The Art of Photography

The Art of Photography

The Art of Photography

How to “Art” Your Photos

I was asked recently the most important things I consider when taking photographs of models.  Kind of like ‘What makes a good photograph?”  Ask a hundred photographers and you will get some answers that are basically similar and many that are different as you will get what has worked for that particular photographer.  But there are basics.  

There are things that you need to know about your camera and how it works; the relationship between ISO, shutter speed and aperture and what happens to a photo when you change these things in ration to each other.  (All this was discussed in my last blog article.) You need to know how different lenses ‘see’.  

That is only a part of the equation.

There are some basic art techniques that work whether you are shooting landscape or a fashion model.  With a model where you are shooting to show off the outfit, there are sometimes very exact rules that apply for posing. These things flatter the clothes as much as the model.  The intent here is for both to look fantastic.  Small details can make an otherwise mediocre photo look fantastic!  

A lot of photographers concern themselves with the technology of the camera and its bells and whistles.  These are key tools of a photographer of course and his or her knowledge of various settings and how they will affect the final resulting photo, are very important but…

Don’t forget the Art of Photography!

I see someone learning about the ‘Rule of Thirds’ thinking they know all there is to know about art and figure that the rest of art rules belong with the Renaissance or the Old Dutch Masters.  (Some of you reading this already know that ‘The Rule of Thirds’ is inaccurate… I know - more on that later.)

The purpose of this article is not so much to iterate the specific techniques that you should know but really to inspire you to search out these basic art techniques and apply them to your trade.  

Don’t call it cheating. There is technology for everything, including Art.  I’m sure you wouldn’t want the engineer/bridge builder to ‘wing it’.  An engineer has a set of rules that he or she follows so that the bridge won’t collapse with the first vehicle that crosses.  An airline pilot has a set of rules that allow him to fly and plane… or land it in the Hudson River with everyone still alive!  

So, too, do visual artists have technologies or rules they can follow to help make them more competent.  Many of the techniques of the Dutch Masters and the Renaissance* painters can be easily applied to photography.   

There is a key here. If you know the rules, then you know when and when not to break them.  

You will never have good judgement on what works and what doesn’t if you don’t first understand what your tools and techniques are.  And to do that you have know the rules of whatever game it is that you are playing, in this case art.  Learn ‘em, drill ‘em.  

Art Techniques

I won't go in to detail on all of these. But do research them out so that you can get your own take.

1. The Rule of Thirds or The Golden Rectangle?

The Rule of Thirds is kinda of a bastardized version of The Golden Rectangle.  

  • Golden Rectangle(The real rule of thirds…)  This one is so easy to apply if you know of it and especially if you have Adobe’s Lightroom.  This includes The Golden Spiral and the Fibonacci Sequence.  
  • Here is a great article that fairly simply explains these: Golden Rectangle

And another that explains how to use and shift between these in Lightroom.


2.  Eye Trail.

3.  Colours: what colours come forward and which recede.

4.  Shapes

5. Perspective and vanishing point - themselves and in relation to golden ratio 

6. Focal Point
(Focus: definition, n, “ … or a point at which converging rays would meet…”, “… in figurative use, a central point, as of attraction, attention or activity”
Focal: definition: a. ‘of or pertaining to focus’)  So, Focal Point would the point of focus.  There are various ways to lead the viewer here. 

Decide where you want the viewer’s eye to land — that will be the primary area of interest in the painting or photo known as the focal point. A properly designed composition will lead the viewer’s eye right to it.

“Although this is more relevant in landscapes than still life paintings, your focal point should be supported by your design and the value patterns that lead up to it. Elements of color, value and directional shapes should be employed and emphasized so that there is a pathway leading around your painting to the focal point.

The eye will automatically be attracted to the area of the painting where the lightest and darkest values are in closest proximity to each other. If the values are scattered and don’t offer any type of path toward the focal point, the viewer won’t know where to engage with the painting.  Notice how the perspective lines of the fruit, flowers and sidewalk in Flower Dude (above) lead the eye directly to the figure, which is the lightest value surrounded by the darkest value. The viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the strongest areas of contrast in the painting. Use this strategy when establishing your focal point.” Artist's Network


Don’t be afraid to crop.  Also, when you are taking a photo, your camera is taking a rectangular image of around 3:2 and you may want a sort of panoramic or a much wider than taller final image.  Take a wider image, a photo from much further back and allow yourself to do that long wide and short crop.  If you are not completely sure what you want take a couple of both and mess with the images later in the darkroom.

I have gone back to some particularly favourite photo shoots and re-edited some that I thought were mediocre and cropped in different ways to find gems.

Roads and railway tracks are commonly used to lead to a point on the horizon and give the image perspective. Do you want your eye trail and perspective to lead the viewer to focus on the very centre of the photo or to one of the points of the Golden Rectangle or Golden Spiral?  And why? Or why not?


Definition: II,n, … also, the art of representing solid objects on a flat surfaces as to give them the same appearance as in nature when viewed from a given point; … hence, the appearance of objects with reference to the relative  position, distance, etc.; - The New Century Dictionary, Volume 1, Copyright 1927

Change your perspective when you are shooting.  You can shoot low, so the main subject is above the horizon.  Or you shoot from higher so that the subject is below or partially below the horizon.  Perspective can create a huge difference with the appearance of the length of peoples legs. Shoot high, shoot low?  You will find that when photographing people standing, models for example, that if you shoot higher, their legs will look shorter than if you shoot from a lower perspective.

