Tag Archives: composition

What [photography] books do you recommend?

I get asked this question a lot and to be perfectly honest, it kind of trips me up every time. I haven’t studied photography through books very much, so I always feel somewhat inadequate to address the topic. That said, there are some killer books out there that are worth a read. Here are two of my favorites by award winning photographer and author Michael Freeman.

The Photographer’s Eye

This is my number 1 book on photography. Mr. Freeman is a fantastic photographer, and in this book he lays bare the secrets to excellent composition in a way you’ve never seen before. He abandons the traditional approaches of the Rule of Thirds and Leading Lines and instead takes a relational approach, considering how the image works together as a whole and how the viewer’s eye is captured by the photo. This is a must read for anyone who wants to master the art of photographic composition.


Perfect Exposure

Perfect Exposure is required reading for our Digital Photograph 2 students. As in The Photographer’s Eye, Mr. Freeman does a fantastic job of approaching difficult lighting scenarios from a fresh perspective and giving his readers the inside track to understanding what is going on and how to be successful as a photographer. This book is, well… enlightening!


How about you? What are the number 1 and number 2 photography books in your life? Leave me a comment or a link.



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Photo Tip | Alternate Horizons

If you’re like me, sometimes the straight up and down just doesn’t work for a photo. The problem is, rotating them can be awkward too…displays don’t turn them at specific angles, and I don’t really like throwing out people’s necks as they try to make things line up. Then there’s the issue of hanging it on the wall…I’m too OCD to just let it hang there crooked. Fortunately, there’s a nifty trick I call “Finding an Alternate Horizon” that helps out quite a bit.

Photo tips

As I lined this shot up, my goal was to fill the frame with railroad tracks as completely as I possibly could. Straight up and down just didn’t work. I didn’t want the tracks getting smaller in the distance, leaving the emptiness beside the tracks to grow out of control. My solution? Turn the photo so the narrow distant tracks fit neatly into the corner. My “alternate horizon?” The edge of the tracks. By lining up the edge of the tracks with the edge of the photo, I’ve kept something straight, and the image still feels properly framed, even though the true horizon is tilted to the extreme.

Rotating the image helps me fill the frame really well, and finding an alternate horizon helps the viewer feel like the whole world isn’t out of control. Another name for this technique might be, “Darn It, Make Something Straight!”

Photo tips

In this shot I have again rotated the image away from the norm. By arranging my view in this way I have been able to fill the frame more effectively with the portion of the Summer Palace that I want you to see, eliminating everything else. In order to keep the photo feeling deliberate and “normal,” I have used the bottom edge of the roof as a horizontal straight line.

Has this ever worked for you? Link me to a photo below!

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3 Guides for Story Telling Compositions

Story Telling Compositions

I like to think of a photograph as a story. Not just “Fine Art” photographs, all photographs. Every image tells a story. Sometimes the story is, “I’m eating pasta right now” as told by my iPhone. Sometimes the story is, “Buy this product and you’ll be happy and have lots of friends.” Sometimes the story comes together in a moment on the street, other times the story takes hours of preparation with models, lights, and props.

I’m eating this right now, as told by my iPhone.
All photos tell a story. Here are three ideas for telling your story well.

1. A picture’s worth 1000 words

You’ve probably heard that 1000 times, but let’s assume it’s true. This means that for every photo you take, every story you tell, you have ONLY 1000 words to use to tell that story. You need to use those words carefully, making sure that every single one counts. You wouldn’t turn in a paper to class with 600 words on the right subject and 400 words of gibberish. Don’t do that with your photo stories either. Get rid of everything that is not telling your story. If it doesn’t help, it hurts and it needs to go away. The strongest, most impactful photos use every one of their 1000 words to tell their story.

Story Telling Compositions
1000 words of hurrying through a rainy night in Venice


2. Use the right lens

Different lenses allow viewers to engage with the story in different ways. You could think of this as writing a story in the first person tense or the third person tense. When you get in close with a wide angle lens, you give your viewers the experience of being there. They are now part of the story you’re telling. It’s like writing in first person. When you step back a bit and use a telephoto lens, you give viewers a more objective perspective, that of an observer who isn’t actually participating in the story. Neither are right or wrong, just different ways of telling the story. A bit of thought before you snap the photo will help you decide which lens is going to give you the right perspective on the story you’re about to tell.

Story Telling Compositions Story Telling Compositions










One of these was shot in close with a wide angle, the other from a bit farther back with a telephoto. Can you tell which is which?

3. Don’t shoot flat footed

The height of your perspective is just as powerful as the lens you choose in determining how your viewers will interact with the story you’re telling. I’m 6’3” tall, so as I walk around, my camera tends to see the world from about 6 feet above the ground. This isn’t the only perspective on the world, and it shouldn’t be the only perspective in my photos either. A nice general rule is to shoot things at eye level. Not your eye… their eye. This is the strongest perspective for creating a direct connection between the viewer and the subject. Now, not everything has eyes, I understand that, but apply the principle. A car doesn’t have eyes, but if I want to create a direct connection between my viewers and a car, I need to get down at car level to create that shot.

Story Telling Compositions

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