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The Rule of Thirds: A Rant

There is a discussion about “the rule of thirds” taking place on a popular nature photography forum. I must admit I’m a bit surprised by some of the responses. Many of them show a general misunderstanding of the concept. The following is my reply… perhaps better described as my rant.

I must admit I’m a bit surprised by what seems to me to be a general misunderstanding of the “rule of thirds.” The recurring arguments against it are all very related – “wasted pixels,” “too much negative space,” “the subject is too small in the frame” and so on. “Thirds” does not dictate that the entire subject has to be placed on an intersect or along one of the vertical or horizontal lines. Many times it’s just placing an important portion of the subject on an intersect. An eye being a wonderful example, or maybe the head of the animal. Even with no environmental space in an image, an extreme close up, “thirds” can be applied. Additionally, it’s not just about the interest points. Placing an object being photographed along a vertical or horizontal line of “thirds” is an example of using that compositional concept.

After doing a little googling I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if a lot of folks don’t completely “get” the rule of thirds. I looked at a lot of online articles and most of them used images where there was a lot of negative space surrounding the subject as sample images. There were a few exceptions here and there. Very few. I did find a couple of articles that did a bit better job with explaining the concept and with the sample photos used. I’m including the links below.

http://jakegarn.com/the-rule-of-thirds/

http://ruleofthirdsphotography.com/

In this article the author discusses ways to “break the rule of thirds.” He starts out with a few examples of images using “thirds” followed by examples of breaking the rules. The problem being roughly half of his images that are supposed to be examples of breaking the rule actually embrace it! If you look you’ll notice things like the eyes along on near a horizontal line of thirds, an upright along the vertical line, a horizon on or slightly below a horizontal line of thirds, a blur of movement along a horizontal guide line of “thirds.” Other examples, while breaking “thirds,” simply embrace other compositional concepts. (The rule of thirds is not the only compositional guide we should be familiar with.).

https://www.photocrowd.com/w/10-three-ways-break-rule-thirds

“Thirds” is but one of many, many compositional concepts. There are many times that an image will work well without applying “thirds.” But in almost every case of breaking “thirds” another compositional concept (or two or three) has been applied. I’ve mentioned this book before but I’ll recommend it one more time: “The Photographers Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photographs” by Michael Freeman. http://www.amazon.com/The-Photographers-Eye-Composition-Digital/dp/0240809343. It is an excellent, understandable study on composition.

Posted in General Photography, Photo Tip Tagged , |

The Artist Statement

Read almost any article on how to be successful as an visual artist and it will include the suggestion that every artist needs an “Artist Statement.” Frankly that not something I’ve attempted to do before, always choosing to ignore that advice or, perhaps more honestly, to procrastinate and put off that project. This morning I decided to take the plunge and make the attempt. I have no idea if it will help my career as an artist, or if anyone really will care what it says, but I gave it a try anyway. While you can find it on my “About” page, I thought I’d share it here as well. Whether you like or dislike it, think it’s accurate or inaccurate, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Artist Statement

It has been said that a photograph always tells the truth. In reality the truth that any photograph speaks is that which the photographer chooses to tell. A photograph is neither truth nor fiction. It is simply a glimpse at a slice of time, as seen through the eyes of the artist. My photographs are simply a representation of my view of the world around me. My truth. My vision.

I’m particularly drawn to observing and photographing the wild horses which live along the coast of North Carolina. I find these animals beautiful, their behavior fascinating. I hope my photography provides some insight into their lives and their personalities. However my photography is not limited to these horses only. For my entire life I’ve been a lover of the outdoors… an explorer of natural places. In nature I find beauty which I wish to share with others. I find myself drawn to textures, shapes and patterns found in wild places. As a lover of animals I seek capture them photographically, to get to know them more intimately. As an explorer, a traveler along life’s path, I use my photographs to share my journey, vision and discoveries along the way.

