Layer Your Image for Narrative Depth

Most of the time when photographers talk about layers in a photo, they speaking about postprocessing in Photoshop. In this post, I am talking about visual and narrative depth in an image. To make a photo visually appealing, you need to create a sense of depth both physically as well as narratively.

Given that most cameras do not have stereo vision and so by default shoot a two-dimensional image, creating a sense of depth has always been an issue for photographers. We are always struggling how to translate depth into only two dimensions. So we have to suggest at depth. We do this in a very simple way.

  • Example of lack of depth
    This valley is certainly dramatic and the side of the valley leading up to the edge of the frame does give it some depth. But look at the next image...

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Some Practical Tips for your Consideration

From a practical point of view, agencies and clients like an offset image as it leaves space for copy.

When talking about composition in photography the discussion can become quite obtuse at times – quite complicated and even esoteric. We often throw around words and concepts like the Rule of Thirds or the Fibonacci Triangle, Visual Weight or Visual Mass. There’s a place for all this, but there’s also a place for something much more pragmatic. So today, I want to give you a couple of practical compositional advice. Continue reading

The Human Form Divine

Returning Home


“For Mercy has a human heart, Pity, a human face, And Love, the human form divine, And Peace, the human dress” William Blake

There is a principle of composition that is so strong it could be called a law. A law, not in the form of man made limitations, but in the sense of the undeniable , like the law of gravity.  The kind of law that may very well be unbreakable. It is what I call, “the law of the the human figure.” It states that in composition the human form trumps all else for visual weight. Continue reading

Depth of Field: Michael Freeman

Michael Freeman

Michael Freeman is one of the photographers I had wanted to interview for a long time. His book on composition, “The Photographer’s Eye” had become the first book I hand to new photographers. It is destined to become the classic treatise on composition – a must read for every photographer.

Michael is one of the most widely published photographers in the world. He has worked for most major international magazine and book publishers in a long career. A leading photographer for the Smithsonian Magazine for three decades (more than 40 assignment stories), He has also published more than 120 books on subjects as varied as Angkor, Sudan, ethnic minorities in Southeast Asia, the Shakers, and contemporary Japanese design and architecture. His 50 books on the practice of photography are standard works, and have sold almost two million copies in more than 20 languages. His contribution to teaching is the photography courses at the UK’s Open College of the Arts, now to degree level in the national curriculum. London-based, Michael Freeman travels for half of each year on shooting assignments, principally in Asia. His latest large-format reportage book is The Tea Horse Road, the result of a two-year exploration of one of the longest trade routes in the ancient world, between China and Tibet.

Visit his blog HERE.
His Open College of the Arts educational support website we talk about in the interview HERE.

You can listen to more Depth of Field podcasts HERE.

Four elements that can make your images stronger


I’ve been taking some online training with Media Storm this past week. The first lesson dealt mostly with audio production. Brian Storm made a point in passing that each audio clip must have texture, sense of place, context and mood. This is true not only for audio but for images as well. For any image to communicate a story effectively at least a few of these elements will probably be present.

First I’ll offer a definition of each of these elements. Then I will identify these elements in three images. Continue reading

A Black Box

Fast as lightning.

All photos in this post taken by Jessie Brandon. Click on an image to view full size.

© Jessie Brandon, 2011

The debate over what is the best camera, best format of camera or even what is the best lens has been going on long before digital media ever was even conceived. I really had no plan to address this issue, but then something happened last night.


Mom on the beach

Last night my daughter got excited, again, about taking and making creative images. Here is the back story; we decided to go for a family walk on the beach. My wife loves to pick up driftwood and bring it back to the garden. But, last night there was no driftwood in sight. So we sat on some rocks on the edge of the ocean and watched a storm moved through. I pulled out my iPhone and opened up my Hipstamatic app and started snapping shots of my wife and the storm. Jessie, my daughter, soon grabbed my iPhone from my hands and started playing with it. In fact she got obsessed with it. I joked with her and suggested she should try to take a picture of the lightening lighting up the horizon, knowing there was no chance she would catch it with an iPhone. I showed her that if you hold the shutter button down how you can have it “triggered” and ready to go off as soon as you lift up your finger. It wasn’t a minute later that a lightning bolt struck, then one struck immediately afterward. Jessie lifted her finger off the shutter and shot her picture. She tried to catch the first, obviously not knowing there would be a second. But she captured the second bolt. I was amazed!

