If you’re in a rut or you’re worried your compositions are too safe and maybe a little boring, if you know you can do better but don’t know where to begin, give me a chance to give you some hope about making more captivating photographs: photographs that connect!

All of us want to make better photographs, and for most of us that’s not something we were born with. But the visual language that’s responsible for making stronger photographs is something you can learn.

“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.”

Take a few minutes to watch this video; I think you’ll see the challenges we all face are pretty common – and they can be overcome!

In the next few days I’ve got another video coming about making stronger compositions, and I’ll email you as soon as it’s up; in the meantime would you leave a comment and let me know what’s your biggest challenge with learning composition and making stronger photographs?

Thanks!

For the Love of the Photograph,
David duChemin

Comments

  1. In your photography class, the photo submission is a card game of visual language. I have to tell myself on this point.
    Hello, everybody. Excuse my late response. I realized a big issue when I received the email from you. “The result is everything in photographic world.” So, I immediately sent you new another submission photo you want.
    To explain my situation, I could see my vision. But I was misinterpreting your question with too much only my superindividual progress report. Because in fact I already had the second submission photo. “I live forgetting the result. This is my blind spot. I’ll be careful from now on.”
    This time I had a particularly valuable experience. I really appreciate you teaching me.

  2. I have always struggled with being able to clearly say why I consider a photo good. I liked your first suggestion about heart, or working toward a key element and excluding anything not working in consort it.
    I will spend more time going over other’s work and keeping an eye out for that heart.
    Thank you for another helpful video.

  3. Hi David – thanks for the video. I feel as though I am in a rut. I primarily photograph birds, wildlife, any nature. I’ve been doing it forever. I go out and I do the same thing because here’s a bird, here’s a rabbit, here’s a flower. Everything about the photograph is different from one day to another but yet, it’s the same. I enjoy it but I’m not feeling the challenge, the inspiration. Perhaps I need to leave my comfort zone but I’m not sure what I should try. What inspires me is a beautiful mountain range or a bright sunset but you don’t always have the opportunity to get those type of shots. And, I do love B+W photos. I do like your tip to look at the work of other photographers and I will give that a shot.

  4. Ruts. Jeez do I have ruts. I am an avid amateur who never leaves home without a camera. My problem for the past few months? I think I took better photos a year ago. I cannot nail it down, the reason why, but it’s true. Despite a year of some photo classes and workshops and experience, I look at my photos and feel I have degraded. LOL. Don’t want to sound to doom and gloom because that’s not me. But…is this a hump that many people go through? I enjoyed your video, sent by a friend.

    1. Hi Jim. We don’t know each other but can I suggest a possibility. We all have ruts. One day we’re fine, moving forward happily in our groove, the next, what the heck! Where did that rut come from?! For me I’ve identified it. See, our vision and our taste keeps growing (hopefully) and as it grows it often takes a while for our craft to catch up. So looking at your work and realizing it’s not as good as you once felt it was (let’s face it, when i started out, EVERY image was amazing) is a sign of growth. The key is in keeping your foot down on the gas where challenge is concerned. We always have to push oursleves, it’s constant. And, this too is key, at least to me, you have to look forward not back. Feelings are a funny thing. But do I feel the ruts often? I do. Do I sometimes just need a break from the camera? Often. And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless the reason you leave the camera at home is just because the rut is comfortable and you want to stay there. Then the rut (that was once a creative groove) becomes a creative grave and that’s no good either. Keep at it, Jim!

      1. Wow…great insight.

        So looking at your work and realizing it’s not as good as you once felt it was (let’s face it, when i started out, EVERY image was amazing) is a sign of growth. The key is in keeping your foot down on the gas where challenge is concerned.

        Every photo was awesome, great, a Pulitzer prize winner for sure! LOL. You are saying that perhaps I am becoming more discerning? I like that. And it’s quite possible.

        Thanks a lot.

        1. Exaclty. I think we become more discerning but at the same time our ability to make images that meet that standard isn’t there yet. The vision always pulls us forward. Or it does for me. Glad this helped, Jim!

  5. I’m a fan of contrast and juxtaposition, which, sometimes, amounts to the same thing. I photographed a wooden post (obviously, dead wood) that had a hole at the top of the post with grass growing in the hole (about 1m off the ground). I like contrast in light: clouds blocking the light on the trees in the background but not blocking the sunlight on the driftwood on the beach in front of the trees. I know what you mean about some photos not having a clear subject or focus. This is very helpful to hear and hearing this will hopefully help me to remember it when I’m shooting and editing.

  6. This is a totaly different aspect to the way I have learned photography and I will try to do what you have suggested.l I have been burned out this summer and have hardly picked up my camera.
    Thanks for the inspiring video.

