An Invitation To Linger

Understanding all that there is to know about composition is a topic you could easily write a whole book about. The basics of composition are the same for everyone, and are something that should be given some thought when lining up your photo through the viewfinder. Now that we have identified our subject and moved to a position that made the best use of the light, and are mentally prepared with all the basics we have learned, we can look through the viewfinder and compose our shot. But a bigger question is how do we make our viewer linger for a while in our image?

In its simplest terms, composition is simply composing the picture so that the subject is highlighted as the main focus of the image. You’ll usually want your subject to be the center of attention in the frame, making a stronger statement. You’ll often hear photographers saying to “fill the frame with the subject”. It is a good guideline to keep in mind.

Beautiful scenery doesn’t always mean beautiful photos. The beauty of nature inspires us to record moment and images but we must learn to focus on making powerful and meaningful photographs. We have to go beyond just recording the beauty of the natural world and become part of the creative process. We have to learn how to take a mixture of elements of design and create an image that will inspire and move people and make them want to spend time appreciating our unique view.


Look Down

Start with what’s at your feet. Look at the foreground. Foreground can be great in leading the viewer’s eye through the scene and giving them a sense of being there or perspective. We want to transport viewers to our magical find. Not just anything will do. It needs to be interesting and lead the viewer on a journey through our image. Leading lines, curves, shapes will lead the eye on that journey. So take a walk around and scout out those interesting foreground elements.

Notice in this image how I found a leading line with the rock? It invites the viewer and points the way for them to take a walk along the path into the beautiful, lush, & foggy forest in the mountains of North Carolina.

Leading elements can be powerful so be careful and don’t choose leading elements that lead the viewer out of the image or cause confusion. Make sure the foreground lead to something important in the background. Leading elements work best when they “flow” through the foreground, starting outside of the bottom of the frame or corners, flowing through the foreground into the middle and back ground.


For this shot of Looking Glass Falls in North Carolina, I got low in the creek to capture the small cascade of water as it travels down the river from the waterfall and placed it in the bottom right hand corner so that it would “flow” from the image.

Get Up Close and Personal
Sometimes interesting foregrounds mean getting close. Let the elements dominate the area closest to the viewer. Wide angle lenses are great for this. Don’t be afraid to get right up on the foreground with the wide angle. It will allow you to get close to an interesting foreground and incorporate the rest of the scene as well. It will also give a sense of depth to the image. I would recommend f/16 or f/22 for sharpness throughout the scene. HOWEVER, you can get creative here with a limited depth of field. Remember there are no rules!


The lush ferns along a trail on Roan Mountain, TN dominate the foreground in this image. I got on my knees inside the ferns with a wide angel lens for this shot.


In Provence, France these yellow flowers dominate the foreground and the lines of lavender in the background add depth to the image.

Look for a Fresh Perspective
Look for opportunities that haven’t been done before. In landscapes, look for less popular spots. Stray from the masses and look for something unique. To make a unique image think to yourself: How can I make this image better? Can I reveal something unique or exciting about the subject? How can I find a unique angle and do something different?

Work each image and opportunity. One click of the shutter leads to another so try different approaches, angles, viewpoints etc. Start with the obvious, then concentrate on a different way to photograph it. Push beyond mental barriers as much as you can. Work the subject, take a break and then try again.


In this image I photographed Glen Falls in North Carolina from behind the fall, a unique viewpoint.

Create Visual Flow
The camera “freezes” a moment but don’t let your image appear lifeless. Learn to impart a sense of motion, energy and life into your images. Visual Flow is a way of creating the illusion of a 3D perspective and motion into our images. It can create energy and a sense of visual excitement to your photos. It captures dynamic energy, creating an illusion of movement and energy.

There are many ways to create visual flow. Most common are using composition, color, shape & long exposures. It does require the ability to see abstractly and to pre-visualize the scene. It can be difficult and takes practice. To move the viewer’s eye through your image is the goal. It will make the viewer want to stay there a while and come back for many more visits!

Certain shapes help with visual flow. Curves can give scene elegance. Zig-zags create energy by forcing the viewer’s eye back and forth. Circles can trap the viewer’s eye holding interest for a longer period of time. Lines and triangles point the eye. Long exposures captures create a sense of movement and give a sense of movement over time. Flowing water is a good example but there are moving clouds or moving flowers etc. that imply motion also.


