Finders keepers

I still don’t have a photo of you that I like. When I asked myself why this is so, the answer was, A photograph is an intention disguised as a fact of Read More »

6 Things that Can Change the Way You See in Photography

Art is no accident. How did Van Gogh awe us with swirls of paint in Starry Night? Read More »

10 Things that will Transform Photographic Composition

How many ways can you design an image? As many ways as you can learn to see. Composition is the key to a strong photographic vision. Read More »

Bring Back that Lovin’ Feelin’

What would you do to fall in love with your craft, all over again? Here's my three resolutions for 2012 to bring back that old lovin' feelin' into photography. Read More »

Steve Jobs Said

Stars are past light. But if we didn't see those lights, we would never know the depths of the universe. RIP Steve Jobs. Read More »

butter candle vendor portrait Kathmandu Nepal copyright Aloha Lavina

Why do you make images?

The struggle between creative inception and audience imperatives revisits us at times, like a stealthy tomcat, which in Annie Dillard’s book The Pilgrim of Tinker Creek left bloody footprints on her chest while she slept. She only knew the cat’s night wanderings and fights through the visible prints on her body when she woke.

Like Dillard’s tomcat, the debate between what we create and how our creations survive when we release them into others’ attentions remind us of the boundaries between the visible and invisible facets of our images.

Recently, I experienced a “stuckness” in my image making; I was stuck in a composition that was someone else’s, and I could not seem to move from it. The polarity between creative inception and audience imperatives catapulted my motivation between the pressure of having to create something on the one hand, and on the other hand being immersed in pleasing an audience. Both poles seemed unattractive, and so I resorted to inertia. If I didn’t make any images, I didn’t have to deal with the tug of war inside.

Avoidance, though, has its costs. Discontent from not being creative, distracted wishing for the experience of creating something, questioning creative identity. Most compelling is to review past work and to remember projects that brought excitement in the past and the anticipation of embarking on a question or set of questions that would fuel a creative thrust.

So the past few days, I’ve had to have a long conversation with myself. Why didn’t I make images any more? How do I take the first step in unraveling a creative paralysis, and thereby set myself free? How do I quell a hunger to just make photos?

What I learned in this internal conversation came to light literally in an image today.

Copyright Aloha Lavina 2016. All rights reserved.

Copyright Aloha Lavina 2016. All rights reserved.

In this simple portrait, I realized that there is a compulsion to say what we want to in a visible way that which is invisible to the eyes of everyone else.

Let me submit a humble philosophy.

When I create portraits, the thing that I look for is the essence of a person.

Sometimes, it is what they do that makes this essence visible.

Dancer copyright Aloha Lavina.

Sometimes, it is their environment.

butter candle vendor portrait Kathmandu Nepal copyright Aloha Lavina

Other times, it is invisible in the image.

In portraits where the photographer is the focusing on interpretation rather than fact, mostly the fact is visible, but the interpretation takes a lot more craftsmanship – how do we portray a person’s attributes, the way we see them, in ways that are visible to everyone else?

In an essay on bridging the visible and invisible words, Yahia Lababidi removes the division between invisible and visible by adding the indivisible – that quality that implies a bridge between worlds. The photographer’s intention materialized in the image.

When we succeed, the audience is able to see what we mean. It becomes a conversation between the photographer in one place and the audience in another place. This conversation between viewer and image maker is the indivisible; we create impact on our audience in the impressions we leave in the audience’s minds as our images touches their perception.

I’ll be harsh on myself: the portrait I created today is not technically perfect. For example, some highlights are blown, albeit intentionally. This is because I wanted that halo of light around the face. And this is because the person I photographed appreciates illumination in thinking and in life.

Only one eye has a highlight, and she’s not staring at the lens, instead her attention is on something she’s reading and thinking about. In the literature on the language of eye positions, it might mean she is examining facets of her identity, reflecting on a potentially transformational idea.

Totally artistic intention. Totally invisible to you, the viewer.

And so perhaps I have failed in this image. Perhaps I have failed because the indivisible line between the invisible and visible is not as clearly drawn for the audience who is not able to know these things I have just explained.

But I also think of Yahia Lababidi’s statement in her essay, that “Bodies are like poems…only a fraction of their power resides in the skin of things.” If the mystery of the invisible nudges the viewer to wonder the significance of an image, does it fail?

Al Ghazali wrote, “This visible world is a trace of that invisible one and the former follows the latter like a shadow.” In the shadows of the photographer’s mind, there is always an intention, and whether or not we fail to make it visible is beside the point.

Because the reason why we make images isn’t just because of the results. The real push is to keep making images, to keep trying, because it is part of who we are.

Maria Rilke wrote, ”It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves, so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, invisible, inside of us.”

Our task is to keep trying.


1/200s @ f/4.5, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Finders keepers

I still don’t have a photo of you that I like.

When I asked myself why this is so, the answer was, A photograph is an intention disguised as a fact of time, place and space.

Most days I see something – a flash of something in nice light – and there is a small flame of excitement that flickers inside. But mostly I don’t take my phone out to seek the harmony of a composition, and it’s like my feet have lost the ability to walk around a subject to find the frames that might work. And certainly I haven’t brought my camera out for 10 months except sometime in October.