Posted in Business and Administration, General Photography

Repetition: A Compositional Tool

As photographers most of us have had the “rule of thirds” beaten into our artistically thick skulls. So thoroughly is this concept drilled into us that we frequently miss other wonderful compositional opportunities. One compositional concept that is frequently overlooked as to do with repetition. Repeating shapes or objects can be a strong compositional tool. Sometimes repetition will allow and otherwise mundane subject to be an interesting image. Combine repetition with other compositional concepts such as the use of lines and diagonals to help strengthen the impact of such images.

Below are a couple recent images of a sand fence found along the coast of North Carolina. Honestly there’s nothing glamorous about this subject. As subject matter goes a sand fence is not colorful, rare, or particularly beautiful. Yet they can be an interesting subject. What these photos have going for them, at least in my mind, is the repetitious pattern created by the fence combined with the stark contrast of light and dark plus the strength of lines. Take a look and see what you think.

A sand fence .along the Carolina coast

Simple concepts such as repetition, lines, and contrast can combine for interesting compositions..

nautical art for sale

Posted in General Photography, Landscape Photography, Photo Tip, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , |

My Prejudice Against Sunrise and Sunset Shots

I’m willing to admit it. I have a prejudice against sunrise and sunset photos. It’s not that dawn and dusk are beautiful times of the day. They most certainly are. My prejudice isn’t about a lack of beauty, it’s the result of some ideas that were put into my head many years ago. Honestly I don’t really recall when it started but I do remember some of the circumstances that created it. I don’t recall if it was an article in a magazine, or a paragraph in a photography book, but some where along the line I read something about how “cliche” photos of sunsets and sunrises are. In general the author was suggesting that the odds were against you if you were trying to place those types of photos with a stock agency… that the market was saturated with images of the sun setting and rising. For some reason that suggestion stuck with me. I vaguely remember reading other articles talking about how sunrise and sunsets are simply too easy to photograph. The idea was planted in my mind that it’s almost impossible to take a bad sunrise or sunset photo. Ever since reading those words, having those concepts placed in my mind, I’ve struggled with photographing these wonderfully colorful scenes.

When I talk about struggling with making these types of images I don’t mean with things such as technique and composition, but with generating the mental motivation to take those kinds of shots. I almost feel guilty when I make photos of the sun rising or setting over a pleasant scene. I’ve been brainwashed into the belief that these shots are just too easy. That’s really not true. All sunrise-sunset images are not created equally. There are a few photographers I know of that are brilliant and finding locations and setting up compositions at dawn and dusk. All of these images are not equal. This is a fact I have to keep reminding myself. You may have noticed over the last year or so that I’ve posted a few sunrise and sunset shots. I’m trying to beat that prejudice and allow myself the joy of photographing these beautiful, daily events. Below is a recent effort.

Atllantic Beach sunset.  The Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina.

beach photos

Posted in General Photography, Landscape Photography Tagged , , , , , , |

Marshallberg Harbor

Following the big snow at the end of January I ventured out in search of some interesting snowscapes to photograph. My explorations included a trip to the downeast community of Marshallberg, NC. While I was there I took a few minutes to photographically explore the boats moored in the Marshallberg community harbor. From the viewpoint of images depicting the rare coastal snow storm these shots really don’t work. But from a historical/Americana perspective I think they’re kind of interesting. Considering the primary subjects were wood construction boats, and the primary color of the boats being white, I felt black & white was a better choice than color for these images. While these shots aren’t really nature related, I think they fit in well with the “adventures in and around the Carolinas” theme.

Abstract view of the wheel house of a woodent fishing trawler.

A fishing boat sits in Marshallberg Harbor

Wooden fishing trawler in port.

Detail of a wood constructed trawler.