She got so excited that she started taking pictures of everything, our feet, us walking down the beach – everything. I’m always amazed at how good of a compositional eye my daughter has. What she doesn’t have is patients, at this point in life, to fiddle with f-stops and shutter speeds. I wish she did, but she doesn’t. And so, I’ve wrestled with how to keep her interested in something she’s obviously very talented at. Sometimes, I think to be a photographer you have to have a fancy camera with buttons and dials. But I’m seeing that the true photographer is the person who has the joy and excitement of creating moving artwork even if it is with an inexpensive app and an iPhone. The phone might be the way to keep Jessie’s interest in the medium. I bought her a Canon Rebel but it stays most of the time in my dry box. I guess it is a lot of effort for a 14 year old to get the camera out, shoot, then download the images to Lightroom or even iPhoto. But the iPhone seems to have that immediate gratification that she needs. Hipstamatic helps with that, giving her creative options with different lenses and film effects.

So what’s my point? The point is, fancy gear and tons of money is not necessary to make beautiful, artistic images. For fulfilling art, it doesn’t matter the camera or the lens. A camera is nothing more than a black box with glass. What matters is your vision. Can you express it in a creative and communicative way? For me, my expensive gear gives me a creative control. For Jess, for now, maybe the iPhone and this app is all she needs. Certainly, these pictures talk. They tell a story. They are the voice of a 14-year-old. And I think they speak loudly.


Dad and Mom





Make it Yours

Click on an image to view full size.

This is a short post today. Just long enough to encourage you to explore and stretch. I just wrote that the geek needs to play by the rules to develop an instinct, where as the artist can break the rules anytime. Note: I didn’t say anything about the geek bending the rules, or pushing the boundaries. Still, maybe this post is more for the artist. I hope we don’t get so bound by an idea that we can not rework it and have fun with it. I’m not talking about someone else’s photograph. I’m talking about concepts in both design and technique.


Take for instance the design concept of a frame within a frame. Most people when they hear this and often when it’s taught, they take the idea of a frame and literally put it just inside the frame of the photo. A typical example would be the photo above of the boys fishing. Here you have a frame created by a tree and the ground for three fourths of the image. Quite literally a frame within a frame. Better still, look at the image at the top of the three young Muslim boys standing in the archway a.k.a. the frame. It works, it’s a nice picture. But look below what happens when you pull out keeping the boys within the frame of the arch but including more arches and more of the story. Now you can see that the boys are actually in a madrasa. It is still a frame within a frame but much looser. Don’t be so literally bound by a concept or a teaching that you don’t have the freedom to push the edge and explore.

By the way, all the photo edges used in this post are from onOne Software‘s PhotoFrame 4.6

A Developed Instinct


New Delhi, India

Henri Cartier-Bresson said “In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.”  I think what he meant here by visual organization is basic design principles and composition. These are things that can definitely be developed over time and yet he still uses that word “instinct”. Continue reading

What is your Un-Suck Filter?

Un-suckfilters, everybody has one. Oh sure, you might not want to admit it, but you have one. Everyone does.

Back and white conversion or for the more creative duo-toned conversion has got to be the number one un-suck filter. We have all be tempted, but we must resist the evil that is known as duo-tone – at least when it is used to convert a bad image to a…bad image in two tones.

As a photographer based in an exotic location and one who travels to even more exotic locations I often get people emailing me to look at their travel galleries. I have seen some of the most appalling imagery exhibited as their strongest work only because it was shot in an amazing place. A bad image shot in India is still a bad image. A bad image shot in London is still a bad image.

I have come up with a partial list of popular Un-Suck Filters. Maybe you have know some others?

  • B&W conversion
  • Color and color grads effects
  • General over processing in PS or LR
  • Heavy vignette
  • Highlight slider in LR (has to be mine)

Here’s the skinny: If a photo is out of focus no amount of detail in the shadows will change that. If an image is compositionally bad, it will be compositionally bad in back and white as well. As a growing photographer, you need to spend less time working on Photoshop and Lightroom tricks and more time working on composition and craft. Do you know what a well-composed photo looks like? Are you familiar with your kit enough to quickly capture an image in focus with the exposure you want and in a compelling composition? Forget correcting it in Photoshop. Truthfully – you might be able to correct a bad image a bit. But what does that say about your vision and your craft. It just tells me you’re lucky!

By the way, drop by ProPhoto Coalition for more articles on photography.