I am stuck in someone else’s composition. In this loop of insane and stubborn stuckness, I am following the lines of surf snaking from side to side in one photograph on a wall, in a house that isn’t mine, the sun almost set in the background, and in the foreground a girl who is about to give herself to the photographer, forever, in this image in a negative or some hard drive in a house that isn’t hers.

And today I realize, what kind of conversation is this, this subject-photographer conversation, that he should own her or she should own him because he was the one who framed her in this image forever?

And what conversation do I seek now, if I am not to bury my photography in silent dusty rooms, sentence my mind to an insane loop of a single image that crumbles my entire creative universe?

I’m peeling layers off.

What I want most is to find myself, to find first a conversation with myself. I do not want to be anyone else.

Today this is what my images are saying to me:

My eyes seek beautiful simple things, and my composition is what I am: simple.

Often my images are just small disturbances. No one notices calm. Most people notice only storms and majestic vistas, but my hunch is that it doesn’t matter what other people want.

I like human landscapes. Nothing too profound. Often all it takes is paying attention. No airplanes, no drones, no fancy equipment. Just attention.

Ordinary things fascinate me. What I want is to see ordinary things in extraordinary ways with the naked eye.

I know that my images are a simple philosophy and even simpler composition. As long as I can use ways of seeing to understand the human landscape, I am happy.

Because really the goal is to seek new eyes and find beauty in the mundane. Not greatness or heights or to be admired. This art, too, is a search for something within. Something worth keeping.


How to make a high key portrait

Low contrast lighting can be interesting, too.

A low contrast lighting situation is often called ‘flat,’ and there is a reason for this. Low contrast means there is less difference between the darkest part of the photo and the lightest part of the photo, resulting in a relatively even distribution of light. The resulting image for an even lighting situation is low contrast.

Flat or low contrast photos rarely register as interesting to our brains because contrast is one of the principles that make images attractive.

We create contrast with color, as in the photograph below. The color of the tree limbs and trunks and the grass in the background are darker than the color of the dried grass. Rendered in monochrome, this photo has high contrast because of the color in the original image.

Contrast from dark and light colors.

We also create contrast with light and shadow. In the photo below, the darkest darks are almost black, while the lightest lights are very bright due to the strong sunlight streaming in the window. The high contrast makes it an attractive photo.

Bright light creating high contrast.

How do we create attractive low-contrast photos?

High key images are very well lit photos. However, we can still create some contrast in a high key image, using both color and light.

How to make a high key photo in camera

As soon as you find a light source, in my case a North-facing window, position your subject so that the window is perpendicular to the subject and to your camera. This gives you a side-lighting situation which gives you a gradation of the light from one side of the subject to the other, and creates the 3D effect on your portrait.

Overexposed in camera but with side lighting to create soft shadows.

Your camera settings should be toward overexposure. Don’t worry about losing some detail in the highlights. Instead, hold on to the medium shadows so that you will be able to create some contour in the portrait. I overexposed this portrait by three quarters of a stop.


Contrast using bright light from a window.

Although the lighting is mostly bright and made brighter in the image captured with the overexposure, if you position the lighting so that you still hold on to some shadow, you can create a high key photo with some attractive contrast.

Processing a high key photo

Here is a video explaining how to process a high key image using Photoshop.

Here is another video explaining how to process a high key image using Lightroom.

High key images can make your portfolio a little more interesting, and high key images give you the opportunity to experiment with how much you can push the exposure of an image without losing attractive lighting.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the orange RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
Easy Way to Dodge and Burn Photos without Destroying Pixels
5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust
Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?
10 Small Things that make a Big Difference in Your Photos

Create Nostalgia in Your Images with an Easy Curves and Channels Conversion

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It carries within it memory and desire.

Evoking nostalgia with an image is not an easy thing to do, unless you achieve this by specifically choosing content that evokes childhood memory, or memory of a lost love, for instance, or a memorable trip somewhere exotic.

But how do you use the power of color to evoke nostalgia? This tutorial will show you an easy, step-by-step conversion using Photoshop to create nostalgic photos. In the conversion, you will learn how to add subtle duotones in your photograph that will help you create sentimentality in the image.


An image that works well in monochrome works best for this processing technique.

What types of photos work?

For this conversion, we have to work from a monochrome base, so it’s good to choose photos that look good in black and white: high-contrast photos that use light and dark to highlight what’s in the frame.

After you choose your photo, open it in Adobe Photoshop. Any version will do.

Step 1. Make a copy of the image, so you can work on it without changing the original.



Step 2. Create a Black and White of the image on the current layer.



Step 3. On the black and white layer, go to Adjustments>Curves.


Step 4. Choose the Red Channel on your Curves window. Move the curve according to what hues you want in this channel.



Step 5. Go through the same process with the Green Channel curve.



Step 6. Go through the same process with the Blue Channel curve. You get the picture.

Step 7. This is an OPTIONAL step. You can dodge and burn using a non-destructive technique previously shown here on Imagine That! And your image is ready!

The mostly red brick background and the light on the statues made this an easy duotone choice.

