Tag Archives: composition

Master Composition Class for Landscape Photographers

Here’s the short YouTube promotional video for the composition class at KelbyOne. To watch the entire class with all the lessons in their entirety, please use this link:


The course was filmed along the Blue Ridge Parkway of North Carolina over five days in early May of 2015. Enjoy!

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Loose Ends and Random Thoughts

“Haunted By Waters” Spruce Flats Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

The image above was taken in April of this year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. This is an excellent example of what I try to teach my students when photographing waterfalls: We are not taking a portrait here. We are creating a landscape image with a waterfall as one of the elements. Walking up on the rocks and filling the frame with the waterfall would have been an easy thing to do but the end result would have been boring and banal. This composition includes the waterfall as a crucial element – as well as the primary focal point – but the image has an elegant visual design that goes beyond being just a portrait or documentary photo. Primarily, the flow of the stream and the placement of the rocks below the falls gets the eye moving back and forth through the frame giving it a dynamic quality that a static portrait would lack.

“Haunted by Waters” is a new addition to my Smoky Mountains Galley and depending on the conditions, is a location we will be visiting on the Smoky Mountains Autumn Workshop in October.


Speaking of workshops, there are two new workshops listed for the first quarter of 2014. For the 4th straight year, Ian Plant and I are leading another tour to Patagonia on March 10 – 19.

For the very first time, I am offering a Winter in Yellowstone photo tour and workshop in February that will combine the very best winter landscapes with wildlife photography. Jackson Hole professional wildlife photographer, Jared Lloyd will be my partner on this trip.

I’m sorry to announce that Arches and Canyonlands, Utah in November is now full, as is Acadia in October. Joe Rossbach and I still have a few openings for the Tetons in September so let me know if any of you have questions about this trip.

Photographer Christina Donadi has written a detailed review of my Smokies workshop from this past spring. Check out the rest of her blog for more excellent photography!


Last week I was listed as one of the top 100 travel photographers in the world for 2013 by ChiliSauce, a travel blog in the United Kingdom.  When I made the announcement on Facebook and Twitter, as a courtesy to the the owner of the blog, I made the announcement with a controversial preface: the words, “For whatever it’s worth…..” This was met by more than a few emails and private messages by annoyed fans and followers. Most began with a mocking, “For whatever it’s worth….” and eventually got around to making the point that I was not being grateful or gracious about the “honor.” For whatever it’s worth, you’re acting like an ass.

Look, this is not merely false modesty on my part. I do appreciate being listed with at least 99 other very accomplished photographers. But the list is just one person’s opinion and there are some very conspicuous names missing as well as some people I’ve never even heard of. So that’s what it is, one person’s opinion and that’s about what it’s worth. Sorry to offend.

So now I’m off to Africa for two weeks. I’ll try my best to post some crappy phone images here as well as a report or two on how I’m doing. Be sure to Subscribe to Earth and Light to keep up with my  latest travels realtime.

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Let Go Of The Literal

One of the best pieces of advice I can give a beginning photographer to help he or she create better compositions – an aspect of photography with which they all say they struggle – is to let go of the literal and embrace the abstract. That doesn’t mean you should start making abstract images, although that’s not necessarily a bad idea either, but instead see the scene abstractly.

So instead of seeing mountains, trees, rocks, and a river, for example, you would look for shapes and lines and how they relate to each other and the surrounding image frame.

For the image above, the corresponding abstract diagram could look like the one that follows:

Notice it contains no reeds, reflection of trees, nor lily pads, but only a poorly-drawn half oval shape and some radiating lines. The literal is gone and all that’s left is the abstract. I could ask myself, “Is this an interesting design that holds my attention?” If no, I would move on. If yes, I have something to work with.

When working with students in the field, I might ask them to squint their eyes a little so the the literal is blurred out and all they can faintly see is the skeletal structure of the scene. This is good practice if you’ve never tried it. The literal just fleshes the image out.

When photographing in a beautiful place, it is too easy to be seduced by the scene’s literal beauty and overlook what really makes a strong composition. The way I see it, there is always time to sit back and appreciate the beauty of nature. In fact, I force myself to step away from the camera from time to time to just sit back and soak it all in. That’s important for many different reasons. But when it’s time to get to work, I’m looking much deeper into the scene for the abstract qualities that are going to take it beyond just a pretty picture and into the realm of true artistic interpretation. That means letting go of the literal.

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Essential Composition: Leading Lines

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming e-book, Essential Composition: A Guide for the Perplexed. I’ll make an announcement post here on June 12, the date of its release.

I’m sure you’ve heard – or perhaps you’ve uttered it yourself – that it feels as if you can “walk right into” a certain photograph. What characteristic gives the viewer an invitation to be pulled into the image and become a participant in it? More often than not, it’s the successful use of leading lines.

The use of leading lines is powerful compositional tool that helps the photographer “lead” the viewer’s eye and attention toward the focal point of the image. Lines also help give an image structure and establish flow and direction, keeping it from becoming visually static.

Leading lines control and manipulate the visual experience by pulling the viewer on a dynamic journey through the scene in the very specific way that the photographer intends; near to far, up or down, from corner to corner. All the while, the viewer’s eye is moving, stopping only when it reaches the photographer’s pre-designed, intended resting place. The lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, straight or curved, literal or merely implied. As long as they are purposeful and meet the intentions of the photographer, they can be useful in giving the image dynamic flow.

The release date of Essential Composition: A Guide for the Perplexed is June 12 and will be available for download in the Earth and Light e-store.


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Not the scene that comes to mind when one thinks of Patagonia. No sheer granite spires and majestic mountains, but because of the ever-present winds, you will find some of the most fascinating clouds formations anywhere. Sometimes, it even coincides with some incredible light.

Lago Viedma, Argentina
Canon 5D mk2, Canon 16-35L II

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