The Camera with Features You Think You Need Over the Ones You Actually Need
This kind of example brings me to the second type of gear you should avoid buying, and it is the one with features you think you’ll need over the ones you will really need. Let me explain.
With camera companies releasing new cameras every year, it can be tempting to reach for the latest and greatest, right? But when you think about what you are really going to do with the camera, you might realize that you not only don’t need to buy the latest tech — not buying it will also save you a lot of money you can use later to actually get better at photography.
I know, it can be tempting to get the latest camera with 20 frames per second in continuous autofocus. Well, if you are shooting the Olympics and need to deliver, this is, of course, an awesome feature to have. But if you are going to shoot landscapes, then not so much. Buying an f/1.4 lens can give you awesome bokeh but when you end up shooting street photography with f/8, you don’t really need it.
#3. The Camera You Cannot Afford
It happens to all of us, especially when looking at the second-hand camera market. You pick a lens or camera body you want to buy new or, in this example, used, and just when you are ready to pull the trigger, you find a slightly faster lens or slightly newer camera body and of course the price is a little higher. Just a little bit. However, since you are looking at gear that costs a bit more, you may as well look at the cameras at that similar price point. You find something else that is in a similar price range but you know it is a little more expensive.
The faster, lighter, newer gear will let you do much more and better, you tell yourself. But then, you see another… that, again, costs a bit more, and before you know it you are looking at gear that is totally out of your budget.
You can tell yourself how you can manage to pay for the camera. How you will work overtime or sell your other gear to make it work. But let me tell you, it is not worth it. There is always going to be gear that is a little bit more expensive than what you saved up for. But stretching it too far can be a great mistake. It may seem like a good idea at first but you will thank me later when you actually enjoy your camera free of the stress that comes with needing gear to pay for itself.
#4. The Camera Someone Else Tells You to Buy
The Internet revolutionized the buying process of new cameras since you can compare all the specs very quickly and easily. You can also find many reviews and opinions of experts but also users that have already purchased the one you want. However, with all of that useful knowledge come as many opinions as you can imagine. And it is fair to say that the more people get their hands on the product, the more information is available to us to make the decision.
Research has never been easier than it is now. The downside is that there is always going to be that one opinion who hates your dream lens or camera you saved up for. And even though you know you should ignore it because it is nonsense, it still stays in your mind.
Say you set your mind on the new Leica Q2 Monochrom. You love the design, you love the brand, and you are watching review after review to confirm your thoughts. And there it is that one guy or in this case group of people who think it is a waste of money, Leica is overpriced and overrated and you should buy a Sony or Canon instead, which you really don’t want. Somehow those comments are really so persuasive that you start to doubt your decision.
That’s why the next camera or lens you should not get is the one someone else tells you to get. Opinions of other people are just that: opinions of other people. Only you know what is best for you and how you going to use the camera.
#5. The Camera You Buy Just Because You Have the Money (or, Overcoming GAS)
You probably know this one as it is discussed very often. You are not happy anymore when you look at your photographs. You start to blame your gear, which is old and boring and the new gear you just saw will definitely make you a better photographer. You buy the new gear but after a while, you realize you are at the same spot again.
Instead of learning how to actually use the gear you already own, you browse the Internet to find new “inspiring” camera bodies and lenses. Maybe some of your friends suggest you should rent the gear to find out if you really need it or even sell some you don’t use. But that is nonsense, right? Why would you waste money renting the gear if you already know you are going to buy it?
You promise yourself to go out every single day with the new camera even though you have been just sitting home browsing the Internet for quite some time. With this one, it will be different!
And there it is: the next camera you should avoid is the one you buy just because you have the money for it. “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” is kind of famous among photographers and it is not so easy to get rid of it. Well, first you have to admit you have the problem to be able to fix it.
That being said, we should probably talk about the gear that you actually should get if you decide that your iPhone is not good enough for you anymore. As photographers, we tend to be obsessed with the stats of new cameras and that is not a bad thing. Read the reviews, go check out the gear in the store. Consider renting if you are not sure you are going to like it.
Don’t switch to a different model at the last moment before you make a purchase, and when you eventually decide what you want, do not let few bad reviews get into your head to change your mind. I hope this article helps you with your next purchase.
About the author: Martin Kaninsky is a photographer, reviewer, and YouTuber based in Prague, Czech Republic. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Kaninsky runs the channel About Photography. You can find more of his work on his website, Instagram, and YouTube channel.
Nobody likes rules. Ok, well some people like rules. Your old school principal? He liked rules. So does that scary lady in the HR department. When it comes to composition in photography, I don’t like to talk in terms of rules; I prefer instead to talk about composition “ideas”.
Some of the ideas presented in this article have been around for millennia and have been used in art and architecture by some of the most famous names in history.
