Tag Archives: Composition

Breaking the Rules -Why you are not the Rebel you think you are

The following is a repost from my Business and Portfolio Website and blog. Posting it here in the hopes of farther reach

Breaking the Rules

Why you are NOT the Rebel you think you are

The Rules

Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a fellow photographer proclaim: “I know the rules so I can break them” then they also add in “I’m a Rebel”. I mean, I see this so often it’s actually become an annoyance and it’s really turned into just group speak. Someone said it and then everyone just repeats it without actually thinking about what it means. Well, I have. So lets take a little trip and see, what what with this.

But first a note. This article assumes you make photographs as art. The “rules” don’t apply to other photographic genres. Photojournalism is about telling a story, Sports, about capturing the moment, Commercial, about selling the product. While they may possibly contain art, it’s not a necessity. Continue reading »

How Viewpoint changes an Image

in Photography and art, often times our Viewpoint can change the look and what our photograph says completely.

Viewpoint is “Where we view our subject from” and in Art it is not synonymous with Perspective, although it is used that way in common use. Perspective is the relationship of one object to another to show depth as I discussed in my last article: Why we use different lenses and why we move 

These two images shot in the Mojave Desert of a dry lake bed illustrate this point and I hope you can get the different “Feel” that these two images portray (Click mages to enlarge)

Continue reading »

Why we use different lenses and why we move

Zoom with my Feet

Zoom with my feet

Why do we have so many lenses or zoom lenses? Why do we move or not move?

I’m often surprised when I hear photographers talk about lenses and well even more surprised when I read photography blog articles about lenses and what they think “does what” when it comes to lenses and why we may choose one focal length over another. After all can’t we just “Zoom with our feet”? So why do we even have more than one lens, cuz really what would be the point? So this is a small excerpt from a larger article I had in mind to write to show; “What Does What” and why we need more than one lens and even why we may not. Continue reading »

LOOK FOR added interest in your Landscape Photograph

or any photograph really.

Here we have a scene that is in itself beautiful. The magnificent sandstone cliffs above the beach and ocean at Torrey Pines State Beach – La Jolla California

Just on it’s own it’s a beautiful scene to photograph and makes for a nice shot

But simply by stepping 30 feet to my right ( and getting my sneakers VERY wet, I was able to add a ton of interest to the scene by adding the reflection off of the wet beach sand and also some of the movement of the water itself

So don’t get caught up in a scene before you and just fire away, move around look for different perspectives, things of interest, foreground subject all the little things that add up to a more complete and pleasing image for the viewer.

Sometimes we get so excited by the beauty we see we forget to look for more…LOOK


Composition – What Brings Order to a Photograph


Composition is one of the aspects of a photograph that makes it appear better to the eye. It’s a “Reason” not a “Rule as some may lead you to believe.  

 Nothing in composition was man made. Man only quantified why something was attractive or pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t like the rule of thirds was invented when the first man wrote it down, it was merely that he quantified why something looked better that occurs, quite naturally
So let’s look at a few things to looks for in composition that can help us achieve a better photograph. Nothing is etched in stone as some may lead you to believe and if you break one rule you may actually have just fallen into another one without knowing it and if the end result is something visually pleasing and adds to the image and captures an audience, then do it.

Composition Part Deux

Composition Part Deux

Hi everyone, sorry I’ve been away. Had a new magazine assignment and that kept me busy this week. Sorry to neglect you.
Seeing that I started the week with a quick hint on composition I thought I should end the week talking about composition again. This time with a more complete guide to it.
I think it’s important to go over basic photography lessons because what I find is that all too often when shooting HDR, the HDR becomes the most important part of the image and we throw everything else out the window and we loose some of the essence of what makes a great photo…a great photo. HDR does not make a great photo, it only allows us to capture the full dynamic range of a great photo. If we make it first and foremost, we may just have a perfectly exposed…bad photograph.
So let’s look at a few things to looks for in composition that can help us achieve a better photograph. Nothing is etched in stone as some may lead you to believe and if you break one rule you may actually have just fallen into another one without knowing it and if the end result is something visually pleasing and adds to the image and captures an audience, then do it.
One quick thought on Rules of composition. Nothing in composition was man made. Man only quantified why something was attractive or pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t like the rule of thirds was invented when the first man wrote it down, it was merely that he quantified why something looked better that occurs, quite naturally

A foreground subject

For me this is just something I find to be really important and I tend to stress it more than maybe other photographers do. But I have heard that when choosing photographs for magazines a lot of editors reject images because they lack a foreground subject. After all we have seen millions and millions of shots of a beautiful sunset, but all that may be of interest is the beautiful sunset itself, we didn’t do anything to add to that and make it a beautiful PHOTOGRAPH of a sunset.
So, always, in the right situation have a foreground subject. A start for the viewer, Here, look here, see this, then move on as you are carried to the background and the rest of my photograph.