  7. I love abstract photos that make good use of lines, curves, shapes, light, shadow. I’m a big fan of abstract photography.

    I love this video because you talk about the art of photography, the photographer as an artist. I’m not a technical person and I use the basic functions of my camera and that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy composing my image in camera, not in LR. I love LR, but for basic functions as well. The most compelling thing for me is noticing something – a splash of light on the wall that creates an interesting shape; an elongated shadow that creeps across the street – that “catches in my throat”, makes me stop and gasp. Then I go get my camera. 🙂 I love simplicity and minimalism, that’s what my photos are all about.

  8. Thank you for taking the time to make this video, I always learn something from you. The 2 things that light the spark for me is interesting light or shadows and photographing people or animals in their unguarded, unposed moments, when you see the real personality shine through.

  9. Think I’ll pull out those old Time-Life books on photography from the 60s or 70s that have been gathering dust in the garage. A fresh look at some old pros.

    1. Yes! That’s perfect! And the nostalgia! I wish I’d kept so many of my old Nat Geo and Time-Life magazines for the same reason.

  10. Hi David,
    Thanks for this video. I have always enjoyed your books on photography!. The one thing I have learned and which makes me enjoy photography, is to isolate the subject and to keep it minimalistic.

  11. David, I went to a car show near here last weekend, and one of the shots I made was of the radiator ornament on a 1938 Packard. When I got home and pulled it up in LR, I was disappointed somehow. I concluded that the ornament was nicely focused, etc., but that there was too much clutter behind it, including folks in bright clothing strolling along the street. And, for the first time, I found myself thinking that I needed to clear out that clutter, so that the viewer (me!) could see that the ornament was “what the photo was about,” without being distracted from it. I switched it to B/W, cropped what I could, and tweaked in some further ways (clarity, e.g.), and it’s become one of my favorites from that day. And now! Here I find that I stumbled on a principle that you have affirmed so encouragingly in this video! Thanks so much!!

    1. You’re welcome – the willingness to simplify comes, I think, with empathy. When we put ourselves in the shoes of others and imagine how they will see the image, it pushes us to simplify, to isolate, and to give greater visual mass to the most important (per our own priorities) elements. Keep it up, Richard!

  12. Thanks David,
    I always enjoy listening to your talks. I like the challenges you put out there for us and how you make one question the “process”.
    I love the prints you have hanging on the wall.
    Would you mind sharing the size of the print and the border size and the frame size.

    1. Hi Reggie – Thanks. To be honest I’m not sure about those frames. They’re IKEA frames and if I had to guess they’re about 16 inches square, with 12×12 inch prints inside them…

        1. I love photos that portray ordinary things in a new way, like visual poetry. I’m also strongly drawn to photos that are emotionally evocative. Thank you for creating this content!

  13. Thank you very mucj, David. I love yoir blog and learned a lot from you:-)
    I make food phorography. landscape and architecture (medieval churches and castles). In fact, I practsed your Number 3 suggested tip. I learned a lot by examining photographies in architecture books and in food magazines. I’m a university scientist and in my field the best way to improve has been to start with the careful analysis of excellent examples. Thsi works and gives me alway inspiration.
    Thank you!

  14. Great video – always leaves me thinking – I know that often the mood of a photograph (and dark moods) are often some of the things that I love capturing – whether it’s an ordinary photograph that is changed in post processing to the mood I am after, or from the start because the lighting is there. Of course, my other pastime is photographing pets (mostly rescue dogs) and I love trying to capture their personalities in the photographs. Thanks for sharing….always great videos!

  15. Hi David, I enjoyed your video. Well done. While I think intuition plays a big part in photography, the instruction you have given is very constructive. After 20 years as a professional tourism photographer, I still find showering myself with strong imagery – and asking myself what makes them so – remains one of the best ways to improve my craft.
    As I’m often heard to say, it’s not enough to say you’re constantly learning in photography; in fact, you need to seek out the opportunities.
    And the instruction you’re providing continues to add richness to my endeavour. Thank you and, again, we’ll done.

  16. Hi David-
    Thanks for the videos, I couldn’t agree more. Stopping to analyze a photo that has an impact is a great start to improving your own ‘eye’ for framing before tripping the shutter.

    I like a photo that has a WOW! effect. Your first look should have an impact, either saturated colors or KISS usually does it.

    1. Thanks for that, Ken. We all see the Wow! in different ways, but isn’t it wonderful when it all comes together. I thin the key thing in trying to make those Wow! moments is in identifying what makes them for us – light? Moments? Lines? The more we have a sense of what gives us our own wow, the more easily we’ll be able to put into the photographs.