Here’s the thing about these ideas; they constantly contradict each other. And that’s ok. No one idea presented here is “better” than another. They can be used on their own, combined, or completely disregarded depending on what you are trying to achieve in your photograph. You won’t get sent to the principal’s office for ignoring them. I promise. After all, there is more than one way to cook an egg. Poached egg is obviously the best way though, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
Time for an Update
The last time I wrote an article on composition here back in 2016, you should have seen some of the messages I received. Wow. One guy (anonymously of course) sent me a message containing the following charming message: “Hey a**hole. Did Leonardo Da Vinci use any of these ‘rules’? Did Monet? F*** you for s***ing on the arts”. So yeah; composition is a topic that tends to get some people quite upset for some reason.
Aside from the fact that did the two aforementioned artists did in fact use some of these composition techniques, I am not for one moment suggesting that what follows must be followed without question. In fact, I mention how I find some of the ideas a bit daft. They do however provide a collection of tools that you can use to arrange the elements in your frame in an interesting manner to create photographs with impact. But….. feel free to ignore them when you think that’s what will work for the photograph you are creating. Sometimes, doing the unexpected can lead to great things.
The last article I wrote on composition ended up being the 5th most popular article of the decade here, much to my surprise! I’ve decided to update that article with extra composition ideas and new photo examples. For each idea, I will give a brief description of what it’s all about followed by a few examples of the idea in action. Complaints, insults, and threats of bodily harm can be mailed to me on the back of a 50 Dollar/Euro/Pound note.
#1. The Rule of Thirds
So I’ve just gone on a rant about how this article does not contain a list of “rules” for composition. I then go and start with something called the “rule of thirds”. Hey, I didn’t come up with the name. When using the rule of thirds for composition, we divide the frame into a grid of 9 equal rectangles. Then, we try to place important elements in the scene like the main subject, or the horizon for example, along one of these lines. We can also try to place something of interest where two of the lines cross each other. We often have a natural urge to place our subject in the dead center of the frame when often putting it to one side using the rule of thirds can result in a more pleasing composition.
In this case, the horizon sits roughly on the bottom third line while the closest tree sits along the horizontal third line to the right.
In this street photograph taken in my home city of Dublin, I’ve placed the woman in red walking along the street on the point where two of the grid lines intersect. The cobbled street roughly occupies the bottom third of the frame; the building ground floors frontages occupy the middle third and the upper floors of the buildings occupy the top third. Having the rule of thirds grid activated in live view on my camera really helped me with composition when I took this photograph.
#2. Centered Composition / Symmetry
So I’ve just told you that often, using a completely centered composition is not always the best option. Now of course I’m going to suggest that you do the complete opposite. I did tell you that these ideas often contradict each other. Some scenes call out for a centered composition, especially when there is symmetry in the scene.
Architecture and engineering often make ideal subjects for centered composition. This view of the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin is a perfect example of this.
Square cropped frames can be a suitable option for centered compositions. A square is completely symmetrical after all. I actually studied French and history at this university over twenty years ago. I had very little time for photography though as I was just so busy drinking beer discussing eighteenth-century French poetry and the merits of enlightened absolutism in Prussia with my fellow scholars.
Symmetry doesn’t always have to be vertical in nature. Reflections can create the perfect opportunity to capture some horizontal symmetry. Early morning and evening times often present good opportunities for reflections like this as the air cools and the wind drops.
#3. Golden Triangles
The golden triangles method of composition works in a very similar way to the rule of thirds. Instead of horizontal and vertical lines, we use a series of diagonal lines to divide up the frame. We draw one line from one corner to another and then add two more lines from the other corners that meet the long diagonal at a right angle. Later on, we will see how diagonals can be a particularly powerful composition tool. Diagonals are said to add “dynamic tension” to the composition. More on this later.
Notice how the traffic trails and top of the buildings roughly line up with the long diagonal line. The tops of the buildings are close to the shorter diagonal. The rule of thirds and golden triangles are guides for arranging the elements in the frame. They don’t have to be exact. Note that the long diagonal could also start in the top left corner and go to the bottom right depending on the scene.
In this photograph, the use of the golden triangles method of composition is more subtle. There is an implied diagonal going along the top of the heads on the statues towards the bottom left-hand corner. This is something that we see frequently when it comes to composition. Often the lines that link the various elements in the frame are implied rather than explicit.
I took this photograph at about 6am. I was alone apart from an inebriated Parisian who would randomly wander into the frame every so often. By the time I was ready to leave, he seemed to be engaged in an animated argument with one of the statues. Judging by his condition, I think the statue probably won.
#4. The Golden Ratio
The golden ratio composition technique is one that has resulted in much heated discussion when I’ve written about it in previous articles. In reality, though, it’s actually quite simple: two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. See. Easy. Ok then, maybe that was a bit over-complicated. How about I explain it using a mathematical formula.
Ok, that seems to have just made things worse. Forget all that. I often describe the golden ratio as being a slightly more complicated version of the rule of thirds with a little bit of the golden triangles method thrown into the mix. Take a look at the image below.