Marshallberg Harobor

black and white photos

Posted in General Photography, History & Landmarks, History and Landmarks, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , |

Wild Horses In a Rare Crystal Coast Snow

Depending upon one’s point of view the Crystal Coast was blessed or damned with a winter storm recently. Getting enough snow to cover the ground is really a fairly rare occurrence here. For a few years now I’ve been hoping to get the chance to photograph the wild horses of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve in snow. Now my preference would be to be there as snow was falling but that didn’t happen this time. I was able, however, to get some shots of the mustangs with snow on the ground and ice covering much of the marsh grass.

To reach the reserve I had to put my kayak in the water. I’m sure a few of the fine people of Beaufort were wondering what was up with the crazy man was doing putting a kayak in the water on a day like this. But if you think about it, the kayak was invented by native people living in places like Alaska and Canada. These little boats were basically designed for cold weather use.

I really expected to find the horses in one of the wooded hammock areas, trying to stay out of the cold. I found a few, however, feeding not far from the main watering hole area. During the winter the herd certainly spreads out about the entire reserve. I rarely find a large number of them together this time of the year. Below are a few of my favorite shots from the trip.

Wild Horse of NC

Wild horse drinks from a watering hole along the NC coast.

Frozen food for a wild horse.

A Wild Horse in a rare Crystal Coast snow.

Wild mustang on a barrier island in NOrth Carolina.

Wild stallion feeding on marsh grass.

Wild horse in North Carolina.

Wild horses feeding along on snow covered marsh grass.

Posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sunset at Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

There are a few advantages to the shorter days of winter. One of those is that sunset actually occurs before the gates close at Fort Macon State Park. During the summer’s “Daylight Savings Time” hours it’s impossible to get either sunset or sunrise shots at the fort. With the exceptionally nice weather we were enjoying I decided to take advantage of the situation yesterday evening and headed over to the park to take some sunset photos. Since it was a Saturday I wasn’t surprised that the jetty was covered with fishermen. Considering the spring-like weather I really can’t blame them. I parked in the main lot in front of the fort, hiked along the beach to a suitable spot for photography near the jetty. I took a seat on the sand and waited on the setting sun. I chose a 35mm prime lens, leveled my camera, decided on a suitable composition and made a few images as the sun set. My favorite photos came after official sunset, as is often the case.

Sunset at Fort Macon State Park near the rock jetty.

Sunset over the Atlantic ocean, Atlantic Beach, NC

North Carolina sunset at Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach.

nautical photographs for sale

Posted in General Photography, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Shoot or Don’t Shoot: A Question for Workshop and Tour Leaders

The question was raised on a popular nature and wildlife photography forum as to whether workshop leaders shoot make photos when leading one of these programs. I thought I’d share my reply on my blog:

As a participant every workshop I’ve attended the leader also did some shooting. Most times their shooting was limited in comparison to that of the participants, but they did shoot. These, however, were always workshops aimed at wedding or portrait photography, employing paid models to demonstrate using lighting or shooting in certain situations/locations. In nearly every case there was classroom time involved during the workshop and a critique session at the end. I really had no issues with the leader making photos. They kept the level low so they could observe and make suggestions to the participants and were available to answer questions 100% of the time. FWIW I’ve never taken a nature/wildlife targeted workshop.

As a workshop/tour leader I shoot. I don’t have my face glued to the back of my camera the entire time we’re in the field. In fact I’m fairly selective about what I shoot when leading. After all, I’m leading the group because this is a location I’m intimately familiar with. I shoot in these locations a lot. I spend a lot of my time observing our subjects (wild horses) and the participants. I make suggestions, answer questions. I alert the folks in my charge when I see an interesting situation developing. Obviously I don’t let my own shooting get in the way of my doing my job. I have a responsibility to get the photographers in my charge in front of the horses, to impart some information about the horses, the environment and photography in general, and to try to make sure no one does anything to endanger themselves of the animals we’re photographing.

