Photography Through Inspiration and Exploration


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An ongoing series of informational entries

Cirrocumulus Clouds

Altocumulus Clouds

Cumulus Clouds

Cirrus Clouds


26 October, 2020

One question every child asks is, “why is the sky blue?” But let’s look at why the sky is red at sunset.

Light from the sun is made up of all the colours of the rainbow. As the sunlight enters the earth’s atmosphere, the short wavelength of blue light is scattered in all directions, more than any of the other colours, causing the sky to be blue during the day.

At sunrise and sunset, the light has further to travel due to the low angle of the sun in the sky. This causes the blue light to be blocked and scattered away, allowing the longer wavelengths or red and yellow to appear in the sky.

I don’t know about you , but I wish there was some magic formula that could tell me exactly the night for photographing a beautiful sunset, or for that matter, which morning is going to produce a stunning sunrise. Unfortunately, nature is not that easy to predict but we can, hopefully, discover some ways to increase our odds.

Let’s take a closer look at some other factors that will help us predict brilliantly coloured skies.

No doubt you have heard the saying “Red sky at night, shepherds delight, red sky in the morning shepherds take warning.” This saying can help you predict sunsets and sunrises if you know the weather forecast. Look for a red sky at sunrise ahead of a storm and at sunset after a storm. Knowing what to expect weather-wise is key to anticipating the right conditions for a shoot, so the first thing you need to do is find a good weather app or website (one that reports on factors such as cloud cover, air quality, humidity and wind speed.

Clouds and Cloud Cover

Clouds are a crucial factor to predicting dramatic sunsets, for without clouds there is not much to see.

On common misconception of brilliant sunsets is that clouds create the colours; in reality clouds only serve as the canvas to display the colours that the light is painting. High to mid-level clouds are the most effective canvases, as they will reflect the colours of the setting sun. Puffy clouds on the horizon at sunset will more than likely not allow the sun rays to pass through them, thus muting the colours. Lower clouds (such as dark rain filled clouds) are not very helpful at reflecting much light.

If the clouds on the horizon are low and thick, the sun will not be able to shine through them. It is also worth noting that too many or too few clouds can be detrimental for an optimal photo, so check out your detailed weather report for cloud cover percentages between 30 and 70 percent at sunset.

You can observe cloud conditions in the afternoon and if the sky looks favourable, you can hope that these clouds will still be present at sunset. No guarantees, but if there is not much wind these clouds may stick around to create a beautiful sunset.

A brief description of fair weather clouds that may produce dramatic sunsets:

 Cirrocumulus clouds – these look like ripples on water with blue sky as the usual backdrop.

 Altocumulus clouds – often occur in sheets or patches with wavy, rounded masses or rolls, like little cotton balls. They are generally white or grey and usually appear after a storm.

 Cumulus clouds – easily recognizable, large, white, and fluffy, often with flat bases.

 Cirrus clouds – generally characterized by thin, wispy strands. These clouds arrive in advance of frontal systems indicating that weather conditions may soon deteriorate. Nevertheless, these are one of the best kind for photographing dramatic sunsets!

Clean Air

Clean air is very effective at scattering the blue light. For this reason, one of the best times for dramatic sunsets is right after a rain or wind storm. While lower clouds rarely reflect brilliant colours note that where the lower atmosphere is especially clean, more vivid colours are allowed to pass through.


The amount of humidity in the air will also have an effect on the colours of your sunset. Lower humidity will produce more vibrant colours. With higher humidity, the colours will be muted because of the water content in the atmosphere. The seasons of autumn and winter typically produce lower humidity than in the warmer seasons.


Wind is a factor that can either enhance or destroy a beautiful sunset. A change in wind direction can cause the clouds to develop ripples or billows, which can create a beautiful effect as the setting sun reflects a nice red glow onto the ripples.

Also, as established earlier, clean air will produce more brilliant colours, and a nice breeze before sunset can help clear the air.

Unfortunately, the wind can become a negative factor on those days when favourable clouds are present in the afternoon, but a weather front moves through with strong winds that remove those clouds and leave you with a clear sky at sunset.

This is another instance when a good weather app or weather website can give you an indication on its radar as to when a front may move through your area.

To summarize your sunset prediction, look for:

Mid to high-level clouds

30 – 70% cloud coverage

Clean air

Lower humidity

Calm winds

A final thought to consider when photographing sunsets – somethimes the afterglow of the sunset, which can occur 15 – 20 minutes after the sun goes behind the horizon, can be much more spectacular than the actual sunset.

Generally, all these weather-related rules also apply to photographing sunrises, but the visual signs are more difficult to spot since it is darkest before the dawn. A good time to photograph at sunrise is in autumn and winter when it occurs later in the day than in the summer months.


19 October 2020

We all have different goals when it comes to our passion for photography. Getting better at our craft is definitely something that most of us strive for. A great way to get better is to explore your own creativity by working on personal and professional photography projects. Personal photography projects are excellent for a variety of reasons. Since these are for the most part not client-driven, there tends to be less pressure to be perfect and more freedom to be creative.

Just like anything else in life, having a routine provides a sense of organization. Figure out what you want to focus on from a personal photography project, pick your best time to photograph, and then stick to that routine.


In my opinion, the hardest part of finding a personal project is deciding what project to pursue. You know the proverbial “What do I photograph?” question.


A wabi-sabi method requires a slower, quieter approach to life. The concept is very similar to Japanese Zen gardens that promote tranquility and calmness. Slow down and quiet your mind. When you apply this to your personal photography projects there seems to be somewhat of an ease from the pressures of perfection. You stop chasing that next award-winning frame for just a few minutes and instead open your eyes to all that is around you: Stop, look, feel, and then click. This will make each frame more meaningful and help you convey the story better once you understand what is unfolding around you.


As I mentioned earlier, self-assigned photo projects can really help you grow as a photographer and an artist. Even if you do the same work for your clients and your personal projects, the fact that you are doing more and more of something brings forth many opportunities for growth and learning. You can experiment with new techniques, with new gear, with new ways of composing images, and with new ways of editing. Regardless, use your personal projects to push yourself to improve.

