Creating a sense of place: Case Study #12

This post is one in a series on how to create a compelling series of images that convey a sense of place and help 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 at the door reading “fully booked, reservations only”
  • Sign on the wall reading “Coffeeology”
  • Reserved sign on table
  • Fork about to dive into a piece of chocolate cake

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

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Creating strong images is often more about what you choose to exclude from your compositions than what you include.  Extraneous objects, distracting bright spots, or other visual detritus rarely add anything to what you are trying to say visually.  All elements of your images possess “visual weight”: that tendency for each element to grab and hold your attention.  Different elements possess different amounts of visual weight, forming a sort hierarchy of things that grab your attention.  Successful images minimize the visual weight of elements in your images that are not part of what you are trying to say photographically allowing those important elements to grab and hold your viewer’s attention.  if an element in your image adds nothing to your visual message, it automatically takes away from it.  Simplifying your compositions is one of the easiest ways to minimize the visual weight of distractions and strengthen the impact of your images.

A classic example of extraneous objects diluting your compositions is the “tree growing from someone’s head in a group portrait” scenario.  Solving this, and other similar problems in composition is simply about being aware of your background and finding a point-of-view that eliminates or at least minimizes the impact of these distracting elements.  Solving these problems boils down to recognizing those elements that are important to your visual message and eliminating those that are not.

Begin by identifying what you are trying to say: what you are trying to show the viewer, or what you are trying to make them feel about your subject.  This is harder than it sounds, since often your “subject” is not a “thing”; it can also be a mood, a concept, a colour or shape, or the relationships among these.

I came across the image above along the backroads of Tuscany, while scouting for one of my workshops.  For me, this wasn’t a landscape so much as it was about the line of the hill punctuated by a row of cypress trees, and the complementary colours of the blue sky and the red clay typical of the Crete Senesi.  It was just those elements that were important to me, nothing else; not the winding road just out of frame or the green grass along the ridge of the hill.  In a bygone era when we shot film, I would have chosen a high saturation film like Fuji Velvia or Kodak E100SW and underexposed this scene to drop the lower shadow values to near black and saturate the remaining colours.  In the digital world it’s better practice to expose for good shadow detail (while being careful not to blow the highlights!) and then drop the shadow detail out in post…. a very simple adjustment in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw.  The result is just what I saw in my mind’s eye when I peered through the viewfinder.

The image below is another example of the same concept.  This image is not for me a picture of the clock tower in this Italian town, rather it’s about line, shape and colour.  Dropping the shadow values here allowed me to remove the distracting detail in the sides of the buildings below the clock tower, leaving strong lines to support the tower against the blue Tuscan sky.

When you can’t eliminate distracting elements by changing your point of view or creative use of exposure, you can at times reduce their impact through selective focus techniques (using longer focal length lenses and/or wider apertures to limit depth-of-field) or perhaps even shooting through something to obscure the distracting elements.  In the image below, shooting through some foliage in my backyard and using a macro lens wide-open at f/2.8 eliminated the distractions of tree branches and garden tools in the background.

To quote Jay Maisel, “You are responsible for every square millimeter of what is in your viewfinder”.   Understanding what is important to your visual message and eliminating everything that doesn’t add to this will result in simpler more impactful images.

(The next session of my class. “After the Click, refining your vision in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw”, begins March 1st.  Join me to discover how to identify the visual weight relationships in your images and how to refine these in post to clarify your visual message)

-BPSOP Instructor – Mark English

Mark Teaches:

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

The Art of Printing & Selling Your Art


Are You Over Processing Your Images?

“Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”  – Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams embraced post-processing in the darkroom by dodging and burning (making adjustments that affect both light and dark areas of the image). The lesson that we learned from him is that post-processing is just as important as actually taking the picture. Ansel Adams would spend entire days locked up in his darkroom creating his masterful prints. They didn’t come out of the camera that way, but he had a vision in mind when he took the picture.

And that is just as true today. When we shoot with care taking into consideration composition, exposure and the histogram of the image, we can effectively create what we saw in digital form. It is also important to think about what kind of post-processing adjustments you might make to the image.

Some of the tools we now use in Lightroom and Photoshop allow us to make creative decisions in order to fulfill the artist’s vision. However, as the photographer goes through the learning process, they start to “see” their images differently, and recognize beginner mistakes that can elevate the quality of their images. This article will point out some of the most common mistakes.


Over Processed Images

The key to learning post-processing in Lightroom is to memorize what all the sliders do and what leeway you will have in using them. You don’t want to overdo a slider and have an adverse effect on your image. Here are a few tips that will help.

Don’t Overdo Your Saturation Slider

One of the most common mistakes a beginner photographer makes when first learning post processing is over saturating their images. It seems that when you spend hours on an image, you don’t actually give yourself the option to really “see” what you have created.
A good rule of thumb is to try the vibrance slider first before adding saturation. Vibrance is a smart-tool which only increases the intensity of the more muted colors and leaves the already well-saturated colors alone. It’s sort of like fill light, but for colors. Vibrance also prevents skin tones from becoming overly saturated and unnatural. Then use your saturation slider sparingly, watching for over-saturation in skin tones as well as blown out reds and greens.

