Category Archives: Composition

Focus on photographic composition.

Botany Bay Plantation Boneyard

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Ever since I saw Tony Sweet’s images of the boneyard off Edisto Island in South Carolina I have wanted to do a sunrise shoot there. A boneyard in this case is a place where there are dead trees along the beach with some standing in the ocean during high tide (due to erosion of the coastline). They are great for creating simple minimalist images – especially at long shutter speeds (several seconds). It turned out that clouds moved in during the night and I didn’t get the sunrise colors I had hoped for, but it still worked out quite well – there were nice dramatic blue-grey clouds.

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Here are a few pointers on shooting this type of image:

  1. To minimize the texture of the water, use long exposures. 
  2. Your tripod will be in the water so make sure it can handle the salt water and sand. My carbon fiber tripod (Gitzo) does quite well. Just rinse it with tap water afterwards and clean as necessary.
  3. Waves will tend to undercut your tripod legs and move the camera during the exposures. To minimize this, let a couple waves come and go before exposing (adjust your framing as necessary) – this lets the legs get somewhat settled into the sand.
  4. Shoot several exposures to get one sharp one.
  5. To create lines moving into the image, wait for the wave to reach its furthest point up the beach before opening the shutter. 
  6. Use a wide angle lens to accentuate the lines created by the receding waves (see the third blog image below).
  7. Collisions between incoming and outgoing waves can create interesting patterns (see the opening blog image).
  8. Try several exposure lengths to get the effect you desire.
  9. Notice where the white water stops. This will create a strong tonal line in your image. Make it work for you in the composition – use it diagonally (as shown above) or place straight at a 1/3 frame line as shown below.

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This last image was take by another photographer I met that morning, Stephan Frasier. It gives you a clear overall image of the shooting situation.

 Stacy 7025

Also posted in How To Tagged , , , , , |

Waiting for the Light

Photo Snapseed

To be honest, I am not one who usually likes to just sit and wait. But with photography, the two most important elements in a great photo are the light and the composition (assuming the technicals are fine). When it comes to landscape photography, being there when the light is special adds a lot to the image. This usually means being out there early/late or in inclement weather looking and sometimes waiting for that magical light. I was reminded of that this past week as I walked by a building in thenSilicon Valley area that was sculpted with flag stone. It was 7pm and the sun was just coming around the building at such an angle that it skimmed just patches of the flagstone. Unfortunately my iPhone was dead and I didn’t have a camera. The next evening, I was in the same area so I took the time to wait and watch for the magic to happen again. While I was waiting I noticed a heart shaped structure in the flagstone. As luck would have it, the sunlight skimmed those stones and image shown hear was the result. The iPhone image was processed with Nik’s Snapseed to add a vignette and some drama to the image.

Also posted in iPhoneography, Light


Lloyd_Stacey_1Stair Shadow Play.jpgLloyd_Stacey_2Stairs on End.jpgLloyd_Stacey_3White Memorial Fountain 1.jpgLloyd_Stacey_4Ghosts in the Deep.jpgLloyd_Stacey_5White Memorial Fountain 2.jpg
Abstract photography is about capturing pattern, light, color and texture to create designs. The hand full of images shown here are a set of abstracts I recently entered into the PhotoPlace juried competition in Vermont. This time one of my images was selected for the online gallery and exhibit book (the White Fountain Memorial #1 image).

You can see additional images from the exhibit here. There is a very nice set of abstract images there and you may find many of them inspirational to creating your own abstracts.

If you would like to purchase one of the book compilations from this exhibit you can do so here when they become available ($24.95).

Sunset on Fire

Last night there was a spectacular sunset. I had just arrived home and I noticed the beginning of some nice color and texture in the sky. Deciding to grab a couple texture or abstract shots I got out my camera with a 100-300mm zoom and turned on the VR (vibration reduction). The slide show above is a set of images taken progressively as the light show continued. I would have liked to have been by a lake or some other great setting, but I made do with what I could shoot through an open upstairs window. Yes, the colors were that dazzling and the light rays were all there. There was also virga adding to the show.

 This was a series of the magic moments I wrote about in a previous blog entry.

Also posted in Light

Still Life Light Painting – How To


I have continued to explore and experiment with new techniques during the winter months. Light painting has become somewhat popular with landscape images and is used by s0me commercial photographers for product lighting. Light painting involves taking long exposure images while the photographer (and/or assistants) use flashes or flashlights to "paint" the landscape or still life arrangements. I have included a couple of samples from my experimentation in this blog. As you can see, very dramatic and what appears to be complicated light setups can be created this way. I happen to have a collection of old cameras and the associated gear so I have been using that for my subject matter.

I learned this technique from Dave Black who is a master of lighting (I highly recommend you take a look at this work – very nice). I have outlined the basic steps below. It is hard to describe all the nuances without showing the technique on a video.