Regardless of the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of personal photography projects, one thing is certain. At times when you are in a funk and cannot find your groove, having a space and an opportunity to create without an agenda is exactly what you need to get your groove back.


05 October 2020


The term “Decisive Moment” was coined by some of the original street photographers. The term means two things: clicking the shutter at the moment of peak action, which in turn creates maximum emotional impact.

So, the Decisive Moment is really about timing and anticipation.

This is one of those aspects of photography that you can read about and study, but you will never master unless you’re out shooting.

The technical quality of a photograph is always secondary to the emotional quality. Get your shot first, and then worry about the details.

This is key to the Decisive Moment because in order to get the shot at all, you must anticipate and be ready.

The Decisive Moment is about capturing peak action. That doesn’t necessarily mean that something fast is happening.

When you set about trying to use the Decisive Moment to instil emotion into your photography, train yourself to think about “what could happen” not just “what is happening”.


28 September 2020


Humans have an emotional attachment to colour. Blue tends to make us think of cold or night. Red indicates danger, heat, or love. Every colour of the spectrum generates a reaction inside our head.

How can you put that knowledge to use?

1. You can keep your eyes open for colours that convey a certain mood.

2. You can introduce props of a certain colour to influence emotions.

3. You can manipulate colour in-camera through the use of filters or colour balance settings.

4. You can manipulate colour in post-production.


As you probably know, composition is the road map to your image. It tells your viewer where to travel within the photograph, and where to stop. Stopping points are where emotional responses are going to occur. You want these stopping points to literally hit your point home!

There are many rules and tools of composition that accomplish the same thing: guide your viewer.

Using composition to create emotion will often utilize other techniques as well as to

help boost the message.

Shape and contrast are important tools of composition that are often overlooked.

Always keep your eyes open for ways to instil emotion - without being overly obvious.


21 September 2020

Infusing emotion is a key element to a successful photograph.  Here we continue our discussion...


Point-of-view is probably the simplest method available to you when trying to establish emotion. Why is that? Because, you control it completely - your POV is uniquely yours.

Photographers often don’t explore this unique tool as thoroughly as they should.

So, how do you establish a point-of-view? And how does that point-of-view determine an emotional reaction?

First, let’s look at “how you establish a point of view”.

  • Your choice of lenses vastly affects the POV of a scene.
  • Your choice of positioning the camera affects the POV.
  • Your choice of positioning the subject also affects the POV.

If you don’t know much about lenses, keep these points in mind.

  • A telephoto lens compresses distance and spatial relationships
  • A wide-angle lens expands distance and pushes elements apart

Many photographers, myself included, tend to photograph subjects from eye level. Unfortunately, that is rarely the best angle to infuse an emotional reaction into a photograph.

When choosing an unusual angle for the camera, it can be extreme. Often times, however, even a slight movement on the part of camera placement can add emotion and drama.

Choosing an emotional POV doesn’t necessarily have to be ultra-dramatic. You don’t have to hang off of a cliff or wade chest deep into a pond, sometimes it’s just about eliminating unnecessary details until you have focused in on the true story being told in the photograph.

One last word on POV – CLOSE-UP. Remember to get close. People love seeing details in a photograph. Details can create strong emotions. Sure, there is a place for the wide-angle image. But most photographers have more of a problem going too wide, rather than too close.


13 September 2020

When we create a photograph, what is the primary outcome that we all seek? We want people to see, and remember, our images!

When we post our photos to Flickr, 500px, Instagram or Facebook, we don’t want people glancing at our photos in passing and then moving on. We want our viewers to really stop, and closely examine our work.

One of the main attributes that contribute to a photograph getting noticed is the infusion of emotional content.

When a viewer is emoted, that “feeling” is embedded in their memory and it causes them to pause. Even if that pause is only for a second, the infused emotional aspect of your photograph has done its job.

It doesn’t have to be a positive emotion. It can be anything from happiness to sadness, or amazement to anger.

Infusing emotion is a key element to a successful photograph.


Lighting can create an emotional response. In general, broad, open even lighting presents a positive mood. In reverse, direct, contrasting, pinpoint, shadowed lighting creates suspense, drama or concern.

You should study the light that is available to you when you are ready to shoot an image and use it to enhance the mood that you wish to convey.

When attempting to use light as your emotional grabbing tool, bear in mind the following:

  • You can attempt to manipulate the angle of the light to the subject to create drama
  • You can choose a time of day to attain a certain type of light ··
  • You can use filters on your camera to alter what the existing light looks like
  • You can manipulate the lighting in post-production software to create a mood


07 September 2020

An image editing program such as Photoshop can seem pretty complex and bewildering. It certainly is if you try to take it all on board at once. I began by dealing with one stage of controlling an image at a time and learning the basic steps needed to achieve the result I wanted.

It really doesn’t matter if you don’t know all the short-cut commands – the important thing is to be able to see in your mind’s eye the image you want to achieve, and to understand what changes are required to bring it closer to this. The most important aspect of digital photography is not how adept you are at using a computer, or how knowledgeable you are about the technology, but how effective the end result is.


31 August 2020

Building a composite image from a number of different elements has fascinated many photographers since the very early days.

The numerous ways in which images can be combined when dealing with pixels are simply astonishing, allowing a photographer to express their ideas almost without limit.

This is perhaps the aspect of digital imaging that provides the greatest freedom for personal expression and offers the most intriguing challenge to the imagination, as well as revealing a new way to recognize the possibilities when taking photos.


As my interest in this genre of photography has grown, I now make it a habit to look for objects or details that might be useful in the future as an element in a composite image.

Things with interesting shapes are particularly useful, and if they are clearly defined against a contrasting plain background it is a relatively easy matter to select them.


Sometimes an image seems to evolve: I have an idea, and when I begin to work on the elements a new direction suggests itself.


Some of the best composite work is done by those with a strong sense of design who have the ability to visualize and plan their images. This is perhaps the most satisfying way of creating composite images, as the individual elements can be photographed especially for the purpose. In this way, objects can be made much easier to select by photographing them against a plain contrasting background, and it is possible to make sure that qualities such as lighting and perspective are common to all the images involved.


