Category Archives: Vision

Huntington Beach early morning copyright Aloha Lavina.

6 Things that Can Change the Way You See in Photography

The way you see is often more important than what you photograph.

When we look at photos of extraordinary subjects we oooh and ahhh because we are amazed at images of things outside our realm of experience.

But often the beauty in an image isn’t in what it’s about. For example, Van Gogh’s Starry Night is an ordinary scene—a city and a sky with stars. But it’s the kind of painting that we can stare at for a long, long time. It’s enjoyable to look at. The studied way that painters like Van Gogh created pictures is something that people who coax beauty out of pixels instead of paint, can learn.

1. Get to know color.

Huntington Beach early morning copyright Aloha Lavina.

A limited color palette can emphasize shapes, or give atmosphere.

Color is one of the basic elements of any composition. Deciding whether to limit the colors of an image or to let it burst into a kaleidoscope is a choice that could change the impact of the photograph. Using a limited color palette can serve to accentuate shape in a photo, and give it atmosphere.

Singapore and Marina Bay Pool swimmers at night copyright Aloha Lavina.

Using complementary colors can help declutter an image.

Similarly, controlling the color palette can give the image story. The above photo, if you look at it as a whole, is broken into two complementary colors—orange-red and green. The simplicity of these two blocks of color help the image bind the composition together, even though there are lots and lots of smaller shapes that could potentially be distracting. It’s the colors that help give it balance.

2. Get to know texture.

Texture is another element that make up the ‘bare bones’ of an image. Texture helps to give depth; when light falls on a texture, the shadows and highlights help to define the object’s shape.

Batanes Boulder Beach and storm approaching copyright Aloha Lavina.

Texture helps to define shape and can add to a composition.

3. Get to know contrast.

Contrast is useful because it is what gives our world edges. Our eyes perceive shape because things around us have edges. Contrast, which happens when something light is next to something dark, can help to define shapes through their edges.

Nepalese woman praying at Swayambunath Pagoda Kathmandu copyright Aloha Lavina.

Contrast gives us the edges of things we see, and help define their shape.

 4. Get to know shape.

Texture and contrast both give things shape. Shape, whether it is solid or implied through lines, help us to recognize patterns in a composition.

Singapore city lights skyline from Marina Bay copyright Aloha Lavina.

Shapes can be formed by light as well as actual geometric objects.


Shapes also help us to judge scale and depth in an image. Shapes that appear larger give us the sense of being closer; smaller shapes might make us think they are farther.

5. Get to know balance.

Balance often suggests equal weight, as in the balance in a weighing scale happens when two objects, one on each side, are equal in weight and do not tip the scale one way or the other.

But in artistic composition, balance is something that doesn’t necessarily happen between two symmetrical shapes. You could make a composition that is totally symmetrical; but unfortunately this is something the brain finds totally boring. So we have to find balance in asymmetry. Asymmetry, apparently, is super exciting for the human brain.

Old rusty car in Bodie, California copyright Aloha Lavina.

Assymetry is artistic balance.

 6. Get to know light.

Finally, light—that element our camera craves most—is definitely something you need to pay attention to. Light gives us tones. If we only paid attention to values of light and dark, we would see differently.

Marina Bay Singapore just after sunrise copyright Aloha Lavina.

Learning to see values of light and dark helps simplify a composition.

If we spent a lot of time looking at paintings and effective photographs, we would begin to see a few really important things that painters and photographers do.  In the journey to improving your photography, focusing on basic artistic skill can help change the way you see. Changing the way you visualize an image can help you refine your photographic vision.

For our good friend Van Gogh, art was not an accident but a series of well-thought out choices.

What choices will you learn to make this week?


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:
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10 Things that will Transform Your Photographic Composition
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A blocked compo, using a strong horizontal line and a strong vertical line.

10 Things that will Transform Photographic Composition

“Composition is the strongest way of seeing.”

This powerful quote by Edward Weston sums up the art of finding the frame that best suits an image.

Seeing a composition comes after a healthy amount of practice. But what do we practice to get better at composing photographs? Here are some things we learned from a week of shooting at Imagine That Photography Tribe.

1. Move the frame to get the best shot.

Tribe member Schalk Ras took a shot of some lines. The lines formed by clouds, and the line formed by a body of water. But he wasn’t that happy with his composition, and thought about what to do to get a better image. So for the reshoot, Schalk moved his vantage point.

Copyright Schalk Ras 2012.

Moving the vantage point is one of the ways you improve a composition. By moving closer to his subject, Schalk simplified it, focusing more on the lines he spotted. The resulting image illustrates that moving vantage point can improve composition.

2. Use leading lines.

In Schalk’s photo, the cloud line and the water line converge at a point in the background. These lines lead the eye from one point in the composition to another.

Here’s another great example from another Tribe member, Mihaela Limberea. Mihaela used a curved line to lead the eye from the frame to the background.

Leading lines can help the viewer’s eye move from one point of the composition to the next, making it easy for their eyes to view the image. Providing the viewer with a way into and a way out of the image is a way for the photographer to form a connection with the audience.

3. Use the lens to help the composition.

Tribe member Vincent Ng used a wide angle lens to create this image. The wide angle lens helped Vincent to use lens distortion to create depth in the photo. The child in the left bank looks considerably smaller than the person fishing in the right bottom part of the photo. This difference in size creates the illusion of one element being near and another element being far—and creates depth in a two-dimensional image. Knowing the effects a lens has on a subject can help you create a composition with a three dimensional effect.

Copyright Vincent Ng 2012.

4. Use a triangular design.

Vincent also succeeds in applying a triangular design in his composition. Notice the three people in the photo. If you connect them with lines, you’ll have a triangle in the photograph.

Triangles are stable, solid shapes. They anchor the eye in the image.

5. Find balance.

Tribe member Sarah Darr used balance in her composition. She gives us an image divided by clear horizontal layers: one layer is the sky, followed by the line of trees, then the reeds, and finally the water. But a prominent peak at the upper right hand side and ducks on the lower present variations in the uniformity of the layer’s colors. These two elements in her composition give us the balance that we need, forming an attractive diagonal across the image.

Copyright Sarah Darr 2012.

Below, Cynthia’s image achieves balance by placing the angular roof of the house at a diagonal with the snow covered peak at the upper left of the composition.

