Lasting Photography: A True Balancing Act

Black and white image of Blacktail Ponds with the Teton Mountains in the background. Grand Teton National Park, WY

Black and white image of Blacktail Ponds with the Teton Mountains in the background. Grand Teton National Park, WY

I recently returned from the Jackson Hole Arts festival and told my wife that if there was one place in the world I could have a second home, it would be Jackson Hole. It is insanely gorgeous and classic in an American West sort of way. Sure it gets clogged with tourists like you and me, but it still feels wild to some degree.

What really brings me back again and again, however, is Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons rise thousands of feet from the valley floor, piercing the sky with their jagged peaks. They look different from every angle, and it’s amazing how they take on a different character as you drive from one end of the park to the other.

I decided to spend a morning at Blacktail Ponds–a place I had not yet shot from. It was gorgeous and serene, and it felt good to be away from some of the iconic locations that find you tripod to tripod with other shooters.

By this time in the morning, the color in the clouds had become more vanilla, and less strawberry. The contrast in the scene made for a great BW conversion, and I think what you lose in color, you gain in depth.

The one thing that resonates with me about this image is one concept we often overlook. That concept is balance. Most of us know when an image just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on…and most often times, it probably means your image is out of balance.

So, what to do? Check the parts of your image that draw the most attention–these are the building blocks of your image. In this image, there are four elements that really define the subject matter: grass, water, mountains and clouds. Of these four, the mountains and water(reflection) draw the most attention while the clouds and grass make for adequate secondary subjects.

You’ll notice how the mountains and reflection overlap to a degree, but for the most part, they have been placed in opposing corners. Additionally, they have been placed in opposing horizontal thirds, with adequate space both above and below them. And what fills that space? Grass and clouds–our secondary subject matter. I’m filling every inch of the frame with stuff that matters, and making sure to exclude everything else.

Proper balance is a matter of both choosing what to include as well as where to include it. It’s a concept that becomes more intuitive with every time you go out and shoot. So, go and shoot–and find that balance!

Create More Dynamic Images

A hiker backpacks through the Mt. Timpanogos Wilderness Area, UT

A hiker backpacks through the Mt. Timpanogos Wilderness Area, UT

If you follow my blog posts, Facebook posts, or have ever been to one of my seminars or workshops, you know that I use the word “dynamic” like nobody’s business. I talk about creating DYNAMIC images to no end.

What does that mean in layman’s terms? Sure it’s a nice word that sounds legit, but what does it mean to create a dynamic image? Let’s examine this image a bit and see what it is about it that makes it dynamic (IMHO–of course).

1. Light. This image sings with life because of the broken light highlighting both the hiker in the FG and distant rolling hills in the BG.

2. Subject. The hiker is dressed in appropriate clothing for the activity, and most importantly, he’s wearing colors (including the backpack) that help him to stand out and draw the viewer’s attention. It was simply good fortune that the colors on him happen to match the colors in his surroundings to a T, but I’ll take it!

3. Composition. By getting low to the ground, I’m able to include another element of color and shadow adding depth and dimension to the overall scene. I always look for areas of contrast within the frame that will carry the viewer through the image. We see that here with a shadow/highlight/shadow/highlight pattern from FG to BG. Additionally, the subject has been placed in one of the thirds intersects of the frame, giving it aesthetic balance and plenty of context for where the hiker is headed.

4. Exposure. I intentionally underexposed this image by a 1/2 stop or so to give it a bit more drama and to make sure and not overexpose the greens in the flowers. Additionally, this underexposure deepens the shadows and emphasizes the contrast between bright and dark areas of the image.

The next time you’re out shooting, write the word “dynamic” on the back of your hand, and give yourself a little reminder!

Shot with Canon 5D, 70-200 2.8IS, Singh Ray LB Warming Polarizer