I chose a bluish cast on this conversion because it helps the image show how the stone statues were cool to the touch.

Although you might not be the mushy type, this conversion is useful to make dramatic duotone images and it works with landscapes really well. Why not give it a try this week, and see what emotion you can create in your images?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits
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From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively

Multiple Planes Instantly Transform Your Imagery

Most of us see pictures in two dimensions.

This is because our lens is directly parallel with the scene we’re trying to capture, so we ‘see’ the scene as the plane directly in front of us.

Parallel composition using only one plane directly in front of the lens.

But seeing can change; we can learn to see in multiple planes, to create a three dimensional rendition in an image that is two-dimensional. It’s like ‘fooling’ the eye looking at an image, much like a sketch of a building using perspective fools the eye into thinking it is three-dimensional. The transformation in imagery comes about from a change in seeing multiple planes in an image we want to capture.

Multiple planes in photos create the illusion of depth.

One of a photographer’s challenges is to see multiple planes, and make photos that look like the scene itself—with volume, with mass, alive in all its dimensions.

Here are a few things I’ve tried that you might like to, and give depth to your compositions.

Make an image that identifies different planes

An image with two planes.

This photo of the doorway to Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai opens directly to a courtyard encircled by Buddha images. By taking the photo of the doorway and including the Buddha statue in the background, the image identifies two planes, one of the door diagonal to the camera, and the Buddha on an intersecting plane, like in the illustration below.

Illustration showing the set up to the temple photo with two planes.

In a similar composition below also of a door to a temple in Bhutan, there are three planes identified. The first plane is the door itself, parallel to the camera. The second plane is the ground leading the eye inside the door to the courtyard, and finally the third plane is the building beyond the open door.

Three planes intersecting in an image.

Use perspective in the background

Perspective is useful, and we can create this in several ways.

Standing at an angle to the subject achieves depth in the photograph. In the example of the daisies, I stood at an angle close to the row of flowers, making sure I had a shallow enough depth of field to create blur in both the foreground and the background. The combination of the angle at which the photo was taken and the blur from a shallow depth of field created the depth necessary to make the photo a bit more interesting than just a straight shot of lines of flowers.

Standing at an angle and using shallow DOF created a dynamic photo of a row of flowers.

Another way to create perspective is to use the background lines. In the photo below of the path around a crafter’s village, I stood behind some merchandise and included the lines of the road leading into the horizon. This instantly creates depth.

IMG_0829 as Smart Object-1

Using the line of the road to create perspective.

Still another way to create perspective is to include the natural perspective that is created by lines in a landscape. In this photo, the river snaking through the Punakha valley leads the eye from the foreground to the background. Lines in the frame can help us use perspective which gives the image depth.

The river runs through the valley, and creates perspective in the frame.

Suggest other planes in the image

Planes gives the audience ‘layers’ of information in a photo.

In this photo of a temple, I used the reflection of some of the temple elements to suggest its presence. Although the only clues the viewer gets of the temple are the spires reflected in a lotus pond, the viewer can figure out its location, toward the back of the pond, and expands the image to encompass a mysterious part of its story. This sort of complexity in visualizing seems fresh to the viewer and tickles the imagination.


Suggesting other elements that are present beyond the frame creates an opportunity for the viewer to fill in other planes.

This week, try creating images with multiple planes. Upload your best image to the Imagine That Photography Tribe page on Facebook, and discuss how you changed the way you see.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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6 Things that can Change the Way You See in Photography

Week 4 Module Looking for Light 
10 Things that will Transform Your Photographic Composition
10 Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Your Photos

Using a Limited Color Palette

One ‘disadvantage’ of being a visual glutton is that colors distract you.

It’s easy to get distracted by the colorful when you are searching for images to capture. This is one reason why Southeast Asian temples, different festivals, and markets are at the top of a photography enthusiast’s list to visit or experience.

Although colorful photos are attractive, to the viewer sometimes they are confusing. The kaleidoscope is clamoring for attention; the viewer does not have an easy time deciding where to enter the image visually, and how to exit the image with ease. This is where the photographer comes in, to make the experience of viewing a photograph a lot easier on the audience.

Photographers have many ways to help audiences enter and exit a photograph. We can use composition techniques to gently guide the eye across the image. We can help using balance. We can simplify the image accessibility using only light and dark, in a monochrome. We can use contrast between the sharp subject and the bokeh background.

We can also use color to help the audience access our images. That is, instead of including a rainbow in the image, we can limit the image’s color palette.

Finding a limited color palette is a challenge and requires some visual discipline. Knowing your color complements on the color wheel is essential knowledge here, and you’re going to have to practice seeing these combinations and then making decisions about the composition so that your image framing is of the limited part of the color spectrum.

What are some things you might look for in an image with a limited color palette? Here are a few important advantages.

You can focus on shapes and patterns.

Limited color palette: using hues of the same color

The image of the trees in various hues of warm colors was set off in great contrast with the green of the rest of the forest.

The similarity between the shapes of the trees are made interesting by the variation in their hues, making the image vibrant.

You can focus on content.

Limited color palette: the color as a message.