6. Use color to compose the image.

Cynthia Swidler, another Tribe member, composed her winter scene in clear layers of color and texture. Notice in her image that the colors are similar in the top and bottom of the photograph. A dark layer cuts through the middle of the photograph, but sets off the line of trees, and gradually lightens again into the snow at the bottom of the image.

Copyright Cynthia Swidler 2012.

6. Use the rule of thirds.

Cynthia also places the house in the bottom right of the composition, using the rule of thirds to design the image.

7. Use negative space.

Negative space is the space that seems ‘empty’ in the frame. Negative space can be used to balance a composition. Placing the subject in one side of the frame and using the space beside it to balance the frame can result in an attractive composition.

Using negative space.

8. Anchor the composition with a strong horizontal and strong vertical lines.

This photo of the Batan Lighthouse is a simple graphic composition that has a strong line from the grass on the bottom, and then a strong line of the lighthouse on the right side. The eye moves to the lighthouse and then exits through the line of the grass.

A blocked compo, using a strong horizontal line and a strong vertical line.

9. Use the S Curve

S curves are great leading lines, and if you find one, you need to photograph it, quick! The S curve helps to move gracefully from one end of the frame to another, giving the eye a pleasing and relaxing journey into and then out of the frame.

An S Curve.


10. Cluster similar shapes.

Taking a photo of similar shapes create pattern in the composition. Patterns are great and help to organize the image. Patterns are attractive to the eye, and satisfy the human need to harmonize what we see.

Shapes echoing each other, forming a patterned composition.

Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, “Our eye must constantly measure, evaluate. We alter our perspective by a slight bending of the knees; we convey the chance meeting of lines by a simple shifting of our heads a thousandth of an inch…. We compose almost at the same time we press the shutter, and in placing the camera closer or farther from the subject, we shape the details –taming or being tamed by them.”

Composition may not be something that we can study like a science, and follow rules to reach impactful images, every time. But by practicing some of the ways that effective compositions have been achieved, we are well on our way to “taming” the frame, and transforming the way we see.

If you want to journey with me as I rekindle my love for all kinds of photography in 2012, and learn lots of things along the way, head on over to our new Facebook page (and like us!), where you can participate in project modules, get some feedback, talk photography, and have your photography featured in a monthly roundup!

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:
Composition and the Use of Color
Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?
Using Background Effectively in Your Portraits
Are You Paying Attention?
Finding Good Photos where they Hide


butter candle vendor portrait Kathmandu Nepal copyright Aloha Lavina

Bring Back that Lovin’ Feelin’

Sometimes you forget the journey when you think you’ve arrived.

I am thinking this as I climb the dozens of steps up to Swayambunath Pagoda in Kathmandu. With the camera bag slung over a shoulder, it’s a little tough to mount every step and lift up myself/equipment one more step. But being Zen about it, thinking of each step and concentrating on just that one motion, makes the journey up surprisingly easier, and it seems to take no time at all.

When I get to the top of the temple, I realize this Zenlike approach is what I’ve missed about photography. I’ve been so busy with photography jobs that I’ve forgotten what was important about it in the first place. For 2012, my resolutions consist of going to go back to the beginning.


Getting lost in the ‘big picture’ is easy once you start getting commissions for your photography. In the last year, I’ve been lucky to have gotten a number of assignments I’ve enjoyed for both fashion and travel photography. But it seems that I only ever shoot when it’s a ‘job.’ In between these, my camera is silent, blind.

butter candle vendor portrait Kathmandu Nepal copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011

Zooming into little lessons that sustain this passion regularly is my first resolution. At Swayambunath, I had no assignment. It was just for fun. Even with the four a.m. wake up and the trek up the cold temple steps, I felt that rekindled love for this craft.

Something new.

The fear of starting all over with something is a fear we relearn as adults. Our years teach us that we are good at something, and we hone that and nurture it until we can do it with our eyes closed.

monk sitting in cold winter morning Swambunath Temple Kathmandu Nepal copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011

Maintaining this expertise is important, but novelty is what sustains our artistry. Learning another genre is my second resolution. I’ve focused so much on portraits and reportage that those are all I ever do. But there’s something about landscapes that intrigue me.  I want to look at a place and know what I have to do to make an image that makes me suck in my breath and smile.

Fall in love three times a day.

Remember the honeymoon period when you carried your camera around every day and took photos of everything?

What made you stop doing that?

It’s probably not because you ran out of subjects.

morning light monochrome Kathmandu Nepal copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011

Matthew Fox once wrote, “If we fell in love with one of Mozart’s work each week, we would have seven years of joy. How could we ever be bored?” This sort of awe is what we need to be inspired, and stay inspired in our craft.

It’s very easy to be distracted these days. Connectivity makes it difficult to stay still and experience a process; things come to us at speeds measured in seconds, and our reality is becoming episodic, an electric mosaic of bits and bytes.

We need to slow down, like we do when we’re falling in love. Take it all in, pay attention to details, stay in the moment.

Now it’s your turn. What are your photography resolutions for 2012?

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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indian couture copyright Aloha Lavina

Steve Jobs Said

Yesterday, one of the most creative people in our lifetime, Steve Jobs, passed away.

On the way home from work, I met a musician and we shared a small conversation that quickly became a ‘where were you’ sort of talk. My friend told me about his first Apple on which he wrote music, and I told him how the original iMac and iBook helped me learn how to make movies and cool slideshows.

I’m writing this on a Macbook Pro. I will later process photos to accompany this article on an iMac while listening to tunes on an iPod, and I’ll check the layout for mobile devices using an iPad and an iPhone. My creative life is surrounded by things that have bits in them that were thought up in Steve Jobs’ mind.

When someone iConic passes on, there’s a melancholic reflection that hits hard.

But it’s also necessary. After all, the great ones are the ones that pass on a legacy we have to pay attention to. Dreams are contagious, and inspiring. So here is my humble tribute to a great visionary. The man who taught us to ‘think different.’

1. “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”

This is especially meaningful in a period of recession, when the commissions you might get as a photographer are few and far between. Staying true to your vision is even more important in the lean times because that’s when you might doubt yourself and your choices. If you emerge from a dearth of commissions with your vision uncompromised, its integrity will give you work that is meaningful and beautiful, too.

2. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Raising the bar every time you do something new is something that Steve Jobs has taught us in a very visible way. When naysayers were telling him he couldn’t make a phone that didn’t have buttons, he just went ahead and did it and now it’s the best selling phone in the world, and it’s changed the way we use phones.

