@Joyce Wilson "Speak the Truth"

The Ten Commandments Of Great Photographs

By Joyce Wilson

I was recently invited to be the juror for the annual Captured Photographic Exhibition at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club Second Friday Art Exhibition. It was a daunting experience considering the fact that without a theme, I was viewing subjects ranging from beautiful landscapes, abstraction and interpretative concepts to figurative photography and photojournalism.  Add to this, the diverse presentations from traditional silver gelatin prints with white mats to images printed on metal and/or mounted on canvas and art boards.  All techniques acceptable and considered photographic work in today’s market, but this made selecting award winners a challenge.

During the years I have judged for professional photographic organizations and taught at Brooks Institute, I used a guideline in my head to quickly evaluate images.

Ten Commandments for Creating Great Photographs According To Joyce


(What is the statement or the story?)


(Interesting, unique or unusual cropping)


(Use of photographic equipment….choice of camera, lens, focus or          non-focus….is it working?)


(Selection and use of color or monochromatic tonal values and    arrangement of elements)


(Soft and ethereal, or direct dramatic light….does it work with the  subject?)


(Choice of process….chromogenic print, alternative process, unique paper or substrate, mat selection, framing, canvas wrap….does it work?)


(Does everything work together?)

  1.  NO FEAR

(Did the photographer let go of the rules and jump off the cliff?)


(Does the image move me, make me think…will I remember this image two days from now?)


(Equipment is unimportant….what is important is the experience, the passion, and the life experiences that an artist draws on to create)

The Captured Exhibition traditionally awards, Best of Show, Best Black & White, and Best Color. Two Honorable Mentions were added this year, as I felt there were other images that deserved recognition.

©Bobbie Bratz "Eclipse" Photograph on acrylic.

©Bobbie Bratz “Eclipse” Photograph on acrylic.

This beautiful little gem is just that…a lovely jewel. I loved the elegant, pure photographic print and it spoke to me on all levels.  Concept, Composition, Craftsmanship, and the WOW factor.  I’m impressed when a photographer takes the time and energy to chase the elements, and give us these magical images. I spent several years as a member of Photo Futures at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art under the guidance of the late Karen Sinsheimer. The photographic collection at the museum is heavily directed towards scientific photography, and I feel certain Karen would have enjoyed Bobbie Bratz’s “Eclipse”.

©Randall J. VanderMey  "Two Eggs Over Easy Listening "

©Randall J. VanderMey “Two Eggs Over Easy Listening “

Before reading the title, the viewer is pulled in and the image causes wonder and questions to arise.  The whimsical title then leads us into a surreal realm that has endless possibilities.  Kudos to Randall for his bravery in experimenting with this abstract approach. Photographic art is making huge strides into abstraction and new directions and it’s a joy to find an image this imaginative.

©Gina Papadakis "Fintini"

©Gina Papadakis “Fintini”

This image is so playful and imaginative one can’t help smiling.  I loved the presentation giving us a fantastical, larger than life view.  The image is a perfect example of technique combined with concept that equals WOW!  I strongly believe that passion and life experiences play a huge role in an artist’s work, and I’m familiar with Gina’s love of critters and the commitment she has to her craft which is evident in “Fintini”. And what a delicious title.

©Stephen Robeck "San Jacinto 2 Detail"

©Stephen Robeck “San Jacinto 2 Detail”

I’m very familiar with Stephen’s work and have enjoyed watching his progression from the genre of landscapes and flowers into thought provocative abstract imagery.  His mastery of technique goes hand in hand with the sophisticated presentation.  When viewing this particular piece, one becomes mesmerized by the print’s three dimensionality and the need to touch to see if it is real.

©Margaret Morrison "L & R" dyptych

©Margaret Morrison “L & R” dyptych

This was such an intriguing title and an interesting approach to a simple object, and I applaud Margaret for keeping it simple and letting the subject speak.  I especially enjoyed the diptych framing with subjects mirrored but each slightly different.

As you can see, the award winning images are not your usual Ansel Adam’s look-a-likes.  The newest great American sport is photography and everyone is a photographer…even the grandkids can use a cell phone with apps to turn an image into a fantastical, interesting piece.  If you want to take your photography to another level, come join me in one of the “Imagine” workshops.  Go to www.joycewilson.com for workshop information and registration.

Jan. 25, 26, 27   Figurative, Photoshop Compositing and Collage

Feb. 23, 24       Polymer Photogravure Etching

March 23, 24    Encaustic Wax


Happy Holidays!