How did the Renaissance painters create perspective?

"The mathematical precision of architectural linear perspective, applied to painting, allowed Renaissance artists to create a sense of real dimension in their work. By painting subjects so that they became smaller and appeared to vanish into the distance, artists added depth and the illusion of rounded, whole shapes to flat stucco walls or canvas. The paintings seemed to come alive, to show real life and people, not two-dimensional painted shapes. Blurred edges on distant objects mimicked the effect of the atmosphere on what the eye could see. Vivid color in the foreground, gradually fading into murkier blues and greens in the background, enhanced the "distant" vista. Another perspective trick, planar perspective, separates a canvas into planes. In Leonardo's "Mona Lisa," the foreground is the colorful figure, the middle plane is a distinct section of brown and green trees, and the distant plane is mostly blue."   Renaissance Painters



This ties into perspective.  Where do you want the Horizon?  If you have it in the middle of the photo most of the time it will look boring.  Raised or lowered to the level of the line of the Golden Rectangle will give it a greater dynamic.  


This is a great drill.  Whether you are applying it to painting or photography.  Take some piece you like or has the technique or techniques that you would like to emulate and copy it.  Do this more than once or twice if you need to as you get comfortable with the process.  Never discount the importance of drilling.

And there is the whole subject of lines and shapes and their directions.  What feeling or emotion will a certain line or shape elicit?  

A flat, horizontal line could be considered calm (or even boring), a very neutral mood.  Like this photo below:


A line or figure rising to the left or to the right may elicit different feeling.  Using perspective, colour and vanishing point, with certain lines, you could show something either receding or approaching.

If you know these and other rules and you are studying really great photos, whether they be fashion photos or action or landscape, you will have a much better understanding as to why they are good or great shots.  And why others are just not.  

One would not always use all of these techniques all of the time but knowing of them and where they would be used can take your photos, whatever type, to the next level. 

Take the time to be professional.  There is so much good, useful information out there.  Examine for yourself what, of these techniques and skills, will enhance your art.  Use the technical to increase the quality of your art. 

*The term renaissance means “rebirth” and is the period in Europe’s history right after the Middle Ages. During this time, society during turned to classical teachings, world exploration, and cultural achievements in language, art, and science. This period was rooted in Italy and lasted from the 14th Century until the 17th Century AD. It provided an important stepping stone into modern history. Wealthy patrons from Florence sponsored writers and artists so that they could pursue their interests. This renewed knowledge of ancient Roman and Greek cultures gave way to humanism, the appreciation of human achievement and expression. Artists employed these principles in their work.

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Portrait or Landscape for Headshots?

Portrait or Landscape for Headshots?

Studio Headshots and Senior Portraits - Portrait or Landscape?

The standard for years for individual portrait photos is vertical.  Particularly headshots for actors and actresses.  With the advent of the internet and the wide computer screen, it is often more attractive to go with a horizontal exposure.  

There are other factors that can make this equally or even more appealing such as the use of negative space.  Negative space is part of the picture that is not your subject.  For example, if you were taking a photo of a tree or a couple of trees, then the space around and between the trees would be ‘negative’ space.  

Shooting wide or using a landscape or horizontal image can give you more of this negative space which can be quite effective if used wisely.  

I've included a few examples shooting in a landscape or horizontal mode.

This is a Senior shot for graduation.  The railway tracks add some dimension or depth to the photo without distracting from the main subject.


Here, in this next photo, the girl in the hat is turned ever so slightly to her right, so giving extra space in that direction makes it all look more natural.  And that space is used with light/shadow add some dynamic to the photo.







This next is from a series.  A studio headshot for an marvellous opera singer.  A series of simple headshot but using the wide frame.  Again, the body is turned, to the left this time, and giving space there, makes sense again.  The same with Mikayla in the outdoor shot (right). (We agreed that was the coldest of that type of photoshoot ever!)







The use of ‘Landscape’ layout allows for more creativity in many instances.  You can give more depth and focus to your image without in any way detracting from your main subject.   Use this negative space to take advantage of eye trail, perspective, colour and host of other techniques the will help focus on the person you are photographing.  Or some aspect of the person that you want to accentuate.

A ‘wide’ photo like this will actually look just fine and often better on websites and enlarged fit a computer screen almost perfectly.  If you do an image search for example for real estate agents, almost all of them are using the Landscape format.  Same for insurance agent.  And doctors.  These photos fit better on the screen.  And they can communicate much more.  That little bit of extra space can give dimension that is otherwise very difficult to create.

I also find, doing portraits using this wide frame aspect, allows for a more relaxed subject.  The person you are shooting has a bit more flexibility in movement and can appear to being ‘doing’ something instead of looking so static.  The wide frame portrait, if done reasonably well, will draw the viewer in.  And that’s always a good thing. 