Curved lines of the slow flowing water and shapes of the rocks in the Great Smoky Mountains create energy and motion.


The lines and shape of the rocks at Roan Mountain, TN give the image a sense of motion and leads the viewer’s eyes into the image.


The flowing motion of the clouds is what captured my interest in this scene in Acadia National Park along with the shape of the rocks matching the shape of the clouds!

Color can create visual flow too. Transitions such as warm to cool or light to shadow can sometimes really add interest. Color and contrasts and transitions of color can be effective in creating energy in a photo.


In this image of Dry Falls in North Carolina on a Fall day, the transition of warm to cool creates visual flow along with the slow motion of the waterfall.

These are just a few concepts to improve composition and to attract and engage your viewers. It may take just a few moments to understand these concepts but a much longer time to master them. The more you practice, the more you will develop a deep understanding and then the more successful your compositions will become!

All My Best,
Donna Eaton

Donna is teaching Photography After Dark

Shooting in the Rain


taking photos in the rain

We have all been in a situation like this: you get to a prominent tourist spot ready to make some classic images. And it rains. Disappointment as you only have a day so so there and it looks like the rain has set in. This happened to me as we rolled into Florence. Muggy weather, then a downpour. I was stuck on the bridge to had to wait for 30 mins before I could move. Still got wet but the important thing to note is that if you can shoot evening or night shots, the rain does not show up. Or at the very least, it softens the tones nicely.
Day two and the weather did the same. The rain was cruising past the hotel door in a horizontal fashion for about 30 mins, then the storm passed and Wow, the light was fantastic. Huge clouds, a dying sun and terrific light.
So many photographers take one look and stay indoors but, as often as not, the photo opportunities right after a short, sharp storm are impressive.
I loved the results I got – all HDR of course but the dram in the sky was well worth getting a bit soggy. TIP:Always take either the shower cap from the hotel bathroom or a plastic shopping bag to cover the camera whewn tit gets really wet…

Shooting in the rain CAN produce really average results. Use HDR (bracketed images assembled into an HDR image using HDR software likePhotomatix Pro) to beef up the tones and produce a truly impressive visual result (below).
Shot in the pouring rain from the relative shelter of a covered walkway to the left of the Ponte Veccio. Not a bad result considering the conditions. I left the White Balance on Auto as it produced some nice colour in an otherwise very drab looking scene (to the naked eye at least)…
Day two, after the storm, there was a bit of a sunset but that does not appear in this HDR – but what I did get were the three boats moored in the lower right hand side of the scene. The river Arno is amazingly still considering this is a 3 frame HDR shot processed using Photomatix Pro.
raing photography
My favourite, of course. Florence’s magnificent Ponte Veccio. HDR processed in Photomatix Pro.

What Makes a Good Outdoor Stock Photo?



Stock photography is in a never ending evolution while agencies and markets continue to evolve in an effort to meet the market needs. Photographers will still shoot many of the same subjects but must shoot them in a new way.

Marketable stock photography is part of the photography business where less than stellar images have little chance of success in the markets.

Here are some guidelines to consider when creating stock images:

Subjects that are timeless and have long lasting appeal will do best in the markets. These might be photos that provide a substantial amount of information such as a newsworthy image or a photo with historical value like Marilyn Monroe photos for example. We will continue to see those images published for many more years.



This photo has succeeded in the markets for more than 20 years because it is timeless.


Concepts are KEY! An adventure image strong on concept will be successful if it meets the communication needs of the buyer. A company planning to run an advertisement, in which the copy talks about Success, could be illustrated with a rock climber on top of a rock celebrating the successful climb. Nature images that can apply strong concepts will also succeed. Like a tree seedling sprouting from a nurse log could illustrate many concepts like Growth, etc.


Newsworthy events of natural disasters, such as the great Yellowstone fires in the late 80’s or the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill made for great selling subjects at the time. Good selling images also are interesting, unique, or capture a spectacular moment and are colorful, artistic, and visually compelling.


Yellowstone after the big fire


Drama or some form of uniqueness. Other images could also be a spectacular moment in nature such as lightning or an animal antic. These images never age like fashions, technology, and lifestyles photographs do.