These pilgrims praying around a stupa are wearing the shades of pious people—the monk’s wine-red robes. Set against the whitewash of the stupa, the red jumps out at us in the photo, like the fervent devotion of the praying women.

You can focus on contrast.

Limited color palette: subtle contrast in color.

You can always make monochrome images to set off high contrast subjects. But sometimes, you may want color to help you give the image an emotional facet. In the early morning mist the air turned blue and the terracotta silhouettes of the fence posts and the bare trees set off a good color contrast.

Your assignment this week is to find some images of limited color palette, and to explain your thinking on one of them that you’re particularly proud of. Why did you pick the elements in the frame? What does the color tell us about the message in the image?

Good luck! Post your work in the Imagine That Photography Tribe page on Facebook.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Inspiration in a bundle

Inspiration surrounds you. Music, good light, a technique, and sometimes even insights from a non-photography topic such as golf might offer some inspiration.

I like books.

One book that offers a lot of inspiration is Robin Houghton’s Blogging for Creatives; How designers, artists, crafters and writers can blog to make contacts, win business and build success. The long title says it all; this is a practical book, one that has specific advice on how to start, maintain, and use a blog to reach others, build a business, and get somewhat famous.

Blogging for Creatives by Robin Houghton (ILEX, 2012).

Inspiration from Blogging for Creatives

User-Friendly Design

Some books providing inspiration are large, hardbound tomes that we can’t carry around in a regular tote bag. Blogging for Creatives comes in paperback, much smaller than the standard coffee table book, so it’s light and easy to carry around. It’s the kind of book that you can bring on a photo walk and enjoy during a coffee break.

The color palette is scrumptious. Find your brain jumping with excitement every time you turn a page; each page is in color, and demonstrates how you can make content stand out with a simple decision like using color palettes to enhance your content.


Every facet of blogging for creatives is addressed in this book. From tools and technique, what makes great content, how to promote your ideas, and making connections with your social and business networks, the topics covered in the text make it easy to understand what blogging can mean to someone who creates for a living. It also makes it easy to understand how to turn content and community into cash for someone who uses a blog as a platform for their business.

Houghton’s got valuable insight into how creatives might view the business side of their public expression, because “unless you are a business person, the monetary value of your own work may not be a major consideration” (page 152). A few paragraphs down she bullet points some things a food blogger can do to turn talent into income:

  • Write books
  • Write recipes
  • Write reviews and articles in print magazines
  • Create artworks
  • Teach courses
  • Speak at conferences
  • License their photos

Practical advice

The tips in the book are practical and are things you can do as soon as you finish reading a page. I’ve tried just two tips from the Chapter Nine and both increased my income as well as online equity as a creative. I even got invitations to speak at a creativity conference and landed several publications credits.

Examples, Lots of examples!

Every single piece of advice in this book has an illustrated, real life example. Houghton’s done a fabulous job of pulling in screen captures of real blogs and other online tools to show you how to execute every tip. Rather than delay understanding through a lot of text, she lets the illustrations do the job of teaching you exactly how a process looks like.

The blogs that populate the pages are inspiration in themselves. I often go to pages 64-65 to drool over the Tumblelogs on those pages. If I had tons of extra time, I’d start a Tumblr blog just because this book inspires with the beautiful examples.

Non-linear utility

Unlike some other how-to-blog books, this one is non-linear. You can skip around depending on the information you need at any given time, and the organization of the contents makes it easy for you.

Why would an aspiring photographer need a book like this?

Every creative person needs an audience. There is a relationship between the maker of a work and the audience who participates in the beauty of that work.

We don’t create to hide our images in a hard drive (do we?). When we share our imagery, we create dialog between our inspiration and the inspiration that stems from what our audience perceives. A blog facilitates this dialog and has the potential to originate conversations around a piece of work.

Simply put, if you are inspired, you need to pass it on.

The Heart of a Hobbyist

My friend Ugyen told me the other day he borrowed someone’s Nikon D80 to try it out, and he can’t wait to take photos. I’m excited for him. In many ways I envy him the beginning of his photography journey.

A certain nostalgia hits me when I hear of someone excited with their start in photography. Thinking about this led to my questions: why is it so attractive to be a hobbist? What makes it so good to go back to basics, even after publication and all the hundreds of thousands of images of people and places? Why is the hobbist approach so important right now?

I’m tempted sometimes to scroll through the scores of gigabytes of unprocessed shots in the hard drive. Sort of like a pat in the back for having seen them, and captured them. But this I know is not photography. Photography isn’t the past; it’s the present.

The reason I want to go back to basics has more to do with my mind than my camera.

The camera should be an extension of the mind. And the mind of a hobbyist is different from the working photographer.

Part of my lifelong inquiry is about creativity—about what inspires people, how they get insired, and the sustainability of passion that stems from a sense of wonder.

I find hobbyists have a great potential for creativity.

Light on fallen leaves at temple, Siem Reap.

Hobbyists are fearless.

Humans learn to fear, and it’s a product of our own creation. We fear not “doing it right” and of others’ reactions to our decisions. As a working photographer I’ve faced clients whose creative ideas differed from mine; I’ve also faced photography contest judges who slammed creative decisions because they did not fulfill technical interpretations.

