Category Archives: Composition

Winter’s Dark Light

Sometimes the light in Seattle in winter can be quite beautiful, the low angle of the sun, when it shows up, makes all of the rather short days feel like one long golden hour. So, of course, when I tried to do a study of light for Julie Powell’s Sunday Stills it was almost a no show. I chose the room with the best light, windows on both the south and west walls, although at this time of year the sun does not come through the west window at all. 

My favorite light for bringing out the colors of the flowers was when the fog was thinning so the sunlight was diffused. The day when there was a bit of sunset color set a warm mood. I didn’t care much for the bright sunlight, that photo felt a bit harsh. I’m not sure there is a moral to this story, except that, sometimes, unnatural light is your friend.

Contrasting Texture

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Lesson:Black and White-The Basics. After reading her essay I spent the month paying a lot more attention to contrast and texture than I often do.

I also began to experiment with Lightroom’s black and white presets (there are over 20 black and white presets that come with the software!) I am actually working on an exercise to take a few sample pictures and process them with all of the presets so that I get an idea of what they all do. I may put that onto Flikr when I get it done, in case anyone else out there is as overwhelmed yet curious about them as I.

But I digress: Cee’s challenge for this month is about the initial composition, not post processing. Here are six pictures, out of  the heaven only knows how many I took this past month, where I thought that contrast and/or texture was essential to the composition. I used the one-click color to black and white in Adobe Lightroom. Some of them came out well and others less so.

Pair #1:

The textures I noted in the original were the shingles on the walls of the station, the clouds on the horizon and the shininess of the roof and pumps. Unfortunately the clouds don’t have enough contrast to show up in the black and white, and the electric wires really jump out and compete for attention with the handle, spout and roof of the station. In the color picture, while they are annoying, the red stands up to them a bit. Although I am not very skilled at the editing process I prefer this  image where I removed the high contrast electric wires:


Pair #2:

For this pair I prefer the black and white. Black and white brings out the contrast of the chalk on the boards listing the prices, the stripes caused by the light on the corrugated siding  which contrasts with the plain black of the chalk board signs and the round shapes of the fruits. It seems like this is an example of the composition points that Cee made.

Pair #3:

In this case there is not a lot of contrast between the color and black and white versions. The one thing that black and white does for you is to remove the contrast of the fairly bright green of the maple seedling that draws your eye to the bottom of the screen in the color picture. There is both textural and darkness contrast between the fern and the earth. The regularity of the fern’s geometry and its arrow like shape show up well in black and white.

Pair #4:

This fine fellow looks great in color or black and white. His feathers have a texture that define him (or her) against the fence and tree. The focus of the picture helped with that: the hawkling is in sharper focus than the background.

Pair #5:

In this case I prefer the black and white. It seems to make the stripes of the tablecloth more like a background. The rounded and irregular shapes of the mushrooms show up well against the narrow stripes of the table covering. In the color picture the similar colors of the mushrooms and the stripes make the shape contrast less noticeable.

Pair #6:

This is a dud in black and white. I thought that the mountain had enough textural difference to show up but it does not. There is not enough contrast in brightness between the sky and the white of the mountain.

I think my personal favorite black and white is from a few Compose Yourself’s ago:

There are different textures in the rose, the leaves and the fence. The rose, which is the subject, is much brighter than the other two elements. This is another picture that illustrates Cee’s Composition points well.



Following a winding road to the light

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge: Week 22. There are three topics: bright spots, S-curves and flipping the horizontal axis.

Bright spots:

A bright yellow rose, the same one taken from 2 angles, the first one shows the sky, which competes for attention since it is as bright or brighter than the flower, the second, with just the fence in the background the flower really pops:

You can really see this by changing the pictures to black and white:

This is a potato blossom that I edited for another post, by trying to reduce brightness of the foliage so the blossoms dominate in a busy picture. I would say this move was moderately successful. There is still some competing brightness on  the leaves, but the only plant that catches your eye is the potato. In the first one there are two glowing spots (I think from my camera since there is nothing physical in those locations). In the second I cropped them out but there is a bit more bright foliage.


My take away from playing with this is: I find it really helpful to switch the picture to black and white mode (I use Adobe Lightroom and it is easy to do) to evaluate where the brightness leads my eye. My perception of cool and warm colors warps my sense of brightness (I didn’t realize that the sky was brighter than the rose until I changed to black and white).


Here are some very different pictures where a serpentine curve seems to be part of the composition.


Flipping the horizontal axis:

These are all of birds. I was hoping that the pictures of birds taking off out of the frame might look better flipped, but they don’t. To make these two look truly good I would have to keep the bird going the same way and somehow shift him or her to the left of the frame, possible, but a bit beyond my current skill level. I definitely favor the birds facing right.

Spinning the color wheel

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge-Week 17: Harmonious Colors.

I like color and seem to try to have all of the primary colors (red, blue, yellow) in a composition. I learned this years ago when I took an expressive painting class. My header is an example of a picture that goes almost all the way around the color wheel, it only lacks greens.

Real life doesn’t serve up exact matches to harmonious, aka complementary, aka analogous, colors shown on the wheel, at least not to my eye.



Never-the less here is an attempt to go around the wheel using various photos that, to my eye, come close to harmonious color combinations:

Red to orange:


Red-orange to yellow-orange:


Orange to yellow:


Orange to Yellow-green:


Yellow-orange (the bee) to yellow-green:


Yellow to green:


Yellow-green to blue:


Green to almost blue-violet:


Blue-green to blue-violet:


Blue-green to violet:


Violet to red:


Red-violet to red-orange:





Am I getting warmer?