Clear of clutter. A backpacker in a beautiful meadow of wildflowers with Mt. Rainier in the background may sell well for a few years, but the backpack and clothing could become outdated in a few years. Images of people and products would be devoid of logos, outdated objects that date it, out of style clothing, yet would have technical excellence and a broad appeal.  Most outdoor apparel has logos so you would need to retouch those out.

bicycle stock photography

This image was shot for a clothing catalog and then the images were returned to me for stock sales. But the orange riding jacket was only in style for one year and the image never really sold well. Use colors that are more timeless like blue and green.


Known subjects and locations need to be shot in new way. How many more images of Delicate Arch shot on an average day under average lighting conditions can the market bear? Instead images of lightning around the arch or shot during a blizzard or painted with light, are much more rare and likely to be more successful in the market.


Stay current. There is always a demand for current city skylines for example. Most publishers will not use them if they are over 2 years old. Skylines continually evolve and change and need to be updated regularly.


Leave room for text. An image that has enough room for a magazine header or double page spread can lead to more sales. Keep that in mind but use it carefully. A salable image needs to be a strong image first. Leaving room for text will not make a lousy image a selling one. Instead, shoot the well composed hero shot first then look for ways to add room for copy in your composition without sacrificing the impact of the original composition.


Special techniques can make a marketable image. In the waning days of film, cross processing was a popular technique. You saw images processed this way used everywhere from advertising to editorial. Then the hot technique was HDR and there are a lot of images still produced using the grungy look, but we see very little if any of that technique published in advertising or editorial. Do experiment and try new things and tell the world about it.


Some ways to determine good selling photographs is to simply view what’s being published. Magazines related to outdoor and adventure subjects are superb examples of the style, technique, and even locations that markets are seeking. Adapt to what your markets are publishing. If you’ve been shooting landscapes for years and your favorite publication has begun using nature images with people in them, then the natural response is to start including people in your images.


The key to successfully creating marketable images is to research the markets carefully and understand what photo editors are looking for and adapt your shooting accordingly. Your business depends on it.


To learn more check out this amazing Outdoor Photography Course


The DIY Light Box

FOR YEARS I ENJOYED SHOOTING A TWO-LIGHT SETUP with my two White Lightning Ultra 1200 studio strobes, placing each in a softbox – one on the floor, pointed up, and the other on a light stand, pointed down. Between these two softboxes would be a 4′ x 4′ sheet of 1/8-inch white Plexiglas on which I’d place numerous subjects, including flowers and fruit and vegetable slices. The image below is an example made this way. But as much as I enjoyed this setup, it did take up a large corner of a room, and it was expensive!

 create your own light box

Then one day I stumbled upon the obvious. I lined the inside of a medium-size cardboard box with white poster board, replicating a softbox. I put one of my portable electronic flashes inside the box, pointing it up. On top of the box, I placed a sheet of 1/8-inch white Plexiglas which I found at Home Depot. I mounted another portable flash on a light stand overhead about 2 feet above the box. Due to the obstruction of the one flash in the box, you will need some kind of wireless device to get both of the strobes to fire simultaneously. I’ve found a radio remote, such as a PocketWizard, to be most successful.

To start, set both flashes to the same output – full power and in MANUAL FLASH MODE. Make sure that both flash distance scales indicate the same f-stop. (F/11 is a good place to begin since this is a set-up where depth of field is not an issue). Keep in mind that the flash in the cardboard box will be illuminating the subject through the 1/8-inch Plexiglas, so don’t place a diffuser or any other light-filtering device on that particular strobe. The Plexiglas becomes the diffuser. However, do place a diffuser on the flash sitting atop the light stand flash. Next, call on a normal sync speed of 1/125 sec., 1/200 sec., or 1/250 sec.; that choice is yours. Then place a flower or other small subject on the 1/8-inch Plexiglas, and shoot down on the setup. Check your exposure. Your goal is a subject floating in white space while being well exposed from both front and back. Many subjects will appear to glow. This is due to the strong backlight of the strobe firing from inside the box. You may end up decreasing the power of one strobe to make it mesh more with the light output of the other. It’s easier to make any changes to the strobe outside the box (the one on the light stand). Here are two examples of how magical this lighting set-up is! Both photos: 105mm lens, ISO 200, f/11 for 1/125 sec.

how to make a light box


Click below to watch a video stream that makes this idea even easier to understand – and keep on shooting!

All my best,

Bryan F. Peterson

  • "The images I have taken since I started my course really show who I am as a photographer." Read More
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