Keep that camera handy to record special memories and fascinating scenarios.  At the top is a new favorite of mine.  The background image is the wall of a river lock captured from a boat deck. The carving of faces was photographed in a museum and then composited and printed as a solar plate etching.

1/15 second exposure blurs Navajo Gourd Dancers.

Photographing Native American Powwows: Planning, Etiquette and Tips

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

I could feel the drum beat in my bones, almost like a heart beat.

Native American dancers seemed to float just above the dance floor, red rock canyon walls towering over the dance arena. I was photographing the annual Gallup Inter Tribal Indian Ceremonial and the spectacle of so many dancers gathered together was quite amazing.

A 300mm f2.8 lens separates a Fancy Dancer

A 300mm f2.8 lens separates a Fancy Dancer from the other dancers.

In the Southwest, powwows also include demonstration dances by various Pueblo, Navajo and Apache tribal members in addition to the usual powwow dance categories. There is a lot going on and it isn’t always easy to capture the strength, energy and pride of the dancers in a single still image.

camera panning separates dancers

A slow shutter speed of 1/30 and panning separates a fairly sharp dancer from the other dancers.

Powwows take place all over the U.S. and Canada and a schedule of events can be found at several web sites, including https://www.powwows.com/2018-pow-wow-calendar/. These are often gatherings of many different tribal groups and have become a celebration of Native American culture.

Women's Fancy Shawl Dancers.

A long lens isolates a group of Women’s Fancy Shawl Dancers.

Before we get started, let’s talk first about etiquette at these events.

Not all powwows allow photography. Some allow still photography but not video. Some will allow photography but no sound recording. Do a little research and make sure photography is allowed before you pull out a camera.

If photography is allowed, that generally means in the dance arena or demonstration areas only. If you come across a dancer outside these venues–always, always, always ask permission! Never step onto the dance floor and if a ceremony is about to take place and the announcer asks that no photographs be taken, lay your camera down and don’t touch it until the ceremony has ended. These are Native American events and they set the rules. We are only visitors.

photographing dancer regalia at a powwow

A 70mm-200mm zoom lens allows you to capture details of dance regalia.

Powows can be held anywhere, even a high school football field. If you want a clean background, without goal posts, get there early and stake out your spot. I try to get right on the edge of the dance arena and sit on the ground or at the top of the grandstands, if they are available.

A high or low shooting angle pretty well eliminates backgrounds and these locations keep other people from blocking my view.

Apache Crown Dancers

Apache Crown Dancers are a fast moving photo subject.

I tend to shoot with two camera bodies, one mounted with a 70mm—200mm zoom lens and the other a fixed 300mm lens. Sometimes dancers are close, but often I need to reach out and isolate a single dancer. These two lenses will handle most dance floor situations. I also carry a 24mm-70mm zoom lens for portraits outside the dance arena.

Individual photo portrait off of the dance floor.

Individual photo portrait off of the dance floor.

I shoot these lenses hand-held and rely on fast shutter speeds for tack sharp images. One of my favorite approaches, however, is using shutter drag, or a slow shutter speed, to create a degree of image blur that illustrates the shape of the dancers motion. It’s really fun.

Zuni Pueblo Turkey Dancer.

Slow shutter speed captures the motion of a Zuni Pueblo Turkey Dancer.

This technique is just a matter of stopping down the lens aperture to eliminate light and then slowing down the shutter speed to compensate for a proper exposure. You can pan with the dancers to blur the background as well, or even tilt the camera during the pan to create even more blur. These can become quite abstract, so try different shutter speeds to get just the right amount of blur, which is a very subjective decision.

I have covered quite a number of these events and occasionally found I was the only anglo face in the crowd. I have always found Native Americans to be gracious and have never been made to feel like an intruder. Follow the rules, ask permission and be open to the spirituality that is part of some of these dances. Powwows offer a glimpse into proud, ancient cultures which we get to explore with our cameras. Look and learn with an open mind and have a great time.

Enjoy the experience.

Traditional Native American dancers sidelit by the setting sun

Magic Hour Photography: Get Creative And Capture The Drama

Photography and Text by Chuck Place

Few photographers can resist shooting a beautiful sunset. Clouds build up, color starts to develop, you have a perfect ocean or lake surface for great reflections or you found some fascinating trees or buildings to silhouette against the colorful sky. It’s impossible to resist, isn’t it?