I offer two kinds of experiences; a “tour/safari” and a “workshop.” They are not one in the same. For a “tour/safari” my primary job is to get the participants in front of the subjects. They are hiring me for my expertise at finding these animals and to handle the logistics such as transportation and meals. Tours are for experienced photographers that don’t feel they need a lot of hand-holding and direction. They’re confident in their camera and compositional skills. They need to be given opportunities, not a lot of instruction. Obviously, at least in my mind, there’s little reason for me not to shoot during these kinds of outings. If they have a question or need my input, all they have to do is ask.

The other experience I offer is a formal workshop. For a workshop there’s going to be some classroom time involved. Instead of a pre-trip briefing given during a tour, we’re going to spend the first morning learning about the history of these animals, the rules concerning interaction with them and we’ll discuss things like lens selection and composition. My assumption is that someone that signs up for a workshop is looking to improve their photography skills as well as getting photo ops with the wild horses. During our first session in the field I’ll shoot very little, but I will shoot some. I’ll be observing everyone, analyzing the strengths, weaknesses and needs of each individual. Just as when leading a tour, I’ll be alerting folks when things are going to get interesting, be responsible for locating the animals and be dealing with the logistics of the thing. As the workshop progresses I’m usually able to shoot more and more… but again, while being very selective about what I shoot. Near the end of the workshop, but before the last field session, there’s another classroom session. This session is all about composition and post processing. It includes a critique session. I do this prior to the final field session with the idea that the participants will be able to apply what they learn to their final shooting opportunities. During that last field session I’m answering questions if asked, but not offering unrequested input. The idea is to let them try to put it all together on their own.

Keep in mind there’s an educational aspect to the leader shooting. By observing how the leader shoots… things such as tripod height, lens selection, long lens technique, etc… the participants can gain some insight into maximizing their photographic opportunities during their tour or workshop. The short and sweet – I shoot. I shoot more during a tour than during a workshop but I shoot.

Posted in Banker Horses, Education, General Photography, Guided Tours, Nature Photography, Photo Tip Tagged , , , , , , |

Eastern Phoebe

While I was photographing the Yellow Rumped Warblers the other day I was blessed with another visitor. A lovely little Eastern Phoebe perched on a bare branch, watching to see what I was up to. Obviously this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The Eastern Phoebe is a member of the flycatcher family. This handsome little species of bird was the first to be banded in the United States. In 1804 John Audubon, (yep… that Audubon), attached a “silvered thread” to the leg of an Eastern Phoebe so he could track its return in the following years. A year round resident of the Carolinas, these pretty little birds winter farther north than other flycatcher species. These small birds will use buildings and bridges for nesting sites, a trait that has allowed them tolerate urban growth into their natural habitat.

Photographing small birds is one of the few situations where I like to have my camera at my eye level. For shooting most wild subjects I prefer a low point of view but birds are often perched high in the branches of tree. A shot taken on at eye-level with the subject always has more impact than a shot taken at an extreme upward angle. For this series the Phoebe was perched very close to my eye-level making a good situation even better. I made these shots with a Canon 7D and a Sigma 50-500mm lens mounted atop an Induro CT314 tripod.

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Eastern Phoebe at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve Yawnig Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Posted in Avian Photography, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Nature Photography, Photo Tip

They Grow-up So Fast

I still remember the excitement of that day. I had heard there was a new foal living in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve and was on my second trip to try to get some photos of her. There she was, standing next to her mother. Seemingly so small and fragile, yet elegant and beautiful at the same time. That was in August of last year. I also remember how thrilled the participants of my wild horse workshop were to get to see and photographer last April & May. She was still small, impish and cute. Last week I was photographing a lovely little filly. It took a few minutes before I realized it was this same little youngster. She’s not exactly all grown-up yet, but she’s certainly anything but small, fragile and delicate. What they say is so true. They grow up so fast. Here are a few photos of the youngest wild horse living in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. I hope you enjoy them.

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Wild Horse of the Carolina coast.

Posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Nature Photography, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |
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