May 13, 2017

A Sense of Place – Composition Lesson


When I returned from Japan, I wrote a blog post simply entitled “Portraits of Japan”. These images are of a genre that I call a sense of place. In contrast to images about individual things, these are images about the whole. These images convey the sense of being there.

I am introducing this concept to the Thousand Oaks Photo Group for the June Digital Composition Challenge – where every other month I introduce a compositional approach to help our members grow as photographers. A Sense of Place is an image that captures the mood, sensibilities, and essence. Think if it as a portrait of a place.

How to capture the Sense of a Place

What’s the message?

As a photographer, the first thing we need to do, for any image, is to determine the message we want to convey with our image. To capture a sense of place, this means trying to identify what makes it what it is and what makes the current circumstances unique. Years ago, I read the book “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision” by David duChemin There is one particular topic he discusses in the book that I have carried with me since the day I read it. David talks about taking an inventory of what you see and feel and then using that to determine what to capture.

  • What objects are around you: natural, man-made, regular patterns or chaotic, filled or sparse?
  • What is the weather and atmosphere: hot, cold, misty, windy, dry, wet
  • What are the structures like: old, new, majestic, grand, tiny, dilapidated?
  • What do you feel: busy, crowded, lonely, forgotten?


What visual tells the story?

Once you have consciously gone through this inventory process, the next step is to determine how to capture as much of this inventory in the images your are going to make.

  • How do you capture the heat? the wind? the calm silence?
  • How much do you include?
  • Are people a part of the story or not?


Capture the whole

Finally, these images are about capturing the whole, not the fussy details.


Portraits of Santa Anita Racetrack

Places have many messages and many stories. During the last Thousand Oaks Photo Group field trip to Santa Anita Racetrack, I thought not just about capturing the people (the people were wonderful), but also about capturing the whole – the sense of the racetrack. Here are a few images.

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Use all the composition all techniques

It is important to remember all the compositional techniques that you have learned – the inclusive approach needed for capturing the whole is perhaps more difficult than reductive approach of focusing on the details.

  • Look at the line, light, and color
  • Find an expressive point of view
  • Layer the foreground with the background to link things to their environment
  • Include many elements, but pay careful attention to the relationships between objects: “nothing touches”
  • Wait for an expressive moment

Here are some additional examples:

A simple, humble, portrait of a building





City scape



Neighborhoods and Scenes


Havana Morning



May 7, 2017

More than one


In photography, it is one kind of challenge to capture a single person in their environment in a engaging manner. Each person you add to the scene increases the difficulty. Each person must be engaging and in their own clearly defined space. You must be aware of the relationships between the people and their surroundings. Dancing with them as they move within the scene. If they notice you, you must decide whether to stay with the shot or walk away.


When they are engaged in something that is important to them (who will win the race), then you can just stand in front of them and wait for the moment without a worry.

Sometimes, it is just a matter of seeing the pattern of three blue caps flanked by white shirts.


From Santa Anita Racetrack

April 30, 2017

Photography Day at Santa Anita Racetrack


Worker1: “There are a lot of people here this morning”
Worker 2: “It’s because it’s camera day”
I know I should write something, teach something, tell something about how I approach my photography. My blog posts have been pretty sparse since my husband’s illness in January 2016 with Gillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS) which we documented daily on his site Chick’s GBS Adventure.


He is doing well, thank you, at about 75% of whatever normal might be had he not gotten GBS. He has his full mobility, but not full strength, and his feet are still “sleeping” and in pain. Our lives have changed. He has care-givers at the house most of the week, as he cannot yet drive due to the impressive doses of pain medication to keep the nerve pain under control. However, he may be more active than before GBS because now he has the company and driver to go places. He goes hiking, to yoga, and kick boxing. He goes to the beach and to museums. He and his care-givers do the shopping and the laundry. Unfortunately, often by the time I get home he has exhausted himself with the day’s activities. But his stamina is also improving and his nerves are slowly, slowly repairing.



For me, I am enjoying new challenges at work, but I’ve been sick with a cold for the past week. I finally got out of the house today for the first time since I whimpered home from work on Wednesday. But I know that I too am only slowly returning to pre-2016 daily life. As I reorganized my Lightroom catalogs today, extracting my big trips and other important collections into their own catalogs, I again noticed that my 2016 catalog is very slim with a big gap between January 12th and November when I finally spread my photographic wings again during a luscious 2-week trip through Japan, following in Basho’s path, with Sam Abell, George Nobechi, and new found friends Mochi and Sake. Still, days out with the camera have been numbered and often limited to a few short hours.