One of the most difficult effects to achieve convincingly when creating composite images is to make the result seem like a straight forward photograph. Once you set out to deceive in this way, there are so many potential factors that can give the game away: discrepancies between lighting direction and quality, for example, or maybe inconsistencies in the perspective of objects, as well as the relative sharpness and the depth of field of different elements in an image. Achieving a believable result becomes more viable if the images you combine have a genuine unifying factor.


One way of beginning the process of creating a multiple image is to give yourself a brief. Imagine that you are working with an art director who needs an image for a specific purpose. It often needs something like this to stimulate your creativity and can lead you to developing ideas in ways you may not otherwise have considered.


24 August 2020

I am by no means averse to having fun with my photography and some of the effects which imaging software allows you to create fall into this category. But techniques discovered and learned in this context will not be wasted as they can often give rise to many other possibilities and can help you to develop ideas and establish a personal style.


Image editing software like Photoshop, Luminar and ACDSee makes double exposures and similar techniques much easier and more controllable to perform than ever before and can also extend them in ways that are hard to visualize until you become aware of the possibilities. One of the most important and flexible aspects of creating images in this way is the ability to blend two or more separate layers in a huge variety of ways.

Technical note: As with many image editing facilities, there is almost always more than one way of creating the same or a very similar effect, or of refining the one you have achieved. When working with Blending Modes or Layer Options you can also try varying the hue, saturation, contrast, brightness and opacity of the individual layers to give further control over the final effect.


Blending layers can be another effective way of using filter effects, and it also provides a very controllable way of creating images with a more painterly or graphic quality. The Layers Options control can be a powerful tool when dealing with multiple layers.


It is usually a combination of effects which produces the most interesting results, but only when they are applied to the right subject – this applies particularly to effects filters.

The best way of using these effects is as an enhancer or to exaggerate a quality that already exists within the photograph, instead of simply imposing the effect on it.


There are numerous techniques and filters that can be used to modify a digital image, often beyond recognition. Some of these are contained within software programs, and many can be bought as plug-ins. Although it might seem at first that there are thousands of possible effects, many of these are simply variations on the same theme and are often so crude and unattractive that it is difficult to visualise how they might be used to produce a pleasing image. But sometimes they can be applied in ways that emphasize a particular quality in an image, or that can be modified by blending layers in order to create quite interesting variations on an image.


17 August 2020

When the photographic medium was first discovered more than 150 years ago, the process of recording an image on a light-sensitive surface was considered to be little short of miraculous. Those early pioneers of photography would be astonished to see just how far the medium has progressed. But, in truth, fine control of image quality can be a frustratingly restricting process.

A digital image that is formed from pixels allows a vast new range of controls to become possible, from simple adjustments of density, contrast and colour, to the removal of blemishes, the conversion of an image from colour to monochrome, and the introduction of a wide range of effects.


While some photographers insist that their photographs are not cropped in any way, there are very few images that would not benefit from a little judicial cropping. In the field, it is best to exclude details you do not want in your image at the time of shooting, but there are occasions when the shape of the sensor format or the choice of lens means that some unwanted details appear.

The Crop Tool can therefore provide a good opportunity to see whether your picture may have more impact if a little less is included in the frame.

Technical note: In Photoshop, if the Delete Cropped Pixels option is ticked in the crop tools option bar, the image will be permanently cropped. If the Delete Cropped Pixels option is unticked it merely “trims” the image, preserving the image contents, including all the layers information – the pixels remain hidden, in case you change your mind and want to crop wider.


Even the best photographs can be enhanced by good presentation, and black and white workers often pay great attention to the borders of a print or image.

The opportunities to add borders and ragged edges are boundless when using an image editing program such as Photoshop, ACDSee, On1, Luminar etc.


One of the great advantages of digital photography is the relative ease with which it is possible to remove details within the image that are unwanted and intrusive, such as sensor spots.


From a pictorial and creative viewpoint, the correct exposure is one that records a scene in the way that the photographer has visualised it, and even a small variation in exposure can make a significant difference to the quality and effect of an image.

With a digital image it is possible to see the effect of varying the exposure on our monitors and to make comparisons before deciding on the most effective setting.


The quality of a photographic image is dependent upon the brightness levels of the subject or scene being photographed. If the brightness range is too high, detail will be lost in the highlight and shadow areas, resulting in a photograph that is harsh and unpleasing. If the brightness range of the subject is too low, there will be no solid blacks and the highlights will be veiled, resulting in a flat and lifeless image.


Decreasing contrast is not as straight forward as increasing it and the results are often less satisfactory. This is because when contrast is high, detail is lost in either the highlight areas or the shadows, or both, and if this loss is significant, reducing the overall contrast of the image is not likely to restore it but will only make the image appear degraded.


Modern camera lenses are capable of recording images with remarkable sharpness but this is not always desirable.

With an image editing program it is relatively easy to soften or diffuse areas of an image that is sharp. The advantage is that the effect can be readily seen on the screen and varied according to taste. A further benefit is that the blur can be applied to selected areas.

Technical note: When applying filters such as Blur, it can be a good idea to make a copy of the image to work on and turn it into a Smart Object. This will allow you to revisit the amount of blur applied to your image without having to start from scratch – it also allows you to brush in the effect where you want it.


10 August 2020

“The camera never lies” is essentially true in so far as a camera records quite objectively the subject or scene upon which it is focused. Any difference there might be between the image and the original scene is a result of the photographer’s intervention, or the shortcomings and characteristics of the camera.

Many of the photographs taken every day are designed to provide information, and it is important that they are as faithful to the original subject as possible.

But when photographs are shot purely for personal and artistic motives, it is often an important part of the creative process to distance the image so that it is more than a straight forward record of a scene. A photographer in today’s digital age has more opportunity to do this than at any time in the history of photography.


There are occasions when a sharp, clear image is undesirable: when attempting to create a particular mood or an atmospheric effect. One of the more appealing qualities possessed by a great many of the very early images created by the Victorian photographers was their lack of clarity and definition. This often gave them a slightly mysterious and unworldly quality, though it was probably due more to the shortcomings of the equipment and materials available to them than any creative intent.

