Waiting for the Trigger

This is such a simple concept, and yet it’s so often overlooked by many photographers.

I’ve been re-reading Jay Maisel’s “It’s Not About the F-Stop”.  Among so many jewels of wisdom contained there, this one stood out: “Wait for the Trigger”.   How often do we encounter a lovely scene, point our camera at it and press the shutter?  How often is the result a lovely well-composed background without anything significant going on?  I see this often in my classes and workshops, particularly so in travel images.  How may pictures of the Eiffel Tower have you seen that look remarkably alike?

The question to ask yourself is, “Why this image – why right now?”  What makes it unique?  What makes it “my image”?  Jay’s point is that every image needs a “trigger”, a reason to make that image at that exact moment.  Without it he points out, “your picture can become wallpaper”.

The image below is from the Jardin de Marqueyssac, above the Dordogne River in Southern France.   The first is the postcard shot, virtually identical to many you will find on postcard stands throughout the region.  I wasn’t happy with this rendition; it needed something more, something to make it unique.  Fortunately, it had been raining earlier in the afternoon and a little patience soon paid off when a few minutes later a lady walked into my frame holding a red umbrella.  That was the trigger.  Click… got it!

Another trip, a different time.  From the top of the Campanile in Venice’s Piazza San Marco, I was taken by the pattern of tables below at one of the restaurants in the Piazza.  While the pattern was interesting, it also needed something to provide the trigger.  At that time of day, the restaurant was just setting up for the evening rush and not much was going on other than a few waiters milling around the tables.  I watched this for a while shooting the odd exposure with different combinations of waiters and other people.  Nothing was really working, until all but one waiter left the scene leaving the remaining fellow to strike a pose.  That was the trigger.  Click… got it!  Time for dinner.

In Iceland, Skógafoss is a popular stop along the southern ring road.  Here again some patience is all that was needed to allow most of the tourists to clear from my field of view, leaving a lone figure in red to provide the trigger, along with scale, visual interest and balance to the composition.  It’s also a nice counter point to the cool greens and bluish tones that dominate the rest of the image.

Sunrise on Kauai.  I watched this group of people at the top of the cliff as the sun rose over the horizon.  Amidst all the selfies over the next 10 minutes nothing stood out visually. Nothing provided the trigger… until one brave fellow ventured near the edge of the cliff.

The trigger isn’t always related to a specific moment (let alone, to the presence of a human figure).  I love the patterns on Hosta leaves, and we have several growing in containers on our patio.  As lovely as they are, after a while you begin looking for something different, something unique to difference your next image from all the others.  The lone water droplet clinging to this leaf was the trigger, breaking the symmetry of the pattern on this leaf and providing a unique centre of interest.

Jay’s idea of “waiting for the trigger” is really a variation of Sam Abell’s idea of finding an interesting background and waiting for something interesting to happen in front of it.  (yes, I know –  I’m a terrible name-dropper!) This often requires patience, but just as often requires thinking about what needs to happen in your image to create the trigger and make the image uniquely your own.

-BPSOP Instructor – Mark English

Mark Teaches:

After the Click: Refining Your Vision in Lightroom & Camera Raw

The Art of Printing & Selling Your Art

Creating a sense of place: Case Study #13

This post is one in a series on how to create a compelling series of images that convey a sense of place and tell a story.



Next time you’re taking photos, include detail shots to flesh out your story. Details shots, when added together with photos of people, help show the mood of your scene.

Have a look at the images in this case study:

  • Sign through flowers showing the location (Coffee on the Rocks)
  • Looking outside to the Open sign
  • Interior shot showing nautical decor
  • Handwritten lunch menu on chalkboard


Do you see how each image tells part of the story? Each of these images is a single idea. By combining several images together, a story can be created.


  1. Vary the camera angle in each shot. Shoot up, down, out, across, or through a subject.
  2. Frame your subject tightly to omit clutter. Reveal part of the subject.



Amazing Travel Photos Made Easy

Celebrate Your Life in Beautiful Images Part 1

Celebrate Your Life in Beautiful Images Part 2

Photography Essentials

No post processing skills necessary for any of Brit’s courses.



You can also work with Brit privately

Mentoring: Schedule a live session with Brit via Skype

Get a private image video review: Private Video Image Reviews

Find out about all of Brit’s courses, including Photographing Fine Art & Craft

Landscape Photography and Pre-visualization


There are many ways to approach an iconic location when shooting landscape photography. You could just shoot it the way 1,000’s of other photographers have, or come up with your own creative ideas.

