Better Photography: Give your photos some breathing room

Often the suggestion to improve one’s photography is “fill the frame”.  Fill the frame advice is often stated as “Get close. Then get closer.”  The idea being that you want the subject to dominate the image while minimizing background distractions.

Old Typewriter Black And White Low Key Fine Art Photography Framed Print
Old Typewriter Black And White Low Key Fine Art Photography Framed Print The subject is pushed right to the edges of the frame –
Old Vintage Press Camera
Old Vintage Press Camera by Edward M. Fielding – Going in close to the old vintage press view camera, showing only the lens board.
Vintage Typewriter Black and White
Vintage Typewriter Black and White by Edward Fielding – Getting in closer to the old antique typewriter, focus is on the keys.

Of course filling the frame doesn’t work for all photographs or necessarily make an photograph more meaningful or powerful, because zooming in removes the context of the image.


For example in photojournalism and street photographers often work with semi-wide lens like a 35 mm for the express purpose of being able to include some of the background around the subject to give it context.  You see what is going on when you see more of the story or more of the environment.

Fill the frame advice for beginner photographers helps to avoid disasters such as this:

Snap shot by amatuer photographer
Snap shot by amateur photographer

Here the photographer needs a nice big push towards their subject so the bird, flower, squirrel or in this case a hot air balloon isn’t the size of a fly in the final photograph.

You can see some interesting concept in the making – the matching of the flag with the flag hot air balloon but the execution fails with the center composition, horizontal framing and the vast blank and boring blue sky.  Had the photographer turned their camera to the vertical position and zoomed in, they might have captured something interesting.

But fill the frame is only one of approaching composition.  Composition is the distribution of space and the arrangement of objects within the frame.

Better Photography Through the Use of White Space

Another major composition choice is NOT TO FILL THE FRAME.  When appropriate, not filling the frame or giving the subject some breathing room or white space, makes the composition of the photograph more powerful by allowing to the subject to be seen in context.

You can think of it as allowing space for text or a magazine article, although be sure that the “white space” areas are not too boring.  Vast area of stark blue sky is not that appealing.  In landscapes you’ll need some great clouds to keep the non-main subject areas interesting.  In studio work you can introduce great back ground texture to keep the white space interesting to the viewer.

Let’s look at some example.  For vast landscapes on of my favorite compositions, borrowed from western art painters, is to present the main subject at the bottom third or fourth of the frame and allow the sky to loam large.

Western art
Western art – notice subject is placed in the bottom of the image and the vertical format allows for the tall background rock formations which provides a sens of place.  Filling the frame with the cowboy would lose the context.
Storm Coming To The Old Farm
Storm Coming To The Old Farm by Edward M. Fielding –

In Storm Coming to the Old Farm, I wanted to capture the relationship between the fast approaching thunderstorm and the Canterbury Shaker Village farm houses.  By giving the storm clouds more than two thirds of the space, the farm buildings look small and vulnerable to Mother Nature’s approaching fury.

White Space Works Horizontally or Vertically

1899 Ely Vermont Barn
1899 Ely Vermont Barn by Edward M. Fielding, framed in barn wood. –

This black and white photograph of an old historic barn in Ely, Vermont uses the same concepts but in the horizontal.  The white clouds in the background are given plenty of space and contrasts nicely with the old worn wood of the barn.

Forsaken Dreams by Edward M. Fielding
Forsaken Dreams by Edward M. Fielding –

In “Forsaken Dreams” an old abandoned cottage on Prince Edward Island is  placed in the bottom of the frame and texture is introduced in the sky above.  The “white space” allows the viewer places to rest as they take in the scene.

Theme: Remote Cabin in Winter
Theme: Remote Cabin in Winter by Edward M. Fielding –

This composition, placing the old wooden cabin in the center of the frame with mostly blank snow below and a white sky above givings the image a bold graphic feeling.  White space contributes to the feeling of remoteness and isolation as winter covers the landscape perhaps invoking the ideas of cabin fever or the bliss of getting away from society.

Blizzard at the red dairy barn.
An upper valley barn in Etna, NH during a winter blizzard.  Photograph by Edward M. Fielding –

In this photograph of a classic red New England barn, the subject is placed in the upper right, eliminating most of the sky, which is white from the storm while allowing a good portion of the image to show the snow on the ground.  Here one can imagine themselves in the scene and how difficult it might be to approach the barn through a deep field of snow.