More often than not, however, at this time of day, I find myself turning my back on the sun as it goes down and watching for what it lights up instead.

Mesa Verde ruins sidelit

Mesa Verde ruins sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

That warm color of the low sun skimming across a landscape or buildings is pure magic. The soft, low-contrast sunlight at the end of the day is perfect for lifestyle images or dramatic portraits. It creates an ambiance to which everyone can relate. It’s the time of day we associate with relaxing and gathering with friends, enjoying a meal with others or just sipping a glass of wine. There is something truly magical about photographs created during the golden hour at the end of the day when the fleeting warm light mixes with cool-toned shadows to heighten drama and mystery in an image.

Native American Fancy Dancers sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Native American Fancy Dancers sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

There is more to producing photos with impact at magic hour than just turning your back on the sun, of course.

Death Valley sand dunes sidelit by the setting sun

Death Valley sand dunes sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

If you are shooting in JPEG format, make sure you turn off Auto White Balance and set your camera white balance to Daylight or Overcast. Auto White Balance, or AWB, works great in a lot of lighting environments because it neutralizes color in an image, but it will also neutralize all that warm light at sunset. There goes all your atmosphere and saturated color. The Daylight or Overcast setting will capture the warm color balance that you typically see at sunset.

Woman practicing yoga is backlit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Woman practicing yoga is backlit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Even better, shoot in RAW format if your camera has that feature. The RAW format ignores the camera’s white balance setting while capturing the maximum amount of image data. This extra data makes it possible to correct or change your image to a much larger degree, giving you more creative freedom than can be achieved with a smaller JPEG file.

One of my favorite techniques is using warm sunlight to side light my subjects, creating an exaggerated sense of volume and contrast. Side lighting also separates the warm, lit side of your subject with the cool, shadow side, producing a more dramatic image.

Mission San Xavier del Bac sidelit by the setting sun

Mission San Xavier del Bac sidelit by the setting sun at Magic Hour

Front lighting at magic hour produces rather flat lighting, but can be effective if the warmly lit subject is contrasted against a cool blue sky. Quarter back lighting is also effective at this time of day, especially for lifestyle and portrait photography. The soft, even lighting on the shadow side of your subject can be quite beautiful as long as the subject is not underexposed. Flair can be a bit of a problem when the sun is out in front of the lens, but flair can also create a strong ambience if it is controlled properly.

Aerial of the Alabama Hills front lit at Magic Hour

Aerial of the Alabama Hills front lit with sunset light at Magic Hour

Next time you are out shooting late in the day, break the sunset habit and turn your back on the sun. You may be surprised by the images you can create using sunset light, rather than photographing the actual sunset. It’s a magic time, after all.

pumpkins and gourds

Halloween Photo Shoots: A Return To Childhood Fun

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

I’m a big fan of Halloween and I love photography. That’s the beauty of October. I get to combine two of my great passions.

Santa Ynez Valley Halloween scarecrows

Santa Ynez Valley Halloween scarecrows

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, harvest season in my area kicks in. Grapes are harvested in the vineyards, the leaves on the vines begin to change color and pumpkin patches pop up here and there. In the nearby Santa Ynez Valley, scarecrows appear in the small towns of the Valley. The Santa Ynez Valley Scarecrow Festival runs the entire month of October and gives me a great excuse to visit the Valley with my camera.

I tend to skip people in costumes, concentrating on pumpkins, in the field, in a truck or carved, and scarecrows, wherever I find them.

Halloween scarecrow in pumpkin patch

Halloween scarecrow in pumpkin patch with photographic post-production

Don’t get me wrong. I try to add a little creativity to my shoots on occasion. Maybe I’ll light some jack-o-lanterns for an evening shoot or add drama in post-production to a scarecrow in the middle of a field of pumpkins. It isn’t all point and shoot. I’m a photographer, after all, and have to play with some of my images, but I have just as much fun wandering through a pumpkin patch creating still-life images of colorful pumpkins and gourds.

Halloween jack-o-lantern

Halloween jack-o-lantern lit at night with photo props

Pumpkins and scarecrows—it’s as if I can return to my childhood Trick or Treat days, only now I search for photographic treats.

Halloween scarecrow

Halloween scarecrow with a little photographic post-production

This is the most creative of the season’s holidays and I immerse myself in that joy of abandon. Even if you have photographed these subjects before, it’s always fun to get out there and celebrate the icons of Halloween. If you want more of a challenge, light your subjects and photograph them at the witching hour of dusk. No matter how you go about it, if you aren’t having fun, you are going about your Halloween photo shoot the wrong way.