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Gottfried Helnwein – Quote

Gottfried Helnwein – Quote

Helnwein – Quote

Gottfried Helnwein - Quote

“Most societies are ruled by mediocre people that have no vision and no imagination. Most rulers are scared of creation and creative people. Artists are funny people, all they want is to touch and move, challenge and surprise others. But dictators hate surprises more than anything else. All they want is to turn their territory into a neat little toy prison camp and play with their little toy people. Push them around, rip a leg or a head off now and then or throw them into the garbage when they are tired of their stupid, little doll faces.”


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iPhone, Samsung or ‘Real’ Camera?

iPhone, Samsung or ‘Real’ Camera?

Phone Camera or Proper DSLR* Camera?

Which camera do you need?

It really depends on what you want to do with it.  Snapshots for Instagram or something more comprehensive and original.

With the advances in phone cameras, people use their DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex *see end of article for full description) cameras less and less.  Small carry around digital cameras, a thing of the past, are pretty much invisible these days.  

I’m not going to argue whether the Samsung phone camera is so much better than the iPhone, as good as they both are, they still don’t come close to competing with my Nikon or my son’s Canon.  

One of the biggest benefit of your phone camera is convenience.  You always have it with you anyway.  And it takes pretty good photos if you know what you are doing.  

It all really depends on the quality of photo you want to have. If you really want to learn photography, shooting with just a phone camera is going to hinder you.  Even an entry level DSLR will gives you much more functionality than your phone camera.

Some of the drawbacks of a phone camera:

1. The lens Quality. When light passes through a lens, you want as little distortion as possible.  Companies like Nikon, Tamron, Cannon, Lieca (and many others) that create lenses for DSLRs, spend millions on research perfecting and making the glass in the lens of such a high quality that there is minimal distortion.  

Many camera lenses on phones are made of plastic instead of glass, which in no way, shape or form will compare to even a low quality glass lens. 

2. The lens Size.  The amount of light that passes through a real camera lens is a hundred times what will pass through a phone camera lens.  So, the sheer magnitude of data that gets to the sensor and recorded is immense on a ‘real’ camera compared to your Samsung or iPhone.  Big window in a room, lots of light, small window, very little light.  

As a result, of these two factors, with a DSLR and the quality and volume of data, you will have much more to work with in your image.  Take for example shooting outside on a very bright day.  With your phone camera, you will have a little play in improving the image, but not much. On the other hand, with what is called a RAW image from the digital camera, you will be able to see the detail in both the very light and very dark parts of the image.  And you can adjust the image so that you can see both at the same time!

In low light, your phone camera will show the photo but hugely degraded quality.

It has been said the RAW images, in that state are kinda dull.  True to some extent, but a very small tweak here and there makes it pop.  A  RAW image is not designed to be a final view.  There is so much more information to work with. You can be a little or a lot more creative.

One of the things that I love, in working with RAW images, is editing in black and white.  I used to do a fair bit of darkroom processing of my photos.  Printing black and white.  That was really magical.  Using Adobe's Lightroom editing program, there are these sliders for each colour, yes, even in black & white, that you can use to adjust areas of your photo.  For example, you have a scenic shot, you can adjust the greens of the trees, again, yes, in black & white!  Adjust the sky the way you want by adjusting the blue.  You will be amazed at the adjustments that you can work with even in a black and white image.

The ‘how-tos’ of processing is not the point of this article but the fact that you have much more flexibility is.  You can be so much more creative.   

But before you can process the photos, you have to have something decent to work with.  

With your Nikon or Canon or whatever, you can capture amazingly high quality images even in very low light.  There is a bit of learning curve but most of these techniques are fairly simple and easily learned with a bit of practice.  

Speed, Aperature and Sensitivity

These three factors can improve your creativity greatly.  


First of all sensitivity, which is the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) setting on your camera.  This term is a carryover from film.  It was basically a measurement of how sensitive to light a certain film was.  The higher the number, 100, 200, 400, 800 and up the more light would be allowed. So, you could basically shoot in much darker environment with an 800 ISO film than you could with a 100 ISO.  The problem, though, it was necessary that each piece of pigment that reacted to the light was larger to make it effective.  So the more sensitive film, the grainier the final photo.  

This translates similarly to the sensor in your digital camera. Even though you can still get a pretty good photo when it is darker using an 800 or 1600 ISO, the photo will be grainier.  

The wonderful thing about digital is that you don’t have to change your film every time the light changes, which you had to do with film.  Sun goes down or you go inside, you can still get some pretty decent photos by first pressing a button, moving a dial and then you are all set.  

Speed Setting

By adjusting the speed you can freeze or blur action.  You have all seen the photo of the river rapids blurred smooth.  That is someone setting their camera on a tripod and using a slow speed on their camera.  

You do have to have a balance between the speed and aperture though.  If you slow the speed to let more light in, you will have to make the aperture smaller otherwise too much light will come in and over expose the image.  

Aperture Size

The larger the number the smaller the hole or aperture.  This is because they were originally meant to be fractions.  1/16, 1/8, 1/2, etc.  So now, you just see the numbers without the ‘1’ on top: 16, 8, 2, etc.  The size of the aperture affects something called depth of field.  This will be what part of the image, front to back, is in focus.  Your phone camera will make everything in focus.  You cannot create a photo like the close up of the horse with an iPhone or Samsung.  Well, you can go in and blur out certain parts of the photo afterwards but it looks very unnatural.  