Add White Space to Your Bag of Tricks

So by all means, explore your subjects from a variety of means and methods.  Zoom in, fill the frame when the idea is to display an uncluttered look at the subject such as a bee on a flower, but when the situation calls for telling more of the story, step back and allow the viewer to explore the environment and context around your subject.

See more fine art photographs by Edward M. Fielding here –

So you’ve learned how to use your camera, now what? Storytelling with photos

Photographs that make an impact – what is your story?

You bought a nice, new expensive camera. You read the manual front to back, back to front. You shot a few thousand images. You’ve gotten to know every aspect of your camera and figured out ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Now it’s time to make some meaningful images.

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Images with impact. Compelling images that make people stop and look instead of swiping left or right or scrolling past. Photographs with strong compositions that use visual language to tell a story, create a mood or transports the view to a wonderful new plain of thought.

You are now ready to stop taking photographs and start making images.

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Composition is everything. You can have all the gear – or all the vision – in the world, but it’s composition alone that gets you to the more powerful photographs, the ones that connect and stir something in people.” – David duChemin

Photography Prints

Colby Brown – How to Tell Compelling Stories Through Photography – Photographers are visual storytellers.

The challenge for photographers – Telling an interesting story in a single frame.   Not in hundreds of words in a book or two hours in a feature length movie – a single image.

Photography Prints

That is a high order and a challenging goal.  Static images have the goal of setting the scene, highlight the subject and convey the meaning of the image.  In your images you want to be able to communicate to the view within seconds.  The viewer needs an image with a clear message to understand what they are looking at.  They also need to clearly be able to figure out what is important within the frame.  The viewer shouldn’t be guess at what the photographer wants to show.  The subject should be apparent and visual language and composition should direct the viewer’s eyes to the important part of the image.

The view should not be left thinking “what is this all about?” Become a storyteller rather than a photographer.

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Better photography starts with better storytelling. What are you trying to say to the viewer? Figure out your story before taking a photograph.

Sunset Photography Tips: The sun is the background not the subject

Great Sunset Photography – Folks, there is nothing more boring than a sun ball sitting on the horizon on a clouds less evening.  Yet head to any beach on the coast and you’ll see people lined up with their smartphones snapping away as if no one as ever seen such a sight.

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These images become meaningless and boring to anyone except the person who took it.  It’s a great memory from a glorious vacation for the picture taker, for everyone else it is the same boring sunset photo they’ve seen a thousand times.

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The trick to a great sunset photograph is to use the sun for its amazing background color but to find an interesting foreground subject.  The sun ball is not an exciting subject – it is a background.  We’ve all seen a sun since we were still using yellow crayons in kindergarten, show us something new.  Show us the beautiful light glimmering off the water.  Show us a fishing pier lit with oranges, pinks and blue.  Show us people silhouetted by the bright waning daylight.  Anything interesting!

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Study your location, learn where the sun will be at sunset and then look around for an exciting subject for your shot including foreground, middle ground and background. Pray for clouds as empty skies can be rather uninteresting and dull.

Photography Prints

Meter your shot for the sunlight and let the subject go to silhouette (you might have to tweak the results in post processing) and bracket your exposures.  White balance can be set to daylight to keep the amazing warm colors.  Auto white balance will most likely remove the warm cast and turn the whole scene cold and sterile.  Take charge and experiment with your white balance setting and by all means, shoot RAW so you can easily change the white balance later in post processing.

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Another tip is to use a tripod and set up the shot before it gets too dark.  Manually focus on your subject as your autofocus might not work too well in low light.  Also a tripod will allow you to shoot at lower ISOs to prevent grainy shots and smaller apertures to keep more of the scene in focus.

Photography Prints

Auto settings on a point and shoot camera will tend to open the lens wide giving you a shallow depth of field and will focus on the closest thing it thinks is a person.  Consider these cameras are designed for selfies and family photos so you will have to take control.  Try the “Sunset” mode if your camera has one but test the results and go to aperture or program mode for more control.

Since you will be dealing with a scene that has intense light in one area, its easy to create an image that is mostly shadows.  Take test shots and use the exposure compensation dial to compensate for the tricking lighting situation.



Capturing a sense of place in your photography

A group of barns in Windsor, Vermont.

Vermont – How does one truly capture a sense of place in photograph? That’s a good question with no definitive answer. There are no camera settings or com-positional rules that guarantee one will come back with a photograph that captures the essence of a place. But there is I think an ingredient in the recipe that is universal and that is time.