Another tip would be to look away from your image for a few minutes. Look out the window or look at a different image and come back to the original.

One of my favorite features of Lightroom is to use the Snapshot view in the Develop module. This will easily give you a way to create another version of the same picture and compare the two.


The Snapshot

The snapshot view in Lightroom gives you the unique ability to work on an image and save a digital facsimile. Lightroom saves just the image adjustments in the catalog and does not take up any additional disk space. If you would like to create a virtual copy of an image to show up separately in the Lightroom Library module, you can do this as well. The snapshots will only show up for a singular image in the Develop module in Lightroom.

You can save a version in a snapshot and create a whole new image or save just pieces of the previous edit by copying the adjustments and pasting only selective adjustments into the new version. After I have made the new adjustment, I save it as a snapshot and then compare the two. Quite frequently, the version that I thought was the best I could do, looks lackluster next to the newer, more creative version.

Don’t Overdo the Shadow Slider

One of the best ways to edit a landscape image is to bring down the highlights and bring up the shadows in Lightroom. But watch out when using the shadow slider. It can leave your image looking flat if you use too much. This can be a dance between using the shadow, highlight and exposure slider, balancing each so that your image looks its best.

The Dehaze Filter

The dehaze filter is a useful tool that should be used sparingly. This filter can give you a dramatic look in the sky of your landscape image, but if overused, it will affect the sky negatively by adding a strange greenish blue cast. This filter is best used sparingly or with the local adjustment brush so you can control the effect. You can also use a selective filter to add more blues back in the sky by decreasing the color temperature to the cooler blue side and bring back the natural color of the sky.


Over-sharpening is one of most common mistakes of the beginning photo editor. Sharpening is essential for a correctly edited digital image, but you need to get a handle on the settings that work for your camera. For my camera, I tend to set my sharpening to about 100, my radius to 1.2-1.4 and my detail to 25. You can push these settings higher, but watch for halos and glows around the edges of the image. Also be careful of sharpening if you have cropped your image. If you are sharpening an image based on the full resolution size, it will easily look over sharpened when cropped.

The highlighted area showing the halo is over sharpened.

In addition to all of these recommendations, over-processed images occur when we get too close to the work and don’t give ourselves some space and time to actually “see” what we have created. Hopefully, the tips suggested and a little dedicated screen break from time to time will help us to stop spoiling the pictures we worked so hard to make.

If you would like some help with your grasp on photo editing, join us at for our next Lightroom Quick Start for an enriching learning experience right here on BPSOP.

In this class, I cover the basic tools to use Lightroom as your go-to editing and organizational tool. This 4-week class covers the basics that will get you up and running quickly in an efficient way. Try our next Lightroom class and learn to use the essential program for editing and organization.

BPSOP Instructor – Holly Higbee-Jansen

HollyHolly Higbee-Jansen is photographer, trainer, blogger, and landscape photography 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

Reach Holly by email at [email protected] and read her blog at

Holly Teaches:

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.

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.



Quick Photo Tip: Light, A Little Dab Will Do Ya

I love the light, plain and simple, and I’m a firm believer in one of my favorite phrases, “You find the light and you’ll find the shot”. I’ve been following this self-appointed rule for as long as I can remember and it has served me well.

One of my favorite ways to shoot is to find a little dab of sunlight somewhere, usually hidden between larger areas of shadow and or color, and place or see an object or subject in it. When I expose for only the area in light, I can make the shadow area ever more dramatic and interesting…and colorful.

In my online class with the BPSOP, and in my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind”workshops I conduct around the planet, I’m always telling my fellow photographers that one of the best ways to take their photography what I refer to as “up a notch”, is to “see past first impressions”. I usually follow this with a quote by Henry David Thoreau who once said, “It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see”.

What I mean in this context is when you find yourself at some location, look for areas that have a small amount of light hitting somewhere. This is easier to find when the light is dappled, but harder to find when the majority of the scene is in shadow. When you see it, think of ways to utilize it. I can promise you there’s a chance to walk away with one of those illusive “Keepers” we all strive for but sometimes have a hard time creating.

There are people out there that think this is not a good idea and will tell you that you need more light to take good photos. All I can tell you is to run away as fast as you can because they will only beat you up with bad advice and drag you down to their level.

In the above photo taken during my Springtime in Berlin workshop, I was walking down the street and saw a crowd of people standing in line. I’m always attracted to this becauseof the possibility that something going on.

What the people were doing is waiting for this restaurant to open, so I walked up to the front to see what it looked like. I’m really curious about everything, especially when I have a camera in my hand…which is most of the time.

There, right in front of my eyes was this chair being lit by the sun coming through a small hole in the red fabric. Needless to say, I was all over it like a tight fitting Lassie costume.!!!

  • I have nothing but praise for both Joe Baraban's courses, Stretching Your Frame of Mind I & II. His examples and critiques really do stretch your mind, with new approaches, techniques, and an artistic mindset. It is obvious that Joe is dedicated to sharing his talent and experience with aspiring photographers. If you're looking for nothing more than “good job, how pretty,” show your photos to your mother. On the other hand, if you want honest, detailed, and constructive critiques and advice, Joe's courses are for you. Read More
    Sydney Floyd Stretching Your Frame of Mind I & II
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