So, for the photo of the horse, I would have used a wider aperture, maybe 1/4 or some such.  If you are shooting an outdoor scenic shot and you want everything in focus from amsterdam bicyclefront to back, you would likely shoot 1/16.  Or as small as possible depending possible depending on the amount of light.  This next photo of the Amsterdam canal was shot with a narrow aperture allowing most of the photo to be sharp.


So you see that is all about balancing the three: Speed, Aperture and Sensitivity  (ISO).  If you are shooting with a small aperture, you may have to slow the shutter speed down to allow more light in.  

You can make minor adjustments with your phone camera, generally, to adjust light or dark or focus on a particular area.  

So, for your real camera it brings us to the next step.  

Manual or Auto?

I will say here, and I may mention it once or twice more, when you are learning with your DSLR, shoot only in Manual.  It will slow you down at first but you will understand what your camera can do.  Some techniques you will never learn fully otherwise.

If you ever learned to touch type, you know that you had to force yourself to NOT look at the keyboard.  Same concept here.

Shooting in manual all the time forces you to actually learn.  You will make mistakes.  But you will learn to use your camera and understand how these three functions all work together.  There are many more aspects of your DSLR that you can learn but get to know how the speed, aperture and sensitivity work together, and go from there. 

You will need to edit your photos a bit to get the most out of them.  You DO NOT need PhotoShop.  You really don’t.  It is way beyond what you need for processing your photos.  

There are many different editing tools out there but the one you need is Adobe's Lightroom.  It is very easy to learn the basics with this program.  You load your photos and there are sliders on the right so you can start messing with your photos.  Keep it simple to start.  It is quite user friendly.  I’m not getting into the how to’s of Lightroom here as there are tons of videos out there.  I just want to stress that for processing or editing your photos please don’t feel you need Photoshop.  

So, if you really want to take a step up, or several steps up from your phone camera, you need a digital camera that shoots RAW and a basic copy of Lightroom.  


(* Definition of DSLR or Digital Single Lens Reflex.  This from

"‘DSLR’ stands for “Digital Single Lens Reflex” – a type of camera. The DSLR format provides the user with a direct view of the scene through the main lens. The viewer will therefore see the same scene the sensor captures."  There is a good photo on that page which shows light from the object reflecting from a mirror, through a prism to the viewing eye.  So, as a result, with a DSLR camera, you see what the camera sees.)

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What Do I Like About Christmas?

What Do I Like About Christmas?

What Do I Like About Christmas?

By and large, people are friendlier.  They come together, smile and say hello more.  Some decorate their houses inside or out to make them a little (or a lot) more attractive.  Some, I do have to say, are a bit gaudy for my tastes but I will not fault someone for communicating.  I don’t like every piece of art that I see.  

And I really think it is more important to display art that you like as opposed to art that you think will impress someone.  As to creating art, there are two parts to that.  You are always going to have your own ‘slant’ to what you create, but if you want to sell what you create, you have to, to some degree, market what people want or need.  But that is a subject for another time. 

Because of this openness of communication, I think that Christmas is a great time to use your art as a way of communicating.  For a few years now we have been sending out Christmas cards.  Sometimes it is a photo of our feet on the beach and sometimes an ‘artsy’ photo that we have made into a card.  It is a great way christmas bellsof staying in touch.  I know, I know, with FaceBook, Instagram and the like, it is much quicker, (and cheaper). But I do know that most people like getting that actual physical bit in the mail.  

It is also a great way to stay in touch.  I know a couple of people that would send out newsy Christmas cards, a broad letter to all bringing friends up to date on goings on from the last year.  Some didn’t like this as it was a little less personal but I honestly thought it was a great idea.  I like to know what is going on with my friends.  Though, I don’t mind the more personal touch.  

Use your art.  Create something. Take a photo. Get some cards made and send them out next Christmas.  People like attractive things. It also gets you creating and there is nothing better in the world than creating something aesthetic.  Something beautiful is like a ray gun on bad emotions or an upset.  The correct piece of music can annihilate a bad mood in seconds.  It is OK to send birthday cards as well.

My wife writes notes in a lot of our cards which makes them even more personal.  Takes some time but, hey, how much time do you spend a week in front of the TV?  I wear the hat of turning what I hope is an attractive photo into a card, getting them printed, addressed and sent.  

If you are doing your art as business, painting, drawing, photography or some visual art, you can easily incorporate something into a greeting card or even a post card.   Send out birthday cards.  Or seasonal greeting cards to your client list.  Again, people will brighten up when they receive an aesthetic card in the mail.  And you could do much worse handwriting the name and address.  Even if your handwriting is atrocious, as mine is.

While you are at it, make your life art!

Helena Bonham Carter says it best:

“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.” Helena Bonham Carter

If your strength is poetry or prose, send cards to your clients or friends

Mountain Christmas (Paint)

with that inside or on the front of the card.  If you are a visual artist I’m sure you can find any number of decent images to use for a greeting card.   Simple to get 50 or a hundred cards made - cheaper that way - and send out regularly.  

Ideally, you want to send something of yours but if you can’t, always go for the aesthetic and as close to personal as possible.

And it doesn’t always have to be perfect.  Another great often used quote that remains true nonetheless:

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” Kurt Vonnegut

Art is at its heart, communication.  So, don’t get too fussy.  A nice photo of you smiling put on a card for your family at Christmas will be much appreciated.  Or a

Back Up The Hill

drawing that your 8 year old did of the Christmas tree!  Pretty easy to scan and get printed as a card.  Grandma and Grandpa would go nuts over that one.  