The Rule of Thirds

I don’t think anything gets pounded into new photographers for composition than the rule of thirds. We naturally like to center things and people that just start taking photographs often do just that. But it may not be the most pleasing and visual interest to our photographs. Placing our subject at the intersection of Thirds of the scene add better visual interest and balance to our photographs. If you have a horizon line in your image, place that at a Third also from top to bottom.



























Golden Mean or Ratio

Based on a mathematical formula that appears in nature (Fibonacci numbers) – think Nautilus shell here – Golden mean is another way to place object within our scene in a pleasing way.
I’ve demonstrated it here using both a Golden Spiral and also Golden Triangles

Leading Lines

We capture our viewers attention with our primary subject, then we use leading lines to draw the viewers eye farther into the image and our secondary subject. Leading the viewer to look where we intend
But leading lines don’t have to be so hard and obvious 


























Sometimes symmetry just works, sometimes it can be boring. But with the right balance, again, it can bring interest to the work



























Balance and weighting

Even though it is obvious in the photo below that the cars behind our main subject are not the same scale as our subject, the weight of all those cars together equals the weight of our main subject

Natural Framing

Use existing elements in the image to frame your subject. Again what we are trying to do is lead the viewer where we want. An image has just seconds to grab a viewers attention. We don’t want them to have to take too much time to find what we want them to find. They may just loose interest

























Use Color and Brightness

Our eyes are drawn to certain colors, that’s why Fire Trucks are red. Certain colors make an object stick out, some make the object retreat. Use that to lead the viewer where you want. Also brightness  or contrast draws the eye. So make your subject the brightest part of the scene to draw the eye too it
When our subject is yellow, our eye goes immediately there
But look what happens when we change that flower to a recessive color. The eye hunts for the subject

Mix up your orientation

Have you noticed something about a lot of my “Landscapes”?Tthey are shot in a vertical or “portrait” orientation. People assume that Landscapes are shot in Landscape orientation and portraits are shot in portrait orientation. The funny thing is my best friend is a great senior portrait shooter and we have always found we naturally go the other way. My hands when they go up to shoot naturally go for a vertical or portrait orientation, that’s the look I want most times. She on the other hand for her portraits will go for a landscape orientation. They just work for us. But it’s fun to mix things up even if you find it un-natural. Sometimes it just gives a different perspective on things


And then sometimes…I just don’t give crap about the rules at all and I just want something centered 

 Notice, I didn’t center the horizon though 😉
There is much to be learned about composition. But a lot of it depends upon how your mind works. Are you right brained (the so called artistic mind)? Or are you left brained (the analytical mind)? Right brained people tend to just see composition but not really know why. Left brained people, it will be more of a  thought out process but they may not see it naturally. Both may get there, they just do it differently. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.
Hope that helps a bit. Like I always like to stress it is STILL all about good photography, we are just using a different tool to realize our artistic vision. But don’t make HDR the star of the show if there is not a good stage below it.
Hope that helps

Reader HDR Image Critique – Bill McClung

Well it looks like this is a big week for reader featured images and critiques. But I think they are fun and a good learning experience so I am going to add one more this week.

This image comes from reader Bill McClung.

Click to enlarge

 Here is what Bill had to say about his Image:

1.  The photo was taken from the back deck of our home, in Hendersonville, North Carolina (Western NC).  It was early morning (around 7:45 a.m.), before the ground fog lifted.  I had played around with the trial version of the Photomatix Pro software, before purchasing it, but this was my first “real” attempt.

 2.  I used a Panasonic LX5 camera , tripod mounted.

 3.  Three images were made (-2, 0 & +2), using auto-bracket.

 4.  I used the Photomatix Pro  software and made several manual adjustments.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to record the changes (I AM doing that now!). 