Modern cameras are capable of breath taking clarity and definition, and to overcome this a number of popular techniques are often used as needed – soft focus, shallow focus, shadowy lighting, movement, blur etc. When used in-camera however, they can be a bit hit and miss, and they are not reversible. The ability to experiment with methods of introducing an element of abstraction into an image in a way which allows you to change your mind or modify it is one of digital imaging’s great strengths.


Image editing software can be effectively used to improve the quality of an image in a way that is undetectable – but these and other techniques can also be used to enhance specific image qualities and to produce effects that can add to the interest of an image and create greater impact.


This is a lot of fun, but should be done in a manner that doesn’t show. An image editing program such as Photoshop or ACDSee makes this a very simple operation and provides the facility to make an undetectable join.


The only means available to the early photographers of adding more than one colour to a black and white photograph was to apply paint by hand. Some of the images produced in this way were very beautiful, and this technique is still practiced by some contemporary photographers.

It does require a reasonable amount of skill with a brush, and like many other traditional techniques, there’s no going back – a spoiled print must be discarded.

A digitized image can be coloured in a similar way, and although some skill is required, there is the big advantage that the image can be enlarged to an enormous degree, making it possible to apply colour to even tiny areas very accurately. In addition, errors can be rectified easily, quickly and as many times as necessary.


03 August 2020

Finally in our quest to finding our photographer’s eye we look at light and our image.


While the choice of viewpoint and the composition of an image are vital to the effectiveness of a photograph, it is often the way in which a subject is lit that is the ultimate factor in creating a really striking image. The relationship between the subject, the light and the final image is perhaps the single most fascinating aspect of photography – and the most elusive (and frustrating).

There are three essential ways in which light affects a photographic image:

i. Intensity

ii. Direction

iii. Quality.

Light Intensity

Intensity is important because it determines the amount of exposure needed to record an image.

With a completely static subject and a tripod-mounted camera, long exposures can usually be given to compensate for a poorly illuminated subject, but with a moving subject or a hand held camera, a short exposure is necessary to prevent blur.

Light Direction

The angle from which light is directed towards a subject is a vital factor in determining how effectively the key elements within it, such as form and texture, are recorded.

But the direction of light in relation to the subject is also governed by the camera’s viewpoint, and the effect of light is often another factor which should be considered when choosing a viewpoint.

Technical note: The shadows in a scene are the best guide to judging the way in which the direction of the light affects the subject and the way in which it will be recorded. In many ways they are responsible for creating the basic structure of an image, and once you are aware of their size, direction and density, you can begin to see more clearly how effectively the image will be recorded, and if any changes need to be made in the choice of viewpoint and the way in which the image is framed.

Technical note: It is very easy to misjudge the contrast of a scene when viewing it in the normal way, because our eyes are very accommodating and can see clearly into dense shadows.  Looking at a subject on the rear screen of your camera once captured is a good way of judging the contrast of a scene more objectively. Beware that this will show more detail in shadow and highlight areas than can be recorded on a print.

Light Quality

The quality of light refers to the degree to which it is diffused and to its colour. The degree of light diffusion affects the contrast of a scene: the strongly diffused light from an overcast sky produces weak shadows and no bight highlights, and can make a subject look flat and lifeless, whereas denser shadows and brighter highlights created by strong light produces very high contrast and images with a harsh quality that lacks detail.

The colour of daylight can vary enormously, from the strong orange tint of early-morning and late-evening sunlight to the pronounced blue cast of light on overcast days and when light is reflected from a blue sky onto subjects in open shade.

The warm, orange tinted colour of sunlight when it is low in the sky can contribute to the mood and effect of some subjects, but a blue cast is usually less desirable. When working with digital images both the contrast and colour balance of an image can be adjusted relatively easily.


26 July 2020

Having looked past the subject of an image, in our journey to train our eye to really see, we move onto composition and design.


Those shooting subjects such as landscapes, architecture and nature are largely in the position of having to achieve a well composed image solely by their choice of viewpoint and the way in which the subject is framed.

But the advent of digital photography has gone a long way to providing photographers with the ability to combine images and individual elements on a computer screen in an almost limitless way. When using this medium, the photographer also needs to become a designer in the true sense of the word.

Technical note: The majority of photographs are taken from the photographer’s eye level when standing. But even just a slight change in the camera level can often make a significant difference to the composition of an image.

  • Viewpoint

The choice of viewpoint is perhaps the single most important decision to be made when considering how the image should be composed in the camera, as it establishes the relationship between the subject and the other elements in a scene.

When the camera is moved closer to the subject it becomes larger in relation to distant details and more dominant in the image, while moving the camera further from the subject makes the background details larger in proportion to the subject and the foreground less dominant.

Moving the camera to the right makes a subject in the foreground appear to move to the left of distant objects, while moving the camera to the left has the opposite effect.

  • Framing the Image

Having decided on the best viewpoint, the next step is to consider how the image should be framed. In order to do this it is first necessary to establish a focus of interest within the scene. Once identified, this detail can act as a fulcrum around which the other elements of the subject can be balanced, by deciding where the focus of interest can be most effectively placed within the frame, and which of the remaining details should be included or excluded.

  • Balance and Tension

The place within the frame where the main focus of interest has the greatest effect is said to be at the point where lines which divide the picture area into thirds intersect. There is no doubt that in many cases this produces a well-balanced and pleasing effect, and it can usually be considered a safe option.

There is more to it than this, and your aim should always be to strive for a sense of balance in the image – and this is dependent upon the size, shape and colour of the main elements of a scene.

In addition, think in terms of creating a sense of movement and tension within your images. Some contemporary photographers use techniques such as deliberately tilted horizons, distracting details at the edge of the frame, and images cropped in unexpected ways. While this approach can lead to rather contrived and self-conscious images, it can also help to open your mind to other ways of seeing a subject and of avoiding clichés.

Technical note: In most cases there is no best viewpoint or one perfect frame, and it can be very instructive to try several alternatives. This is a good way to develop a personal style and to avoid your images becoming too predictable.


20 July 2020

In our quest to attain a photographer’s eye we look at texture, perspective and colour in this blog.