Halloween pumpkins in an old farm truck

Halloween pumpkins in an old farm truck

If you have some Halloween shots to share, send us a link and share the fun. Happy Halloween.

Aerial drone photograph of North Lake

Aerial Drone Photography: Capturing The View From Above

Photography and Text by Chuck Place

All the world seems to have gone drone crazy, and for a very good reason. The camera viewpoint is totally unique and gives you access to locations you can’t reach by foot. They can fly lower than a helicopter, are not as disruptive and they cost little to shoot.

Is photography with a drone the same as shooting with a DSLR? Well, yes and no.

First, let’s talk about safety. Essentially you are flying a four-bladed weed whacker. That needs to remain in the front of your mind at all times. Drones can, and do, fall out of the sky unexpectedly for a whole variety of reasons. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8_9F6J7qw8 for a fairly complete lists of safety procedures. Ignore her voice. It’s pretty annoying.

Aerial drone photography of foggy sunrise

Aerial drone photography of foggy sunrise in the Santa Ynez Valley. Camera altitude 105 feet.

Creating aerial photographs with a drone is similar to shooting with a DSLR, but you must pre-visualize the image from different heights, and that adds a whole new layer of complexity to the process. 400 feet is the maximum legal altitude for a drone and you’ll find the world looks quite different from that vantage point. Although the monitor on your controller displays what the camera is seeing, these are usually small screens and some times difficult to view in sunlight.

Time of day, light direction and composition all interact the way they do during a ground-based photo shoot, but you add the variable of camera height, which changes everything. Over time, I have found that my images fall into three altitude brackets. Sky High spans 300-400 feet, Way Up covers 100-300 feet and Tall Photographer falls between 30-100 feet.

Aerial drone photography of wildflower super bloom near Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain

Aerial drone photography of wildflower super bloom near Soda Lake, Carrizo Plain. Camera altitude 60 feet.

The Tall Photographer altitude is the most intimate, and my personal favorite, while Sky High often produces unexpected results.

The scale of your subjects will also have a big impact on this altitude decision. Most drone cameras can’t be pointed above the horizontal position, making altitude critical when shooting in the mountains or in cities. Capturing the tops of mountains or skyscrapers turns out to be a matter of distance from the subject. If you are working too close, 400 feet of altitude doesn’t really make much difference and you may have to go topples.

Aerial drone photography of Soda Lake watershed in Carrizo Plain

Aerial drone photography of Soda Lake watershed in Carrizo Plain. Camera altitude 300 feet.

The shooting angle also impacts the composition. Again, flatter angles tend to show us what we expect to see while a steeper or more vertical angle tends to capture patterns that were not so apparent at ground level.

This is one of the exciting aspects of aerial photography, creating images that are impossible from the ground.

Light direction works pretty much the same way it does at ground level, with the exception of backlighting. Most entry level and mid-range drone cameras are built with a wide-angle lens. There is no lens shade, which might cause flight issues, so lens flair is a constant issue when shooting any kind of back lit situation. If the sun is high in the sky, dropping the camera angle can sometimes eliminate this problem, but that isn’t always an option.

Aerial drone photograph with flair

Aerial drone photograph with flair. Camera altitude 120 feet.

It took a while, but I have learned to embrace flair.

For a professional photographer, that’s a soul-searing adjustment, but I have found that some of my favorite drone images have rays of sunlight poking in from the edges. Too much flair can still ruin an image, but just the right amount can actually improve it.


This just scratches the surface of drone photography and in future posts we will discuss drone technology in greater depth, the care and maintenance of a drone, safety issues and flight rules and, of course, more photo tips and techniques.

Give yourself a few months to get comfortable flying your drone safely, especially in windy conditions. Try to pre-visualize what your subject will look like from several different altitudes and above all, enjoy the view but don’t abuse the freedom a drone provides. Have fun and fly safely.


All images in this post were produced with either a DJI Phantom 4 drone or a DJI Phantom 4 Pro. To view more images, drop by my portfolio site at https://www.chuckplacephotography.com/Still-Portfolios/Aerials/thumbs and sign up to see new work on my Instagram feed at https://www.instagram.com/chuckplace/.


Pizzas with hand for prop

Delicious Food Photography: The Basics Of Cooking Up Mouth Watering Images

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

My introduction to food photography was basically an accident.