 5.  The modified image was then imported into PhotoShop Elements 7 for cropping and some minor tweaking.

 6.  We live in a beautiful part of the Western North Carolina mountains and have many spectacular sunrises and sunsets.  I manage to get a lot of nice sunset photos, but sunrise photos are very rare for me.  Fortunately, my wife hauled my butt out of bed when she saw how beautiful it was outside.  I wasn’t all that excited at the time but, when I saw the image results, it was WELL worth getting up early!

 Thanks for submitting this Bill, The image is beautiful BUT, now for the critique



The subject is very beautiful, the fact that there is fog in the valley adds to the image immensely and that is indeed the subject. However there are two subjects in the image and I will address that in a bit.


Absolutely beautiful light, shooting at this time of day or it’s corresponding evening time will add to any image. This image shot even an hour later would have been lost. Because of the subtleties of tone if it was shot any later with more contrasty light the image would fail. The nice transition of the early morning skies with the purple to pink hues is excellent and well captured

HDR & Post Processing

3 images 2 stops apart was the right choice for this image. The Dynamic Range was wide because you have the lightness of the fog but you also have some deep shadow areas in the wooded section. More frames would have done nothing for this image. The HDR Processing in PhotoMatix Pro is very good too. Bill went for a very natural look which is what this calls for. The colors and light are so subtle that if you went any further it would have ruined the tonality of the image.

The only thing the image is lacking is a Pure black for the small amount of shadow areas there are. Without that the image comes off slightly flat especially in the foreground tree area. I either would have moved the blacks sliders up in Photomatix or fixed it in post with a level or curves adjustment


Well I kept the worst for last because this is where the image falls a little flat; composition. But the image still has it’s good points. Using the tree as a natural frame works wonderfully. It frames the “Subject” of the image; the fog encased valley. However Bill’s eye was caught by another subject, That Flame Red tree, which of course is beautiful. The eye naturally goes to Red, Orange and Yellow objects first. And there in lies the problem. It pulls the eye from the true subject of the image. It by itself could have been another image, but in this case  it actually detracts from the composition of the image.

Now possibly, if Bill repositioned himself far to the left or right, he may have been able to move that tree closer to the primary subject to get them both in, but from this angle it doesn’t work.

The next problem is the placement of the foreground subject, the other tree that frames the image. It’s in No-Mans-Land. It’s neither centered for symmetry nor is it placed in the more correct “Rule of thirds or ” Golden Section” zones. I think if Bill would have placed the tree off to the right and instead off all the periphery of the wooded area and concentrated more on the distant subject of the valley it would have helped 

Rule of Thirds

For those of you unfamiliar with  the “Rule of Thirds. It is an aesthetic  design and art rule for placement of objects within a scene

Here is what a Thirds grid would look like on this image. What we are trying for is to have our subject at the intersection of two of the thirds lines

Bill did do a good job of keeping the horizon line of the valley low and not centered in the image which is a very common mistake

 Now, the Rule of Thirds is the most well known of compositional elements. But look closely at this image, because of the size of the foreground object. There really isn’t a good way to place the trees into the image since they really are spread across the image. Rule of Thirds  don’t really help us with this image. Plus the tree itself does not make a good subject, it should instead serve it’s purpose as a “Frame” of the real subject

Golden Spiral

So instead I am going to suggest two much more radical approaches to the composition of this image: A square crop, based on a Golden Spiral. A golden Spiral is based on Golden Ratios or Golden Means which in themselves are based upon Fibonacci Series. Now I could go into the whole math explanation…actually no, I couldn’t because I suck at math. But without making this complicated and instead making it for the right brained. Picture a nautilus shell and overlay that on your photo

 Now I would crop to that shell and it would give me this composition on a square crop

Is this correct? Who knows, it’s just another way of Seeing.

Overall Bill has a very good image. I just think that composition could be worked on. Remember when we are standing on Bill’s beautiful deck looking out on his view, we can use our eyes and mind to find the elements that are beautiful and pleasing to us and our mind isolates them from the periphery. When we now have a  photograph we no longer have that luxury and must instead lead the viewer where we want them to go and we do that through composition

Thanks Bill. Great share.

All Images copyright Bill McClung, do not copy or use without permission, all rights reserved

Remember if you would like to have your HDR Image Featured or Critiqued just follow the directions here