The best thing about Christmas is the smiles and friendship. It doesn’t really matter how you greet someone as long as you greet them with a smile in a friendly manner. The words you use are so much less important than the fact that you are smiling and wishing them well. 

Others may disagree but I believe that it is important to create and communicate without necessarily expecting something back.  Do it for the love of it. 

Mom used to say that you should never wait for someone to communicate to you.  You should be the one to start.  You will be much happier that way.

Bringing a little bit of joy into the lives of others will just make the world a bit better place to live.  Sometimes all it takes is a smile or a kind word.

So, Be Good, Do Good and have a very Merry Christmas!

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3 Basics My Mother Taught Me About Photography

3 Basics My Mother Taught Me About Photography

3 Photo Basics My Mother Taught Me

Photography 101: 


3 Things My Mother Taught Me About Photography

Mom was a pretty decent photographer.  She was first a single mother of 4. In 1978 when she was moving to Denmark and getting remarried, her very talented friends threw a going away party for her.  It was a ‘song and dance’ skit that ran a good hour.  Her friends were a bunch of very talented people.  I still have the cassette tape of it around somewhere. The theme was ‘Courses’.  My mother was always taking courses in something or other.  Whether it was French, photography, or taking up skiing when she turned 50!  

I asked her once about the fact that she volunteered to drive cancer patients, people she didn’t know, a couple of times a month.  She would drive them to and from their treatments. She told me she felt she “needed to give something back to society”.  !?!?

She obviously learned something in her photography classes as she won a couple of contests for her art. One was for a naked grandson when he was about a year old - I don’t think that would go over so well in this day and age!

As a youngster I’d carry a camera around with me a lot - an old Brownie 127, I think it was.  Not sure the exact model but it was 2 1/4” negative.  Much later I got SLR cameras but as kid it was the Brownie with the black and white film.  I got some great ‘horse’ photos even then.  Learning with a large negative camera was kinda cool.

Here are a few things my mother would constantly remind me of, as I learned photography.

Rule #1: Watch Your Background

This one was hammered into me.  Almost often as the poke in the shoulder to stand up straight!  The idea here was that you didn’t want a telephone pole or church spire sticking out of the top of someone’s head when you got the photos back.  Taking pretty photos of flowers in the back yard, you didn’t want the neighbour’s laundry hanging in the background.  Well, I didn’t anyway!

There was more to it than this really.  It made you look at the complete photo as opposed to focusing on just the person or cat or dog that you were trying to capture.  As a result, I would move to one side or the other, up or down and sometimes closer or further.  This had the added effect of seeing light and how it lay over the whole image.  How it changed.  As a child I could see that there was more than one way to shoot that object or scene.  Something as simple as crouching down as you are taking photos of small children.  It completely changes the intimacy of the relationship between child and photographer.  I find that now, I will walk the extra ‘mile’ to get a different perspective on scenery without thinking about it.  They always don’t turn out but I’ve had exclamations from enough people about my photos over the years by applying this one rule.    

This also would allow you to look at the photo as a whole.  I watch tourists in even in Niagara Falls concentrating on one part of the photo - either the person or the Falls.  They don’t ‘stand back’ and see the whole photo.  You might have someone standing by a tree.  If a large overhanging tree, you could use it to frame the person.  Or have them lean against it, having them interact with the tree, making it part of the photo instead of just another thing cluttering up the picture.

Rule #2:  “Add some red.”

This ‘rule’ made sense to me in that I could see in photos that had something red - that colour became the focus or there was at least something about it that gave perspective to the overall image.  The color red could draw you into the photo or give some depth to an otherwise bland image.

Warmer colours like red, orange, yellow and the in-between shades of these come forward or appear to be closer.  Cooler blues and greens will generally appear further. 


This tends to mimic the reality of the fact that things in the distance tend to fade to pale blues and greys.  

And to belie that rule, brighter, intense and more vivid, of whatever colour, will appear closer. 

Try putting certain colours in an otherwise monotone photo to see what happens. 

Rule #3: Don’t Cut Off Their Feet.

This by itself is a simple but important rule.  When the feet are cut off at the ankles, it makes a standing subject or subjects look as though they are going to fall over.  It looks terribly unnatural.  When shooting a full body photo of someone standing try and make sure that you include the feet.  If you want to cut things short of the feet try above the knee or the waist.  If you are trying to include background try changing the angle, how high or low you are shooting from.  

Part of the issue with photos like this, where you have someone standing at attention facing you, well, it makes for an incredibly boring photo anyway.  It doesn’t lead you into the photo.  There are numerous ways that you can make it more interesting many of which only take an extra few seconds.  

If you are trying to get your subject in front of Niagara Falls, have them turn sideways and look at the Falls.  It will likely be easier for them to have a relaxed visage and smiles will be more forthcoming.  You can also have them sit or lean against the rocks that hold the railing.  This as I mentioned earlier with the tree, the overall look will have them interacting with the environment as opposed to be just standing there completely separated from it.  This has an added benefit of distraction.  When people are just standing there, they often don’t know what to with their hands, face, etc.  Have them leaning, pointing, or touching something or someone.  This can be used to help pull the viewer into the photo as well.  (Eye Trail)  Create different moods with expressions at the same time, even in the same series of photos.  Smiling, puzzled, serious, moody….  