3. “Design is not just how it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Having a design mindset is something that’s evolved recently, as more and more people churn out original content that others can see, hear and use. The technology that Steve Jobs helped to put out there made it easier to make indy stuff—things like calendars on iPhoto, videos on iMovie. This shift in how we thought—from consumers to creators—was something that Jobs’ vision helped to teach people.copyright Aloha Lavina jewelry abstraction faceless portrait

All the neat stuff we share with each other is all about design now. Think about how we learn photo technique on our own: Youtube videos, podcasts, and apps are some of the more common tools. Not only are our tools products of this type of design thinking, but we are also more critical of functionality. I have always liked the ergonomics of the Nikon camera bodies. And it’s a simple reason why—the right side of the camera’s body has undulating curves that help me grip it firmly for a whole day without hurting my hand. This type of design—an intelligent design, is something that Steve Jobs helped the world learn.

4. “Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

It is often the simplicity of an Apple product that makes it elegant. Maybe you don’t recall the days when drag and drop was not the norm, but I do. And there is a simple satisfaction in being able to drag and drop things on an Apple computer desktop. One simple fluid step, and you’ve begun to organize your desktop. It’s time saving, and time saving means you can move on to the more important things instead of spending time on multiple steps just to organize folders in your hard drive.

5. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Maybe you won’t earn as much money doing one type of photography as another. But if you love it a lot, chances are you will be more open-minded shooting that type of genre. You’ll probably be more relaxed, and as a result more ready for creative thinking.indian couture copyright Aloha Lavina

6. “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I think often of how a class in calligraphy that Jobs took when he was auditing college courses apparently impacted his aesthetics. The craziness I see in his life isn’t that he dropped out of college, went to India and that he dropped acid in his younger days.

The crazy I saw in him, the quality that isn’t a default setting in a lot of people, is that he learned something that wasn’t obviously going to fit a yellow brick road to good design, and he incorporated a sense of it in his own aesthetic.

Calligraphy is graceful, fluid, and has an economy that is functional yet elegant.

That could be the description of a lot of the Apple products Steve helped faceless portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

7. “I want to put a ding in the universe.”

Steve Jobs enchanted us with his ideas because he never allowed himself to lose track of his vision. He once said, “I was worth over $1,000,000 when I was 23, and over $10,000,000 when I was 24, and over $100,000,000 when I was 25, and it wasn’t that important because I never did it for the money.” The important thing here is not the part about the money. (Apple has more cash than the US. I mean, insanely so.)

The lesson here is something that creative people have known although rarely ever really talk about (because talking about it is time taken away from just being creative).

It’s about internal motivation. A vision that’s internalized serves a stronger motivator than something external, like money. That ding Steve put in the universe is not a goal he probably set—he was probably more worried about design, how to make something simple like an iPod so powerful. He was probably solving problems that were concrete.

But deep inside him, that vision was what sustained his drive. That’s what makes the ding.

And the universe heard it.

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:
10 Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Your Photos
Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?
How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively
Are You Paying Attention?



copyright Aloha Lavina

Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?

If you are thinking of taking your photography a step further and making it a business, it’s more than just waking up one morning and telling yourself: OK, this is it. I’m going to make money from my photography.

Before you delve into making a strong business plan, you first have to ask yourself some tough questions.

How will you balance your creative work with the tasks that go into running a business? What is your marketing strategy? How will you differentiate your work from the other creative photographers? How will you stay current and fresh? These questions and more demand answers if you are going to be ready for the nuts and bolts of creating a photography business. Answering these questions is even more important if you want to sustain your business using your creativity.

Creating a manifesto is one way of strengthening your vision for your photography business.

Creating a manifesto for yourself could spell the difference between finding out later that your business plan is killing your art, or discovering that your business is an exciting extension of your creativity.

The following manifesto is a combination of statements from some of the most artistic businesses that have shared their creativity with the world. Preparing a talk for some business types who are curious about how to create without limits, I searched for ways to express my own beliefs and attitudes about my work as a travel and editorial photographer. Here’s what I learned.

A Manifesto for the Business of Creativity

Appreciate work as idea and idea as work.

Frank Lloyd Wright listed this tenet as number six in his atelier, and I place it first in this manifesto because I am not just a photographer; I am also a teacher, a writer, a TEDx curator, and a student of creativity. Combining these roles I play in my daily life, I discovered that there is one central focal point around which my various life activities pivot—ideas. Ideas excite me and fuel my work. If ideas become my work and I see work as engaging in ideas, I always enjoy what I’m doing.Processing copyright Aloha Lavina.

The greatest marketers do two things: they treat customers with respect and they measure.

This is number 2 in Seth Godin’s manifesto. I list this in my own manifesto because I believe that respect governs all transactions—whether it is a transaction of meaning, or a transaction between a creative and her client. Any relationship governed by respect will always remain a good relationship.

Measuring means always evaluating how things went; this goes hand in hand with respect because if you respect your work and the client, you will value the client’s feedback and use it to improve.

Learn. Knowledge makes everything simpler.

This statement from John Maeda’s manifesto is third on the list because it follows logically after the marketing statement. If you value your work and make the effort to measure it after you complete it, you will find that you are always willing to learn something new to add value to the next job.

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

This next one is also from designer John Maeda’s manifesto. I add it here because I believe that if you really understand what it is you do, you can simplify it. Have you ever watched a master at work? The master makes the work seem effortless. This effortlessness is from a lifelong engagement in creativity.

Mastery happens when you have taught yourself all the skills that help you overcome and triumph over challenges in your work. The honed skills you possess make it easy for you to simplify what you have to do; your fingers find the controls and change settings just as fast as your brain clicks the solution into place to get a shot.

At mastery, you can concentrate fully on making meaning—creating images that speak about your vision, without technical issues getting in the way.copyright Aloha Lavina.

Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater.

This long statement is from the writer Leo Tolstoy. He makes two points here. The first is that goals make success within reach. Specific goals that have a timeline and a plan are more likely to be achievable. The second point is that sometimes, the creative has to make a sacrifice. For example, you might have a chance to photograph an anorexic, and know that your images will get a lot of attention. But you might also recognize that the attention would catapult the sick person’s persona (through your images) into something akin to self hate. Would you sacrifice the subject to your sense of humanity? Perhaps you will.

We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can focus on the few that are meaningful to us.

This is fifth in Apple’s manifesto. I include it here because quite a few people I know are suffering from too much work that is meaningless to them. Meaningless work, work that you do only for money and do not get excited about, actually kills your creativity. To sustain your inspiration, you have to do work that means something to you. This is what vision gives you: it gives you a creative edge. This creative edge can be a commodity for which others hire you.copyright Aloha Lavina

We don’t settle for anything other than excellence.

Also from Apple’s manifesto, this reminds that no one, least of all yourself, should strive for mediocrity. Everyone begins at the beginning, but there is no reason why one cannot get better. Your benchmark for excellence might change a year from now when you’re closer to 10,000 hours of making images. But right now, you need to give it all you know. Always giving a hundred percent in everything you do ensures you measure your work from within and motivate yourself into getting better.

Time makes inspiration grow.

This is something I have learned again and again. For a skill to get better, you need to invest time. There are simply no shortcuts to mastery. Investing time for your creative pursuits is the best investment you could ever make if you want to start and maintain a creative business.

Design your own job.

I learned this from Cody McKibben, who is a location independent professional. Cody usually does his work from locations that we would consider exotic—a beach in Thailand, a balcony overlooking rice paddies in Bali. He leverages all that he knows, and he creates his work based on the combination of all things that is Cody.

Why should you be just a photographer? Why can’t you be a maker of images but also an inspiration like David duChemin? Or a photographer and a cultural ethnograper? Or a photographer and a storyteller? The idea of mashable things is here, so why not create a mashup of things that you can combine to make a brand that is unique and creative?

Sell an experience.

If you create a brand that is unique to who you are and what you can do, you are giving your clients a richer experience. Rather than just selling clicks for cash, you can sell the entire experience of working with you, and create situations where those who linger in your creativity might become enchanted, to borrow a term from Guy Kawasaki. Nothing else is as memorable as an experience that the mind associates with joy. That memory of joy and engagement is delicious, and the person who experiences it (hopefully your client) will come back for more.

Creating a manifesto is a process full of epiphany and inspiration. In the process, you might just find your brand—a business that is meaningful, valuable, vibrant.

What’s your manifesto? What do you believe?

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:
Using Background Effectively in Your Portraits
Confessions of a Photoshop User

Are You Paying Attention?
Finding Good Photos where they Hide
Why You Should Shoot Like Johnny Depp
Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos


zebra girl copyright Aloha Lavina.

From Idea to Image Part I: Planning

Creating an image means a lot of decisions made before the shutter clicks.

Side by side, two photographers looking at a scene, unless they are trying to make the same image, will create two different images. The differences in their images depend on a host of reasons. These reasons include their intentions, their skill level, and the decisions they made according to these elements. Some people call it vision.

When you make an image, the result is a combination of your decisions.

To make the best possible image you can, it’s important to be aware of how your particular idea becomes the image you end up making. How do your decisions result in good work?

Start by thinking backwards.

Backward design is something that grew out of education. When teachers design lessons, they often start at the end. When they begin at the end, teachers know that they can break down the result into what they have to do to get there. They are in effect making a map of how to get to the end result they want.shadow play copyright Aloha Lavina

Analyzing the resulting image you want, breaking down what you have to do to get there, and then following a path to success is a process that affects your images. It can make the difference between an impactful image and one that may be technically perfect, but does not express much.

Note down the techniques you need to use to make the image.

Do you need to use particular camera settings to get to the end in mind? Which techniques will produce those results? Why should you use one technique over another? Are some questions you can ask yourself at the planning stage of your project.

Let’s say you want to show the theme of time. Organizing the theme of time into concrete images involves a bit of technique. Will you slow time down for us to see it in the blur using panning? Will you speed up time using a high shutter speed? Can you show passing of time without having to resort to a series of images, but use conceptual interpretation instead? How much will you show in the frame? What elements will impact your design?zebra girl copyright Aloha Lavina.

Starting with strong questions in your planning can help you get to the result with greater efficacy, and your resulting images will show this skill.

Gather the equipment you need to get to your result.

Once you know the techniques you need, you can gather the actual tools you can use to accomplish the technical part of your shoot. Choosing the lens is the most important because the lens dictates how much you include or what you exclude to compose your imagery.

A variety of accessories exist that help you to achieve a ‘look’ in your images. For instance, you might need a polarizing filter, or a set of ND filters. You might need lighting help from reflectors or flash units. Or, you might need a tripod to make those slow shutter images. Whatever you need to get the results you want, planning the stuff you need to make those shots ensures that you give yourself the best chances for success.water copyright Aloha Lavina.

Rehearse the skills you need to get the result you want.

There’s a reason why teachers give homework. Homework is not to make students suffer, but to rehearse skills needed for a big assessment or test. If we extend the metaphor to our craft, we recognize that the decisive moment of making a shot involves a test of some kind—the readiness to get the shot you wanted through preparation.

That preparation includes practice. If you’re scheduled for a portraiture session, for example, go out and shoot portraits. Change up the situation during the practice session to give you rehearsal in how to solve problems—lighting problems, composition problems, posing problems—these skills rehearsed give you the opportunity to make sure your actual test, the actual shoot you have to perform and get those amazing results, is something you will pass with flying colors.

Evaluate your results, and realize new things you learned that got you there.

Finally, take some time to evaluate how you did. A great way to improve your photography is to look at past images and ask yourself if there is anything you could have done to make them better.

Writing teachers always say, “Don’t fall in love with the first draft.” This is to tell students that there are always things we can do to improve our work. If you follow this advice in your shot making, you might just stumble upon an improvement cycle that will continue your learning and result in images that just keep getting better and better.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

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You might also like:
Confessions of a Photoshop User
Are You Paying Attention?
Finding Good Photos where they Hide
Why You Should Shoot Like Johnny Depp
Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos

Up next: From Idea to Image Part II: Lighting
Join me as we walk through the process of conceptualization and lighting set up for a portrait!






dramatic portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Are You Paying Attention?

Years ago, I used to think there was an outside force which would help me get better at my craft. Call it what you will—a muse, a mentor—it seemed to me to be all-powerful and decisive. It would sweep my photographic self off her feet and fly her to a level from where I could make grand leaps in skill and artistry. I waited for this entity with a stash of If Only’s stuffed in my camera bag with the rest of the gear.

If Only a photographer more knowledgeable than I would take me under her wing.

If Only I had that dude’s camera and lens I would make a better picture.

If Only I had more time, I could be brilliant.

If Only I bought this or that gadget I would create stunning stuff.

If Only. If Only. If Only.

It wasn’t until I stopped listening to the If Only’s that I finally could leave the plateau I was perched on and start climbing new peaks.

The key was to use both eyes.

I’m not talking about squinting with the one eye that is not looking through the viewfinder and finally opening it while taking photos. I’m talking about opening the physical eye, the one that is looking out at the physical world, and opening the inner eye, the one that examines what it is I mean to say with those photos.

framed dramatic portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The breakthrough was not another workshop, another piece of gear, another trip to some exotic place.

The breakthrough was the realization that the source of those leaps I could make with artistry and skill were within me.  I really wasn’t paying attention. I was waiting for an external force to change how I see, when all I had to do was lose the anticipation for some artistic liberator, and free myself to an attentiveness to what was around me.

Cartier-Bresson once said, “You just have to live life, and life will give you pictures.” I found out, when I started paying attention, that if you’re interested, life becomes more interesting, and so do the photos.

dramatic portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

There is no easy, comfortable place to sit and wait for good photos to happen. There is only the hard climb, paying attention every step of the way, and learning. Learning is about change, so it’s never really easy. But what this hard work does is that it gives you the focus you need to receive what comes when you pay attention.

And usually, that means seeing something remarkable.


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.

You might also like:
Finding Good Photos where they Hide
Why You Should Shoot Like Johnny Depp
Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos
Nine Things Rupert Murdoch can Teach Photographers
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures


polka dots copyright Aloha Lavina

Why You Should Shoot like Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp doesn’t like to watch his own movies. He makes them, and from what we see, he seems to work hard at them, evidenced by the nuanced performances in his films.

In an interview with BBC Radio, he talks about his hesitance to watch his own films. The bottom line is, he enjoys the creative process more than the finished product.

Process-driven people have an advantage over product-driven people, and that single advantage is that process-driven people tend to be more engaged in what they do. Yes, you can argue that working toward a goal in mind is a prerequisite for engagement in what you do, but the difference is that if you are completely engaged in the process, you do not become distracted by thoughts of the brilliant results you can achieve. Thinking about the end may be a distraction to total focus while you are creating.vachini k for big chili magazine copyright Aloha Lavina all rights reserved

Many studies of creative people have revealed some simple ways that they engage in their work. Like any skills, these can be practiced as techniques until they become part of a creative workflow.

Prepare in great detail.

Before engaging in a highly creative process, prepare. Much like the actor must block scenes and memorize lines and think of gesture and posture, the photographer can think of all the technical details that will go into successful shots. These can include:

  • Equipment needed.
  • Lighting conditions.
  • Vantage points or where to shoot in relation to the subject.
  • Type of shot and camera settings.
  • Props you may need, for instance filters for landscapes or objects/furniture for a portrait shoot.
  • Schedule or timeline needed for success.

Once you get these dry details out of the way, you can free yourself up for creative expression once your shoot is underway. Not having to be distracted by details is a good way to evoke total engagement in the process of creating beautiful shots.

Have a pre-shot routine.

I learned this technique from golfing. It’s related to the preparation above, but it is more tied into the actual moment just before pressing the shutter.

In golf, the pre-shot routine consists of a series of repeatable actions that a golfer performs just before the swing. This routine is designed to get the thinking out of the way before the body performs the swing, so that the mind doesn’t get in the way of the body’s expression. Ask any golfer who is an avid student of golf, and they will tell you that thinking often interrupts a smooth swing and is detrimental to a good shot. The thoughts you have prior to your swing dictates how your body will respond to the task.polka dots copyright Aloha Lavina

If we transpose this pre-shot routine to taking a photograph, the thoughts you have just prior to pressing the shutter are equally important. Having a pre-shot checklist before you press the shutter is essential to maximizing your chances of getting the perfect shot, and it also gives you confidence that you have done all you can to ensure the conditions are optimal to capture a great photograph. These can include:

  • A routine for checking and changing settings.
  • A routine for a rhythm of breathing that will eliminate shaking and give you a sharp image.
  • A routine for checking that everything in the frame is as you intend it to be.

Suspend all judgment while you create.

This is really important and really hard to do. It’s easy for us to always be critical of ourselves and what we do, especially if we have high expectations of ourselves.vachini k for big chili magazine cover july 2011 copyright Aloha Lavina all rights reserved.

But judgment is distracting. If you are always critiquing your actions based on your results, that’s a sign that you are still in result-driven mode, and that means you are not fully concentrating on the task at hand.

Zooming your attention into what you are doing to get a shot is the singularity of your task as a creative photographer. It’s the only moment that will give you a good shot. You can’t keep kicking yourself for what you did wrong a moment ago; it’s beyond correction now. Similarly, you can’t get a great shot by living in the future; you can only do what you can, right at this moment. Give the moment all that
you are, and the beauty and goodness in that image will take care of itself.

How do you give your photography focus?

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.

You might also like:
Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos
Nine Things Rupert Murdoch can Teach Photographers
10 Things a Photog can Learn from Golfers
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures
10 Things Tyra Banks can Teach You about Portrait Photography

Bodie sitting room sofa and tourists copyright Aloha Lavina

Nine Things Rupert Murdoch can Teach Photographers

Everyone’s a-twitter about Murdoch’s massive mess today.

I’m sure 60-year old Rupert Murdoch has got a lot of lessons he will learn.

Whatever age photographer you are, here are nine things you can learn from Murdoch’s fiasco.

1. Eavesdrop on other photos.

Murdoch’s company hacked into phones and eavesdropped on them, to learn something they could use as ‘news.’ This sort of desperation can teach us a lot about how we can learn from others. Eavesdropping on other people’s photos—studying them, especially if they have EXIF information—can show you a lot of things you might try to improve your photography. Browsing through magazines, photo sharing sites like the super 500px, and the countless other resources for photos online can give you ideas of what to shoot next, just to see what it’s like and figure out the story of how an image is made.

2. Take responsibility for your actions.

There’s a lot of things to remember when you’re out shooting. One common mistake is to change ISO settings when you come across an indoor shot, then meandering outside and forgetting to change settings back for outdoor images. We’ve all been guilty of this at some point or another. A lesson we can learn from Murdoch is to take responsibility for the moments when we mess up our own photos, and then instead of throwing tantrums, just move on.

3. Remember lessons you’ve learned.

If you’ve been guilty of situations like in #2, you can make it a habit to always return to your default settings after you shoot in a different setting. For example, the ISO error mentioned above doesn’t have to happen to you ever again, if you remember to reset your camera default ISO setting as soon as you finish making shots in the unusual conditions.Bodie old truck copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. Learn lessons you have not learned from others who have.

Perhaps Murdoch hasn’t learned from history, like what happens to a President when he secretly wiretaps phones. But you can do Murdoch one better by actually learning from other photographers who have learned lessons before you, and have shared their experiences. One valuable lesson I learned vicariously is how not to be a gearhead, from Zack Arias. If you paid attention to what other photographers have experienced, in the situation you are currently shooting, you could learn invaluable lessons without having to go through the pain of experiencing the problems yourself.

5. Respect other people’s privacy.

There’s a host of reasons why privacy laws exist, not the least of which are freedom from harassment and freedom of expression, for examples. Murdoch’s News International has harassed the actor Hugh Grant in print, so Grant has fought back by being another voice against Murdoch’s brand of media enterprise.

As a photographer, you have the freedom to express your artistry. But at what lengths would you go to create an image? Would you exploit people who are suffering to get an image that could earn you a thousand wows on some forum? And what are the costs of such a breach of someone else’s privacy? Reflecting on these questions and more like them can define your own vision as a photographer.Bodie sitting room sofa and tourists copyright Aloha Lavina

6. Don’t ask permission, just apologize after you get the shot.

On the other hand, if you are looking for authenticity, you can always follow this sneaky way of capturing a portrait. Take the shot, then if the subject objects, just say sorry, then move away. (Warning: in certain cases, you may feel like a Big Jerk.)

7. Face your fears instead of avoiding them.

When you are learning how to photograph, you will meet some subjects or genres that challenge you. For instance, I overheard one photographer say he won’t ‘get into strobe lighting’ because in his words, “You have to be really good to make good photos with strobes.”

The implications are clear. If you’re afraid, and you stay afraid, nothing will change in your photography. If nothing changes in your photography, your image making will stagnate and never get that push to a higher, different level.

Facing that new technical aspect, or a genre you’ve never tried, can help you reach new skill levels and make even more awesome images.

you can go your own way copyright Aloha Lavina8. Eschew instant gratification.

A lazy journalist is too lazy to do the ‘legwork’—the running around, the actual work, of getting a story. So perhaps the lazy journalist resorts to desperate measures to scoop a story: tap a phone here, eavesdrop on people’s lives there, all from the comfort of a room with an illegal audio receiver.

Instant gratification is the enemy of excellence and a goldmine of mediocrity. Entertaining needs of instant gratification in photography is detrimental to growth. Without patience in learning how to use a camera setting, or getting to know what a lens is capable of, or even practicing a technique like panning, over and over, a photographer is in danger of achieving mediocre work.

Being patient, and being open to the learning that comes with time and practice brings maturity to an image maker. You don’t have to get everything now; you can instead enjoy every step of the journey to making creative, compelling images.

 9. Nurture a legacy you can be proud of.

If Murdoch died from all the stress tomorrow, what would he leave behind? What would people say about his life’s work?

Every day is an opportunity for you to find light and make images that touch others, that make them think, that bring them some message.

What will your legacy be?

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.

You might also like:
10 Things a Photog can Learn from Golfers
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures
10 Things Tyra Banks can Teach You about Portrait Photography

So You Want to be a Travel Photographer…Can You Handle It?
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer




don't forget to zip my face and neck copyright Aloha Lavina

Summon Your Inner Gaga

Play is one of the best gifts we receive as children. Being able to play activates a lot of good things. The freedom of composing narrative at the point of utterance, making stories without rehearsal. Spontaneity. Making connections. Flow, and creativity.

Watch young children at play and you’ll notice they concentrate so fully that they’re oblivious to the confines of time and space.

samurai in a bikini copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This is what we can learn from Lady Gaga. She takes her work seriously, but she does it in the manner of play. Gaga’s songs are like nursery rhymes, they have simple phrasing so are easy to remember, like those chants we used as kids when we jumped rope.

And seriously, appearing in a dress made of meat?

Critics might say Gaga’s simplification of the issues and ideas she wears (the meat, the egg palanquin) might be, well, childish.

Childish is a term Adora Svitak reflected on in her TED talk, where she mentions what happens when children are asked to create. Kids were asked to draw designs in a program called Kids Design Glass at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. One of the designs was Bacon Boy, who has meat vision.

Kids have the audacity, when they play, to make ideas that are uninhibitedly creative.

Imagine what you could do if you approached your photography like a kid would, like Gaga would, in the manner of play.

don't forget to zip my face and neck copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You’d be free.

You’d be focused.

You’d be fearless.

And you’d have loads of fun.

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.

You might also like:
10 Things Tyra Banks can Teach You About Portrait Photography
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer

Balinese festival parade copyright Aloha Lavina.

Inspire Your Photos with Poetry

Poetry sometimes takes inspiration from the mundane. Billy Collins’ poem “Fishing on the Susquehanna in July” takes its inspiration from the feeling you get when you are being creative. Billy says, “I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna or any river for that matter/to be perfectly honest.” He says he is “more likely to be found in a quiet room like this one…trying to manufacture the sensation of fishing on the Susquehanna.”

Burmese boy with buffaloes copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Although poetry is sometimes something you might dislike or are indifferent to, you can take some inspiration from poetry just like the poet can take inspiration from a photograph. “Manufacturing the sensation” is something a photographer does: you create an imagined harmony from something as mundane as a boy with grazing buffalos beside a clear stream; you tell a story with an image. But this descriptiveness of photographs and poetry is just the surface of artistry. There are other poetic devices you can borrow from poetry to inspire your photography.

Poetry has an economy.

Because poems are shorter than say novels or short stories, poets have to pay attention to every word in a poem. Similarly, the economy of a photograph is to include what is essential in the frame, to tell the story. Extraneous stuff that is not essential is discarded, left out.

Poetry is not just sound, it’s also silence.

When poets craft a poem, they pay attention to the space around the words—the silence. The silence, where the lines break and the poem pauses, have just as much meaning as the sounds of the words. A photograph has the same quality—there is the subject, and then there is the space you choose to put around your subject. Like a poet, make that space just as meaningful as the focal point.

portrait with negative space copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Poetry uses symbols.

The imagery in poetry is crafted to be symbolic. Sometimes you find an image out of sheer luck, like a vulture hovering over prayer flags for the dead in a Bhutanese hillside. Other times, you have to manufacture the symbol, set up a shot. Crafting your shots so there is a deeper level of meaning in the imagery takes your photography from simple narrative to inspirational insight.

vulture flies beside prayer flags for the dead in Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

A poem uses repetition to create impact.

Repetition in poetry is never accidental. Poets use repetition to bring emphasis to a point they are trying to make. Photographs can use this same technique to create impact, too. Finding a subject that repeats itself has its own message, especially if the repetition is the message itself. A row of Burmese nuns speaks of the selflessness of their lives—all going in one direction, all looking the same, an absence of individuality.

Burmese nuns in a row copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Poetry has theme and variation.

Poems begin with imagery, but the imagery soon turns into a theme, a message or story. Around you are these same themes—beauty, joy, hope. Whether it is in the combination of elements you are fortunate to be able to capture with your camera or the ways you fill your frame, the themes you photograph have the unique stamp of your vision. They say that there is no new story under the sun, that we have the same stories told in different words. It may be the same with our photographs. It’s the same theme, but you put a variation in it that’s borne from your own personal vision.

Balinese festival parade copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Translating an image in your mind’s eye into an image for the eye is what you do as a photographer. Like the poet, you “balanced a little egg of time” in front of people and places and other sources of beauty, and you capture it within a frame, timeless and ready to hatch into someone else’s inspiration.

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.

You might also like:
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer

using props in a double portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Prop it Up

Make sizzling portraits tip # 5: Use props to make portraits pop!

Beauty shots or closeup portraits of a beautiful person are favorites among photographers. Many hobbyists get hooked into portraiture because of these types of shots. One of the challenges of a closeup shot is how to give it more impact, how to set it apart from the thousands of beauty shots out there. One simple answer to this challenge is to use props.

Props are easy to add to a closeup because they are usually easy to get, and you don’t have to change the lighting setup or makeup to use the prop. But a prop can help you improve your closeup shots by adding to the composition. Let’s look at some ways you can do that.

The photo below uses a scarf to bring an element of repetition into the composition. The edges of the photo are framed by the repeating shape and lines of the scarf, bringing the attention to the center of the frame, the face.

closeup portrait using a prop copyright Aloha Lavina

Use a prop to add repetition into the composition. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This next photo uses props to add repetition to a double portrait. The two models are flanked by the masks they are holding, making the photo interesting with the pattern of faces both fake and real, alternating inside the frame. What adds to the effect of the composition is the repetition of colors; repeating the black and red and white pattern brings a graceful variation into the repetition.

using props in a double portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Props can add a harmony to a photo. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You can also use a prop to give you leading lines. In the first photo of the concept ‘fire,’ the model is holding the piece of fabric out, and I tilted the camera so that I could use the cloth’s line to lead to the model’s face.

prop adding leading line copyright Aloha Lavina

Use a prop to add a leading line. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In the next double portrait, again I used the cloth, this time to add tension to the composition by leading the eye with its lines first from one of the models to the other, and back.

using prop to add tension to a composition copyright Aloha Lavina

Use a prop to add tension to a composition. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Sometimes, all you need is a bit of color and shape or texture in a composition to add to its impact. In this last photo, I focused on the model’s face but added a bit of her red bead necklace to the shot. This little splash of color just was enough to balance out the texture from the net of her hat, and the graffiti in the background. By placing these three elements in a sort of triangle, I added a compositional frame to the closeup shot.

bits of props work too copyright Aloha Lavina

Bits of props can work, too. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Introducing props into your closeup portraits can help you add impact to your photos. With a bit of imagination and simple compositional techniques, props can make your portraits pop!

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.

You might also like:
Light is the Thing
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything
Using Location to Make Your Portraits Sizzle


conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Find the Model Beneath the Makeup

Make Sizzling Portraits Tip # 3: Seven Ways to Find Your Model Beneath the Makeup

I love makeup. Working with a great makeup artist makes our job easier—less retouching if they are skillful with the face, and if they are good at conceptualizing, you’ve got instant inspiration just in the makeup itself.

But as the photographer, what you do and how you do it results in the final image. Yes, the makeup artist begins the creative process, but you put the finishing touches on it when you create that shot.

At times, makeup also gets in the way of a portrait photographer’s important skill: the skill of directing a model. Here are seven secrets to honing your skill in directing models.

1. Get to know your model before the shoot.

Spending some time talking to your model before a shoot is the best way to get to know them, and for them to get to know you. If a model is comfortable with the photographer, he or she will relax and be easier to direct. Inviting a model to a planning meeting with the rest of the team is an ideal situation, but if you’re not able to get everyone together before the shoot, spend time just before you begin to shoot in casual conversation. This small and simple act will go a long way in ensuring that you will work reasonably well together.

2. Be specific in your directions.

Communicating clearly and succinctly helps you to get the shots you need. Make sure you know what images you’re after, so that you already have a list of directions you will be using to get those shots. If the model is new to modeling, make sure you remind them gently to find the light, to smile or not smile, or even to close their mouth or not show teeth. During the shoot, there is no way the model can get instant feedback about what they look like, so it’s up to you the photographer to give them the necessary feedback to get a good pose or expression.

conceptual portrait reflection makeup copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Use the LCD screen.

Spend time in between shots to show the model some of the shots using your LCD screen. This is a great way to give feedback, and saves time because from the poses or expressions on the images you show, the model will be able to adjust.

4. Be positive.

Keeping your tone and words positive and encouraging also goes a long way to coax a good performance from a model. People learn faster when they are relaxed, so if you keep your model relaxed, you can get magic out of their poses and expressions. Using encouraging words and smiles work better than harsh, negative comments. You can keep your model confident by keeping them upbeat, and that confidence will translate to beautiful portraits.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Involve your model in the creative process.

Everyone can learn from everyone else. If you believe this, you also know that models, especially experienced models, can add to the creativity of a shoot. Asking a model what they think can result in added value to your images. If they respond to this invitation, you may get performance that you would not get otherwise if you just treat the model like a mannequin who happens to breathe. Being valued for ideas can go a long way when you are trying to produce a creative performance from someone.

6. Know when to speak, and when to be silent.

If your model is new to modeling, chances are they will really appreciate you talking to them throughout the shoot. Sometimes, even short phrases like “That’s it” or  a comment like “That’s beautiful, hold it” can help a model realize a pose or expression you need for a shot. Remember that you are their mirror while you’re shooting, so be helpful in your commentary toward reaching the creative goal.

Sometimes, though, magic happens and everyone gets into a flow. When this happens, it’s better to let it happen rather than talk over it. Being in tune with your model’s artistic performance can help you decide whether to speak or be silent, and this knowledge can produce poetry.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

7. Be confident.

Confidence is contagious. When the photographer is confident, the team is, too. Keeping yourself confident throughout a shoot—in the way you make decisions about lighting, wardrobe, props, and the other things that ultimately make the images— is something your creative team and model catch on. If the photographer is confident, that makes the model feel more comfortable than if the photographer is fidgeting or visibly anxious over something.

Prepare yourself well before a shoot. Know your concept inside out, and be familiar with the location. Be sure about the results you need and the equipment and settings necessary to achieve them. By taking care of these beforehand, you will be self-assured while you work, and the confidence will infect everyone on the set.

Directing your model is one of the most important skills of a portrait photographer. Practicing these simple guidelines, you can master this crucial skill and create portraits that sizzle.

Up next: Make sizzling portraits using beautiful light, right here on Imagine That!

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.

You might also like:
Use Location to Make Your Portraits Sizzle
Concept is Everything
Let the Light Inspire You
All You Need is a Window
See How Easily Your Photos Can Create Impact
Making Expressive Portraits


conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Use Location to Make Your Portraits Sizzle

Make sizzling portraits tip # 2: Use the location

“I like your work,” a model once told me, “because you make the background look just as beautiful as the model.”

Choosing where to shoot for portraits is sometimes just as important as choosing the right model who will make your concept come alive. The location for a shoot can evoke creative ideas and add impact to your portraits. Here are some tips that can help you make the most of a location.

1. Look for locations that add atmosphere to your images.

Mystery adds interest. Scouting for a location, one of the things I do is to see what the quality of light is around my subject. What time of day works best for this location? Where is the light coming from? What is the feeling that the light gives the images I can make in this place? These are some questions I try to answer when I am out looking for good locations for photoshoots. Finding the right places to frame your portraits can make the difference between pictures of beautiful people, to beautiful pictures of people.

creative conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Use location to add mystery to an image. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Look for locations that add depth to your images.

Some locations are better than others. Locations that add depth to your shots are better than flat backgrounds. When scouting for a location, look for elements that can add a three-dimensional quality to your shots. Is there a leading line that is naturally occurring? Are there elements that will add balance to the portrait? These elements can be exploited for images and add dimensions to your photos that you would otherwise miss in a background where all you have is a wall behind the subject.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Use location to add depth to an image. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Look for natural frames.

Frames focus the viewer’s eye. If you can find a location that provides a natural frame to a shot, that’s a plus. Deciding where to place the subject can add interest to your portrait. Sometimes, a frame can be as simple as foliage.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

Look for natural frames for your portaits. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. Look for props you can use.

Furniture or other props already at a location are good to have on hand. Props work with composition, or to give the image an added dimension. Curvy props, for instance, like these structures at an unfinished building, add grace to an already graceful portrait. You can also look for props that add contrast. A grungy background, for example, might work to bring out the softness of a model’s skin or the delicacy of the clothing they wear.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Use props to add impact to your image. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Use the location in your compositions.

Patterns, geometry, and other visual elements in a background can add to your portrait. Looking for compositional elements in a location brings additional impact to your shots. Closeup shots of beauty are beautiful, but you can do those in a studio with a plain backdrop. If you are going to the trouble of finding a location that is not a studio, you can also take the trouble of composing so that the location enhances your portraits.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Use the location to add to your composition. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Using a location to add impact to your portraits is something you can do to make portraits that stand out from the crowd. Making the background ‘just as beautiful as the model’ can work for you, and give you images that are worth another look.

What locations stand out in your mind for the next photoshoot?

Up next: Make sizzling portraits by finding the model behind the makeup, right here on Imagine That!

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.

You might also like:
Concept is Everything
Let the Light Inspire You
All You Need is a Window
See How Easily Your Photos Can Create Impact
Making Expressive Portraits

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Concept is Everything

Make sizzling portraits tip # 1: Concept is everything!

It’s easy to let a beautiful face distract you. It’s easy to be trigger happy, because a photo of a beautiful face is beautiful. Right?

Not always.

The impact of a portrait is independent of its content. Without certain elements, a portrait of a beautiful person may not turn out to be a beautiful portrait that creates an impact. Photos of beautiful people abound on the internet. So how do you make sure your portraits pop out of the crowd?

One of the things you can do is to concentrate on your concept. The concept behind a portrait changes its impact. Here are some sources of concepts that have worked for me and might work for you, too.

1. Create your concept from the model’s personality.

If your model is someone you know or can get to know before the photoshoot, you can build a concept around their personality. This is the most common source of a portrait concept, especially for a portrait that is made for a particular reason, such as a corporate portrait or personal commission. The goal of this kind of portrait is to find the person’s depth and express it in a medium that is two-dimensional.

2. Take your concept from the creative brief.

conceptual portrait from creative brief copyright Aloha Lavina

The concept was 'comfort.' Copyright Aloha Lavina.


Commissions have instructions from the client, usually the sense or feeling that they want from the images. This technique is a little more difficult; oftentimes, the client will tell you about abstract things such as an emotion or another concept. From this abstraction, you have to build a concrete list of things your images might contain, such as poses, specific lighting, props to use. Triggering your creativity from the brief will make sure you’re paying attention to what you need to create through an interpretation that is uniquely your own.

3. Use contrasts.

Many times, you can use contrasts in your portraits. This is a technique used by travel photographers. Old and young. Motion and stillness. Fire and ice. Modern and ancient. Smooth and textured. The list goes on. Challenging yourself to create a conceptual expression of contrasts often stretches your creativity and aids you in discovering its wellspring.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Motion and stillness. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


4. Use artistic elements.

Building concepts out of artistic elements also works. Colors, geometry, scale, balance, values of light—these are some of the sources of concepts that visual artists have used. While using one of these elements, you’d be surprised at how creative you can be in using a simple element to inspire images.

5.   Use an idea that’s already out there, and give it your own twist.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Gluttony. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


Ideas are plentiful around us, and they are the source of a lot of stories and paintings and music. Taking an ‘old’ idea and trying to re-interpret it is a technique that artists have used for as long as they’ve been making art. The challenge is to take that well-worn idea and make of it an image that’s stunning in its novelty.

Concepts are where the uniqueness of your images begins. By taking these simple sparks, you can fuel some creativity, and get started on making some portraits that sizzle!

What concepts are you shooting this week?

Up next: Make sizzling portraits by letting location inspire you, right here on Imagine That!

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