  17. Thanks for the video David. I think my greatest challenge is slowing down. I often get nervous and anxious that I will miss something if I slow down but have learned that it is necessary to ensure your intent is achieved. When I don’t slow down I end up making mistakes. I have to remind myself to slow down and wait and this is especially true in street photography.

    1. That’s it for a lot of us, isn’t it? Just slowing down, taking the time to really observe and the time also to correct mistakes and the inevitable missteps we make when we take needed creative risks.

  18. Hello David,
    Thank you so much for the inspiring tips.
    I feel a great link between my personal evolution & the pictures I do.
    Before, to my eyes, the only good picture were bright colorfull and descriptive.
    Today, focused pictures are my favorites: abstract, graphic or organic , details and subtil lights …

  19. I’m drawn to minimalistic and abstract photos. I want to work on that. In the meantime I find it hard to resist a beautiful flower and wonder if I’ll ever grow beyond that.

  20. I read this quote many years ago and it has stuck with me. It is a distilled truth. If I think about that as I photograph, it influences my choices…however variable they may be from situation to situation.

    “Composition is the strongest way of seeing” EDWARD WESTON

  21. David, great ideas and challenging as well. After 35 years as a corporate and editorial photographer I am now doing studies to reveal hidden stories in our natural history and I find it very compelling to search out the real story and put that to a visual language. The visual story isn’t always easy to reach since time and nature have had a tremendous impact on a locations current presentation. Your words and thoughts are an inspiration for my task and continue to bring new life to my current projects, thank you. I also recently purchased several of your products, “A Beautiful Anarchy” and “A Visual Voice”, they have both rejuvenated my personal work and continue to provide great insight into making more stronger images.

    Thank you.

  22. Hi David,

    Thanks so much for this.

    For me a compelling image is most often about the subject/story that’s being told and/or the light (or lack of) in the image.

    Question… Would you be willing to share and “assignment” that could be applied to studying great photography? In other words, offer framework or strategy for really effectively studying other photography for the sake of seeing what makes for a compelling image?

    Thanks so much,

    – Danielle

    1. Hi Danielle – Funny you should ask this. Part of the course I’m offering soon (The Compelling Frame) has exactly this in each lesson, a section called Study the Masters in which I point you to a specific photograph and give you some guided questions. The problem with a template is that all images are different.

      But on the broadest scale, any image you look at you could be asking questions like:

      What role do the lines play?
      What kind of mood is the light contributing (and which decisions did the photographer make to use that light)?
      What role did the choice of moment play?

      Of course there are many more that have to do with contrast, balance, framing, depth, etc, etc.

      You could also just start with: what decisions did the photographer make to make this image so effective? Or, Why does this image work/not work for me?

  23. Thanks once again David for this great video, you are so inspiring. During your first point I found myself in the fog…my mind brought me back to my shoot last week in the fog. I have been to this site before and brought home some pleasing images and so returned to continue my study. I love being 2 miles from a city center standing in a dense fog next to wetland canal and in the shadow of a state highway just before dawn. The intention that you taught me to be aware of.
    All of a sudden I walked into the frame(s) of the images that I had in my mind. I took a dozen bracketed shots from different angles and then stopped to look. I think that next time a will take my time and compose more slowly though the results were good I am never fully satisfied. Perhaps another trip ?

  24. if a picture evoke/redeem a feeling, emotion, “old memories”… using great/big wods, when it touches my soul… that’s the greatest…
    otherwise it should have a story, clean and clear, or it is only a postcard (i don’t wnat to misjudge them, they are also important, but on another way…)
    I think that the third suggestion is the most important, seeing/learning other photographers/painter’s pictures, an study them, why are they working on me, on other people’s…

  25. Very nicely said. For me, the most compelling images always tell a story (even if you’re not sure what the story is.) Use of contrast, lines, etc. help to strengthen the image but the story–or the heart, to use your term (which I love)–has to be there.

  26. Hi David,

    Thanks again, David. Your point no. 1 “what is this photograph about?” reminds us that photography is a form of communication and that’s it most important role, “to say what I feel”, is probably the hardest thing to achieve when we have so many norms and expectations set for us.

    I’ve recently been enjoying some of Martin Parr’s images, which are usually not simple and may be disconcerting, but definitely do run counter to most ideas of what “art photography” should be. Good for him and a great stimulus.

    On point no. 3, I am persuaded that we should look at the history of image making, not just photography, and I try to persuade others of this. We can learn a lot from art history … and I will keep trying!