So, to recap: 1. Watch Your Background; 2. Add Some Red; 3. Don’t Cut Off Their Feet.  These all pretty much add up to observe what you do.  Try different things, change the angle, change the pose.  Then take a look and compare the different photos to see what you like best.  

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7 Lessons For the New Photographer

7 Lessons For the New Photographer

7 Things for the Beginner Photographer

There are a million videos on YouTube and courses out there promoting to neophyte photographers.  Wading through various websites, YouTube videos, books and magazines can be daunting.  Here are some basic directions that should help at least a little bit:

  1. Learn One thing at a time

I watch others teach almost anything and shake my head.  The ‘teacher’ often is trying to correct 5 or 6 faults making it very difficult for the person to make any improvement. I’m a pretty competent swimmer and get asked often for pointers.  I also watch others overwhelming the ‘student’ swimmer with correction.  I always try and correct only one thing.   If I can, I’ll try and evaluate the biggest difficulty the person is having with a particular stroke and correct that.  Head too high, stroke to short, or something as simple as get some googles. Not always that easy so keeping it simple I’ll just start with one issue.  It often doesn’t matter which ‘one’ you start with but it gives the person something to concentrate on to get a win with some improvement.  It seems as though many instructors have a compulsion to try and teach too many things at once. **

Studio Portrait

Studio Portrait

When I was learning photography, I wanted to take a course using studio lighting equipment.  I found one at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, an evening six week course taught by a successful photographer.  I decided what I wanted to learn, two or three basic things and concentrated on those.  Many of the students were trying to get seriously fancy and do all these huge dramatic photos.  At the end of the course the instructor said to the class that she felt that I had made the most progress of any student on the course.  

Pick one thing, learn it, then build from there. 

For example:

  1. Hold your camera correctly.  

Cameras are built for right handed people so pretty much everyone is going to use their right hand to push the shutter button.  Place your other hand UNDER the base of the camera.  Put the heel of your hand under the base of the camera.  Your fingers are then forward so that you can use the focus ring or adjust the zoom.  Using the support hand under instead of over the lens helps stabilize the camera to keep it steady.  This will help keep your images sharp.


  1. Don’t cut off their feet!

This is a really simple thing but so many touristy photos do this.  Cutting off the feet makes it look like the people are going to fall over.  Weird.  It is an unnatural spot to crop the photo.  Often people are trying to get the individual with the background of their travel destination.  Niagara Falls, Disney World.  Just pay attention when you are doing a full length photo of someone and make sure to include their feet.  Or zoom in a little closer and crop their legs above the knee.  Do just this one thing and it will improve these types of photos.  

  1. Get an ‘Intro’ magazine.

Growing up as a teen I was once asked by an adult what magazines I read. I think this person was trying to find out my interests and where I was going in life.  I told him about 2-3 magazines that were mainly spectacular photos from around the world.  His somewhat condescending acknowledgement was “Well, I guess they are nice picture magazines.”  Not very nice. 

Popular Photography:

- this magazine was in print for 80 years, from 1937 to 2017


- always thought they had great photos as well as a good coverage of the things I needed to know.

W Magazine:

- this is/was a fashion magazine.  Back in the day is was a larger format magazine.  Whether you are into fashion or not, it is worth a viewing as the photographers shooting for this magazine are incredible.  

These were some of my favourites.  Remember, I was reading these magazines before digital.  Only film existed.  Photoshop was around but you had to scan your photos.  Popular Photography and another one that I liked, can’t remember the name of it were great. Many of these magazines morphed into other things with the digital age. At least some did.

Young horses

Young horses

The thing I liked most about these two were that they covered basics.  I had subscriptions and they would come once a month.  I seem to recall that they ran on a cycle of about 18 months.  There were about 18 basics about photography that they would cover in those months and then they would start over.  They might vary the sequence a bit and certainly there were different authors for the particular articles.   But the beauty of them was they very thoroughly covered the basics.  Remember Rule #1.

Most of these are online now but if you can get and read the hard copy, it will be worthwhile. Personally, I think they try too hard with the online magazines.  Meaning they try and pack too much in.   

     5. Study Art

Do this to help you ‘see’ different ways.  Study the masters (painters), they were masters for a reason.  They had their technique down cold.  Look at successful photographers.  Not only those that are critically acclaimed but also those that make money.  

     6.  Shoot Volumes

Ball's Falls Fall Colour 2Take lots of photos.  Lots and lots.  The beauty of digital.  I went to India in 1988 for almost a month.  I had 8-10 rolls of film with me.  I had to make each click of the shutter count.  I had a blast.  The photos turned out great.  The children were the best.  If I was on a walk about with my camera they would chorus: “Photo, photo!”  It got to the point where I had to pretend to click the shutter as I knew that there was no way I would have enough film otherwise.  

This is the blessing and curse of digital.  You can click away to your hearts content.  But you are now your own editor.  You have to go through them all.  You will soon learn to take an extra moment when shooting to get the shot right.  Maybe take three or four different versions instead of twenty!