  1. Setup your still life arrangement in a very dark room.  (Test if your room is dark enough. Take a 30sec exposure at f8. If it comes out completely black, you are good.)
  2. Setup your camera on a tripod and frame your composition.
  3. Setup the camera for a 20-30sec exposure (at least as a start) and turn on noise reduction in your camera. Set the f-stop based on your desired depth of field.
  4. You will want a couple of flashlights- a penlight and a larger flashlight (LED ones work well). Make a black plastic snoot (tube made from black tape or such) so the bulb is not visible from the side. Your flashlight is likely get in the frame and you don’t want to see it.
  5. Turn off the lights and use a flashlight  to paint on your still life. Always keep your flashlight moving. Use the penlight to highlight where you want to draw the viewer’s eye. Use the larger flashlight briefly if needed to "dust" the setup with light, keeping it moving.
  6. This will be an incremental process and it will likely take lots of trial and error. Start by just painting a small area at first to see how much light is needed.  View the results, adjust the light as needed and add another area. Personally, I count as I paint each area and try to follow the same basic sequence to get some repeatability.
This technique requires some patience, but it can be fun as you let your creative juices flow to come up with very unique lighting.
Also posted in How To, Light, Photographers

Magic Moments


I love it when you are in the field shooting and the light turns magical. This seems to happen most often when you get out in less than pleasant weather or catch the weather in transition. A few days ago I went out early in the morning to capture snow scenes near my home. It was cold and still snowing off and on, but a good snow doesn’t come that often in the mild Willamette Valley; I wanted to get out there before it melted. From what I could see, it was going to be a totally cloudy grey morning, but then to my delight cloud breaks formed shortly after sunrise. The images here were caught during those magic moments.


The problem with magic moments is that they don’t last very long. Capture them when you can.


Also posted in Light

Composition Notes – Balance


For the second in the series on composition, I thought I would touch on balance. One could write pages on this subject so I will only scratch the surface. Balance in some ways is one of the trickier aspects of composition. When is an image balanced? Should it be balanced? What factors come into determining visual balance? This blog only touches on the last question.

Don’t confuse symmetry with balance. Creating symmetry can be good in some images, but symmetry can often result in static or “boring” images. You can have balance without image symmetry.

Key to understanding balance is the fact that our mind implicitly gives weight to elements within an image. This weight is not just based on the elements size, but on it’s color, tonal value, local contrast, texture or other differences from the rest of the elements, etc.

Look at the opening blog entry versus the one below. Do you feel the difference? What is the difference?


It isn’t much, but the difference is the one red leaf along the top middle left edge of the image. First, red as a color carries a lot of weight – our eye is quickly drawn to red elements (notice in this image that the yellow leaves feel somehow secondary). Second, the red leaf helps balance the red leaves around the rest of the frame. In part this is done by completing a pattern. The red leaves almost form a circle (or possible a triangle) around the yellow ones.  When the one red leaf is gone it’s absence breaks the pattern and draws our mind’s eye. Our mind doesn’t like it when it can’t find a pattern that provides balance and goes off hunting. Completing the circle keeps our eye in the frame and on the subject.

Looking at the three primary yellow leaves in the image. Do you feel the balance? They are all different sizes but there is balance. One way to look at it is a teeter tauter (fulcrum). From the visual center formed by the three leaves note that the smaller leaf on the left is further from the center than the larger on the right. This gives balance around the “middle” leaf (just like we learned as children on the teeter tauter).

Looking back at the blog on “black holes” we can see that the black hole creates an imbalance because of its strong tonal weight. The same is true of white spots in an image.

I will leave you with one last image to think about. Look at the black and white image below. It has “black holes” all over the place. Why does it work? What gives the two asymmetric leaf clusters balance?

Hydrangea in Black and White

Composition Notes – Black holes


While shooting the fallen leaves this past weekend, I decided to use them to illustrate some of the compositional elements I take into account while shooting. This is the first in a set of blog entries touching on composition. First i will look at black holes.


Take a look at the second image. Notice where your eye gets drawn – the black area in the middle upper left. That probably isn’t where you want the viewer to look. Compare this to the opening blog image where I simply placed a leaf in the hole – problem solved.

Ways of dealing with “black holes”

  1. Fill the hole as I did above.
  2. Shift the framing to eliminate the black hole.
  3. In post processing try to bring out detail in the hole by dodging it (increase local exposure).
  4. Clone something into the hole during post processing.
  5. Use the black holes or “negative” space as part of the composition – balance. I will touch on balance in a future blog.

Black holes are often a problem when shooting foliage and flowers, etc. This is especially true on sunny days where there are deep dark shadows. That is why cloudy days are often better for shooting these subjects (use a diffuser or look for shade on a sunny one). So instead of “dealing” with the black holes, you can avoid them altogether.

Nature’s Spotlights


Lately I seem to be tuned into how nature spotlights elements of the landscape. This can happen on a cloudy day when beams of light shine through a hole in the clouds, at sunrise or sunset when the suns rays find their way through a gap in the mountains or when sun light bursts through a hole in the trees. Notice how these spotlights draw your eye to a specific feature.


I have included here a couple of examples from my recent trips to Washington, Colorado and Utah. When you are in the field shooting, make sure you take time to look all around you and notice how nature is highlighting the landscape. If you see light moving across the top of the mountains, watch and wait to see if it brings out a feature that will add to your composition. Often you have to be patient, but the reward is worth it.


Also note that nature provides different colors of spotlights come morning or evening.


Blog images:

  1. Shot at sunrise at the Colorado National Monument. Light was selectively beaming onto different monuments as the sun broke the horizon.
  2. Here a ray of sunlight coming through the tree canopy formed a perfect spotlight on the base of this Sycamore tree early one morning at Maryhill State Park in Washington state.
  3. The last rays of aspen glow just hit this mountain top through a gap between other mountains at sunset – Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
  4. Another hole in the clouds late in the afternoon created this spotlight on the mountain side. Again in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Also posted in Light