    1. Thanks Geoff – I echo your encouragement to study other visual art. Right now the big struggle is often to get photographers just to study photographs, once they do that I’ll push the envelope a little further and introduce them to painting, sculpture, mixed media, etc. For now it’s a “pick your battles” kind of thing. 🙂

  27. Thank you for these videos. You are a natural teacher. Would you be ok if I shared them with my high school students?

    1. HI Karen – Thank you! Yes, please feel free to share anything on this blog with your students. I’m honoured, thank you!

  28. For me: a landscape is captivating. Landscapes take me out of myself, which is a great relief. Landscapes are usually very calming and a nice antidote to the frantic energy that’s in all of the Facebook and Instagram images I see every day.

    1. Thanks Lee. Is it all landscapes, do you think? The calming ones, for example, are they calming simply because they’re landscapes or is it something more? Some choice of the photographer to use certain light, certain space or scale? I agree with you very much, just nudging my readers to go deeper and see that it’s probably not just subject matter but the choices made to give that subject its best expression.

  29. Hi David, excellent video and thanks for taking the time to make them.
    A strong image for me is one that draws the eye into the image without getting lost.

    Your words of wisdom will help me achieve this with practice.
    Regards

    Lindsay

    1. You’re welcome, Lindsay, thank you for chiming in. I’d love to know what “draws the eye into the image” for you? What kinds of decisions does the photographer have to make for that to happen?

  30. Hi David, thank you for this video. I’m so grateful that you have tackled this subject and in such a way. I can’t put into words what makes me like a photo. I know what I like when I see it, but I can’t put it into words and that makes it hard for me to duplicate it in my own work. I don’t know why this is, because any one who knows me would tell you that I am never short of words 😀 I am looking forward to the next installment.

  31. I love to create images that simplify, kind of like a Japanese or Chinese painting with lots of empty space. Funny thing is, many of my “complicated” images, with lots of stuff happening often turn out great. I guess in the end its all about, as you say, the composition. I wouldn’t study just photographers, but fine artists down through the centuries, this is a free and fantastic way of seeing what composition is all about.

    1. Hi Tom! Always nice to see your name here. You’re right about studying visual artists, I just have enough difficulties getting photographers to study their own medium, so asking them to branch beyond that seems like I’m pushing my luck. 🙂

  32. Great! The heart of creative photos. Photography is an imperfect art; imperfect being the state of ALL, and well to celebrate. But focus and energy overcome imperfection to provide that message, the excitement, the idea of an image. Photography, unlike many other arts, is often more constrained by time. What we see is often fleeting and evaporates quickly. Being able to ‘see’ and capture within the time window is difficult and worth cultivating. Seeing the energy and focus in a potential image is the skill I seek; which often eludes me.
    Even as a young boy, many, many decades ago, the photo images I saw from other great photogs, inspired me to pursue that same ideal. Today they remain the high standard they’ve been for so long.
    I can also recommend looking at paintings (and often, many sculptures) for inspiration and insight into composition, energy and focus. Painters, sculptors, still media artists have the time to create the vision they have in their mind’s eye.
    Whenever ‘tech’ seems to overwhelm, I try to refocus on ‘seeing’. Thanks David, keep the good stuff comin…

    1. A strong image for me is one that provides a great deal of contrast using light and shadow. Such an image will usually have an expanded range of tonalities.

      Learning to use light and shadow is my no.1 challenge. Your image with the smoke and person with the shadow is an excellent example.

      My image of the ballet dancer creating an extended shadow (published in your magazine ) is one of my most successful images.

      Thanks for the tips re composition, which do not mention any rules.

  33. This is great—thank you so much!

    For me, a great picture has good light, good lines, good moment. That’s what I try for every time.

    Thank you for your wisdom!

  34. Thanks for this video, David. I recently bought two of your books (The Visual Toolbox and Within The Frame) with money I was given for my birthday. Reading these books is already changing the way I look at the world and decide what I want to show in my photographs.
    A strong image for me is one where there is some ambiguity or incongruence that makes me look again. Your split image taken inside and outside in the video is an example of this. It’s one where you can’t just look and click ‘like’ but makes you look again to find out what’s more than the first impression.

    1. Thanks Barbara – I love that you’re thinking along these lines and understanding what works for you in terms of what’s in the image itself. Now to translate that to our choices with the camera! 🙂

  35. Thank you very much, David ! At last somebody speaking of something else than ISO, aperture, speed, autofocus mode and other technical subject. What is important is the result : a picture.

    1. Yes! I’ve been talking about this stuff for years, the other things (important as they are) can be learned easily and, frankly, bore me. But compositional stuff, the things to which we respond! The possibilities are endless.