But this past weekend, on a lark, I joined with my buddies and went to Santa Anita Racetrack for Photography day. Santa Anita is one of two major thoroughbred race tracks left in California (since Hollywood Park closed a few years ago). It was built in 1934 and, like much of Los Angeles, reflect the Art Deco / Modern architecture of the day. It is caught right in the cracks of old, but not too old. And thankfully they have kept its great 1930’s esthetic intact all these years.


It was a slow day at Santa Anita, so I was unable to get that big scene of the crowd cheering on their wining horse, but I had a great photographic day. For a street photographer, it was almost like shooting fish in a barrel as mostly folks gave me a quick glance, but then went right back to their study of the horses or betting.
I’m guessing I’ll be back, but not just for the horses.


March 25, 2017

Still Life Linked to a Landscape or Cityscape

This is a compositional approach that allows you to create stories with deeper context by looking for the linkages between foreground still life and it’s surrounding background scene.

The definition of still-life for this purpose is simply “man-made objects”. There is no need to get all technical about this.

This idea is best described by an example.

I found these two chairs going sitting in the beautiful morning light coming through the window with the subtle and delicate autumn scene in the background. The chairs alone would be a bit dry. The autumn scene alone would be pretty, but perhaps not all that compelling to look at for a long time. By composing the two together, the viewer can now imagine a greater story. In their imagination, they can fill the chairs with characters and watch the light come and go, the seasons change. The linkage works because of the color linkages as well as the contrast of the delicate trucks against the man-made wooden walls and chairs.

In these compositions, the still-life is placed in the foreground and should be the focus. The background adds the context and may, potentially, be out of focus. But both must be interesting, well composed, and well composed together.


How to Link a Still Life to a Scene

Step1: Find a compelling still file subject in the foreground

  • Look for light
  • Color harmonies
  • Unusual objects
  • Poetic organizations

Step 2: Organize the still life into its background

  • Move around (left-to-right, up-and-down)
  • Observe the relationships between the foreground (still-life) and the background


Simple Examples


Provocative Examples



Visual Puzzles


Waiting for the scene to develop


Recipe for Success

  • Look for inside-to-outside situations
  • Static items in the street connected to their environment
  • Your still-life should be in the foreground and dominant (and in focus)
  • Pay attention to the relationships between the still-life and the scene.


March 25, 2017

My Japan Portfolio – A Story of Printers

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

There is an old story about how to save money on tripods – buy the best tripod first. I’m beginning to wonder if that same expression applies to printers (except that printer technology changes more over time than tripod technology).

Today I started printing on my 3rd generation of printers. I started out modestly with the over-capable (for the money) 13″ x 19″Canon PixmaPro-9000 MK II. This printer cost me less than $100 dollars with rebates and printed beautiful prints as long as you didn’t push the color gamut too far in the oranges and magentas. I loved this printer until I retuned from a trip to Oaxaca with a bunch of night-time images from the graveyards covered with wild orange marigolds and royal purple bougainvillea. So I upgraded.

My next printer was a bit more of an investment. The Epson13″ x 19″ R3000 costing about $700 (if I remember correctly). This printer was the replacement for the 2880 and the predecessor to the P600 now on the market. I was really impressed with the increased sharpness and broader color gamut. When I purchased this printer the Epson’s were still definitely way better than Canon. Epson’s achilles heel, however, is the issue with clogging and expensive print-heads. In 2016 that all changed.

In 2016 Canon came out with a new line of printers including the 17″ x 22″ capable ImagePROGRAF PRO-1000. Canon needed to prove that this printer could match print quality with the Epson, and if you look at the reviews, it has succeeded indeed.

And so today, I sit here printing my Japan portfolio on my new best friend and falling in love with printing all over again.

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi

February 12, 2017

Sohei Nishino – Dioramic Maps


Diorama Map of Jerusalem by Sohei Nishino

A few days ago, a new photo friend Fred Zafran posted a link from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) about Japanese photographers

This interview series focuses on Japanese Photography. Watch established photographers who redefined the medium after World War II and still-emerging contemporary practitioners reflect on cultural landscapes and personal truths.

As is usually the case when I am referred to broad links like this one, I only have time to explore a little at a time. Today, I clicked on the first link and was truly moved by the Diorama Map project of Sohei Nishino. Nishino creates intricate map collages of cities using small section photographs. On his website are diorama maps of 21 cities including San Francisco (his latest, I presume), Havana, and Jerusalem. The planning, perseverance, and just plain grit it takes to complete one of these projects is impressive.

Thanks to Fred for this introduction.