Rather than dividing the frame into equal rectangles, it is instead divided into a series of squares as in the example above. This is known as a “Phi Grid”. These squares are then used as a guide to add a spiral known as the “Fibonacci Spiral”. These squares, lines, and spiral are then used to lay out the elements in the frame as with the rule of thirds and golden triangles. The spiral is supposed to lead the eye around the frame and show us how the scene should flow. It’s a bit like an invisible leading line. We will look at leading lines in more detail shortly.
The similarities with the rule of thirds and golden triangles become clearer once we add a few lines to the diagram. The golden ratio also divides the frame into 9 parts although this time they are not all the same size and shape. The diagonals we saw in the golden triangles examples can also be added here.
It is believed that this method of composition has been in existence for over 2,400 years having been devised by the Ancient Greeks. The golden ratio was widely used throughout history in many types of art as well as architecture as a way of creating aesthetically pleasing compositions. It was particularly well employed in Renaissance art.
I Meant It… I Swear.
Before I show some examples of the golden ratio in action, I have to admit something. Not once have I ever set out to use the golden ratio in one of my compositions. However, I decided to have a look back through my photographs and see if there were any in which I had accidentally inadvertently used the golden ratio. It turns out there were. In reality, I was probably thinking of the rule of thirds or golden triangles and accidentally stumbled upon the golden ratio.
Here is a perfect example of one of my accidental uses of the golden ratio. The side of the building lines up with the vertical line on the right and the Fibonacci Spiral leads us from the bottom left corner to the two women sitting by one of the many bridges that traverse the canals of Venice.
In this case, the Fibonacci Spiral starts in the top right-hand corner, passes under the couple dancing and finishes on the street musician’s face. The fact that I accidentally stumbled upon the golden ratio a few times shows how many of these composition “rules” may actually be manifestations of our internal aesthetic preferences that come naturally to us. Woah. Deep. It reminds us that these should be used as ideas and not strict rules.
#5. Balancing the Elements in the Frame
In this section, I’m going to discuss a composition tool that aims to address one of the issues that sometimes crops up when we use the rule of thirds. When we place the main subject on one side of the frame, it can sometimes make the composition seem a little unbalanced. One side of the frame has a point of interest while there is not much happening on the other side. The photo can appear a little lop-sided. A way of remedying this is to include a less prominent element on the other side of the frame to balance things up a little.
In this photograph, the ornate streetlamp dominates the left-hand side of the frame. This is balanced by the Eiffel Tower off in the distance which appears smaller in the frame.
Take a look at this photograph taken in Venice. as in the previous one, one side of the frame is dominated by an ornate streetlamp. The campanile or bell tower of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore out on the Venice Lagoon helps counter-balance this. It also has an interesting secondary effect. We know that the bell tower is much bigger than the street lamp (as was the case with the Eiffel Tower in the previous shot). Due to the distance it of course appears smaller in the frame. This perspective effect adds a sense of depth to the photograph. We will be looking at more methods of adding depth to your photographs later on.
#6. Fill the Frame
From talking about how to arrange the elements in the frame, we now move towards looking at the space itself in the frame. One way of using the space is to completely fill it with your subjects. I often use this technique when showing off architectural details. By filling the frame, the viewer has the opportunity to explore the details of the subject.
In this architecture shot, Notre Dame Cathedral and the adjacent buildings almost completely fill the frame. This allows us to explore details such as the flying buttresses, the stonework, or the ornate balconies on the building next door. It is a scene where the eye wanders around the frame. This can be a compositional technique in itself as we shall see later.
#7. Leave Negative Space in the Frame
And now…… I’m going to tell you to do the complete opposite of filling the frame. Leaving empty or “negative” space in the frame can help focus attention on your main subject.
In this photograph of the Hindu deity Shiva, there is very little to distract from the main subject. The statue is placed on one of the verticals of the rule of thirds and the rest of the frame consists only of the sky and some fluffy white clouds. The main subject is given “room to breath”. It is not competing with anything else in the frame. Notice how this seems to contradict the idea of balancing the elements in the frame we looked at a few moments ago.
When I last included this photograph in an article, there was an angry comment underneath telling me how stupid I was and the statue in question was actually in Nepal. Now unless I took a major wrong turn while flying over the Indian Ocean on my way to Mauritius, I was fairly certain I had never been to Nepal. What is it about Internet comment sections that makes people so angry about seemingly innocuous things?
This simple landscape photograph makes use of negative space. The misty morning actually helped obscure some of the background elements making the tree on the left really stand out with little to distract from it.
#8. The Rule of Space
The “Rule of Space” is the first of a trio of so-called composition “rules” that we will now take a look at. Again, I don’t like calling them rules but unfortunately, I didn’t get to name them. Booo. The rule of space is concerned with making sure your moving subjects have space to move into the frame rather than out of the frame. In a nutshell, this means that the subject should have more space in front of it than behind it. That said, I have seen many excellent photographs that break this “rule”.