I’ve visited this old barn compound in Windsor, Vermont on many occasions in all different seasons.  It’s one of my favorite spots to return to and work out the various compositions afforded by this interesting spot that most would simple drive by on their way to the “top ten” tourist spots.

To truly start to understand a place and then transfer that feeling to others in your photography required spending time in a place. When photographers fail to capture a place in their images, with the result being “ho-hum” or dull photos, its typically because they show up at a spot, say on vacation, and start snapping away before even actually seeing.

When the camera is raised to the eye before the brain actually has time to take in what is being scene, the results are typically uninteresting. Too often we photographers have limited time at a certain place and are rushed to cram in as many “hot spots” or Kodak Moment locations in a day, that we fail to return with a single excellent shot.

Photography Prints

Capturing truly excellent images usually requires more intent and planning then what is afforded say on a bus tour through a national park. The most memorable photographs are taken when the light is at its best rather than when you happen to arrive at the location.

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And I’ve found that visiting a site over time and through out the year is the best way to truly start to understand what it is you are seeing and trying to capture.  Some tips for capturing the essence of a place:

  • Leave the camera at home on your first trip to a place.  (I know this one is tough).  Walk around, study all the angles, thing about where the sun is and what type of lighting will look best.
  • Return to a spot throughout the year.
  • Return to a spot at different times of the day.
  • Go on sunny days, go on overcast days.
  • Don’t set up a tripod right away.  Walk around and look.  See the image in your mind before selecting a lens and angle.
  • Bring a step ladder and view the spot from up high, bring a towel and lay down on the ground for a low angle.
  • Look beyond the obvious, over done shots.   When the crowd looks one way, turn around and see what they are missing.


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Fun Facts about Iceland – Tips from the Ring Road

Iceland Tips – We’re motor-homing around Iceland via Rt1 or The Ring Road in a rented RV from the good folks at Motorhome Iceland, who entrusted their brand new Fiat motor home to us newbie RV travels.

So far we’ve seen a few things and learned a few things.  Here goes:

  • If you want to fit in with the locals, wear an Icelandic sweater.  It is like a second skin.
  • Skip the $75 a head tourist trap that is “The Blue Lagoon” and take a swim in any little town along the way for $10 or less with beautiful clean pools, showers and hot tubs all heated by geothermal energy or actual hot water that bubbles out of the earth.
  • The beer is terrible.  Think cheap Pilsner type beer like at a frat party or something cheaper than Bud.  So far outside of the capital I’ve only seen a few choices and none of them were good.
  • Diet soda?  Probably won’t have it.  Diet soda seems to be rare.  I think Icelanders have a sweet tooth.  Every candy you can imagine, lots of it with licorice flavor, but not much of diet soda.  There are some interesting drinks with malt and orange that is outstanding.
  • Lupines are weeds.  Although pretty, the fields of lupines you see and take selfies with were planted in some areas to control erosion but they spread like weeks and choke out the local mosses and other plants.
  • The highways are darn right scary!   The main highway, the Ring Roads is only two lanes and it has one way bridges!  You also have to watch out for speed tables, bikes on the road with no bike lane, shoulder or emergency lane.   Plus wandering sheep can be in the road around any bend!  Plus the tourist buses, motorcycles and vehicles right out of Mad Max that zoom past you.
  • Hold on to your door.  Car doors getting ripped off the hinges is one of the most common insurance claims in Iceland.  Hold on tight.  And you have to check the weather for wind warnings.  Anything above 15 and you are not going anyway for the day.
Dumb tourists in Iceland
  • Dumb tourists exist everywhere and Iceland is no exception. People jump barriers, walk up to cliff edges, jump on an iceberg, or walk up to the waves only to fall off, slid off, fall in or get swept out to sea!  Be safe, don’t be dumb!
  • If you are camping with a motor-home, make sure they give you an LONG extension cord for hooking up at the campground.  Several times we had to maneuver around to get close enough to a hook up.
  • Try the gas station hot dogs.  Most prepared meals in Iceland are expensive but the hot dogs are cheap at around $4.  The best ones have a panni pressed bun and come with crunchy onions.  No ketchup please.  Nice brown mustard or mayo with relish.
  • While eating out can be expensive, we didn’t think the grocery stores were too bad.  Not much selection in the fresh veggies but plenty of candy, dried fish, cereal, canned stuff etc.
  • Get all the insurance you can on your rental vehicle.  Wind, hail, gravel, sand, sheep, other drivers – they are all out to get you!
  • Get the portable WiFi devices for your camper.  Amazing connection speeds are available in some spots.  You can even watch a movie in the camper.  No need for an expensive simm card for your cell phone, just stay in touch with WiFi.

