Have you ever taken a photo, and, after you are back at the ranch on the computer looking at your images, you realize that the image you took did not convey the thought or the idea you had while shooting the subject? So you might have this conversation with yourself, “Bummer, what did I do wrong?  Why doesn’t it look the same as it did when I clicked the shutter?”

The “Rule of Thirds” is one of the first things that photographers and designers learn in workshops and classes on photography.  It is a design concept that helps to make an image interesting and balanced visually. Basically, you break your image into thirds from top to bottom and from left to right.

You don’t have to have an acetate overlay on the LCD of your camera. You just have to do it visually in your mind as you frame the image in your camera. The idea is that you have 4 points of interest where the lines intersect,  and 4 lines that designate areas of interest in the image. This makes it more enjoyable and balanced for the viewer.  The viewer is also more comfortable in viewing your “well balanced image.”

Now after saying that…….I believe that most rules are made to be broken, but if you are going to break them, you should understand them at first, then break them if you must.  If you are going to ignore this rule, at least understand the reasoning behind it before you throw caution to the wind.  It really does make an image more balanced, especially if the shots are going in a magazine or brochure.

The 2 shots I have included were shot for a client that designed western jewelry. I usually try to make the image balanced, and this is almost always done with the “Rule of Thirds” in the front of my thought process. As I said before, don’t be afraid to break this rule, but always keep it in mind as you frame your shots and plan for the way it will be used.


Workshops are places that you seem to shoot a huge amount of images. One of the many reasons is that you are constantly surrounded with these wonderful “Fountains of Creativity” in the workshop leaders.  At a workshop on Creativity on the island of Molokai, I found one of the instructors relaxing in one of the many tubs found on site.  (This workshop was at the Hui Ho’olana retreat on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. I highly recommend this retreat and workshop! The instructors are some of the best in the business.) At first I walked around “seeing” which angle I liked best.  Then the photojournalist in me kicked in, and I realized that there were several angles that were really interesting visually.  So after asking permission of the instructor, Jonathan Kingston: the Photoshop Guru, I proceeded to start composing the images. I am including the two angles that I liked the best, but what I am stressing today is to understand how important it is to make sure you look at all of your options. Cover all the angles.  Sometimes your first impression is not the best one.  Always walk around and “look” at your subject from different points of view. Sometimes you will surprise yourself with the image that finally touches you the most.  If I could have shot straight down, I maybe would have, but there wasn’t a ladder near by the pool area. Even if I could have found one, I think one of the other shots works better for the story I was trying to tell with my images. Also, don’t be shy about using black and white or sepia tones to give your image a different feel. Color often dominates an image while black and white helps define what is really going on in the photo. Now go out and enjoy, but… always remember the importance of looking at all the different points of view.

So here I am on the upper deck of my cabin watching this feisty little squirrel run around the branches of this pine tree, and I am trying to think of what to do to make a good, or maybe even a great, photo. This squirrel is going from pine cone to pine cone, sometimes eating them and other times dropping them to the ground. (How he remembers all the places where he puts them is really beyond me…) Anyway, back to the story. As I was looking at this one pine cone near the deck, I realized that it might just make a good photo. I shot it. Not so good. Too much depth of field. Too much information….  So I opened up the lens to 2.8, which was wide open for the 70-200 lens, and shot again. Much better. Now I decreased the information and got a wonderful bokeh.

Bokeh? What the heck is that?  It’s a Japanese word meaning blur. Kind of the aesthetic quality of the blur. The word actually describes the area where the background turns all soft and blurry. You often see it as lights in the distance that are blurred and sometimes even have the shape of the aperture on your lens. Anyway, the pine cone and pine bough looked great with the sweet “bokeh” in the background.  It was nice, but it still needed something.  The artist in me was saying that maybe it would look good as a watercolor, but I didn’t want to go into “Painter” and paint each part of the photo, so I cheated. The plug-ins available to photographers today just make me smile a lot.  More happy dances! Topaz Simplify is one of those fun plug-ins that can be used for specific things……and this was just the time and the place.  So now we have pine cone, pine bough, wonderful bokeh, and Topaz Simplify to give the water color-painted effect.  Ordinary into Extraordinary!

Photography should be fun…at least most of the time. Several years ago Dewitt Jones told me about “Drive Bys”. This is done by holding your camera out the window of your car as you are driving by something. Dewitt and Jack Davis had been having lots of fun with this process.  Basically, you are moving the camera with the shutter open for a short period of time.  To do this, you set your aperture to the lowest number like ISO 100. Then you  shut down your f-stop to the biggest number, around  f-22. Then put your camera on aperture priority, and click the shutter while moving the camera. (Your actual exposure will probably be a little different depending on what you are shooting.) You get a lot of not-so-good stuff, but every now and then you get something that makes you want to jump up and do the happy dance with a big grin on your face.  Here are a couple of examples of camera movement during exposure.  One was taken in the fall, and one was taken in the winter.  Try it with beautiful flowers or maybe even tall palm trees. It’s actually loads of fun, especially in the post processing after you get some images that have some potential. Go out and try out some “Drive Bys”.  Drag your shutter, and move your camera a little.  It will bring a smile to your face. Thank you, Dewitt, for introducing me to this fun form of Digital Expressions.       

There are so many ways to be creative now with digital and all the different plug-ins available to us thru Photoshop. Today it’s going to be Painter. I started out as an artist, and then became a photographer. So today you get to see a photo that has been manipulated in Painter. This is a photo I did a few years ago of the Cowboy Poet, Waddie Mitchell. Another image from the same shoot was used on one of his books, but this one I decided to manipulate to give it more of a painterly look. I really liked the way it softened the hard edges and blurred some of the highlights.  The new version of Photoshop gives us some of the abilities to create this, but Painter does a better job of it.  This blog is going to be my way of talking about the many ways of “Listening with your Eyes”. What this means to me is that we can feel and experience our photos in many different ways.  Hopefully, we can learn to “listen” to our photos as they speak to us during the “making” and the “post-production” processes.  In this photo, the shadow cast by the light on Waddie was almost as important and the subject, at least to me.  I left sharp the areas that were the most important, as in the face. In future posts I hope to be able to talk about the creative process and “learning to see” as we put the camera to our eye to start creating images.  This involves shooting a lot, then looking at what we shot, and then figuring out how to make it better.  This comes with understanding the value of both highlights and shadows.  Shadows are often very important. Remember negative light is sometimes more important than positive light.

Until next time.


This seems to be without a doubt the greatest time in the age of photography since its beginnings.  I often wonder what Caponigro, Adams, Eisenstaedt, and the early greats would say if they were able to see the quality and endless manipulations in the digital photographer’s bag of tricks and techniques.  They laid the ground work for how we “see” and record events today.

They were able to inspire us with the images they created, and I hope that in a very small way, I can possibly inspire a few to look at the world with eyes that are open to the many possibilities that are available to the digital image maker today.  We not only need to teach ourselves how to see but to “Listen with our Eyes” so that our heart and soul can experience what our digital cameras are recording.  What a remarkable and wonderful time we live in.

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