In this photograph of a tourist boat on the River Seine in Paris, the boat is moving from left to right. Notice how there is much more space in front of the direction the boat is moving. We can imagine the boat continuing its course along the river into the frame. If it was over on the right of the frame, it would look like it was heading out of the frame.
Admittedly, I’m not much of a sports photographer but I quite like this shot I snapped with my camera phone during a rugby match featuring the mighty Leinster. Notice how the kicker (Johnny Sexton) is placed to the left of the frame and the ball is traveling into the space on the right. He made the kick by the way.
When I was a kid, the modern stadium you see in the photograph hadn’t been built yet. Instead, there was a rather basic and decaying old ground called Lansdowne Road. Back then, my dad used to lift me over the turnstiles to get in for free. We tried doing this again recently but with less success. I’m now 41 years old, have put on a few pounds since I was a kid and my dad has had a hip replaced.
#9. Left to Right Rule
This is a “rule” I find a bit daft, to be honest. There is a theory that we read an image from left to right as we would while reading a text. This means any motion in the image should be going from left to right. This completely ignores the fact that many languages are read from right to left or even from top to bottom.
This photograph of a woman walking her dog is an example of a shot that does follow the left to right “rule”. It also follows the rule of space among others.
In this photograph, I completely ignored the left to right rule. Does the photograph suffer as a result? I don’t think so. What interested me was the woman walking across the beautiful campo while staring at her phone (as we so often do these days) as well as the colorful buildings bathed in the evening light. Frankly, I don’t really care what direction she is walking in. I suppose I could have asked her to walk back from where she came from.
Once during a club competition, a judge docked points from I photo I took in Tunisia for not adhering to the left to right rule. I argued that as the photograph was taken in an Arab country where people read from right to left, this should not apply. Unsurprisingly, I did not win.
#10. Rule of Odds
The world of photography of full of “odds”. Just visit any photography club and you’ll see. The rule of odds suggests that there should be an odd number of subjects in the frame. It is said by some that an even number of subjects divides your attention as the viewer is flipping their attention back and forth. What if you have four children? How do you decide which one to leave out of the shot? Maybe you could borrow a spare child from another family?
The photo above is an example of a time when the rule of odds can be effective. I deliberately framed the scene to include three arches. I think that two arches would not have worked as well in this case and may have indeed divided the viewer’s attention. It also so happened that there were three people in the scene.
This photo was also taken on Saint Mark’s Square. This time, it completely ignores the “rule of odds” several times in the frame. There are two principal human subjects, four street lamps, and two ornate columns, all even numbers.
It would also be a lot of trouble to get out my angle grinder to cut down one of the street lamps. As for the columns, I don’t know where I’d start. I’d need a very strong rope and a heavy truck at least. In Venice, that would have been a challenge. I could always ask one of the subjects to leave the scene or ask somebody else to join them I guess. Or I could just ignore the rule of odds.
#11. Photograph Simple Subjects
I love photographing dramatic vistas or busy street scenes. That said, simplicity can be a very powerful composition tool. Simple subjects with uncluttered backgrounds can make for interesting photographs. We saw this when looking at using negative space in the frame.
I took this photograph in a friend’s garden. I’m not really into close-up nature photography myself but I did like the simplicity of this shot. The subject is simple: a few droplets of rainwater on a leaf. To me, its beauty lies in its simplicity.
#12. Use Black and White to Simplify your Photos
Converting a photograph to black and white can be a very effective method of simplifying your composition. In some ways, color itself can be a distraction. Black and white photography often allows us to focus on the textures, light, shadows, and shapes in the frame. Take a look at the following photographs taken along the Copper Coast in County Waterford, Ireland.
The light in this version actually isn’t all that interesting. It’s that harsh daytime light that is rarely conducive to spectacular landscape photography. The location itself has potential though. Let’s see what happens when we convert this image to black and white.
With the “distraction” of color removed, I think this becomes a much stronger shot. That harsh light now helps to highlight the textures on the tree, in the grass, on the cliffs, and in the sky. The bold shape of the tree stands out against the sky and the scattered clouds in the sky look more dramatic. The color was hiding much of this in my opinion. Not every shot is suited to a black and white conversion but in this case, I think it was.
#13. Isolate the Subject to Simplify your Photos
Using a shallow depth of field can be an effective way of simplifying your photographs and making the main subject stand out without distractions elsewhere in the frame.
In this photograph, an aperture of f/3.5 was enough to simplify the composition by blurring the background and letting the main subject stand out without the distraction of a busy background.
#14. Let the Background Give context to the Subject
Now it’s time to contradict myself again. There are times when I like to use a busy background. In these cases, I want to background to provide some context to my subject.
This photograph doesn’t contain any old seagull. This is a Dublin seagull! The slightly blurred O’Connell Street in the background gives the subject some context. The fact that he was eating a bowl of coddle and drinking Lyons Tea when I spotted him also lets me know that he was indeed a Dublin seagull. Notice, how the background is still blurred but not so much that the seagull doesn’t stand out. It’s about getting a balance between not distracting from the subject and providing background context.