But the hobbyist isn’t making images to please a client or judge. He is free to use whatever skills he has to make something that only he can see. This leads to a lot of freedom.

Dappled light on ruins, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

Expectations can kill creativity.

The nature of a hobby is that the expectations are internal. The urge to make something beautiful or fresh out of the daily ordinary can be a professional urge, yes, but in the hobbyist it is unfettered by expectations from someone else.

Experimentation is part of the hobbyist’s freedom.

The freedom to try something just for the heck of it is in the power of a hobbyist. She can make a thousand images just because of something she wondered, or is trying to figure out. This freedom to follow the lines of a “what if…” gives the hobbyist the perfect platform to innovate and experiment.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

Passion fuels creativity.

The best part about being a hobbyist is the absence of creativity killers and large doses of passion. Ultimately, this is the ‘high’ a photographer gets from his or her hobby. Passion carries the craft through the difficult learning that we must engage in to become technically and artistically mature in the art.

I wish Ugyen, and others who are starting out on their photography journey, a long and happy love affair with light.

It’s a wish I would gladly receive, too.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the orange RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
Easy Way to Dodge and Burn Photos without Destroying Pixels
5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust
Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?
10 Small Things that make a Big Difference in Your Photos


10 Things I Learned in 2012

10. When real life is so compelling, the virtual life quite suffers.

Since July (the last time I updated this blog) I’ve been traveling at least once, sometimes twice a month. I was too busy even to update the calendar on my website. But like the Mayan doomsday theory, when I unplugged from social media and the internet, nothing really, really bad happened.incense hands

9. One camera and one lens is all you really need.

I had one trip where it was not all business. The photos on this post are from that trip. I borrowed my friend’s G11 and put it on manual. I didn’t change lenses. I just waited for beauty to cross the frame, and made sure my hands were ready.

8. Technicality can be learned, but creativity is harder to pursue.

We should warn all beginning photographers: there will be a time in your photography life that you will never be satisfied with any photo you take. I had my first winter of discontent with photography in 2008; I might be having another one now. Somehow, although the technical details come to me easily, I miss the imagination that ran my early days with the shutter. I think this is what I’d like to tell a beginning photographer: Welcome the discontent. It means you are about to pursue improvement.light

7. Letting go is easier than I thought it would be.

I said no to a bunch of photography clients. I said yes to a lot of other non-photography jobs. It was not painful. I am no longer earning minimum wage and no longer working 18 hour days processing photos.

6. Time is more valuable than money.

Now that I am no longer processing photos past midnight, I have more time to learn other things. I don’t feel burned out; my eyes don’t have dark circles. Smiles come more easily, and I laugh a lot these days.reflection

5. Like riding a bike, the memory of using a camera comes back easily.

But sometimes I do pick up a camera, and I close my eyes and feel the dials and buttons, cradle the lens. And I know I can see a shot, and I can feel my way into making the shot without looking at the machine.

4. Having a camera without being able to control light is no fun.

Just yesterday though, an old workhorse decided to retire. I was getting ready to take the family on a day trip and decided to take the D3 with me. But sad to say, it would no longer let me change the aperture or the shutter speed on Manual mode. It wouldn’t even change modes any more.

3. Shooting with left brain interference should be avoided at all cost.

My real job has to do with sequences and words. When my job dominates, my left brain is on overdrive. When this happens, and I handle a camera, the shots come out boring as hell. I’ve learned that for everything there is a time and a place. And when your left brain dominates, don’t shoot. Wait until the right brain can take over. Then there is more freedom to just let the light speak.mountainlight

2. Travel photography needs the investment of time.

2013 resolution: work hard, but leave time to invest in travel just for photography.fern

1. Hobbyists have it good.

2013 resolution # 2: be a hobbyist. Love for the craft, the art, whatever you call it, has no price. But the rewards are so much better.

Dochula Pass Bhutan monochrome landscape layered landscape black and white clouds Himalayas copyright Aloha Lavina 2012

Keep it Simple

First of all, let me apologize to the Tribe for a long break from the blog. I’m currently completing a doctorate, and studies have taken up all my time. I will do my best to regularly write for the blog.

As we grow in our skills as photographers, it’s easy to find ourselves feeling like there should be more to what we can do.

When doing work for Canon PhotoYou,  Readers Digest’s photography magazine, for example, I set out on my first assignment thinking I had to do something different for the story: that my compositions had to include something more than what I usually know how to do . But as I actually began shooting, I realized something. The skills of composition that allow you to create a well-designed image aren’t complicated.

I realized that keeping a composition simple was inevitably what made it work.

This week’s module is about simplicity in composition. By keeping it simple, you keep the composition clean.

How do you keep it simple?

Find an uncluttered background.

Portrait by Aloha Lavina in Bhutan Bhutanese girl tego Punakha travel portraiture travel portrait copyright Aloha Lavina 2012

I could have taken a frontal shot, but this profile works better because the background is uncluttered.

Moving around the subject is one of the best things you can do while shooting. You’re not going to run out of film, right? Take shots from different angles to discover what makes the best, most uncluttered background for your subject.

Pay attention to colors in the foreground, subject, and background, and create harmony.