Iceland Trip Log – 11 Days on the Ring Road

NOTE: The gallery of fine art photography from Iceland is ready! Click here to view

Pack the bags, drop off the dog, hop on the Dartmouth Coach to Boston.  “BFG” is movie.  Not bad.  Through security, camera bag loaded with so many batteries and extra stuff gets the extra, extra look over by security.

Grab an airport dinner and a beer.  Board Icelandicair and settle into a coach seat for a five hour trip with beverage service.  Nice entertainment unit in the back of the seat but try to catch some sleep.  Maybe twenty minutes of sold sleep on the entire trip.  Ugh.  So hard to get comfortable.

Arrive.  Take the shuttle over to the car rental office – Geysir.  Wait a 10 minutes for another shuttle to their motorhome rental processing center.  5 minute ride to the industrial area.  Get a quick overview of the workings.  Ever driven a motorhome before?  No. Be sure to get the insurance.

Fiat Ducato 4
Fiat Ducato 4 – motorhome rented for Iceland trip

Check the weather every day at  If the wind is above 15, you can’t drive.  The RV will be blown over!

First stop is the Bonus supermarket and a “breakfast” at Subway.  “American Cheese” says the polish server.  “We call that Icelandic Cheese, we say”.  She smiles, and says she calls it “Polish Cheese”.  Same bland cheese the world over.

Wife knows shift so she drive the manual rig.  Bigger than we expected but the cab is basically a Fiat van front with good viability so its good.  Grind a few gears of the brand new vehicle but finally get it and proceed through the highways of Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital and biggest city.   Roundabouts, traffic, big rigs oh my!

Iceland Day One: Pingvellir National Park

Whew finally out of the city and heading along the Golden Circle.  First stop Pingvellir National Park and the amazing tectonic plate smashing riff valley.  Upheaving plates, sheep and waterfalls.  The teenager navigator passes out for the night at about 2.  The heartier adults take in the sites and hike around.

Camp for the night at a the rustic Pingvellir campground.  Just pull in anywhere.

Iceland Day Two:  Geysir and Gullifoss

Bed by 6, wake up at 9:30!  Coffee and Kellogg’s crunchy mus-lix.  Off to the grand iconic and bus tour must see spots of Geysir (unreliable since 2000 earthquake), every five minutes Stokur and epic Gullfoss.  Parking was tough.

Somehow I missed the eruption with the GoPro. The facilities around the geysers are set up to handle bus loads of tourists. The most extensive gift shop “mall” we saw on the entire trip was here at Geysir. Bowl of soup $15. There is even a hotel across three street from the park. But if you’ve been to Yellowstone National Park you might want to skip this attraction as its not as impressive as the extensive geysir areas in Yellowstone.

Made our way around the Golden Circle checking out some other pull outs and the Kerio crater on our way to a nice campground right in the town of Selfoss.  Electric hook ups and nice showers.  Tried to walk to town to use the pool but they were closing in 10 minutes.  Darn!  Walked back and used the free showers.  Bonus tortellini and tomatoes for dinner.  Amazing Wifi.



Iceland Day Three: Skogafoss, Cape Dyrholaey, Vik

Skogafoss was one of my favorite stops on this trip.  You get a fantastic waterfall right in the parking lot but then if you keep following the trails back past Skogafoss you can see even more waterfalls.  You can walk by 25 magnificient waterfalls if you keep going, all the way back to the glacier.  The head of Skogafoss is a volcano that last erupted in 2010.  We only made it to three or four waterfalls, but if you like, you can keep walking until you run out of energy.

One of the sights I really wanted to see on this trip that wasn’t 100% natural in nature was the sight of the crashed US Navy plane from the 1970s.  I’ve seen so many cool, moody pictures of the plane on the black sand.  Very surreal.

From reading some blog posts on the wreck site I wasn’t sure if there would be good motor-home parking and I had heard reports about having to pay for parking complete with an angry farmer holding people hostage for the parking fee.

Something must have changed because the parking lot turned out to be spacious with plenty of room for parking cars, buses and campers.  In the olden times, people could drive to the plane site but now there is about a 40 minute walk each way.   It’s a long and boring walk so don’t bother unless you have to see the plane.