I took this photograph of a rose at a monastery complex on the outskirts of Bucharest, Romania. Once again I blurred the background just enough to let the rose stand out. There is still however enough detail to show the viewer the context that the rose was photographed in.
#15. Let the Eye Wander Around the Frame
And for my next trick, I will once again completely contradict myself. This is the antithesis to the concept of simplicity and minimalism. There are some occasions I like to take photographs with plenty happening in the frame. Take a look at the paintings of Pieter Bruegel to see an excellent example of art with plenty of different characters and activities going on in the frame.
This photograph was taken in the Temple Bar area of Dublin City. The frame is full of different characters and activity. In this case, the eye can wander around the frame noticing all the little details such as the flowers, the building details, and various people walking, exiting a building, or checking their phone outside a pub. There is no one main subject.
It is not a question of simplicity being preferable to complexity or vice versa. One isn’t inherently “better” than the other. It all depends on what you are trying to achieve with a particular photograph.
#16. Use Diagonals and Triangles
I already mentioned in the section on “golden triangles” that triangles and diagonals are said to add “dynamic tension” to a photo. My mother in law also does an excellent job of adding tension to any scene.
Horizontal lines and vertical lines suggest stability. If you see a person standing on a level horizontal surface, he will appear to be pretty stable (unless exiting the pub in the previous photo). Put this same man on a sloping surface and he’ll seem less stable. This creates a certain level of visual tension. We are not so used to diagonals in our everyday life. They subconsciously suggest instability.
Incorporating triangles and diagonals into our photos can help create this sense of “dynamic tension” and visual impact as a result. Talking about “dynamic tension” may also make us sound intelligent (or pretentious) in front of our friends.
This photo of the Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin incorporates plenty of triangles and diagonals into the scene. The bridge itself is an actual triangle (It’s actually supposed to represent a Celtic Harp on its side). There are also several ‘implied’ triangles in the frame Notice how the leading lines on the right of the frame are all diagonal and form triangles that all meet at the same point on the right-hand side of the bridge. We will look at leading lines in more detail shortly.
#17. Patterns and Repetition
Human beings are hard-wired to look for patterns. Patterns can be very attractive and they suggest harmony. Using patterns in the frame can help to create a pleasing composition. We can find patterns everywhere from a man-made row or arches to the petals on a daisy.
I noticed these patterns in the paving stones of a square in Monastir Tunisia. I used them as foreground interest and leading lines to lead the viewer to the domed building which itself contains several patterns (the repeating arches for example). Black and white is often a good option for patterns as we can really push the contrast and bring out the textures.
#18. Break the Pattern
Sometimes using a pattern in your composition means breaking the pattern. This was actually suggested to me in one of the comments of the last article I wrote on composition.
I’ve already said that some “rules” are there to be broken. The same goes for patterns. Breaking the pattern can really make your photograph pop. In this case, the single red candle really stands out among the vanilla-colored ones. It’s also slightly taller than the others which is another way of breaking the pattern. Notice how the photograph still follows the rule of thirds.
#19. Include Foreground Interest
Photographs are 2D by their very nature but there are certain composition tools we can employ to create a sense of depth in the frame. Including some foreground interest in one way of doing this.
In this photograph of a waterfall, the rocks provide the foreground interest. Foreground interest can be easier to incorporate into a photograph when using a wide-angle lens as was the case here.
In this case, I once again used a wide-angle lens to take the photograph. This time, I included a dock cleat as my foreground interest. This dock cleat was almost at my feet when I set up my tripod. This means that the frame contains an element that was very close to me as well as elements that were quite far such as the bridge. This is what helps to create this sense of depth. Printed very large on a wall, the viewer could almost imagine being in the scene.
A member of my photography club who was with me that evening tripped over one of the cleats and almost ended up getting a very close up view of the River Liffey. That’s one way of adding depth, I guess.
#20. Use Layers in the Frame
A very effective way to add a sense of depth to a photograph is to shoot a scene that contains layers of elements at varying distances from your vantage point. These layers can lead the eye through the scene from the foreground, through the middle distance to the background.
In this photograph of a canal in Bruges, the bridge acts as foreground interest. The buildings along the canal provide the next layer in the middle distance. These buildings then lead the viewer through the image towards the more distant elements. Finally, the bell tower from a distant church rises from behind the other buildings in the background. In this case, I did the opposite to the photos with foreground interest; I used a zoom lens to compress the perspective.
#21. Include a Frame within the Frame
Now we come to one of my personal favorite composition tools: using a “frame within the frame”. Often when I am out with my camera, I look for opportunities to create a “frame within the frame”. This could be an archway, door, window, or even trees and their overhanging branches.
In both cases above, I used an archway to create a frame around the churches, which were my main point of interest in the scene. The arches work in a similar way to foreground interest in that they are close to the viewer whereas the churches are further away creating a sense of depth. Take a look at a Renaissance painting like “The School of Athens” by Raphael to see an example or arches being used as a framing device. In fact, in this painting, there are several layers of arches going back into the background that add an even greater sense of depth to the scene.