  36. Hi David, thank you for this video. I struggle with two elements of my photography. Firstly I see it as a tool to document my world and I spend a lot of time photographing ordinary everyday street corners with a fairly wide lens to have a record of that corner as it was at that moment in time. There is often no one point of interest and there isn’t intended to be. It’s just what I saw right then and there. But I find it difficult to reconcile this aspect of my work with my need to create and make beautiful images that are more about me putting my expression into the photograph. I find joy in photographing things from different perspectives, seeing things that other people might overlook, angles, lines, shadows (oh so many shadows) but I don’t really know what I am trying to say. (I have read The Visual Voice and am totally unable to pick a subject to focus on for a year . . . .) So I suppose that is my challenge, to work out what I’m trying to say and therefore what the heart of the photograph is. And to reconcile the pure “documentary” side of what I do with the more creative side.

    1. Hi Barb – I would encourage you not to make such a clear distinction between the documentary and the creative. Even in a documentary setting, we make choices about how to best express what’s going on, what we’re seeing – perhaps not one single person but a relationship or a dynamic, an idea that the whole expresses (or can express) when we get intentional and creative about point of view and what we exclude and light and lines, choice of moment…Ultimately creativity isn’t about being whacky, or different or even “artisitc”, it’s about problem solving. You’ve got this, but it’s a discovery. Enjoy the process. 🙂

  37. Thank you David for another informative and inspiring video.
    Your own enthusiasm, warmth and ability to open creative doors for aspiring photographers, myself included, are all in this latest video.
    Also thanks for expanding my horizons with your books and videos, which are not just about the making of photographs.

    1. Thanks Martin. I like that you see my work being about more than photography. I see photography as a metaphor for life and being more alive and present in this world, owning our choices, and anticipating how those choices might affect ourselves and others. And also it’s about pictures. 🙂

  38. Great video and always great tips. You make us all think and that’s awesome!
    I like to capture simplicity and this can create a calm emotion, not always though ;). If I can capture a feeling of Zen, I am very pleased.

    1. Thanks, Kristy. Id be curious to know, on those occasions you do capture a feeling of Zen, how does it happen? What’s present in either you or the image that makes it so? If you can identify this, even a hint of it, you’re closer to knowing how to do it more often.

  39. Hi David

    Great simple tips that are a fabulous foundation for creative composition. Isn’t there also a relationship between Point 1 and Point 2?

    I’m looking forward to the next video. Seeing is at the heart of creating great photos and is central to the way I work!

    Keep ’em coming

    Lee

    1. Thank you, Lee. Absolutely there’s a relationship between #1 and #2. But then all this stuff is intertwined and related, splitting them out from each other is helpful for teaching. In real life it’s all part of the whole.

  40. Some of the things that make a photograph captivating to me are (in no particular order):
    ~ people showing emotion
    ~ contrast (hot/cold colors, big/small)
    ~ dramatic lines (usually diagonals)
    ~ unexpected juxtapositions
    ~ dogs (big, small, curly, hairless, running, sitting still ~ it doesn’t matter)

    Cheers!

    1. Right one, Scott. A lot of photographers couldn’t identify these things for themselves. You’re much better equipped, knowing this stuff, to make the kinds of images that really do it for you, and for others. The magic will be in how you combine these and what you do with them!

  41. David, Thanks for the informative video. I’m a total newcomer; still coming to grips with my camera – it’s my retirement hobby and I’m collecting books along the way for inspiration. I love black and white. I’m a minimalist who likes abstraction. I’m not even sure I can explain that, but I like ‘bits of things’ rather than a whole. The journey begins……

    1. And what a journey it is, Isabel! Keep your eyes open for the next two videos, I think this is all going to be especially helpful to you. I often think how much further ahead I’d have been earlier on in my journey if I had explored these ideas and not just how to work the camera (also important, thought it’s probably best we learn them together). I’m glad you’re here!

  42. Thanks David – I found this very useful and informamative. I love light and the various ways it is used. I listen to my emotions when I look at images. If they move any of my senses then the photographer in my opinion has done what he intended.

    1. Yes! For me too. Now the trick is getting this kind of dynamic into the images! 🙂

  43. I completely agree with all three of your points. I do custom printing for photographers, and very often I find things in an image that are distractions from the real image. these need either cropping, or to be removed be editing or at least toned down, Your comment about put down the latest catalog or ad, and look at books of great images is something I have said for years. In my office I have about 1,000 photography books that I allow any customer to look at or borrow. (I have all of yours) maybe 1 customer in 20 will actually look at them. If I had sales catalogs, they would be looked at all the time.
    I enjoy your commentary and keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks, Bob. If I could get more people to look at books of photographs I’d be a happy man. I’d open a photo bookshop for the love of it, but sadly I’d go bankrupt for lack of interest (and I’d keep taking my own stock!)…

  44. Hi David

    Your video was excellent I will look forward to your next one, and yes composition is Important I liked the way you explained it.
    I am into landscape photography at the moment and I struggle with getting the exposure correctly have been following tutorials
    of a French photographer Serge Rameli, I will look forward to your next video.