Once there the plane is covered with people taking selfies so its hard to get a good shot unless you can quick or clever with your composition.  Or wait for the crowds to thin out.  But don’t wait too long or before you know it a tour of people on ATVs will show up and climb all over the plane.

Iceland Day Four: Skaftafell

Day four we left Vik and headed for our camping destination of Skaftafell, stopping at various sites (waterfalls, basalt columns, lupine fields) and pull outs along the way.

Skaftafell has a great camping ground and lots of great trails to explore including the impressive Svartifoss with its basalt columns and a cool old turf farm that you can visit and look inside the buildings.

Iceland Day Five: Jokulsarlon, Hofn, Huffelpots

Icebergs flowing in a lagoon and hot spring fed hot tubs at the edge of a farmers field.  We spent hours watching and photographing the icebergs in the lagoon and on the black sand beach.  Finding the Huffelpots, five fiberglass shallow pools of varying temperature water with a hose of cold water if you needed to cool down the hot spring fed pools down.  A primitive changing shed and outdoor shower are also there all for a 5 Kr donation.

Camping in Hofn was a fantastic facility on the water and a sort walk to town including a great discount grocery store and a neat little harbor with fishing boats and even a cool old fishing boat that you can climb up on and about.  Plus walking trails around the beach.  Wish we had more time to explore the town.

Iceland Day Six: The long driving day from Hofn to Myvatn

Wet and raining.  Very windy over night although no travel warnings for East Fjord area we traveled through on this day of the trip.  Must be beautiful if you could see through the fog and clouds.  At least today was a long driving day and the weather is suppose to improve.

Stops in include lighthouses, overlooks and rocky formations along the way including “Batman Mountain” (covered in clouds and fog) and Eystrahorn.

Four hours of actual drive time but it stretches to more than double with all of the stops for lunch, waterfalls and “short cuts” which net an amazing waterfall but too scary of a road for the RV.

So they say the Ring Road is completely drive-able and paved all the way around the island.  They lie!  The main highway after Breiodalsvik or when it takes a sharp turn away from the coast, becomes a gravel road and then proceeds to climb over a mountain complete with hairpin turns!

Wet gravel roads, fog, rain and driving a motor-home into a cloud on a top of a mountain is one nerve racking experience.  I thought we were going to die.

I have to wonder if we had continued farther along the coast perhaps to Reyoarfjordur and then turned on to 92 and joined the Ring Road it would have been better.

There was a short cut earlier that we mistakenly took and could not find a spot to turn around until we climbed a scary hill but at least our efforts were rewarded with an amazing waterfall.

The area between Egilsstadir and Myvatn shows up on my map and in guides as being non-photogenic and dull, but there were actually at least three good sized waterfalls in the beginning of this leg worth pulling the rig over.  Then the last hour or so was a bit tedious with mostly tundra like landscape an steady climb over the mountains.  Nothing like the gravel road over the top of the other mountain.

Iceland Day Seven: Myvatn Natural Baths, Dettifoss and Selfoss

On day seven we wake up in Myvatn and the Vatnajokull Nationa Park area.  Land of the most powerful waterfall in Europe – Dettifoss and the smaller but beautiful Selfoss and also the smaller version of the Blue Lagoon, Myvatn Natural Baths, a man-made but natural looking and heated mineral pools.

The water supplies for the lagoon run straight from the National Power Company´s bore hole in Bjarnarflag. The water has a temperature of about 130°C when it arrives to the huge basin beside the lagoon itself forming an impressive, man-made hot spring. Altogether, the lagoon and the basin contain around 3.5 million litres of water with a temperature of 36 – 40°C.
Nature Baths – The Green Lagoon

The lagoon itself is a man-made construction, its bottom is covered by sand and gravel. The characteristics of the water are unique in many ways. It contains a large amount of minerals, is alkaline and well suited for bathing. Due to its chemical composition, undesired bacteria and vegetation do not thrive in the lagoon making chloride or any other disinfectant redundant.

We also walked around the strangest landscape you’ll ever see at the world at Krafla.

Iceland Day Eight: Godafoss, Herring Museum, Hofsos Swimming Pool

The day started with the beautiful Godafoss waterfall.  We didn’t stay long enough to explore every trail as we needed to make mileage.  Went through a scary one way tunnel and then a series of very long two lane tunnels to get to the excellent Herring Museum in the fishing town of Siglufjorour.