     7.  Learn Your Camera

Your camera is a tool. The better you know it, the more confident you are with it, the better your photos will be.  Don’t make it arduous.  Again, go back to rule #1, pick something in the manual that you think you need to know and study and practice until you have it.  

I don’t consider myself a technical guy.  I like to take pictures, create art.  I don’t sit down and study every aspect of my camera or other equipment (including things like Lightroom and Photoshop), but I try and learn what I need for a photoshoot.  Whether it be nature photography or portraits or weddings or whatever.  The key is to look at your results and go to the manual after and see what you could have done or could do in the future to improve that photo or type of photo.  Then go do it again.  No such thing as a mistake.  It is all education.  

Have fun whatever you do!

** if you are interested in a wonderful site for learning technique of swimming check out
Swim Smooth

And please check out my Greeting cards: Cards for all Occasions! 

And subscribe to the Newsletter!  You'll find out when the 2020 Calendar will be ready!

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Photography Styles

Photography Styles

Different Photography Styles

There is photography.  And there is Art.  Sometimes they are the same thing and sometimes not.

Sometimes a simple recording of an event is enough.  But even then one could better how much that recording interests the viewer and elicits whatever the desired emotion may be.

Sometimes all you want to do is fine art photography.  Either way, if you want to sell or market your photos, you have to know who would buy your work.

When taking photos, you need to figure out your public.  Who is the photo for?  Who is going to be looking at these headshotphotos?  Are you just taking some photos of family in front of Niagara Falls to show the folks back home?  Are you doing fine art portrait photography on the coast of Oregon?  Or are you shooting seniors photo for the yearbook or the parents? If so, who is hiring you to do that?  Mom? … then, what does she like?  Are you shooting product for a magazine?  Do the people that are hiring you for this want want something mundane, boring and simple or are they looking for something new, different and completely off the wall.  

I see neophyte and not so new photographers on Facebook and other forums, asking for critiques on their work.  I generally think this is a bad idea.  If there is some technical issue, like the person’s photos are consistently out of focus when they don’t need to be or that result is not intended, then, maybe, OK.  But generally one should be his or her own critic.  One should constantly be reviewing his own work to see if it is up to scratch.  Compare your photos to successful photographers.

The person wanting to shoot product for magazines should compare his photos to those in the magazine or magazines he or she is aiming for.  Or show some of your photos to the editor and ask for his critique. Establish what exactly that editor want or needs.  For an editor or someone similar there can be other things needed in addition to the ‘look’ of the photo.  Size of the raw image and what format, etc.  Start by giving them exactly what they want.  Once you establish a good relationship, with some people, you can then propose new or different ideas and maybe do more artistic photos.

If your goal is to shoot family portraits, again, compare to successful photographers.  But on top of that, show your photos to moms.  They are the ones that are going to be paying you.  Watch them, look for their reactions.  Does their face brighten up when they look at your photos or is their smile a bit strained?  One could do a lot worse than surveying a couple of dozen moms (potential clients).  Show them a variety of photos (they can be yours or someone else’s - just looking for style at this point) and find out what is the general consensus.  What do they like?

If 80% of those mom’s want boring and you don’t want to do boring, then find something else to shoot.  Or survey a different demographic.   Make sure you are surveying the demographic  that you want to shoot for.  

One of the biggest dangers in surveying other photographers or artists, is that they will want to put their own creativity into the piece.  I remember some years ago a photographer posting this beautiful photograph on a forum for critique.  It was a black and white Autumn photo of trees and a cast iron and wood bench along a path.  He caught a dry moment in a rainy evening.  It was stunning.  One of the comments from another photographer was that there should have been someone sitting on the bench.  This would have been a completely different communication - a totally different picture.  

Surveying Photography Styles

If you are shooting wedding photography, or intend to, ask prospective brides, not other wedding photographers.  If you are doing family portraiture, search out what people are buying from successful portrait photographers.  There is no end to places to find inspiration and ideas for posing a wedding party or a family for a portrait.  You may be happy doing straight forward lower end weddings.  Or your goal may be higher end fine art wedding photography.  Choose one and then survey and market there.  (You can always change later if you like.)

One could say to him or herself that they are an artist and want to do it their way but having that attitude will likely get you very little work.  The smartest thing is to figure out what a bride or mother would want and do that.  As one goes along, watch the faces of your customers when you show them the finished product.  Look.  What photos light up their faces? What brings a smile?

As you shoot, you will develop your own photographic style, your own way of looking at the world.  You can either find people that like that or create your own audience.  

Peter Hurley, renowned headshot photographer, changed the accepted vertical headshot format.  He thought the horizontal was much better and was his style.  He is a seriously competent and confident photographer as well and that doesn’t hurt. Artistically, this horizontal format does work better as one can more easily play with the placement of the subject and apply techniques such as the golden rectangle/ratio.  It also works much better for displaying online as computers are ‘horizontal’.  


As a photographer, you are constantly observing your surroundings.  Looking for angles for the best shot, the best lighting.  Take it one step further:

Observe your audience  

I’ve been a salesman for many, many years.  In sales one has to observe!  You have to watch people as you are talking.  If you don’t notice when you are starting to lose them, your sales will suck.  This can go for selling a car or dating or for any ‘sales’ situation in life.  In sales one has to be able to figure out what you are saying or not saying that is losing the person.  There are basics in sales as well that one can learn and practice but without observing yourself and what you need to do to change your actions, you will likely continue to fail. 