  • Texture

The way in which a photograph can recreate the texture of an object’s surface can be so convincing that it often invites a tactile response from the viewer.

Like form, the impression of texture is dependent upon the tonal range of the subject and in the way it is lit, and it is an invaluable aspect of a photographer’s ability to produce images with a powerful sense of realism.

Technical note: It is essential for the image to be tack-sharp if the texture of a subject is to be fully exploited and the finest details in the image are to be recorded.

  • Perspective

While visual elements such as texture, tone and colour help to establish the character of an image, perspective, like shape, is largely responsible for creating the image’s basic structure.

The effect of perspective is produced when the size of similar objects appears to become smaller the further they are from the camera. The effect is exaggerated when a wide-angle lens is used and objects both very close to and distant from the camera are included in the frame.

  • Colour

The key to good colour photography is to be fully aware of each and every colour within a scene, and to see how successful – or otherwise – they work together.

Most people are likely to be inspired to take a picture when confronted by a particularly colourful scene. Paradoxically, this is often a situation in which it is most difficult to produce a striking colour image. A subject that contains a mixture of bright colours will almost certainly produce a disappointing image unless a very selective and restrained approach is adopted.

Technical note: Images with a mix of bright colours can often be made to work when they have a bold design or shape that dominates the image. But very often the most striking colour photographs have just a single, dominant colour that is the main focus of attention, with the other colours and details of the scene creating a pleasing and harmonious balance around it.


14 July 2020

It is significant that a camera lens is sometimes known as an “objective” as it sees in a very cold, dispassionate way. But we, on the other hand, see in a very subjective way, focusing on things that interest us and ignoring those that don’t.

Having a “good eye” is something to which all photographers aspire. Some, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, seem to have been born with it, but it can be acquired with a little practice. There are a number of tangible visual qualities that the camera will record in a way which can have a powerful effect in an image and create considerable impact.

This is what the next few blogs posted here will look at.


The most important step is acquiring a photographer’s eye is to look beyond the subject itself and to identify the crucial visual qualities that can be so striking in a photograph. Some of these can be inherent in the scene, such as colour, texture and shape, while others can be revealed or enhanced by lighting.

These key elements are effectively the building blocks of a photograph, and even if just one of these elements is particularly striking in some way it can create an interesting image. When two or more of these components have a strong presence in a subject, you are likely to produce a powerful image.

Let’s look at SHAPE, PATTERN and FORM here and the other elements (texture, perspective and colour) in up-coming blogs.

  • Shape

The dominant shape of a subject often can be the most striking element of an image. It might be the shape of a principle object; it can also be when a shape is created by an arrangement of objects or a shape created by perspective.

This element is much stronger and has more impact when the object in question is clearly defined and stands out from the background; this happens when there is a bold tonal or colour contrast between them, or when the objects outline is emphasized by lighting.

  • Pattern

The effect of a pattern is created when a number of similar shapes are placed together in an image, and it can have a quite compelling effect, even when the pattern is only suggested. But pattern alone tends to have only an initial impact, and other elements, such as a break in the pattern to create a focus of interest, are usually necessary to give a picture a more lasting interest.

  • Form

Although the shape of an object can have a powerful effect, and even a complete silhouette can have considerable impact, a more interesting and satisfying image usually results when the objects within a scene have a feeling of solidity.

The photographic medium is capable of creating an almost uncanny sense of depth, and can give the impression of being three-dimensional on the flat surface of a print. This quality is created by the tonal range of the subject, which is often at least partly dependent upon the way it is lit. As a general rule, a fairly gentle gradation from the darkest shadow to the brightest highlight within an object tends to create the strongest impression of form and solidity.

To be continued…


09 July 2020

Back in the day, which manufacturer of the camera you used did not matter as much as it does today. Camera manufacturers did not make film; they made lenses and camera bodies.

Film was interchangeable.

Today, things are different. Cameras are built around sensors. In a sense, the sensor is the film and the file that is produced is the digital negative.

What has remained the same is the same over-riding goal: always try to get it right in camera.

Raw processors are designed to help you get the most of your digital captures and ensure that when you get it close in camera, you can then make it right.

A raw processor is meant to get you your best starting image, not your final one. If you are looking for a higher level of control and quality, then the use of a Raw processor is just one link in the workflow chain.

Raw processors are not the ultimate in producing a final image because:

  • They do not have variable opacity on a layer mask that you can fine-tune
  • You can do brushwork, but once you do it, you cannot go back to it if you miss a spot
  • Adjustments are too coarse and tend to be too global

A raw processor is meant to get your best starting image, not your final one. However, if you have an image for which a Raw processor is adequate, stop and call it a day.

Never lose sight of the most important goal; to create an image that reflects your feelings at the moment of capture.

More on this in another session!


29 June 2020

Say out loud to no one in particular

          “Hi. My name is…” and your name.

Then pause for a moment and say, again out loud

          “Hi. My name is Izzy Smith”.

Unless your name really is Izzy Smith, you should observe a difference in the way those two statements make you feel. It is most likely that the first statement felt comfortable and personal, while the latter felt empty.

The difference is that your real name is inhabited by who you are, and the latter is just some words with no meaning to you.

This is because your name is your personal icon; the representation of everything you have experienced up to this moment. Think of your name as having a shape that contains everything you have ever said and done, all you have ever seen and felt, and every lesson learned in your life.

The shape of your images should contain nothing less.

Be Present

What does this mean? To me, it means that you approach all experiences with no preconceptions and that you allow yourself to be open to learning at all times.

It means realizing that while any lesson may have specific and immediate significance, it may also have the same or greater significance for things you have yet to experience.

Life is dynamic and not static. Life is about the way in which our experiences interact with each other in a non-linear way, and it is that interaction that results in who we are. Just like a beach is made up of grains of sand, every experience we have is a grain that makes up the beach of our lives. They interact and shift, changing the landscape of who we are.

There are two ways to approach learning:

i. Granularly – we learn to do steps in a set way and sequence to get a prescribed result. Results are repetitive and without growth; become more about technique and stifles creativity. However, it is a good starting point as beginners.

ii. Globally – being open to something more – keeps us from experiencing creative stagnation. If you allow yourself this level of presence, everything you need to know, you will know when you need to know it. Allow yourself to take a piece of knowledge that you know works in one instance and generate a new train of thought.