Back in the car, though another short one way tunnel, over some mountain passes with a few stop for a swim in the naturally warmed pool at Hofsos which has an award winning “infinity pool” like pool and hot tubs.  9kr per for a great shower and swim and then another shower.

On and up over the mountain passes with stops for views and Icelandic horses on the way to our final stop for the night at Blonduos.

Iceland Day Nine: Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Headed out of our campsite in Blonduos to our destination of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula which was a bit of a drive but we made good time staying on the Ring Road or Rt 1 and not being tricked into taking any “short cuts” that turn out to be gravel roads that take forever.  Always consult the best maps for road descriptions.

With only a quick stop at an N1 for pit stops, drink and washing the bugs off the windshield (the front of the camper is splattered with blood spots by now) we drove all morning and arrived at the adorable town of Stykkisholmur with its interesting modern church and adorable harbor with an adorable lighthouse.

After lunch in the parking lot, we took a swim at the town pool facilities which are known for their mineral rich water that compares to the Blue Lagoon and Baden Baden in Germany.  They also have one of the tallest water slides in Iceland.  It was long but not the fastest.  You froze walking up the steps to the top but it was fun.

Refreshed, we drove on to Kirkjurfell which is the icon ionic pyramid shaped mountain that is almost synonymous with Iceland.  It was windy, crowded and touch to park the motorhome.  The parking lot was tiny for the crowd.

But I set up for the iconic shot of the waterfall in the foreground and the mountain in the distance.  We’ll see if I got it.

Then on to the campground for an early grab of a great spot with electricity and a view of the ocean.  The campground is in Hellissandur at the tip of the Snaefellsjokull National Park on the Snaefellsnes  Peninsula. Small but new and very scenic.  You can walk the lava field that is all around the campground, walk to the Maritime Museum next door, the N! station or the little town and the bird cliffs.  Just bring your umbrella for the dive bombing birds.

See “Attack of the Angry Birds”

Iceland Day Ten: Snaefellsnes Peninsula Part II

There is  so much to see on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  We took some hikes to Dritvik beach which is in a lava field.   The beach itself is littered with rusty metal bits from a ship wreck from 1948.  Other than this ship wreckage, the beaches are very clean.  Unlike say Maine where even the most remote islands are covered with plastic rope, floats and metal lobster traps.

We also visited Helliar which has some sea arches, more volcanic cliffs, birds and the cutest little cafe right down by the rugged coast.

Next stop was the Black Church.

Landscape Photography in Iceland

Great series on landscape photography in Iceland. We’ll be driving an RV around The Ring Road in a few days. I appreciate how this video series shows the roads and parking areas around the attractions.

This series of uses a lot of drone footage which give you an idea of the path and observation areas around various sights in Iceland.

The Story of Ronnie behind the scenes at a Sato puppy photo shoot

Fine Art Dog Photography

The Wilson family got more than they bargained for when their Hanover High School senior Daniel signed up for the “Surf and Sato” March Intensive program. Each spring the high school in Hanover, NH (home of Dartmouth College) offers a week of out of the ordinary educational experiences, everything from analyzing classic horror films to hut to hut cross-country ski treks to intensive Shakespeare, drama trips to NYC, college tours in Boston and a trip to Puerto Rico to help with the street dog problem and maybe try a bit of surfing.

Rumor has it that Daniel was under strict instructions to resist all attempts of adorableness and not to return with a puppy but then Ronnie’s cuteness prevailed and after a week of being surrounded by lovable puppies, one managed to come back to New Hampshire. Luckily I was able to persuade the family to bring Ronnie over for a modeling session.

What is a Sato?

Sato is the name for mutt i Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico has a large population of stray street and beach dogs.  Some estimates put the population of stray dogs at 500,000.

Dead Dog Beach is located on the South-East coast of the island. A dumping ground, it is known for its stray dog population, and the abuse that has occurred on the isolated beach including gang rituals, target practice, and cars running over helpless dogs and puppies.

Dogs are dumped here everyday. The Sato Project, a rescue group founded by New Yorker Chrissy Beckles, is their only source of fresh water and food, and rescues them as their resources allow it. Dead Dog Beach is one of the many beaches of the island overran by stray dogs. (source:

From The Sato Project Org – Satos are usually small dogs under 30lbs.  The majority have terrier in them so they tend to be incredibly smart and quick to learn.  The street or beach is a very hard life for a dog and the majority do not make it past their second birthday.  Nature seems to have sensed this and females are giving birth to increasingly large litters of puppies.