    1. What grabs my attention in a photograph is the use of light, the colour, the strength, the direction of the light.

  45. Good points David, especially tip number 3. That’s one area I will spend a lot more time in.

    Thanks for the good advice

  46. Hi David!

    One thing that definitely struck a chord with me was the comment you made above: “Some people wait far too long, they get really good at camera-using and never much better at picture-making.”

    In the last year, I have lost my confidence and ambition to get out and create images. I now realize that I’ve been just taking pictures, but not creating images that speak to me and eventually the viewer.

    The three things you mention here are going to help me create images rather than just take pictures. I’m now much more inspired to move forward! Also, I find that I work much more effectively and patiently when I go out by myself to create. I can take the time I need to compose, feel the scene and what I’m feeling about it and be on my own schedule.

    Thanks for your constant inspiration and guidance…

    Jean 🙂

  47. Excellent material. I believe composition is the most undertaught and underused “tool” in photography. I teach composition at every opportunity and this video is an excellent starting point for any photographer. I also believe that composition is not a tool or a thing but a dynamic part of the psyche and the unique visual language of every photographer. All human beings see things differently. At any given moment, what one person sees in a particular subject will be both quantitatively and qualitatively different from what every other person sees. Also, I believe that composition is a personal skill that involves visual, cultural, and mental or psychological factors that are tied to both nature and nurture. All of this and more, are reasons that I enjoy your photos and your teachings. Thank you, David.

    1. Hello David,

      Thank you for the mini-class intro and your service to the photographic community. I have been reading, The Soul of the Camera” and have adopted your philosophy of the photographic arts, thank you. I have held a camera off/on for over 40 years, and now realizing what it means to create art with a camera. At first it was about the picturing “taking”, now it is about the picture “giving” from my soul. Was I find interesting is the “golden time of day,” morning sunrise and evening sunset. That amber glow grabs my attention every time I see it. The way it reflects off of the terrain, the trees, buildings, etc. just captivates me.

  48. Hi David,
    One of the things that I most enjoy about your videos and your posts is that you seem to discuss everything that I am struggling with, and your solutions actually make sense. In a way that I will remember them. I always go back to your site everytime I struggle, get down on myself, am not as good as those other photographers, etc. I thank you for your words and encouragement. They are sincere and genuine in a world of–like you said–platitudes.

    For me a strong photograph is simple, I am always drawn to images that have a single theme to them. If the theme is illustrated in layers, even better. I like images that are clear about what is happening, basically everything you mention in your video. Sometimes though, I look at some famous and established photographs and wonder why they are considered so great. Does that happen to you? Or do I have to just stare at it until I get it?

    1. Hi Carolyne – Yeah, that happens to me too. It’s all subjective and there are plenty of images that just don’t do it for me. But it’s important to remember that we can learn from them all, even if what we learn is that certain images don’t resonate with us. And it’s helpful to remember that many images were great years ago but have been surpassed now as this young craft has evolved. I love that you’ve given this such thought!

  49. I like when you talk about emotions and energy about photographies, i understand you.
    Thank you David

    1. Captivating images are ones that stir my soul, cause my mind to imagine, to daydream, to think about an experience. Ones that open my heart to new feelings and possibilities, passionately inspiring me to a more fuller, deeper, and more rewarding life.

      1. I like less is more photos of specific parts of an animal be it an up turned tail on a leopard or the tongue of a cow up its nose with the snot dripping down

  50. Hi David,

    These days, what appeals to me is images that convey a sense of mystery and, therefore, keep my attention longer. For instance, I am attracted to impressionist images, long exposure or multiple exposures images, abstract images, landscape with fog in the background and low keys portraits.

  51. Great words. I was told by my beginner course instructor that sometimes it’s about what you leave out of a photograph. I’ve tried to keep that in mind. I like your words here. And I will definitely look at photos as you say to help me improve! Thank you

    1. Absolutely, Deb. Photography has been called “the art of exclusion” and while it can be hard to choose what to include in the frame and how, deciding what to leave out can be an excellent first step.

  52. Hi David,

    I have become more aware of the power of composition. At times making choices to express what I feel is quite simple while at other times I struggle with them as none of the options are really satisfying. I look forward to you next videos. Thanks for all your usefull advices.

    Surya

  53. Thank you David. Always helpful . Will try with renewed effort to cut out some of the clutter ( interesting clutter but not helpful for the photo). And look at more of other photographers ‘ books. There’s too much to look at on social media.