Natural features such as trees can also be used to frame a scene. In this case, the Autumn trees frame the stone bridge. In this case, I also used a centered composition with the bridge in the middle of the frame. Note that the frame doesn’t necessarily have to completely surround your subject. It could be trees on either side, as is the case here.
#22. Leading Lines
Including leading lines in the frame is an excellent way of adding depth to your photographs. Anything from patterns, shadows, pathways, and walls can be used as leading lines that lead the eye to our main point of interest in the photograph.
When taking this photograph of the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero across the Seine, I used the patterns on the ground to lead the eye to the Eiffel Tower. Notice how the buildings on either side also provide a frame within a frame. The symmetry in the scene also lent itself to a centered composition. As you can see, it is often possible to combine several composition ideas in a single photograph.
Leading lines don’t even have to be straight. In fact, curves can be very attractive in a photograph. In this case, the backward “s” shape of the path leads us from the bottom left of the frame to the right and then back towards the tree. You will also see that I also used the rule of thirds and negative space as composition tools in the photograph.
#23. Colour Combinations
The use of color is often overlooked as a composition tool. Colour theory is something that graphic designers, fashion designers, and interior designers are all very familiar with. Certain color combinations can add real visual impact to a photograph.
Take a look at how the colors are arranged on the color wheel above. Colors that are opposite each other are said to be complementary colors. When used together, they can be visually very striking.
Take a look at the color wheel again. Notice how dark blue and yellow are roughly opposite each other. In this photograph, I have contrasted the deep blue of the sky and the yellow-tinted lights illuminating the quayside building. Yellow and blue is a particularly striking combination and is frequently used in movie posters as a result.
In this photograph, the deep blue of the evening sky is in striking contrast to the bright red of the building below. Blue hour is a fantastic time for city photography.
Juxtaposition can a very powerful way of adding visual impact to your photographs. We often think about juxtaposition in terms of two or more elements that appear to contrast with each other. This is correct but it can also refer to two elements that complement each other.
In this photograph, there is a juxtaposition between the beautiful older buildings of the Hague in the bottom half of the frame and the modern skyscrapers that rise up behind them. The handsome building in the center is the Mauritshuis Museum which houses paintings such as “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” and “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” by Rembrandt.
I spent a few days cycling around the Hague on a borrowed bike made for a 6 foot 4 Dutchman. I am a 5 foot 5 Irishman so that was fun and quite terrifying as I dodged trams on the uneven cobbled streets. On several occasions, I got my bike wheels stuck in a tram line. In this case, you basically have two choices: fall to the left or to the right. I tried both on multiple occasions.
Contrasting the natural and built environments is another way of using juxtaposition, In this case, the delicate pink roses contrast with the solid man-made building in the background. In this case, I blurred the background but not so much that we can’t make what is there. We saw this in the section on letting the background provide context.
As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, juxtaposition isn’t always about contrast. In this case, the old 2CV car parked in front of a French café/bar in the little village of Meyssac has created the quintessential French scene. The two elements complement each other perfectly.
The man with his back to us in the cafe is the owner of the 2CV and he seemed surprised when I asked if it was ok to take a picture of his car. He asked why I’d ever want to take a photo of “that old thing”. He didn’t seem to realize that he had unwittingly set up a perfect photographic opportunity for me. Recently, the owner of the café contacted me to say thanks for the business this photo had brought his café.
#25. Add Human Interest
Including some human interest in a scene can make a photograph far more engaging as well as adding a sense of scale. this is something I sometimes forget as a mainly urban landscape photographer. I’ve noticed that most of my best urban photographs include people somewhere in the frame.
The old bridge in the large town of Tavira in Portugal is a very attractive photography location in itself. This photograph would have been quite good without any human interest but I think the lone figure really makes this shot. The person adds life to the scene as well as giving a sense of scale to the surroundings. I had to wait a while for the right person to enter the scene and click the shutter at the right moment. We will see more about capturing these “decisive moments” next.
#26. Wait for the “Decisive Moment”
The idea of the “decisive moment” in photography is of course most associated with the great French street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. But what did Cartier-Bresson mean by the “Decisive Moment”? The great man himself said the following:
Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. —Henri Cartier-Bresson
This is actually one of my personal favorite photographs from my portfolio. I took it on an atmospheric misty morning in the picturesque Belgian city of Bruges. The location for this photograph was certainly interesting but for me, it is the man crossing the bridge on his bicycle that makes this photograph special.
This was one of those occasions when I had to wait for that exact right moment to press the shutter. I crouched beside a canal sidewall, composed my shot, and waited…. and waited…. and waited some more. Every so often, someone would cycle across the bridge but the shot would be ruined by a car coming in the opposite direction or perhaps the cyclist would look too modern for the mood I was trying to create in the final photograph – very inconsiderate in my opinion!