You can see Puerto Rico dogs who need a second chance on PetFinder –

About the Photo Shoot

Being a puppy, Ronnie was quite the handful as a modeling subject. I’ve grown accustomed to Tiki the Westie ability to sit for a very long time, knowing that a treat is coming at some point. At this point Tiki anticipates treats when ever I make a move towards my studio strobe lights. During the photo sessions for the book “The Quotable Westie” Tiki was so good I could set him up on a chair and then remember that I forgot the SD card or prop or something, leave the room for a few minutes and he would still be stilling there patiently.

The quotable Westie book
The quotable Westie book

I’ve dealt with puppies before but its been a while. When I photographed Max, Pete, and Jeanie, my main camera was a micro-four thirds camera, a Panasonic Lumix G3 which had a handy feature for photographing moving objects – an LCD screen in which you could touch a spot on the screen and it would focus and fire the shutter.

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With my Canon 6D and its minimal focal points (only nine) I found myself having trouble getting little Ronnie in focus. I also made the mistake of starting out on the tripod. Not good for a guy in constant motion. But I did manage to get some good shots.

The other challenge I had was too narrow depth of field.  The Canon 6D is a full frame camera which has a narrower depth of field than a micro four thirds camera like the Panasonic G series.

In order to nail the focus on the eyes with a constantly moving subject like this little puppy Ronnie, I had to shot a lot of shots.   I first tried pre-focusing on a certain spot on this antique high chair I was using as a prop.  But the entire first set of photos were ruined by the focus being off ever so slightly.

Photography Prints

I end up re-shooting the entire scene later with with the studio lights cranked up to maximum and the aperture increase to f16 in order to make sure I got his cute little face in sharp focus.

Photography Prints

I also started to abandoned my carefully composed set ups and took the camera off the tripod so I could move the camera main focal point to the dogs eye, fire and worry about composition later with cropping.

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Some Tips

A few things I learned that worked in this latest dog photo session.

  • With puppies, be prepared for puppies.  They don’t know how to stay put, they need potty breaks, they are likely to climb out of what ever you put them in, and they are going to tire out and fall asleep on you at some point.
  • Safety – work with an assistant and try to create an environment like a basket with soft towels in the bottom to help contain the puppy.
  • Use chew toys, bones or a bit of peanut butter on a the edge of a basket to keep them interested and occupied.
  • Use squeaker toys or a weird noises to get their attention.  Don’t be afraid to sound like a wild animal or a complete wacko to get some great expressions.
  • Have plenty of paper towels handy.
  • Limit the number of assistants in the studio so the dog doesn’t get too distracted.
  • Shoot with a fast shutter speed and be prepared for motion.  I don’t recommend a tripod unless the dog can sit still.
  • Get on their level.  I used a small coffee table to raise the puppy up but watch that they don’t try to jump off.

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What to know when shooting in snow

Tired of dull, gray snow scenes? Having trouble taking bright, white snow photographs? Here is what to know when shooting snow!

Early cameras did not have built in light meters. You either had to guess at the exposure based on previous tests or later using a handheld light meter. It was easier when using a flash bulb such as on a press camera you see used in the movies because the exposure with a flash bulb is based on distance – basically the time it takes for the light to bounce off the subject and come back to the camera.

Eventually light meters were included in the camera design. But the most important thing to remember about light meters is that are measuring the object they are pointed at and are trying to calculate the exposure to represent the subject at what is known as 18% gray.

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As the majority of snapshot with cameras are people and assumed Caucasian or Asian skin tones, the camera manufactures assumed that most of the time photographers would want to expose for this 18% gray tone.

This means that every time you take a picture of something that is not 18% gray or in that range, the exposure is most likely to be over or under exposed.

Take a picture of a 18% gray wall and it will correctly expose as 18% gray. Take a picture of a white painted wall, white wedding dress or snow and it will come out underexposed or gray.

Take a photo of a black wall or a black frying pan and it will come out overexposed or gray instead of black.

This is why its important to understand how to use your exposure compensation controls on your camera to purposely under expose or over expose your scene to get the right exposure.

Over expose to get white snow, under expose to get true black scenes. You have to “fool” or “trick” your build in exposure meter to get the right settings.