The digital image allows anyone willing to take it, the pathway to unlimited creativity; a path to a place where impossible is merely an opinion – an opinion held not by the viewer of the image, but by its creator. This means that the photographer’s imagination is the only limitation.

Do not focus on technique for techniques sake, but to discover what it means to see rather than to merely look.

Once you discover that technique is merely a detail, you will be free to create images that will change the world of those who view them.


21 June 2020

The human eye sees in a predictable manner. The photographer must decide what journey the viewer’s eye will take through their image because controlling that journey can strongly influence the viewer’s perception.

I believe there are two types of eye at play:

1. The unconscious one that sees the image

2. The conscious one that interprets the story that the unconscious eye sees

Seeing: The Unconscious Eye

The human eye is always in a seek mode; it tends to wander rather than to look at any one thing for very long.

One of our goals should be to create an image in which the human eye is compelled to linger in order to short circuit its wandering tendencies. The longer the eye looks at your image, the more likely you are to convey to the viewer the emotion that you felt when you captured it.

When creating an image, you must be totally engaged, all creative cylinders firing at once and as one.

In Japanese Zen Buddhism this is referred to as being in a state of Shibumi – the act of thoughtful thoughtless thought, or doing the right thing in the moment without consciously thinking about doing the right thing.

In this state of grace photography becomes not merely about looking, but about seeing, because to look is simply a visual experience. Seeing is a creative process.

Digital revolution has simplified the taking of images, but creating meaningful photographs is still a difficult creative process.

So, how do you get the viewer’s unconscious eye to stay locked onto your photograph so that their conscious eye can see into it?

We need to understand how the human eye ‘sees’.

The eye moves from patterns that it recognises first:

  • From light to dark
  • From high contrast to low contrast
  • From high sharpness to low sharpness
  • From in-focus to blur
  • From high saturation to low saturation of colour

The eye tends to see warm colours as bright and moving forward in an image and cool colour as less bright and receding.

The human eye is frequently compared to a camera, but it is so much more. It is an optical biological device that has the ability to record time and motion. A still camera can only record fractions of time and stops motion with stillness.

The human eye is completely light-tight except for one opening at the front of the eye; the pupil. The amount of light allowed in is controlled by the iris, which opens in low light and closes in bright light.

Images are projected onto the retina, upside down and backwards. This reversed image is then translated into electric impulses that are sent to the brain to be interpreted.

Believing: The Conscious Eye

The human eye is not unlike a camera, and the brain is not unlike a high speed, image processing computer. Together they make up the hardware of the human visual system.

Light travels to the eye, lands on the retina and then proceeds via the optic nerve to the visual cortex. This is where the first part of interpretation begins. Edges are defined as is what is light and dark. With this information these are translated into simple shapes.

In the parietal lobe and the cerebral cortex this information is compared to previously stored information, the resulting information is then moved into the temporal lobe (where it is assigned meaning) and then moved into the frontal lobe where feelings are added and then onto the pre-frontal lobe which is the point at which we are guided to doing or saying something based on what our eyes have just seen.

This means that what we believe we see is not based simply on what the eye saw; it is the raw data of the eye interpreted by the brain. So, in a sense, seeing is not always believing; rather believing happens after we see.


The Black and White about Light and Dark

Dark is as important to an image as light. It is the understanding and controlling of the relationship between dark and light that results in more successful images.

In very low light situations we see only in black and white instead of colour. So when we look at a black and white image in the bright light of day with our full colour vision, there is a part of us that knows that we should not be able to do this. It captures and holds our attention because of this and gives us time to become emotionally involved with the image.


15 June 2020


When we look at the work of other artists we are able to decide whether we like a piece or not. Why are we unable to do this with our own work? If we constantly torture ourselves about our creativity why bother with this aspect?

I think it is too easy to spend too much time concerning ourselves with the notion that for our creative work to be valid, that others have to like it.

Every image you create is an expression of the artistic inspiration that moves you. You express your creative voice by developing the ability to show this without screaming for the attention of others.

Your goal should be to trust what you feel and constantly strive toward personal excellence. When your effectiveness becomes effortless, your images will move the viewer solely by the power that caused you to be moved.

Another thing, your work is only as good as the inspiration that you find in the life that you lead. What makes images even more successful is bringing life experiences and a knowledge base of techniques with you. This allows you to create an image that reflects what you felt when you were taken by the moment.

I know it sounds like a cliché but photography should not be about taking photos but about being taken by them.

Another cliché that I strongly believe in is that Photoshop is not the end, it is the means to an end, and that is a great image. In other words, you shouldn’t be capturing images to Photoshop them. Photoshop is a tool, nothing else.

Here endth the lesson!


08 June 2020

Why pursue creative, expressive work which may require effort and be less productive than pursuing easier work?

For me there are two reasons:

1. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the results of creativity.

2. Creativity is so fascinating that when I am involved in it, I feel that I am living more fully than during the rest of my life. My excitement as an artist comes close to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do. This, to me, is worth investing some effort into!

When I am creating I am known to be “in the zone” to such an extent that nothing else seems to matter and all sense of time is lost. This requires an extensive amount of effort and attention and stretches my mind to its limits.

In Japanese Zen Buddhism this is referred to as being in a state of Shibumi…the act of thoughtful thoughtless thought, or doing the right thing in the moment without consciously thinking about doing the right thing.

In this state photography becomes not merely about looking, but about seeing, because to look is simply a visual experience. Seeing is a creative process.

With time, experience and knowledge I have learnt that to consider only the end product misses a more important point. That is, overtime the most rewarding and transformational experiences of creating come from the making – from the process – and not from the art itself.


01 June 2020

Creating a series is relevant because it allows the photographer to tell a meaningful story through images in an organic way. Instead of a portfolio or show feeling disjointed because of seemingly random images being put together, a series takes the viewer into a new world. Now each image expands upon the last and when the images relate, the story grows.