It helps to a plan when going to a location, and have a concept of how you want to shoot it.

Recently, I returned to an iconic Iceland location. It is a long drive to reach this place and you really only get a short time to get the image you want. Many factors come in to play in Iceland, and most of it is because of the weather. It can be very windy and cold. It’s not the type of weather you would like to stand out in for hours to get the perfect shot.

Because I had been there before, I knew the layout of the land, and this time, I had a specific idea. I wanted a reflection on the beach with a leading line of the water. I was looking at my past images of this location, and I thought that there was something missing in those images. I felt my pre-visualization might help me capture a better image. 

The pre-visualization of an image will only work if you have all the elements you need. Composition, exposure, and the weather all need to be in your favor. But, instead of wandering around looking for a concept, you already have one. Sometimes, when you are in an iconic place such as this, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and revert back to an image that you might have seen before. But why do that? You are doing photography to create something unique and creative, something that will have your own stamp on it.

With this image, I really thought about how I wanted to photograph this iconic location. I wanted the leading line of the waves but didn’t really think through how that was going to work. It was quite cold and windy and my first thought was to go back to the car and get warm. But that wouldn’t have helped me with my goal.

Be prepared for the unexpected. 

Was the wind going to be blowing 30mph? Was the water going to come up and leave my feet in my “waterproof boots” completely drenched? Were there going to be people walking in the foreground of my shot? None of this had come to mind when I decided this is the shot that I wanted, but I was still able to come up with an image I really love.

Here’s another image that I had a pre-conceived plan. It’s a little bit of a walk to get to this location and it was later in the day than I would have liked, but it’s still a beautiful location. As I was setting up for the shot, I see two riders on horseback come walking down the beach. How perfect! 



Part of the pre-visualization of an image also has to do with how you will adjust the image in post-processing. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier article, every image will need some post processing as the camera does not see the color and light the way your eyes do. Even when you are shooting with a high megapixel camera that’s not possible. The high megapixel camera, will, however, give you a wider dynamic range to work with later in Lightroom.

If you want more information about my Lightroom Quickstart class, please head on over to the class page here.

Hope to see you in the next class!


BPSOP Instructor – Holly Higbee-Jansen


Holly Higbee-Jansen is photographer, trainer, blogger, and workshop leader who enjoys teaching and the creative process. Her passions include teaching photography workshops in beautiful locations in California, Iceland, Costa Rica and the American West with her husband Mark. Holly also teaches online classes on Lightroom, Photoshop, and photographic technique. Get Holly’s Free E-Book on “Landscape Photography and the Light and find out about her newest workshops at Jansen Photo Expeditions.com.

Reach Holly by email at hhjphoto@gmail.com and read her blog at JansenPhotoExpeditions.com/Blog

Holly Teaches:

iPhone Photography

In this class, we will introduce you to the magic of iPhone photography using several shooting and editing apps that will give you the ability to make your pictures sing in a fun and easy way.You will learn how to crop, change saturation, brightness and affect the overall look of your pictures with HDR, drama and grunge filters and other techniques. You will be amazed at the simple and effective methods.




Lightroom Quickstart


Do you want to learn to create images that show the beauty of the scene you saw when you took the photograph? Do you want to learn the other essential side of digital photography, photo editing and get up to speed quickly?

This course is designed to get you up and running FAST in this incredibly powerful program. In this two week information packed class, you will learn how to import, organize and perform simple and effective editing processes that will let you produce beautiful adjustments to your pictures.

For a complete list of Holly’s current workshops go to:

Jansen Photo Expeditions – JansenPhotoExpeditions.com

Holly’s Blog: http://jansenphotoexpeditions.com/blog

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Jansenphotoexpeditions

Instagram – http://instagram.com/photographyexplorations



Lightroom: Basic Panel or Tone Curve…

What’s the difference?

If you started your journey in digital photography using Photoshop, you like most others are likely familiar with the Curves Adjustment, and use it to adjust contrast, white point and black point in your images.  Compared to Photoshop, Lightroom is a relative late-comer, arriving on the scene in 2007 (Photoshop has been around since 1990).  So, it’s not surprising that when photographers move to Lightroom they tend to gravitate immediately to the familiar and use the Tone Curve for basic contrast and mid-tone adjustments.