Moving around also gives you somewhat different color palettes to choose from. Complementary colors are the most attractive, such as blue and yellow. (Although these colors don’t have to be exact, they can be approximately in that hue.)

Phobjikha girl Bhutan Bhutanese girl night portrait high ISO copyright Aloha Lavina 2012

This handheld shot at high ISO was composed with the blue light in the background balancing the slab of yellowish stone in the foreground.

Often simple lines help your compo.

Pay attention to the lines in the composition. Lines lead the eye in often very graceful ways, and sometimes crossing lines also give a tension to the image, pulling the eye in different directions, but in a way that makes the viewer think.

river Punakha Bhutan Bhutanese landscape copyright Aloha Lavina

The S curve. Grace, personified.

Go back to basics of design.

Don’t forget your basics of design we have talked about in a previous module called “What’s in the Frame.”There is no substitute for good design in an image.

Dochula Pass Bhutan monochrome landscape layered landscape black and white clouds Himalayas copyright Aloha Lavina 2012

My most favorite image of Bhutan is this layered yet simple design of the Himalayan range.

It’s how you see that makes the image, not content.

Finally, one last tip: it’s your inner vision that really counts in image making. Things that seem mundane can actually make great images, memorable images. Interpreting the image from the elements you see in the physical world is the act of creating the photograph. Ask yourself, what are you trying to show or say with the image? This thoughtfulness separates the snapshot from the photograph.

iris flower purple Paro Bhutan foliage nature copyright Aloha Lavina 2012

A lonely iris in Paro, Bhutan.

If you’re still game, let’s make some images this week, paying attention to the compositional tips above. Post your best image in our Facebook page, and let’s get this show back on track!

Bhutan Gangtey mountains color camp dwarf bamboo yak herders tent copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 18 Module: Make Postcards with Your Travel Photos!

Note: I’ve been away both traveling and taking doctoral courses, so we skipped two weeks of tutorials. Here is hopefully the new start of something that is possible and will continue.


This is the postcard I wanted to send you from Bhutan when I was there.

Postcard from Bhutan Thimpu copyright Aloha Lavina Buddha on mountainside sunrise

Actually, it’s a photo I took in Thimpu, just as the sun was rising, of the giant Buddha glistening in the early light on the mountainside overlooking the capital city.

Haven’t you ever wished you could share your travel experiences with someone through a postcard? There is magic in receiving one of these little old-fashioned gestures in the snailmail. The magic comes from the fact that someone is “wishing you were here,” and that they were thinking of you when they enjoyed their travels.Bhutan Gangtey mountains color camp dwarf bamboo yak herders tent copyright Aloha Lavina

But sometimes, you can’t find postcards that you would like to send. Or maybe you have no time to shop for postcards because you are 3000 feet above sea level, camping with yak herders in the hills of Gangtey in central Bhutan.

The solution is to bring the photos home, work with them a bit, and produce your own postcard.

Here’s how.

This week, take some photos of the place you are and turn it one to a postcard. Then, send it to someone.

And enjoy the magic of their surprise.

Bhutan archer archery national sport of Bhutanese sunset Paro silhouette copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 15 Module: Silhouettes

One of the favorite themes of shooters is the silhouette. Silhouettes are the result of exposing for bright light behind a subject. The camera underexposes anything that is in front of the bright light, resulting in a photo that features a darkened shape—the silhouette.

Silhouettes are one of the creative ways to interpret a scene. With some basic techniques, you can create stunning silhouettes.

1. Look for familiar shapes against a brilliant sky.

This photo is of one of the most recognizable bridges in Burma, the U Bein Bridge. It is a long bridge made of teak wood, and in the evenings, you can see locals cross it, walking their bikes. The sunset was brilliant on this day, so I decided to include a lot of the amazing sky by using a very wide lens. It’s important to wait until the people in your frame are separate shapes, not ‘stuck together’ because they are passing each other. If they are parts of the same shadow, you will get some unrecognizable lumps in your image which are, needless to say, confusing for the audience.U Bein Bridge, Myanmar Burma Burmese bridge famous Burmese bridge sunset silhouette copyright Aloha Lavina

2. Shoot silhouettes in naturally occurring frames.

If you are indoors, you can use doorways and windows to provide back light for your silhouettes, adding a geometric frame to your image. This image in Burma was taken at a temple, and the man and woman who were passing one another looked dynamic framed within the graceful arches of the temple entrance.Myanmar Burma Burmese temple silhouettes walking frames Buddhist Burmese Buddhism silhouettes copyright Aloha Lavina

3. Stack elements in the image.

If you are faced with a landscape of hills overlapping with some structures in front, like in this sunset photo of a temple on Inle Lake in Burma, you can create an image that has scale. I also waited for some light rays to show up when clouds obscured part of the streams of strong light coming from the setting sun, giving the image added drama. Stacking elements in the image works only if there is a gradation in the silhouetted shapes, or that some shapes are lighter than others, and some are darker. With the different intensities of shadows in the silhouette, the image becomes more dramatic because the gradation adds depth to the photo.Inle Lake Burma Myanmar Shan State Burmese lake sunset silhouettes copyright Aloha Lavina temple Burmese Buddhist pagoda

4. Partial silhouettes work, too.

This partial silhouette of an archer against a brilliant sunset sky in Bhutan is dramatic because even though his identity is obscured by shadow, we see the color of the ribbons of winning archery shots he’s made that day, and the ends of his arrows.