Finally, after about 45 minutes, I saw the gentleman you can see in the photo approaching the bridge. I waited until he was right in front of the light-colored building you see right behind him so he would stand out and pressed the shutter.
It was one of those moments I knew straight away that I’d gotten the shot I wanted from this location. I think it was worth the wait. I was quite lucky as there was a car coming from the opposite direction ready to spoil my shot. Thankfully for me the cyclist just beat him to the bridge. I think he should consider taking part in the Tour de France this year.
Sometimes capturing the “decisive moment” can be a case of being in the right place at the right time. In this case, I had already set up my camera to photograph the old tea rooms in the Victorian Era Phoenix Park in Dublin. As I was waiting, a young couple entered the frame and said goodbye with a tender kiss in front of the doors to the tea rooms. Patience and luck both play a role in capturing the “decisive moment” in your photographs.
#27. Shoot from Below
The vast majority of photographs are taken from head height. That’s not very high in my case as my experience with the borrowed Dutch bicycle demonstrates. Getting down low or up high can be a great way of capturing a point of view that is more dynamic or interesting. I have often seen wildlife photographers lying on their bellies to get that special shot.
I took this photograph of the Eiffel Tower while standing at its base and pointing my camera up. This was also a perfect occasion to use a centered composition due to the symmetrical subject. It means I have a photo that’s a little different from the majority of shots of this Parisian landmark.
#28. Shoot from Above
Whenever I visit a new location, I like to get high at least once. I also like to take photographs from a high vantage point at some point during my trip. Before my trip, I always research the possibilities to take some bird’s eye photos. Most cities and towns usually have a high building or bell tower you can climb to get some shots from high above your surroundings. Just make sure they allow tripods if you plan to bring one.
I had to work extremely hard to get this shot of Markt Square in the heart of Bruges. For a start, I had to lug my camera gear up 366 narrow steps to the top of the Belfry. Now thankfully I’m in shape. Well I mean, round is a shape, isn’t it? As I wheezed my way to the summit, I think some of my fellow climbers were worried I might require medical attention. I actually met a guy whose office was right at the top of the belfry. He told me that he made the trip up and down the tower several times a day in a suit and dress shoes. Whereas I looked like I’d just climbed Everest; he barely broke a sweat.
When you think of places in Paris to climb up high, you immediately think of the Eiffel Tower. The problem with shooting from the top of Paris’ most iconic structure is that you can’t include the Eiffel Tower in your shot! This is why the viewing deck of the Montparnasse Tower in the south of the city is a much better location to capture a bird’s eye view of the City of Light. The tower itself is a pretty ugly building, to be honest, so being on top of it has the added advantage that you can’t see it while you are up there.
This photograph was taken just after sunset while there was still some color in the sky. I waited for the “decisive moment” the Eiffel Tower sparkled as it does for one minute on the hour, every hour throughout the night. If I had waited another hour, however, the beautiful purple tones in the sky would have been gone.
Several times in this series of tutorials on composition, I have told you that it is often possible to combine two or more of the composition ideas I’ve covered in one photograph.
This shot taken in Brussels combines several of the ideas we covered in this section: centered composition, symmetry, rule of thirds, leading lines, rule of odds, frame within a frame, and color theory.
Obviously, it would be impossible to have all of these composition ideas in your head as you are out shooting. Your brain would melt! However, a good exercise is to try to use one or two of them each time you go out with your camera After a while, you’ll find that a lot of these techniques become ingrained. You will begin to use them naturally without having to think about them. As you can see from the golden ratio, I used one of them without even realizing it!
I would also encourage you to ignore these guidelines completely when you think it will make for a more interesting composition. As I said at the beginning, these are ideas, not rules that must be obeyed at all times! Many of the ideas here however will help you come up with interesting ways of composing your photographs. You can still send me angry messages though. Those are always fun.
About the author: Barry O’Carroll is a photographer based in Dublin, Ireland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. O’Carroll specializes in travel, urban, street, and landscape photography. He also teaches photography in person, online, and through tutorials. You can find more of O’Carroll’s work on his website, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photographing trees and forests sounds simple, but making a good image of a forest can be surprisingly challenging. In this pair of videos, Michael Shainblum explains how he wrangles the chaotic nature of trees into a beautiful photograph.
Photographing trees as part of a landscape is the more typical way to do it, and Michael doesn’t avoid these kinds of photos.
But what if there isn’t that kind of available element? Without some kind of guiding central object like a waterfall, river, or mountain, a photograph of a grove of trees or a forest can be extremely challenging to capture in a compelling way. You either have to embrace the fact that there is no central focal area for the photo, or you have to create one with clever framing.
Shainblum has spoken in the past about the benefits of using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, and those words continue to show their merit. By taking a step back away from a grove of trees and using the compression of his lens, he can make a far more appealing image even if it lacks a central point of focus.