I was shooting an article on Monterey, California, known for Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and great seafood. Dungeness crab is at the top of the areas epicurean list and I had already photographed a display of crabs on ice out on the pier. Although the shot was interesting, there was nothing appetizing about it. I was going to have to bite the bullet and go into a restaurant and photograph a crab dish properly.

Dungeness crab, Monterey, California

Dungeness crab photographed using window light.

Getting permission to shoot in a restaurant turned out to be easier than I thought. All I had to do was show up after the lunch crowd had thinned out, explain why I was shooting my lunch and confirm that I expected to pay for my meal. To seal the deal, I offered to send the restaurant a JPEG of the finished image for use on their web site or social media.

As I was deciding which table to use, a plate bearing an entire Dungeness crab was being set in front of a diner. The crab’s shell had been broken into many pieces, looking as if it had been run over by a truck. I was pretty certain a shot of roadkill on a plate wasn’t going to work, so I had my crab served whole without cracking. This was Food Lesson #1. Sometimes the presentation has to be modified so that the food looks good in a photographic image.

Crispy pork belly with simple staging

Crispy pork belly with simple staging

Rain had been falling the entire day and the restaurant was rather dark, so I picked a table close to a large window. As soon as food began to arrive, I quickly realized this was Food Lesson #2. Placing my subject near a large window, with no direct sunlight passing through it, gave me beautiful diffused light and large highlights on my food, making everything look quite luscious. If you want food to look tasty, make sure it has large highlights.

Now for the hard part!

Seafood fettuccine with food props

Seafood fettuccine with food props

An unadorned Dungeness crab sitting lonely on a plate wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to think of this as a still life and pick out props for my set. This is called food styling, one of the most difficult parts of food photography. In a restaurant there are few props with which to work—silverware and napkins, maybe a salt and pepper shaker, possibly a flower in a small vase. Props, I learned from Food Lesson #3, are often side dishes and drinks. Ideally, the side dishes should make sense within the context of the main dish and work with it visibly as well. In this case, the shape of the bowl of bread dipping oil and the roast tomato soup mimicked the circular shape of the crab and its plate. A glass of chardonnay, appropriate for seafood, rounded out the set.

Food Lesson #4 came later in my office while processing these images. Diffused window light is always a bit blue. Using the White Balance Selector tool in Lightroom, I clicked on the white plate to neutralize it and then added a little warmth with the Temperature Slider. Most food looks more appetizing if balanced slightly warm.

Dessert platter with flower styling

Dessert platter with flower styling

These days I photograph quite a range of dishes, chefs and restaurants. Often, when I finish, I am asked if I would like to try any of the dishes I have photographed. I always start with dessert—Food Lesson #5.

As evidenced by all the meals people post on-line, photographing food has become quite popular. There seems to be no downside to sharing photos of something you can then eat. Just be sure to work quickly before your food gets cold. And, of course, don’t forget Food Lesson #5!


Also Take A Look at “Create Stunning Aerial Photographs Of A Delicious Lunch

Gold Leaf

Gold Leafing: A Beautiful Alternative Photographic Print Process

Text and Photography Not Attributed To Others by Joyce Wilson

I’ve been fascinated since childhood with gold and silver things. I cherish a tiny gold engraved vase that belonged to my grandmother, and a silver art deco jewelry box … a gift from my father to my mother during their courtship. And so about 10 years ago, I became obsessed with the idea of incorporating gold leaf into my photographic printing process

It’s important, however, to know the history and the background of gilding first.

The use of gold leaf in art dates back to ancient cultures. In Egypt gilding was employed for its ethereal aesthetic and used to decorate statues of gods and sacred objects. The Romans used gold leaf to depict people on medallions and pendants, and gilded portraiture is found throughout Byzantine art depicting religious themes. Renaissance artists became known for their gold-ground paintings

Klimt. Japanese Screen

Gustav Klimt “The Kiss”, 17th Century Japanese Screen

In addition to religious icons, gold leaf was also used in illuminated manuscripts during the Middle Ages. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Japanese artists incorporated golf leaf into the paintings found on folding screens, and they began to paint directly onto gold leaf to produce their own gold-ground depictions. In modern art, the use of gold leaf is most commonly associated with Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.

I spent several months researching and experimenting and had a wastebasket full of failures before developing a formula to inkjet print photographic images over gold leaf, a process similar to the method the Renaissance artists used for gold-ground.