Also notice that I had a low viewpoint. I actually noticed the sky, and then immediately crouched with my camera almost resting on the ground, tilting it at an angle so it would catch the archer and the beautiful sky behind him. Getting a shot from a low angle gives you more brilliant light behind your subject, and makes it easier to create a silhouette.Bhutan archer archery national sport of Bhutanese sunset Paro silhouette copyright Aloha Lavina

5. Same principle, different value. Or, breaking the rule.

Most silhouettes are dark shapes against bright light. What if we reversed the exposure and underexposed on the background? The result is that the exposure on the sliver of light on a person can outline them against a very dark background—sort of a reverse silhouette. This is called ‘rim light’ because it traces the rim of a subject.

In this photo, I decided to create a ‘reverse silhouette’ because the rim light and smoke made for an interesting graphic composition. It’s a ridiculously underexposed image, but I like it.

Bali Balinese man smoking smoke black and white reverse silhouette faceless portrait trademark of Aloha Lavina copyright All rights reserved

One of the portraits from my Faceless Portraits project 2007-present.

So there you are, four basic techniques for making silhouettes, and one rule breaker. This is the project for this week: Go out during the golden hours and find some silhouettes! Post your best shot in Imagine That Photography Tribe.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the orange RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
Easy Way to Dodge and Burn Photos without Destroying Pixels
5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust
Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?
10 Small Things that make a Big Difference in Your Photos


mermaids digital manipulation composite photo copyright Aloha Lavina 2012.

Creativity, Camera, and Photoshop

Which net would you use to catch a butterfly?

Many photographers argue that getting an image right in camera is the real deal—if you’re going to call yourself a photographer, you better learn your exposure and technical stuff, and compose beauty in the frame.

With the rise of digital photography, however, now you can take your images into a whole new realm of manipulation. Highly stylized images have grown in popularity along with the advances in digital cameras and software for processing digital photos. Photoshop is arguably the giant in the post processing world, so much so that people now use the name of the software as a verb. As in, “Was this photo Photoshopped?”

Purists, or people who scoff at Photoshop artists as hacks, don’t like overly manipulated photos. Indeed, a lot of contests out there specify the minimal adjustments that the entrant can make to their entry to the contest. Still, the world is not made of purists. At the other end of the spectrum are the—for lack of an official term—digital artists, who style their photos with scores of layers, stacking special effect upon special effect, and not apologizing for it.

In between are you and me.

Every week, I have a group of hobbyist photographers who make images because we like it. We call ourselves a Tribe. It’s a lot of fun now that we kind of know each other, and we sometimes chat briefly on Facebook about photography. And when I asked the Tribe if they wanted weekly modules with a Photoshop twist, I got an overwhelmingly positive response. So I can anecdotallyconclude that in my Tribe at least, we like improving our skills with the camera and we like to learn new Photoshop tricks, too.

mermaid manipulated photo in Photoshop copyright Aloha Lavina 2012.

Do you think I overdid this one, my first attempt at a total composite? I thought the fire ball tipped the scale.

Photoshop is a complicated software that is the industry standard; it takes a long time to master its tools. But it is somewhat accessible to the emerging hobbyist, as long as he or she is patient and doesn’t get overwhelmed.

But it’s not fair to photography if the shooter shoots thinking that Photoshop will fix everything.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my forays into the world of digital manipulation using Photoshop.

1. You still have to light the image right.

Photography is still capturing light, no matter what you can do to create light in Photoshop. A well lit image can be enhanced beautifully in Photoshop, but you cannot create light where there is none in the software. Yes, people argue that with tools like Shadow/Highlight control, or painting with light technique, you can paint light with a Photoshop brush easily. But you still get unnatural effects when you do this, like nasty noise in the underexposed areas you tried to bump up, or discoloration. Nothing works like a photo where light is where it should be, in the first place, as you capture it in camera. So yes, learn to manipulate light in Photoshop, but first learn to light.

2. You still have to get a good exposure.

We could say this is like Tip Number 1, but it’s a little different. This is about balancing the way your camera becomes sensitive to the light (ISO), choosing the right amount of light to enter the lens (Aperture), and rendering the captured image in the right amount of time (Shutter Speed) to get an image that has a good dynamic range. A good dynamic range in plain English is when the highlights and shadows have good detail just like the midtones. Now you can ‘recover’ shadows and highlights using Photoshop, but the resulting image is not as detailed as you would like it to be in a good exposure. You still have to learn to make a good exposure, no matter how high powered the latest version of PS is.

3. You still have to compose the image.

You can crop in Photoshop, and move the elements around. You can even composite different images, add things, clone things out, flip or transform or warp the image.

Manipulating every single image like this, to create a composition you really like, takes a lot of time.