“Rather than finding trees that are right in front of me and doing wide-angle shots, I am focusing more on looking into the distance to see what patterns and rows of trees there are,” Shainblum says.
It’s not always going to work, however. Sometimes if a telephoto image is looking too messy or chaotic, leveraging a shallower depth of field can help paint a photo in a more appealing way, like in the image below:
In the image below, Michael shows how he found a tree that had lost all its leaves between a group that still had some in order to create a central place for the eye to rest. He embellishes the effect by leveraging a darker background.
“I felt like having that that darker background helped to highlight the different shapes and stand out in the composition,” he says.
The takeaway here is that while in person these settings are undeniably beautiful, actually capturing that beauty in camera is very likely going to require some creative, clever thinking to successfully pull off. Michael shows a good contrast of successful versus unsuccessful images in the video below. It’s very informative and definitely worth watching in its entirety:
Finding your photographic style takes time. It’s a process. You may even think you found it only to discover that your preferences have changed. That’s okay. That’s good. It means that you are growing and evolving on your journey.
I remember the first time that I thought I had found my photographic style. I was so excited! It had an airy-bright, yet film-y look. This was in my early, Lightroom-only days. It was this photo that I thought was a breakthrough:
I went with this style for a while until — surprise, surprise — it didn’t feel so right for me anymore.
I felt lost and confused.
So what do you do when you are totally lost and confused and feel pressured to label/define your photography? If that’s you, take a deep breath (or two, or three) and then rid yourself of that feeling of pressure. You don’t want to box your style in. You want to hone in on it. Now, how do you do that? Read on!
Whenever you come across an image by someone else that stands out to you in a special way, take note. Maybe even check out the photographer. Chances are they have more images like that. Analyze the types of images that you are drawn to. If you don’t know which ones, don’t worry. Sooner or later you will stumble upon one that will make you stop scrolling. When that happens, analyze the image — more on that in a second.
But before you look elsewhere for inspiration, I want to encourage you to look at your own work, at images that you have taken and that you love. The images that get you all giddy and excited, that inspire you, that move you. Look at those favorites. Then analyze them. Here’s how!
Questions to Help You Analyze Your Images
Once you have a little collection of inspirational images, study them carefully:
What is the light like in these images? Is it soft (e.g., backlit with golden hour light, overcast and foggy, etc.) or harsh (direct sunlight, very contrasty, harsh shadows)? Where does the light come from? (e.g. from behind (backlit), from the side, no direct sunlight)
What’s the setting like (indoors/ outdoors)?
What are the colors like? Are they cool? Warm?
Are they vibrant and full of color or are they muted, and desaturated?
What are the tones like? Are they bright and airy or dark and moody?
Are the images crisp and clear (have a lot of depth of field with everything in focus) or do they have a shallow depth of field and creamy backgrounds?
Are there people in it? What are they wearing? What are they doing? Are they posed?
Are there animals in it? Where are they positioned?
What mood does this image evoke in you?
Do you notice a common theme between these images?
What to Do With the Results
As you see themes emerge, use them as a guide and then try and emulate those parts that you are drawn to. This starts in the way the photo is taken, and then continues through the editing process. For example, when you see a photo with that golden hour glow, don’t expect to achieve a similar look when you shoot in the midday sun, which is known for its harsh light.
Ask questions if you don’t know how to achieve a certain effect. I know this takes guts, but just do it! What do you have to lose? It will help you grow and move forward on your journey.
Don’t be alarmed when your photographic style changes. You might like one style for a while and then find yourself being ready to move on to something a little different. But be sure that your client work is consistent! By that I mean, when you showcase bright and airy images in your gallery, clients expect bright and airy images from you. Don’t suddenly switch to dark and moody. Do it gradually, so it is always clear what images clients can expect to get from you.
Let me illustrate this in a practical way: during a photo shoot in the transitional period, shoot 75% to 90% of your images in the style the client is expecting from you and 10-25% for the new style. As your portfolio for the new style grows, gradually up that percentage. This ensures that your clients get what they expect and that you can transition to your new style while keeping them happy.
Looking back at my own journey, my process through all these stages remained the same:
Study images (my own, and those from photographers with the style that I admired)
YouTube the concept, ask questions, ask for constructive criticism on my images
Practice, practice, practice (by way of taking pictures and editing)
Feeling stuck? Buy a course from a photographer who has that style!
Practice, practice, practice some more, this is the step where you make this style your own.
A Word of Caution
Don’t try to be someone else and let your work be nothing more than an imitation of someone else. I promise you, it will always leave you feeling disappointed.
Don’t cage yourself. Believe in yourself. Learn from others, and then make “it” your own. By “making it your own,” I mean this: when you notice that certain processes or steps that someone else swears by don’t feel right for you, listen to that voice. It’s your signal that there’s a chance to make something your own. Unique to you. Celebrate that opportunity and run with it.
About the author: Svenja Christina is a natural light, lifestyle, and portrait photographer based in London, Ontario. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Christina’s work on her website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.