Compiling a series requires a different way of creating altogether. In some ways it requires deeper thought. However, that being said, a series does not require a specific type of shooting – the images must only make sense together in some capacity, no matter how they were gathered.

One way to create a series is to think of a story first. It doesn’t have to be literal, but should connect each image in a way that it is accessible.

Thinking of a series is more complicated than thinking of a single image, but the inspiration can be found in the same way.

A series can be very intimidating because an audience expects to be entertained by each photograph, yet each photograph must be similar in some way to the one before it.

There has to be a thread connecting each image in order for the viewer to understand why they are moving through the series. To incorporated story into the series, each image must continue the story, or provide the next piece of the through line.

As your story moves organically and logically each image will build on the story started by the one before it. Each image will carry the through line that brings the viewer to the end.


25 May 2020

I often create images that are inspired by fairy tales, fables or myths. Fairy tales are a way of connecting us to our childhood and taking the mind to a place that it does not often get to experience as an adult. Photography, for me at least, is about learning how to access different types of creativity and how to apply those is physical photographic form.

Think about your childhood. I bet it was free from thinking about paying the bills, housework or being practical. Anything goes as a child, and why fairy tales are such inspiration. Fairy tales put us into the mind-set of a child, and there are few better mind-sets to inhabit when creating.


19 May 2020

Using parts of dark art and surrealism can help you widen your visual skills and conceptual inspiration. To be able to see beyond what is obvious and into a more creative place is rewarding and beneficial to all artists, especially photographers.

With a photograph, the scene is laid out in front of us. While we can construct the scene however we want, it is rare that someone has a completely blank canvas to work from. If a photographer can transform their way of seeing into one similar to that of a painter, suddenly a world of possibilities opens up for us. By this I mean that painters start with a blank canvas and the only thing dictating what the final product will be is how the painter moves their hand.

Photography for me is a creative outlet without limitation – only those of my imagination. Much like a painter starts from scratch and then fills the canvas, I work from scratch in my mind to build an image. What I tend not to do is “take a picture”. I construct images instead, and whether the viewer sees them as art or not is a different matter.

All photographers can train themselves to think this way, and to see beyond the frame. By believing that anything is possible, a photographer can begin to construct their own reality. It might look very similar to the world we see around us, or be entirely different.

The logical question here is technical and lies in wondering how to bring these ideas together and into life – saying something and then doing it are two very different things.

By practicing, experimenting and failing, I was able to learn how to create my own world.


11 May 2020

A wee while ago I had someone approach me concerned for my mental well-being. Intrigued I asked why the question? Apparently to this person my photography was disturbing.

I guess, to be honest, dark art and surrealism are my passions in photography. Photography allows me to twist everyday reality into something more unusual enabling me to explore new worlds. Surrealism allows artists to bend truths and capture moments that could otherwise not exist.

While my images are conceptually dark, they are visually beautiful. I have been surrounded by death and dark things for the majority of my life – it intrigues me and I am not scared of the darker things in life.

The heart of surrealistic art is to create dream-like images filled with juxtapositions, to bend reality to my liking, and to capture what cannot be captured naturally. These are all different paths that surrealism can take.

Because surrealism deals so often with juxtapositions, it is easy to pair dark art with surrealism. So much of dark art is about understanding a different part of ourselves, either as the artist or the viewer. It is about accessing a part of the mind that gets used less frequently on a regular basis, and allowing ourselves to go there.

Dark art often has a negative reputation, as it can be misconstrued as grotesque, horrific or violent. While it certainly can be those things, dark art is so much more – it offers a different point of view seldom expressed and has the power to present something very different, thus standing out from the crowd.


04 May 2020

Being able to read an image (similar to a book) is an invaluable skill. It allows us to take each and every part of an image and look at it in depth in a more critical and meaningful way. Looking deeper into an image will highlight the reasons why we are drawn to or repulsed by something. This is incredibly important in order to not only understand imagery better in general, but also understand our own pictures in a more personal and critical way.

In learning to break down images to their basic parts, you are teaching yourself both how to create, and to recognize why you create.

The way a viewer looks at an image is very influenced by the colour a picture presents, so you owe it to your art to make conscious decisions about the elements you use in your compositions.


Colour is often the most striking element of an image. Everyone has a different personal association with colour so its use in an image is an important choice to make.

Knowing how a certain colour might universally affect people is a great way of putting deeper meanings into your imagery that more people will understand. Colour is so deeply related to symbolism that knowing how a certain colour works can add a lot to an image.


27 April 2020

Sometimes you will have ideas that are totally out there. To free yourself to embrace your inspiration, you’ll need to first trust yourself. This can be a huge challenge to your creativity, especially if it is not your typical approach.

By embracing your inner weirdo and letting it out you challenge viewers to see things in a new way – you stretch their imagination.

Sometimes photography can be seriously competitive – challenging someone’s perception of the world through your photography can make your work stand out from the rest and make it more memorable or refreshing.

It took me a while, but I have reached the point where I really no longer care if the viewer likes my image or not.  As the first viewer of an image it is me I have to please, and if I don't like one of my creations then no other viewer is going to see it.

In our early days as a photographer, as we are learning, it is good to listen and learn from more experienced photographers as to what they think about your image regarding what works and what doesn't and the reasons why, but eventually this can have the effect of us as artists creating for others and not for ourselves.  Not a good thing for creativity in my opinion!

So, go ahead, embrace that inner weirdo lurking within and let them out!


20 April 2020

So much of the battle within photography is about getting the viewer to believe in the image.

With most great images, the viewer is able to see beyond the picture and into the dynamic and interesting world that the photographer has created or captured.

I use locations that are accessible to me (and most other people), use props that I either already own or pick up on my journeys, and textures I have captured over the years. It’s what I do with these individual pieces and how I put them together into something distinctive and different to our reality that makes them uniquely mine.

The essence of my inspiration is to create new worlds within my images – to make the viewer see beyond the photograph and into the world of the story.

The created world needs to be believable to me for my imagery to work. Even if what I am photographing couldn’t exist in real life, it must be able to believably exist in the world of my imagery.

Making the unbelievable believable:

 Consider rooting your images in reality – while creating a completely abstract piece can give a powerful result, a better effect for me, is to give some element of the familiar to draw in the audience.