Another method would be to shot a 18% gray card and then enter those setting into the camera in manual mode. Or use a light meter to take the ambient light measurements. Rather than metering reflected light, this setting on a hand held light meter measures the light falling on the scene.

Why 18% Gray?  Is it really 18% or more like 12%?  Does it really matter?

The story goes that Ansel Adams came up with the “18% gray” figure. Back in the hay day of film photography he was developing the zone system and needed to define a “middle gray”. It was a judgment call. Eventually, the idea caught on, but film and camera companies picked their own middle gray. It is a fun fact that your digital camera probably uses something more like 12% gray as middle gray.

Whatever the number, the idea behind middle gray is not that is “reflects 50% of the light”. Or even that “it is half way between absorbing all light (pure black) and reflecting all light (pure white)”. It has to do with your perception.

Your eyes are logarithmic detectors. That is, if a source gets brighter by a factor of 4, it will only seem brighter by a factor of 2 to you. If it increases by a factor of 32, it will only seem brighter by a factor of 5. If it increases in brightness by a factor of 128, it will only seem 7 times brighter to you.

The above are not the actual numbers. As you can imagine, measuring how bright things seem to people is very tricky, and varies from person to person. The important thing is that it is this weird logarithmic nature of your eyes that keeps middle gray from being 50%.


  1. How to use a gray card to determine exposure

Set your camera to manual shooting mode. Select the ISO and aperture you wish to use for your shot.

Set your camera’s metering mode to Spot Metering. This will allow the camera to read a very small area only, helpful if you only have a small gray card. You only want it to read the light off the reflector only, not the entire scene.

Set your focus point to single and choose the center one. Your camera will meter the same place it focuses.

Aim your camera at the gray card and press the shutter button part way down to take a reading. Looking in your viewfinder (eye piece) adjust the shutter speed until it gives you a reading of “0” (zero).

Take a test shot of the model (or subject) and the gray card similar to the one above. (You’ll be able to use this in part four below also.)

Review the histogram – you should have a perfect exposure with the gray card and all tones falling in the correct zones.

Bird Photography on the Cheap

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Seems like photography enthusiasts drift toward bird photography at some point in their lives. They are either a birder who wants to capture their life list in photos or a amateur photographer who is looking for a great subject that gets they out of the house. In either case, most of these would be bird photographers come to me with questions about how to improve their photographs. Namely they want to product photographs of the quality they see in their birding books and in National Geographic magazine.

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The problem lays in trying to compete with professionals who write off insanely expensive cameras and glass and will stalk their subjects for three weeks in some exotic location paid for by the magazine. This is why as a photographer trying to make a living on their work, I don’t want anything to do with bird photography. The quality long lenses can cost $5,000 to $25,000 and the top cameras can cost over $3,000. That’s a lot of equipment money to try to make a profit on and the market for bird photography is over-saturated and not even all that in demand in the first place. Low demand and high costs of equipment. Not a good formula for turning a profit.

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And then there is the travel costs. Unless you have a lot of exotic birds in your backyard, you will have to travel to find them. A birder friend of mine recently took a cruise to South America and the Galápagos Islands. She had a great time and added something like 900+ birds to her life list but also came back with a lot of blurry bird photos. But I disgress…


Bird Photography on the Cheap

Birds are tiny!  They represent a small fraction of your total view.  With your eyes you might focus in on the birds and disregard the surrounding but when you take a photograph of them, you realize how small they really are compared to the overall landscape.  So you are going to have to get close – either physically or optically.

So you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on long expensive lenses like the Canon EF 600mm that costs about $10K.

Tip One – Buy a lens aimed at the photo enthusiast market instead of the professional level lens such as this Sigma lens.  You can also rent lenses to test them out or while on vacation although renting a lens isn’t cheap,  It can cost hundreds of dollars to rent a huge lens.

Tip Two – Get a bridge camera with a built in long lens.  These are birders favorites as they provide plenty of zoom at a low cost.

Tip Three – Get closer to the birds.   This is the cheapest way to get close up photos of birds,  Set out some food and hunker down in a blind and wait for the birds to come to you.  You can photograph the birds with shorter range lenses if you are closer to them.

Tip Four – Crop in your photos.  Just because you see a photograph of a bird in a magazine and it looks like the photographer is right on top of the bird doesn’t mean they didn’t crop the photo.  Birds are tiny, crop in for maximum impact.

Tip Five – Create a feeding station and put plenty of perches around for more natural photographs.