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge: Color Basics, where she talks about warm and cool colors.

After reading her essay and reviewing many pictures, I realized that I do not tend to take pictures that are all warm or all cool. I tend toward taking pictures dominated by cool colors…but I like best ones with a pop of warm, or even hot color.

Here are some all cool pictures:

Here are some all warm pictures:

Here are examples of the pictures I tend to like, cool with a pop of warm color:

Occasionally I experiment with my camera’s settings and here are a two sets of pictures that I took with different color effects, regular, black and white, sepia and cyanotype. The sepia is warm and the cyanotype cool. To my eye the black and white also appears cool.

Grey day on Puget Sound:

Tree peony bloom:


Slicing and dicing

This post is a study of cropping pictures, inspired by Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge-Week 15. Which is about cropping photos.

I chose, almost at random, a few pictures that are ho-hum, at least in part because there is too much in them.

Boats and birds in Morrow Bay California. Sock vendor in Kitui Kenya Man reading and petting a cat. Young man playing a guitar.

Then I tried a few different crops of each picture homing in on different subjects. (I did also tweak exposure, clarity and color vibrance a bit).

Here are the results (the captions contain my comments):

Boat and birds in Morro Bay, California:

Sock vendor in Kitui, Kenya:

The Empress and her favorite attendant:

My son playing guitar…and The Empress:

In general I think what works depends a lot on the subject you are after and how you plan to use the picture. The pictures I worked with all had too much busy-ness. They were generally better after cropping.



This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge: Using 2/3 of your frame.

This challenge was a real challenge. I started by having to look up what “Bokeh” meant. If, like me, you are unfamiliar it is where you try to make the background out of focus. Decent article about it on the Nikon web site: Bokeh for Beginners. The article talks about using aperture control to do this so I had to mess about trying to remember how to do that.

The results are here and in the header:

The weather has been dismal so I did some messing about with still life pictures (not an area of particular interest). In doing that I learned that the light in our house on dark grey days makes things look yellow in pictures, so I had to adjust the white balance. I didn’t get it real good, the cat’s eyes should be greener.

On Saturday the dogs were lazy after a walk on the beach.

Left 2/3
Ginger, Left 2/3

On Sunday I decided to venture out to the farmer’s market, since it was only windy. The market was not as photogenic as I had hoped I took several pictures but none really worked. The better ones were of valiant but misguided cherry blossoms, and a curly hazel. It was hard to get focused pictures because of the wind.

The two best from that expedition:


To my eye this technique works better for close ups, like the animals and flowers, than for things that are farther away like the curly hazel.  In the pictures I liked better, of Ginger and the cherry blossoms there were items actually at the 1/3 grid points as well as the subject taking up 2/3 of the frame.

Rule of Thirds

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge Rule of Thirds Introduction.

My camera has an option to show the grid for rule of thirds. Discovering that feature made a quantum leap in my photographic compositions skills.

The picture in the header has the fellow in the eye of the tortoise at the upper right. Not sure how dynamic that feels since the sky is white.

Here are some pictures taken this year using the Rule of Thirds grid:



Diagonal Play

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge Diagonal Lines.

Here are some pictures of a sculpture with a really strong diagonal line (I actually took them for Week 3 of Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge, but could’t post them in China). After reading the week 3 essay I really wanted to try it out, but had to get a bus to the train station so I took these in the hotel lobby while I waited.

Which one do you like? I kind of like the first one. In some ways it contains a bit of each of the lessons about lines: The column between the front doors leads you eye up to the teapot and the backdrop of vertical and horizontal lines on the wall behind the front desk make the diagonal lines of the splash noticeable, much more than they are in the second picture which was taken about the same distance away but from the front door side. In the last, taken from by the doors but at about the center of the sculpture, the splash appears almost as big as the stream coming from the teapot and the teapot becomes less noticeable.

Some other diagonal pictures:

While this isn’t my favorite picture I did one more experiment with this one from week 6 horizontal lines…I took my favorite rendition and removed the diagonal of the beach from it.

I still like the middle one best, and I think the diagonal line of the beach is at least part of why.

When you’re up you’re up-Vertical Lines

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Challenge: Vertical Lines.

This is something I seem to have trouble with: I can’t just go out and see how to use vertical lines. I went through a bunch of old photos and chose a few where I think a strong vertical line is central to the composition.


After adjusting vertical and horizontal and cropping.
After adjusting vertical and horizontal and cropping.

Here is a before and after of an old tower in Drogheda, Ireland. It was difficult to photograph because you couldn’t get far enough away to get the whole tower in the frame at a good angle and still see the whole tower. Nothing was particularly straight to begin with, and the tilt of the camera trying to get the whole tower into the frame aggravated that. The adjustments were compromises. I used the vertical and horizontal transform corrections in Adobe Lightroom, then cropped the photo to be rectangular (those corrections make it trapezoidal). I couldn’t correct everything and still have the whole tower so I iterated a bit.

Here is some play with the same vertical, a white pagoda. The scene also had vertical elements in the white stone of the mountain and a cloud hovering over the mountain and pagoda.

In the end my own favorite was the following, which is #3 above cropped to be a portrait orientation. It keeps the vertical lines in the rock and the cloud which echoes the shape of the mountain but cuts out the clutter of buildings and the truss tower:

White King Pagoda

My hindsight is pretty good, I wish I was better at composing on the fly.