You could practice this in other areas of life.  I know some people that talk endlessly about some passion of theirs but don’t know when to stop.  They don’t see that glazed look in the eyes of the person in front of them or the fidgeting or the fact that the person they are trying to engage is halfway out the door!  

Comedians and actors use this technique all the time by testing their material.  Where do they get the laugh?  Where do they get the tears?  What falls flat?  What works and what doesn’t work with a live audience.   

As you increase your skill and knowledge of photography, constantly watch how your ‘public’ reacts to your work.  You don’t have to be perfect to sell your work.  

Photographers are always creating new ways of looking at things.  Some will like, some won’t.  

There are millions of different publics out there.  And millions of different photography styles.  There is an endless supply of customers.  So you either have to figure out who likes your style of shooting or photograph your subject in a manner that a certain demographic or public like and want.

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5 Basics For the New Photographer

5 Basics For the New Photographer

1.  Watch your background

Keep this simple at first.  Watch for things sticking out of the top of someone’s head.  Ideally, you don’t want distractions. For example, if you are taking a portrait, usually you will not want other people waving in the background or some similar photo bombing.  Ask yourself the focus of the photo.  If you are trying to communicate something about the background, you want to show off Niagara Falls, then fine make sure that is there.  But even then, I’ve seen too many pictures of someone there or some other travel location where you can hardly tell who the subject is.  If you move in a little closer and get a shot of the person with the background showing but just a little less of it, you will make a better photo.  Try two or three distances to your subject from the camera and see which you like best.

One often sees a photographer building some elaborate background for a portrait or a model.  Usually, the subject(person) stands out in the photo with the background not being a distraction but a complement to the subject of the photo.  I’ve seen photographers starting out by trying the fancy backgrounds which become distracting and take away from the individual they are trying to shoot.  So, my advice to someone starting out it to start with the simple and build once you have mastered lighting and framing for your subject.

This can change as you become more skilled.  You may want to use the set or background to set a tone or to create a ‘period’ piece or a much more comprehensive and communicative portrait.

2.  Put some colour in an otherwise monochrome photo.

This can make an otherwise boring photo really pop.  If you are shooting children at a beach for example; if you can plan ahead, take a red or yellow beach ball with you.  The beach is nice but not generally very colourful.  Place some colourful sand toys or a beach ball or solid red Muskoka chair near or with the children and try some different angles that also show the beach.

There is a very good article here on using red with some good examples.  Don’t limit yourself to red though. Try a couple of the other primary colours as well.

The colour red

3.  Don’t cut off their feet.

This one drives me crazy.  It seems the people are too much of a hurry or just don’t care.  It could be that they are undecided whether they are taking a close up photo or one that takes in the person who is the subject and the background as well.  I do understand how it happens but the final photo always looks distracting and unbalanced.  Often people are trying for a full body shot with whatever background and do not notice that they are not including the feet in the finished photo.  Either move in a bit and cut them off at the waist or move out or lower the camera a bit to include the feet.  I personally prefer the ‘move in closer’ photo.  This can also be done afterwards by cropping the photo.  But you are likely to get a better photo overall if you either move in and get the upper body or just head and shoulders with the vista you are trying to capture still in the photo.  If you are using a fairly wide angle lens just move closer.  You can also zoom in but in this case more backwards a ways to incorporate both. 

4.  Make them uncomfortable.

Simple really.  I had a family early on that wanted a nice outdoor shot.  Winter.  The all stood in a row.  Mom and dad on the outside and the two boys between.  All looked very stiff and posed.  I asked them to all crouch down.  I took several shots while they were getting their balance.  And even after they started to get a bit more comfortable with the pose they all had quite a bit of attention on maintaining their positions instead of their facial expressions.  As a result all appeared relaxed and smiling. Do something to get their attention off posing.  I wouldn’t tell the person not to pose or anything that puts his or her attention on the way their face or body is. You can do this with a pro to some extent but not with someone who is not used to getting their photo taken.  You want their attention out not in.

5.  Change the angle or view.

This can be with a portrait or scenic or anything really.  In the studio several times I’ve walked to the side to adjust a light and looked at the model or subject of the portrait and saw the perfect shot from that angle – where the light was completely different.  Try different things.  Shoot a portrait high and shoot low.  See what the different angles do to the shape of the body.  Shooting a sunset at the beach, crouch or lie down and get really close to the water or sand or whatever.  Walk over and shoot partially behind a tree.  If you are shooting a waterfall, try from closer and farther away.  See if you can get above it and try that shot.

Here is a good article with some samples: Camera Angle – Portraits

In all of the above types of shots, try and compare.  Experiment and  you try different things.  Some will work for you and others may not.  Find ways of shooting that appeal to you.  If you take a couple of extra minutes to shoot the same photo a couple of different ways, you may find you learn a lot.  Once you get home and can compare the two photos from the same shot, close up and far away for example, you will get a better idea as to what works and what you like or don’t like.  Learn some rules and then break them.  But learn them first. See if the photos are better or worse.  You be the judge!

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Model Portfolio Shoot

Model Portfolio Shoot

Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Toronto - model portfolios

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