That would be a mistake.

Starting way back with version 4, Lightroom introduced two features to the controls in the Basic Panel which make it the preferred tool with which to begin your editing:  image-adaptive contrast control and highlight recovery.

Most people who do use the Basic panel slide right past the Contrast slider and dive straight into the Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks below.  Again, this would be a mistake.  Lightroom adapts the tone-mapping controls in the Basic panel to optimize them for the contrast range of each image.  Adjusting the Contrast control before moving to the other tone-mapping sliders is an important step to set you up to use the rest of them to optimum effect.  It’s important to reduce the contrast setting for high-contrast images before moving to the other tone adjustment sliders.  Similarly, it’s important to first increase the contrast with low contrast images, before making other tone adjustments.

Lightroom has an, at times, uncanny ability to recover highlights lost to overexposure: as long as the highlights are not blown in all three RGB colour channels; if there is detail in at least one channel (better yet: two channels) logic built into the Highlights slider can often reconstruct the missing data in the blown channel(s).  This doesn’t mean we can get away with sloppy exposure, but it’s nice when, on occasion, we mess up.  Let’s look at an example.

The image below is correctly exposed, the one immediately after it is deliberately over exposed by 2 stops.

While it looks like there may be no hope for the over exposed image, a look at the Lightroom Clipping Display (ALT-click the Highlights slider (OPT-click on a Mac)) shows that we have clipping mostly in the red channel, with a little in the green channel as well.  However, the reflection on the glass vase is almost completely blown.

One of the first effects of over-exposure is to squeeze the lightest tones together at the top of the tonal scale.  This loss of separation creates clumps of similar tones with sudden transitions between them, rather than nice subtle gradations.   You can easily see this in the lightest areas of the tulips in the overexposed image above.  Part of Lightroom’s ability to recover highlight detail, includes the ability to reconstruct the original tones and the separation between them.  There are limits of course, but let’s see what we can do with this overexposed image.

Using just the Basic panel Exposure and Highlights sliders produced this result.

Here are the Basic panel adjustments used.

Not too bad, if I do say so!  The subtle separation in the lightest areas of the tulips are a pretty close match to the original, correctly exposed image.  The lightest tones in the background (on the left) have also been recovered with good colour and separation.  Notice also that we even managed to pull back a respectable level of detail and separation in and around the reflections on the glass vase.

In contrast to the controls in the Basic Panel, the Tone Curve possesses neither of these abilities.  It works much as its counterpart in Photoshop, shifting tones within your image file to new values depending only on where, and how much you adjust the curve.  There is no image adaptive resetting of the curve, and certainly no ability to recover partially blown highlights.

Here is my “best efforts” result using only the Tone Curve on the same image.

Despite my efforts, it’s virtually impossible to recover the subtle highlight separation in the lightest areas of the tulips using just the Tone Curve.  The lightest part of the background also lacks separation, resulting in a grayed-out tone with poor saturation.  The reflections in the glass vase are lost cause.

Which version do you prefer?

Ever since the introduction of these Basic Panel features, I find that I rarely use the Tone Curve.

There is however, one situation where the Tone Curve is the right tool for the job:  introducing new, or removing unwanted colour casts in an image.

Here’s an example.

Walking through the harbor near my home one evening, I spotted the warm sunset glow on an old ship from a good distance away.  Unfortunately, by the time I reached it, the sun had somewhat uncooperatively, slipped behind some clouds near the horizon.  Thinking I might be able to “un-set” the sunset in post, I went ahead and shot the image anyway (first image below).  Editing it later in Lightroom, I used the Basic panel for all the essential contrast and other tone-mapping adjustments.  What was still missing though was the warmth of the sunset light on the side of the ship and in the sky.  Adjusting each colour channel in the Tone Curve using point mode allowed me to recreate the warm glow in the just highlight areas as it had been when I first saw the scene (final image below).

In my course, “After the ClickRefining Your Vision in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw”, we cover these and many other features of the Lightroom Develop module.   More than just a technical discussion, the goal of the course is learning to use these tools (because that’s all they are) to create stronger more compelling images.

I hope you will join me.

-BPSOP Instructor – Mark English

Mark Teaches:

After the Click: Refining Your Vision in Lightroom & Camera Raw

The Art of Printing & Selling Your Art


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