And you’re not really sure about the compatibility of the elements. For instance, what if the lighting isn’t similar in the items you choose to composite? And what if you plunked a cow that is clearly not proportionally matched with a model in the original photo? Ooops. Visually, some things do not work composed in Photoshop. You still have to learn to compose in your camera.

mermaids digital manipulation composite photo copyright Aloha Lavina 2012.

This was better. The light was right, the framing was deliberate. And then the whole slew of layers.

4. The rules of optics still apply.

We see with a maximum aperture of f/2.1 in the dark, and a minimum aperture of f/8.3 in bright light. But another thing happens with us in our three dimensional world: we see in planes. That means that things that are on the same plane have the same sharpness for our eyes.  Why is this important for Photoshop? It means that we can’t blur the hell out of things we don’t want to see clearly in the image when those things are on the same plane as the things we want sharp. It just doesn’t compute in our brains.

But this is called artistic license. Skillfully done, you could still make a beautiful image with unnatural optical composition.

5. Photoshop is almost like painting.

Painters have the luxury of composing their pictures exactly as they imagined. Photographers have to find that composition and then interpret it with skill and technicality. Photoshop gives the photographer the advantage of adding or subtracting things that are in the frame, just like a painter does. But if the shooter doesn’t have skills in Tips 1 to 4, it may not work as well.

So in conclusion, there has to be balance in the way we use our camera skills and the way we manipulate the resulting photos. Ignoring one for the other seems unwise when the beauty you could make with both is boundless.

And that’s why if you want to catch this butterfly, make sure your net is big enough.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! Even if you don’t like what’s on the blog, leave a comment any way, but please keep it nice. :) To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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Getty museum abstract architecture blue and white california copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 14 Module: Photographing Architecture

Buildings were one of the few things that held still long enough to get an exposure.

In the early days of photography, of course the cameras were not as sophisticated as they are now. No Vibration Reduction or Image Stabilizer technology, and film of course had a limited ISO capacity. So one of the few things photographers could capture with the long exposure times their cameras needed was architecture. Buildings and monuments didn’t move.

Suvarnabhumi Airport Bangkok airport Thailand airport architecture night copyright Aloha Lavina.

Suvarnabhumi Airport at night via iPhone. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Later on as camera technology grew more sophisticated, the tradition of photographing architecture continued for several reasons, but the one that most emerging photographers cited is that it is easy to get into your portfolio. Architecture doesn’t change as much as say, people’s faces. Buildings are easy to find anywhere that’s inhabited. And you only had to wait for light, to make a good photo.

Simple as it sounds, there are a few techniques that transform an architectural photograph from a snapshot to a fine art piece. This module brings you some tips that could do just that.

Focus on Lines and angles and composition

Architectural photos are all about the language of geometry. The photographer finds how the structure’s lines and angles add to the design of a building. A common technique is to take a slice of the structure and highlight it in the image. This sort of abstraction eliminates the clutter, makes the composition cleaner, and renders an interpretive image.

Getty museum abstract architecture blue and white california copyright Aloha Lavina

Getty Museum and sky. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Focus on color

Colors on a building are no accident; like everything else, they are part of the design.  Sometimes, the colors in a building can be used as elements in a composition.

Adding Context

Where is the structure? What surrounds it? Sometimes it is better to include this part of a building’s story. Other times, it isn’t a big help to the composition. It’s the photographer’s decision to add context or to cut it out. Everything you include or exclude in an image adds to the message and effectiveness of that image.

Luang Prabang temple storm Laos Asian Asia southeast asia Buddhist temple copyright Aloha Lavina

Wide angle shot of a temple with storm approaching, Laos. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Light and shadow

Here is a great video talking about using light and shadow to make an architectural photograph with character.

What’s it like at night?

Night photography is a great way to explore architecture. Buildings are lit at times to showcase their forms. Here is another tutorial from expertvillage on how to take a photo of a city at night.

Finally, how about some inspiration? Click on these links to see what I mean about the elements discussed in this post.

 50 Stunning Examples of Architecture Photography by Smashing Mag

Maxwell MacKenzie’s Website

Finally, your goal this week is to apply these tips and tricks to your photography. Experiment with your imagery, and take photos at different times of the day. Then, share your best image on the Imagine That Photography Tribe Facebook page! Have fun!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the orange RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
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Imagine That Photography Tribe

Editor’s Picks from Weeks 11 and 12

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Bokeh Baby! Copyright Mihaela Limberea 2012.

In our Week 11 Module, the Tribe produced some gorgeous bokeh with shallow depth of field and being mindful of the placement of light.

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Bokeh Baby! Copyright Cynthia Swidler 2012.

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Bokeh Baby! Copyright Cyndi Louden 2012.

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Bokeh Baby! Copyright Einstein Lavina 2012.

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Bokeh Baby! Copyright Schalk Ras 2012.

The following module for Week 12, we learned how to add a texture layer to our photos in Photoshop, to add a bit of drama to the images.

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Copyright Cynthia Swidler 2012.

Imagine That Photography Tribe

Copyright Mihaela Limberea 2012.

 See more posts from the Tribe when you join us! Join the Imagine That Photography Tribe on Facebook to participate in weekly modules, discuss photography, and learn tips and techniques, one week at a time.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
Stripped to its Essence: The Beauty of Black and White
Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits
How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively