Tag Archives: composition


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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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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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!

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.

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Thai weaver copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 3 Module: What’s in the Frame

When you find an image inside your viewfinder, how do you decide what stays in, and what stays out?

The decisions to include or exclude certain things make up how you compose. Because a photographer is limited by the (usually) rectangular frame of the resulting image, framing is one of the most important considerations when making images.

There are two ways you can frame an image—you can shoot it, or you can crop it later. If you can be economical in your framing at the time you’re shooting, you don’t have to crop the image. That means saving time, and saving pixels. Keeping the resolution and size of the image you captured can have its advantages, like when you want to print it. The most important advantage it has to your craft, however, is that you learn how to compose with economy, paying attention to the design you capture within that frame.

This week’s module is about composition. Specifically, we’re going to look at a few things that can affect the design of your image. We’re looking at subject placement and the role of lines and shapes.

Here is a video by Imre Z. Balint talking about some of the ‘rules’ of composition that painters and photographers have followed for many centuries.


Let’s break the lessons down into smaller parts to look at them more closely.

Using The Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a simplified version of the Golden Mean, a composition technique that’s been around since before photography was invented. The Rule of Thirds is useful to place the subject in a ‘hotspot,’ or an attractive placement that seems to be pleasing to humans.

When you’re out shooting, keep in mind the grid and the Rule of Thirds. Many simple yet effective compositions have been made with this rule. You can also combine the Rule of Thirds composition technique with other design elements, such as scale.

In this video on landscape composition, TheDigitalLandscape looks at using foreground to achieve scale and a three-dimensional look to an image.

Lines and Shapes

We also learned in the first video that sometimes, the Rule of Thirds works less than using lines and shapes. Lines can be used to lead into and out of the frame. They can be used to push attention to the subject.

Some scenes lend themselves more naturally to the use of lines and shapes. Here are some examples with a bit of discussion after each one.

The triangle is a great way to add dynamic tension to your photo. What this means is that your photo has a way for the eye to enter and move in the frame as the viewer looks at your composition. Triangles can be quite attractive to the human eye.

Thai weaver copyright Aloha Lavina

Using a triangle in a composition.

copyright Aloha Lavina

The triangle, example 1.

Vietnamese hats copyright Aloha Lavina

Using a triangle in a composition, example 2.

copyright Aloha Lavina

The triangle, example 2.

Lines also enable the viewer to enter and then exit the photo with ease. Giving the viewer a path to view the image is a way to make the experience of looking at your image pleasing, making your image attractive.

Burmese monks copyright Aloha Lavina

Using lines in a composition.

copyright Aloha Lavina

Using lines in a composition, example 1.

Taos church copyright Aloha Lavina

Using lines in a composition, example 2.

copyright Aloha Lavina

Using lines in a composition, example 2.

Lines don’t have to be straight. They can be curvy, too.

getty museum copyright Aloha Lavina

Using curved lines in a composition.

copyright Aloha Lavina

Curved lines in the composition.

A photographer at work isn’t always thinking in a linear fashion. We don’t have a checklist in our head, especially when the images we want to make appear in front of us quickly, giving us only seconds to react and press the shutter. The best way to hone your composition skills is to practice, practice, practice.

Your assignment this week is to use what you learned about design elements in this module to come up with a composition that you achieved without cropping. The challenge is to shoot and capture a well designed image that uses at least two of the compositional techniques covered this week.

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 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.

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Develop a Creative Vision

This is the second in a series of posts about how changing the ways we see as photographers can change the stories in our photos.

Reading this article on the journey from snapshot to expressive imagery got me thinking about how to make creative vision concrete for people learning photography. I want to share some insights here and hopefully make this abstract and wonderful idea into something you can practice after reading this post.

One of the most challenging parts of being creative is to look at things from a different perspective. We may find that subjects we shoot don’t vary in a topical way. We can shoot faces for the rest of our lives, or land and water. Others of us just hunt for light, and make images from that. But a viewfinder is a viewfinder is a viewfinder. To really make a new image, we have to practice seeing in ways that make our efforts more expressive, and less of snapshots.

The best way to learn something complex such as creative vision is to break it up into discrete, bite-size skills. That way, someone can practice a skill and hone it until it becomes a part of the natural repertoire before moving on to the next.

The reflections of colors on the water, rather than the content, make this photo more interesting. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

See the colors

Spotting pleasing or unique colors to create an image is a great skill to have. Although it seems that luck has a big part to play in finding pleasing color palettes in our found images, it is also a matter of being a skillful observer. Ask questions like, is an explosion of color a great background for someone in silhouette? Will walking to another vantage point give the shot a better background? We don’t have control of what colors present themselves to us from day to day, but we do have control of where we stand and what we include in the frame. Training ourselves to think about color will produce images that use the color in expressive ways.

The values in this image made it a good choice for monochrome. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

See the values

The world is in Technicolor and we can’t see in monochrome. But imagining the values—the intensity of black, white and shades of gray in between— rendered by the light reflected by the color spectrum, gives us a creative way of seeing. Seeing a scene from darkest values to brightest is like putting a gray filter over your eyes. Seeing in values helps us to compose using them, instead of using shapes or positions of things. Seeing this way can help us break out of basic composition into the next level.

A few lines and a simple color palette are sometimes enough. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Seeing simplicity

Every beginning photog has heard the phrase “fill the frame.” This is great advice; when we compose, we don’t want nor need clutter. What we want is to use the shapes, color and content in a photo to speak to the person looking at it. Learning how to notice and photograph detail can help us zoom in on a story, and make our images more expressive.

Photography Doesn’t Fix Everything

for Jodi

I reread this post, about long term travel not being able to fix everything, over at Legalnomads, and thought, that sounds familiar. Last summer I took two months to travel to Burma and then Bali, thinking I needed to get away for some quiet time. Travel for me is a way to get inside my head and de-clutter; I wrote to Jodi the other day, I travel “to get away from my nine to five when it becomes too loud with worry that I can’t hear myself.”

I go away to listen, to remove the white noise that is other people’s needs, and find the voice that’s mine. I need very little really, to be happy, just a lot of silence and space, time to make photographs and write. But sometimes, I get caught up in work that is separate from my passion; more and more of this dislodges me from myself, and I float, an untethered balloon full of nothingness.

That’s when I want to get away. Being away brings a new reality. It reminds me of very early memories when every thing I learned seemed momentous, bright and shiny things I could gather and hold close to examine.

I’m not a sophisticated traveler. I don’t have the brave body of someone who climbs volcanoes or rides on rooftops of buses. Yes, I’ve been stuck in Europe because of an ashcloud, but hey, I was in Paris. Being stuck in Paris did not make me suffer. True, I was caught in a flashflood in the Philippines, but I was ten or eleven years old; it was an adventure full of floating refrigerators, bamboo rafts afloat above city streets, and ignorance about water born diseases. And yes, I live in Bangkok, the center of several coups d’etat and colorful politics. But last May, the closest I got to the burning of Bangkok was through Twitter apart from the days when the redshirts were still partying at Rachadamnoen. No, I’m not the Indiana Jones type of traveler.

What I do have, though, is a camera. I lug sixteen kilograms of equipment across all sorts of terrain, and I build my travel day around making photos. When I’m with my camera, composing images that tell stories of places, nothing can touch me. Words cease. You could speak a whole dissertation to me and think I am the rudest companion; the act of making an image fills me, engages me beyond any other experience.

This is flow, a state when a person is so engaged in something that time and space seem to disappear.

The problem is, you can’t stay in flow indefinitely. When I return to reality, I realize a few things.

Cold and dusty in Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan.

1.     Not everything is beautiful.

With the camera in front of my face, everything is a matter of design. The chaos of lines can be organized into a composition using other things, like point of view, values of light and dark, framing. As a photographer, I can move and things get a little bit more harmonious in the frame. Not so in life. Moving around a problem, I can’t recompose a better image, I only postpone dealing with a mess. I can’t freeze moments that are beautiful and take them out when things get ugly.

2.     Light doesn’t change the way things are, just the way they look.

If the light is bad one day, I can always pack up and go somewhere else, then go back to the landscape when the light is ‘right.’ But in life, things don’t always look better in the morning light, or at sundown. Sometimes things look the same for days, weeks.

A few hours before the first snowfall, Paro, Bhutan.

3.     You can’t Photoshop it out.

In Photoshop there’s a Clone Tool, and it helps the photographer get rid of distracting spots and other things in the image. You just sample one area of the photo, then click over the area you want gone.  If only it were that easy for the little things that distract us in our lives. Countless times I’ve wished for a clone tool to stamp out the little demands that keep me away from my photography.

The closest I’ve come to complete irresponsibility is traveling, especially alone. I love to wake up earlier than the sun, feel the nip of dawn air as I hurry out to Kusumba to catch the sun rising over the fishing village. There is no schedule, there are only images to make, people to study, expressions to savor through a viewfinder.

4.     You can’t just crop.

Similarly, I can’t just crop. Things in my life crowd into my focal point and want to be in the line of sight. No matter how messy, how utterly unphotogenic something is, life doesn’t have selective framing. Unwanted elements seem to find their way into the experience, and I just have to deal with them.

Holding down the roof with stones, Punakha, Bhutan.

5.     Your batteries run out at some point.

Nothing frustrates a photographer more than being unprepared with extra batteries, and there’re lots of pictures left to make. On very good days, I shoot thousands of photos and have to change the camera battery once or twice (especially with the early digital Nikons, whose batteries lasted less than a thousand shutter clicks when I used a Vibration Reduction lens on them).

I work a lot, seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day. I have to; if I don’t I can’t do this photography thing and the other things I have to do. So I plod along, and most of the time, I get enough sleep and have time to watch a movie or read a book from cover to cover, for pleasure.

Other times, I feel like I’m standing on a barbed wire fence, looking out over a vague landscape, and although my hands hurt from clinging to the barbed wire, I can’t let go or I’ll fall off.

Hanging on a barbed wire fence, near Thimphu, Bhutan.

It’s not that I’m into self-inflicted pain though others would argue; I just have obligations to fulfill, and I also have a passion that feeds my soul. I cannot run out of batteries, because I must always find strength for one or the other.

When I wrote to Jodi the other day, I said, “the Balinese are so talented at balance, and that was something you needed, and something I craved. So here you are again, ready for more surprises. I hope the basket stays on the head, even when you’re dancing.”

Maybe I was also talking to myself.




11 ways to build a better photo

A recent article in the New York Times warns, “generic photos are ignored. “

Because most digital work is displayed online on blogs and other sharing sites, the travel photographer cannot afford to take a generic photo—a photo which does not tell a story, tickle the imagination, and fire neurons into attentiveness. The photographer has to think about each image and carefully design what is captured so that the resulting photograph is compelling, creative, and meaningful.

Just like stories, photos have to contain balance and impact, two very powerful ways to engage the viewer’s attention. Designing balanced, impactful images begins in the mind. Photos that are mindfully created are the ones with the most impact, and impact is what makes the difference between a photo that is ignored and photos that draw the eye to them, again and again.

Here are some techniques for composition that an image hunter can practice to get rid of the generic and find your vision within.

Girl with offering, Bali.

Nuns reading, Burma.

1. Find different angles

“Zoom with your feet” is something a photography mentor told me. With today’s powerful zoom lenses, it is almost too easy to be lulled into letting the camera and lens do the work that the photographer should be doing. Moving around gives you a chance to see differently, and it just may be a different point of view that makes the shot.

2. Use the Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds has to do with imaginary hotspots that would appear if we drew a grid of three by three over the viewfinder or photo. The intersections between the two lines of the horizontal grid and the other two lines of the vertical grid would be the hotspots. The human brain is attracted to these hotspots.

3. Isolate the subject

Man smoking in the shadows, Bali.

Uncluttering an image involves both luck and skill. Zooming in to the subject whether with the zoom lens or walking to a tighter frame will give the photograph a cleaner composition. The less distractions in the photo, the more impact the isolated subject will have.

Prayer flags lead to the golden spire of a stupa, Nepal.

4. Use leading lines

Leading lines are elements in the frame which act like arrows to the main emphasis. In this photo, the prayer flags lead the eye from one corner of the image to the stupa spire. Leading lines make it easy for the viewer’s eye to travel to the point of interest in the photo.

5. Use the foreground

Walk at sunrise, Bali.

Something interesting in the foreground can give a tension to a photo. In this photo, the woman walking beside the boat is just as sharp as the boat. Her apparent motion gives a story to the photo and makes it more dynamic.

Khon mask, Thailand.

6. Depth of field

Depth of field is the quality of sharpness from foreground to background in a photo. A large aperture (small f-stop number) gives a photo blurry background or shallow depth of field, while a small aperture (big f-stop number) gives a photo sharper background. In the photo of the Khon mask, the shallow depth of field created patterns in the light that hit the lens, giving it a dreamy quality.

7. Patterns

Looking for patterns can turn a photo into something special. This photo of a row of monks begging for alms in

All in a row, Laos.

Luang Prabang, Laos tells a story with the variation in the theme—one monk is anticipating the food a merit maker will offer, and breaks the pattern, and that becomes the interest point of the photo.

8. Scale

Scale can show the subject in relation to its environment. This large Buddha on a mountainside in

Big Buddha on mountaintop, Bhutan.

Bhutan is large, and the scale of it is shown through the wide view showing how it sits visible amongst the giant mountains.

9. Framing

Looking for natural frames is a great way to add interest and story to photos. This rickshaw driver,

Rickshaw driver, Nepal.

obscured by the roof of his rickshaw, tells a story with his eye—within the frame through which he looks daily as he makes his living.

Color at the market, Vietnam.

10. Fill the Frame

There’s no use including space if the space does not add to the story. Sometimes, the subject is more than adequate to tell a story. Other times, any other element in the photo would take away from its impact. The woman selling vegetables and her colorful environment fills the frame and creates a kaleidoscopic story of one woman in a market in Vietnam.

11. Use a Vertical Frame

Puppeteers, Thailand.

Shooting Vertical is a decision—the vertical frame has to work for the story in the image. In the photo of the puppeteers, the smoke rising from

Monk folding robe, Thailand.

the incense sticks offered to the artist’s patron spirits add to the image. In the photo of the monk, the robe he is folding is better as part of the framing and so demanded a vertical composition.


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10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts

So you got yourself a brand spanking new DSLR. What do you do now?

Many photo enthusiasts who get their first upgrade from the “point and shoot” into the world of digital single lens reflex cameras, or DSLRs, often opt to shoot in Program mode, the mode that allows the sophisticated camera to make all the decisions and produce what it computes to be the best image given the circumstances.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Why relegate all the fun decisions you could make to your camera? Isn’t the camera a tool? You might ask, where do I start? How do I start making great photos with this nifty new camera?

There are so many resources you could use to speed up your growth as a photo enthusiast, and a great number of these resources are free. Here are some things to do with free online resources that will help you get your photography where you want it to be, and say goodbye to the Program mode!

1. Know your equipment, and maximize use.

Your DSLR kit comes with a manual. Read it, and try out the different functions. If you want summaries from other photographers about what your camera can do, Phot.net has excellent information about a wide range of camera equipment. People who belong to this forum are usually very helpful. If you’ve got a specific question, participate in the online forum. Meet new photography friends, and gain a whole world of information at your fingertips.

2. Learn about the exposure triangle.

Exposure is the result of how much light reflects back from the subject into your lens, and is recorded as an image by your camera. How to properly expose

A photo shot in Manual mode. (C) Aloha Lavina.

an image is crucial to learn because it also gives you the dynamic range of your photograph—this is the gradation of light from the whitest part of the photo (the most reflected light) to the darkest part of the photo (the least light reflected), and everything in between. The more detail you have in your photo, the better your exposure. You can learn about how to make good exposures at this excellent discussion at Digital Photography School, one of my favorite resources online. They even have a newsletter you can subscribe to for free, that you get in your mailbox weekly.

3. Learn composition, and make art.

Composition is what makes a photograph attractive or unique. Centuries of art have taught us what the human brain is attracted to in a visual sense, so there are some simple “rules” you can learn to get you started in making some compelling images.

Good composition can be learned, so why not learn right away how to make your images distinct and stylish? A great place to read a lot about composition is photoinf.com.

4. Learn about white balance and control color.

White balance is the way the camera records color, depending on the temperature of the light that it captures. If the light is “cool” it has a bluish tinge, and the camera records that. If the light is “warmer” it has more yellow in it, so the people might come out with a yellowish cast over them. Digital Photography School has a concise primer on white balance, and some other suggested information below the article. It pays to learn about white balance, to control the color in your shots, and to get “true” skin tones for the people in your images.

Most cameras have white balance pre-settings, and your manual can tell you which icon means which white balance. Learn about white balance, and you avoid photos that have blue people or yellow people in them. Unless you are photographing Smurfs or Mr. Smileys, that is.

5. Know your camera’s “modes.”

DSLRs come with modes that are ways you can tell the camera the circumstances you are shooting in, and help the camera’s computer make decisions for the best shot you could possibly get. Some modes include portrait, nightshot, or sport. In portrait mode, a camera tries to isolate the subject by blurring the background, giving the portrait a soft, creamy look. Nightshot mode tells the camera to open the lens opening (called the “aperture”) and let more light in to record the dark scene. Sport speeds up the shutter, so that motion can be frozen and not blurry. There are other modes you can use on most DSLRs, and there is a great resource with photos at Photonhead that can help you get acquainted with your camera’s modes.

6. Get started on some photo projects.

A recent photo project I had was to try to light and photograph "stuff." I learned a lot about lighting in this project.

Photo projects can get your creativity flowing, and there are a lot of sites out there that help you to focus your creativity and learn as you complete your project. Everyone knows Flickr, of course, where you can join a group and shoot specific subjects, have great discussions with like minded hobbyists, and be inspired by the thousands of photos uploaded every minute.

A great resource is this article by a Flickr member titled “7 Photo Projects to Jumpstart Your Creativity.”

7. Photoshop is your friend.

There are “purists” who say that using Photoshop or other processing software on your digital images ruin the integrity of the photographs and so makes it no longer “photography.” These folks have their point of view, and we should respect that.

But the 21st Century is the digital age, and eschewing Photoshop when we are capturing digital photographs seems to be limiting when Photoshop can help us create images that are unique and beautiful. How much post-processing you do on your images is entirely up to you. You can go crazy or you can do what great makeup artists do—make a lot of makeup look like none at all. It’s up to you.

If you’re like a lot of new photographers, who want to use software to enhance their digital photographs, there are some basic tutorials to start the fun at Mashable.

8. Flash is also your friend.

Most semi-pro and entry level camera bodies include a pop-up flash. Pressing a button on the side of the pop up unit releases it and gives you instant source of light in very dark or very glary conditions.

It can be confusing to learn how to decide when to use flash, but the rule of thumb is that you “fill” the areas that are dark in your photo with the flash’s burst of light. The amount of light your flash gives you along with the exposure you want tell you how much flash you need. You can learn the basics of using flash at Brighthub.

9. Take a course.

There are some excellent online places where you can pay for guidance from a professional. Betterphoto.com is one of the sites I have tried, and the course I took from there really helped me get to know exposure. Betterphoto also has courses on many other topics, including an interesting one on composition and creativity.

MatadorU also has an excellent course I would recommend. MatadorU’s photography course is geared toward becoming a travel photographer, but it addresses many of the topics I have mentioned here, in greater detail. The best things about MatadorU is that you get wonderful feedback from your tutor, and you get access to a lifetime of tips on a wide range of topic from equipment to using social media to gain an audience for your work.

Online, there are a few sites that offer basic photography courses. A good place to start is the appropriately named Photographycourses.net.

I travel with my photo club and it is a LOT of fun.

10. Join a camera club.

It’s fun to learn with other people! We learn this in school, and we never seem to outgrow it. Learning with others helps you to maximize your learning and enjoyment, and you gain new friendships this way. There is probably a photo club in your city. Talk to some other enthusiasts, join a forum that is run by a photographer in your city or nearby, and arrange to join some of the photo walks or excursions arranged by the photo club.

Getting started with your new DSLR is not as challenging as you think. These links are just a few resources of the plethora of sites out there. Let’s help to grow our photography community and post more resources in our comments!


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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