    1. I totally agree, Karen – social media can be a flood that’s impossible to navigate. I prefer books. The experience is much different, and I find I learn better because I’m more focused. I also remember the work I see in a book, where online work tends to slip from my brain as quickly as it enters.

  54. I am reading your book “The Visual Toolbox” which has already impacted on the way I photograph. Equally Freeman’s book “The Photographer’s Eye” which you referred to in another video has also alerted me to doing things differently. I have two images which I would like to hear your comments. Would this be possible?

    1. Thanks Willem. Right now I’m not offering mentoring or critiques, my schedule is just too full. But if you tag me on social for these images and I have a moment I’d be happy to look at them.

  55. I am intrigued at images that require the viewer to complete the image in their minds or develop a sense of mystery. Compositions that do not show the entire subject, utilize dark shadows and create potentially a different meaning for various viewers. I’ve experimented with this and clearly I have years of practice ahead of me…lol.

    Images by Saul Leiter and Alex Webb come to mind.

  56. Hi David
    As usual really good tips. For me, finding the heart of the image is the most important thing for me. However, it can be emphasized, by adding more elements as you also describe.
    You talk about leaving everything not contributing or supporting the image out. Most photographers would probably either crop in Lightroom, or spend (sometimes valuable time) moving around the “distractions”.

    **A tip from me is to investigate the colors and light of the scene beforehand. It could be that distractions could be neutralized by going black & white in Lightroom, bringing back punchy colors that could distract the story and heart of the image. Use this as an alternative to cropping or recomposing.

    In general going black & white for me always gives a new perspective of an image – it reduces the overall complexity, bringing out the heart and soul of the image even more.

    Looking forward to the next video.

    1. The heart of the image! Yes! My next book (coming out in March) is called the Heart of the Photograph. I love that we’re on the same page!

  57. Always interesting and enlightening David, thank you.
    For me it’s photographs that contain minimal elements, i.e. simple but yet grab my interest and hold it. Photographs that make me feel something and want to come back and revisit them. Photographs that get better every time I see them. Clearly composition carries the power to accomplish this, however, color or black and white choices are also critical.

    1. I’m a minimal guy too, but then I look at the work of people like Alex Webb and I’m in awe at how he achieves such harmony in such chaos!

  58. Good advice. Thank you for the great idea about looking for the heart in the image.

  59. Thank you David, always relevant.
    For me the pictorial appearance if an image means nothing – even the very best ‘Camera Club’ images are of no interest. Only the Content or Subject matters (if that makes sense!)

    1. Makes perfect sense, though I suspect it’s not only the content/subject matter but how that content/subject matter is expressed and the choices that either allow that or prevent it.

  60. I believe my ability to study photographs and recognize the good (or weak) compositional elements has improved significantly in recent years. However, my challenge is seeing those elements in my field of view when I’m out taking photos and all the visual noise/clutter gets in the way. Sort of like spotting ET on the shelf with the stuffed animals.

    1. I have found a couple things helpful here, Hugh. The first is slowing down and taking more time. It takes time to see ET on the shelf, to recognize him. The other thing that’s helped is making sketch images, just taking the crappy first shots and looking at the image itself, evaluating it, and trying again, making different choices. Sometimes we see in 2 dimensions what we miss in 3.

      1. Thank you for your comments.
        In thinking about it, most of my images are one-offs – I seldom take multiples of the same subject from different angles, perspectives, etc. Kind of presumptuous of me to think my first (only) shot is going to be a keeper. I seem to be accumulating snapshots instead of making photographs. I’ve read enough (virtually all of your books plus many other authors) that I should know better. Thanks for the gentle kick in the pants.
        Looking forward to the next videos.

  61. Encouraging words as always, I particularly like your advice to study the photographs of the masters,
    rather like spending time with an art work it is time well spent. Thank you David, look forward to next video.

    1. Thank you, Jean. I’m glad this helps. I spend time most days looking at the work of masters and just absorbing them. The more I look, the more I see and learn.

  62. Newbe photographer here. Thanks for sharing ideas on how to make my photos better. Traveling a bit there is so much
    to see and capture – but taking time to ‘frame’ the shot for a purpose is a new idea.

    1. Hi Geri. We all start new at some point but if you learn to consider your purpose early it will serve you well as your craft gets better. Some people wait far too long, they get really good at camera-using and never much better at picture-making.

  63. In travel photography, I don’t want to see a picture that tells me so-and-so was “there”; I want one that makes me want to be “there”.

    1. Me too, Lawrence. Have you thought about what the means more specifically? In other words, the photographs that make you feel like you’re there – what kinds of things accomplish that for you? The more you know that the more easily you can create it in your own work.