 Make the most of colour casts, washes and light effects. Few things are as effective as colour at manipulating the emotions of the viewer.

Sometimes I use texture as an image overlay in order to give a “painterly” feel to my image or cohesiveness to the elements it contains. This separates my work a little more from a traditional photograph and blurs the line between media, which is another method of creating a new world within an image. Another technique is to turn some images into brushes in Photoshop to give another feel to this element and a different feel to the end result.


13 April 2020


Inspiration is everywhere – we just have to look for it.

All artists at some time end up frustrated by a lack of inspiration. We all need help sometimes finding it, but there are techniques that help a lot, luckily.

In general, they involve changing our personal perspective. Human beings are creatures of habit, and breaking some of those habits might well be the key to opening up our minds to find inspiration.

Complete failure can sometimes be the best form of inspiration because it pushes us further, to try harder, and learn more.

If we break up our routines we start to break out of our comfort zones. Once out there, make a conscious effort to notice things that are new and unusual.

Taking this one step further, try to find inspiration in the mundane.  I go running through my local forest and just let my mind wander - thoughts come in and go out.  Those that I find intriguing I recall at a later date and write them down or attempt to draw them on a piece of paper so I can refer back to them.  For this reason, I normally have pen and paper relatively close by and always in my camera bag, especially when travelling.

In order to find inspiration you have to be open to seeing things in a new way – thus allowing your mind to open up.

I believe there are two types of inspiration:

1. Internal – comes to us from our own experiences and perceptions of the world,

2. External – this comes from other people. There is a fine line between putting our own art into the world and regurgitations of other people’s work. The line is easier crossed the more inspiration an artist gets from external sources.


Finding out where your real passions lie gives you the advantage of having a path to follow in the development of your art.

To find out what you are really interested in, ask yourself if you had one full day to do whatever you wanted, without limitations, what would you spend it doing?

Whatever it is, there is no right or wrong answer. The answer you come up with is your stepping stone to figuring out what your passion in photography is.


06 April 2020


Creativity is the application of a thought, while inspiration is the force that originates that thought. We all have our own ways of bringing forth our creativity; the key is learning how to embrace our own personal style.

Creativity is often nothing more than problem-solving. To come up against a problem during a project and then figure out a way to resolve the issue: that is being creative.


Having a recognizable style, no matter what your genre of photography is, is essential for understanding how you need to visually interpret your inspiration.

Try defining your style using a series of 5 to 10 words. These words are not only how you should see your photography, but how you want other people to see it. Try to stay true to these keywords, at least in part, for each image you create.

My keywords:

Dark, mysterious, creepy, timeless, whimsical, surreal, fantasy, texture, haunting, colourful.

Being able to define your own style is very important, because if you do not define your style, as soon as your work starts getting attention, someone else will define it for you.

Style doesn’t necessarily have to be a consistent visual representation, but can include the ideas and motivation behind the work.

Once you know what you want to photograph, ask yourself why. Once you know the reason behind doing something, you know the core of your inspiration and style, and can make a conscious decision to focus on this in your work.

There are always ways to adapt your style to enhance what makes you happiest about creating.


29 March 2020

Being able to identify what makes us happy is the first step toward finding inspiration.

To be constantly and creatively inspired is a wonderful state to be in, and leads to a happy, bright and varied life.

To be able to find inspiration anywhere, anytime can be the difference between feeling fulfilled and feeling something vital is missing in life. Getting from one to the other is as simple as adjusting the way we think or approach things in life.

The ability to see the world in a different and more inspiring manner is something worth striving for, because if we can achieve this, then our creativity will know no bounds.

We all relate to the world in a unique way, and this perspective can be used to understand what motivates us, and can help us to figure out how we personally handle inspiration.


There is a perception that creativity comes to only a select few. I believe this is an excuse of people who have simply not yet found how they are creative.

At the heart of our creativity should be one underlying question: what makes us happy? The first step to understanding how to unleash creativity is to understand that there is no rule dictating what is and is not creative.

Creativity can come from anywhere, take any form, and most importantly, comes from within. Creativity is not a competition.

My Photographic History

25 March 2020

From an early age I knew I was relatively “arty”; I also learnt that so long as there was a ruler about I was pretty good at drawing and so set about studying towards a career in architecture.  Holding down four jobs wasn't sufficient for me to be able to pursue this so into the sciences I went.

Still holding those four jobs down, I eventually saved enough to purchase my first camera.  I had no idea what I was doing technically but had a heap of fun. The only bummer was having to pick up extra work to now pay for the film I was churning through and, of course, its development.

I had found an outlet for my artistic, creative side!

Skipping forward I learnt that NZ didn’t really invest in its scientists in the way that I needed to allow me to stay in NZ. An opportunity arose which saw me change direction and go from Marine Chemist to Forensic Scientist.

I joined the Police as a Fingerprint Examiner. During this time I suffered from Jarvis syndrome!  My crime scene sketches required the use of a ruler to save me as like Jarvis here, I can’t free-hand draw!  My photographic skills in this position were increased in ways that few other jobs would allow. Going along to crime scenes, especially those of a serious nature meant that an accurate record of evidence needed to be made.  Once located some fingerprints proved challenging to photograph and so specialised forms of lighting and filtering were required in their application.

My introduction to digital photography occurred around the same time I was asked to travel to Phuket to help identify the victims of this tsunami.  Because of my photographic endeavors I was unofficially chosen to assist the photographer on my first rotation to Phuket. This extended into recording such things as our working conditions, the techniques used and a daily diary of achievements.

With time and loads of practice, I have gained experience in most forms of photography from weddings, to births, to events such as school concerts, theatrical plays and commemorative services, to promotional shoots to interior design photography.  I love creative photography as I don't cope with limitations of expression particularly well any more.  In the coming weeks I will be blogging about creativity, my processes and influencers.

I recently found a quote from Jerry Uelsman and I think it sums up what I do quite nicely and would like to end with it.  It goes…”A camera is truly a licence to explore”, a sentiment I concur with wholeheartedly as this describes the way I have lived my photographic life.