  64. David,
    This is a very thoughtful video—good production values, engrossing script, personable presentation. Thank you for pointing us back into books and galleries. I am a mid-level photographer just now getting juried into shows—seven this year. Going to these shows and deeply looking at the “competition,” I see a lot of really good photographs. Like me, they are at mid-level, just a cut or two above the crowd. My question to myself is: What will it take to make it all the way to “awesome”?

    I shoot with iPhone and Moment lenses and firmly believe I don’t need a Nikon to become great; my composition needs to get better—I think it’s good, but nonetheless, it’s not good enough. This is a profound topic that I intend to take as deep as I can.

    Thanks again,
    Sandy

    1. HI Sandy. Thanks for the kind words. Your question is a good one, and I think it’s an exciting exploration. Ultimately it’s going to be a discovery of what is really you. As you rightly pointed out, it’s not the camera. The iPhone will do the work just fine. It’s you – your vision, your voice, and your exploration of the elements and decisions that make images compelling. I love your willingness to take this deeper!

    2. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and knowledge on this most important subject!!! Composition is everything for me.. of course other factors included..! For me, simplicity of the image and it’s compelling story or emotion or energy is what works for me.. and you have so well explained that for us….!!

      I look forward to your upcoming videos too, as I loved those discussion points!

      Thanks once again for sharing your experience and knowledge with us 🙏

      Regards,
      Namrata Vedi

      1. You’re welcome. Composition is so overlooked – it’s nice to see others with an enthusiastic understanding of its importance in making images that connect. 🙂

  65. I’ve become more interested in making more simple, graphic photographs. I’ve realized that many of my photos are crowed and lack clarity of purpose. I’m working on that.

    1. It takes time, Jack. Just knowing what you desire in your compositions is a needed step forward for all of us.

    1. I do too. Can I throw the ball back in your court and ask what kind of elements or decisions you would consider important to making images that “express a lot”? The more you recognize those things, the easier it will be to find them, play with them, and incorporate them.

  66. Well … seems that you always make me think 🙂

    I think that the challenge is that – composition, well they are “trivial”. We have all heard about it since forever. But the mechanisms of these compositions – they are not at the top of my mind and these mechanisms are not tought along with compositions.
    So to come from the “trivial” compositions “rules” and the silly discussions about breaking the rules (empty discissions really) – to come from this stage and to actually use compositions as tools, mechanisms, part of the visual language – that is my challenge … simple as that 🙂

    1. Quantity is not quality. Some photographers feel they need to take several hundred photos or the trip is a waste of time. My problem is I know how the camera works but I don’t take the time to compose a quality photograph. I liked your photo of the person in the spotlight. Several things come to mind. First the time of day limits the spotlight. Next is where is this and how did you stumble upon this location? How long did you stake out this location? Is this a frequently traveled location? To have a person in that spot at that time is either pure luck or it is staged. This is still a great photograph. Looking forward to the next two segments!

      1. This is the benefit of spending time in a place, Jim. The more you know it the more you start to see things like that spotlight, which was in a busy spot near a market in Venice. There were a lot of people crossing that spot, so I just waited for the right one. Pure luck combined with patience and knowing if the right moment didn’t come that day I could return over and over, as I will on future trips, just to see if better moments arrive. It’s all about the time. Time to perceive, to experiment, to come back later and try again.

  67. I tend to photograph on the opposite end of the simplicity spectrum. I try to capture emotions in order to provoke a response. Some are from sporting events while others attempt to breathe life into inanimate objects. IMHO, your video captures the important essence of composition…I never though about it like you explain.

  68. David,
    Useful and inspiring information. I think that your suggestion to study photographs in depth is important. I need to have more courage in shooting… but am not patient, competent, or confident enough to get there. This video gives me some stepping stones to practice and to review! Thank you!

    1. You’re welcome, Lynda. Keep at it, the competence and confidence comes. The patience, on the other hand, I think that’s just chosen. I’m not a patience person but I can wait and watch and it’s been really helpful to understand that patience is something I do, not something I am.

  69. I like an image that has emotional impact, that shows feelings.

    I perceive you as a photographic philosopher.

  70. Great advice David! I enjoy your emails, videos, and books immensely.

    For #3- Who are some of the masters you suggest studying (or photographs) and why? Thanks!

    1. Hi Joe – It depends what you’re into.You can learn from almost anyone, and those influences will change as you grow. Right now I’m in love with Alex Webb, Vineet Vorha, Ragu Rai, Fan Ho, Nick Turpin, Saul Leiter, Bruce Davidson – those are all favourites but they do reflect my own biases and preferences.

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