Silver Leafing, Copper Leafing

Silver Leafing over Green Kozo, Copper Leafing over Red

The first element to consider is selecting a photographic image with enough light tonal values in the background to allow enough of the gold to be visible. Dark images, in most cases, will not be acceptable. The gold leaf is adhered to a substrate of archival art paper. It is not necessary to use coated digital photographic paper for the substrate. I like to use Kozo paper, a thin, slightly textured Japanese rice paper and adhere this first to the substrate and then adhere the gold leaf over this leaving some of the red color of the paper to bleed through in random areas and around edges. After the gold layer has dried, a coat of digital ground is applied. The digital ground allows the ink to adhere…the ink will bleed and run without the ground coating.   The digital ground needs to set and dry overnight. Once completely dry, the substrate is placed in a printer with an enhanced matte print setting used

Gold Acrylic Paint

Gold Acrylic Paint over Red Kozo

I now use an Epson 3880, and have been printing these images on Epson and Canon printers for the past 10 years. Epson and Canon will not support this kind of crazy “art”, but I’m a rebel and prefer to push the boundaries of photographic art. I’ve had a few minor glitches, but to my thinking, it’s well worth the end results.

If you are faint of heart, this may not be something you want to try.

Silver Acrylic Paint

Silver Acrylic Paint over Pink–Student Work

This process works really well and is much less expensive using metallic acrylic paint.

Color background is used and then the background is painted over with gold, copper or silver patina as the metallic ground.   It became necessary for me to teach with this technique due to budget restraints. The 23 carat gold can be as much as $75 for a 25 sheet pack of 3.75” x 3.75”. Imitation gold, copper and silver prices range from $15 to $25 for 25 sheet packs.

Silver Acrylic Paint

Silver Acrylic Paint over Blue–Student Work

This is such a beautiful process and the images always glow. Check out my website www.joycewilson.com to see a selection of gold and copper images. Go to Collections and find “Treasures”. Information about future workshops on this technique can be found on the website or you can email or telephone for information. jw@joycewilson.com     805-682-2955

Keep shooting, Keep soaring. The camera is the best medicine!

Also See: Experience The Subtle Art Of Collage

Forced perspective photograph of Taos Indian Pueblo

Forced Perspective: Add Drama And Depth To Your Photographs

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

Standing in the middle of Taos Pueblo, I was trying to decide how I would photograph the impressive five-story North Building. I knew I would use a technique called Forced Perspective to emphasize the scale of the building and create an exaggerated feeling of depth in the image. Ideally, the photograph would also illustrate the materials used to build this ancient pueblo—mud and straw.

Forced Perspective is a two-step process. First determine your main subject, in this case the North Building of Taos Pueblo. That’s the easy part. The next step involves picking a foreground subject that gives the viewer more information about the main subject and creates a strong sense of depth between the two.

That can take some searching.

Forced perspective photograph of fall aspen grove

Forced perspective photograph of fall aspen grove on San Francisco Peaks, Arizona

I settled on a large outdoor oven, or horno, to provide the foreground. Sunlight lit the oven from the side, emphasizing the texture of the mud and straw adobe used to build the entire pueblo. Placing my camera with a wide angle lens close to the oven made it look larger than it really is and made the North Building look smaller than it does to the naked eye.

Forced perspective photograph of Wukoki Ruins

Forced perspective photograph of Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

This wide angle distortion is at the core of this technique, producing a greater appearance of depth in the scene than actually exists. Stopping down the lens to its smallest aperture guaranteed everything from front to back is sharply focused.

This technique works equally well with landscapes.

Decide what your main subject will be, say a grove of fall aspen trees with the late afternoon sun shining through. Then move around until you find an interesting foreground, in this case a fallen aspen log in a meadow. Position your camera close to the log and stop down your aperture all the way for great depth of field. In this case, in addition to creating a feeling of great depth, the log also produced a leading line that our audience could follow visually back into the scene while backlighting emphasized the glowing colors of the fall aspen leaves.

See earlier posts on Leading LinesBacklighting and the compositional Rule Of Thirds.


Forced perspective photograph of brittlebush flowers

Forced perspective photograph of brittlebush flowers and cholla cactus, Joshua Tree National Park, California

One last tip.

Because your camera is positioned close to your foreground subject, move your plane of focus a little closer to camera position than you normally would. Make sure the foreground is tack sharp. If the distant background is a little soft, it looks like atmosphere. If the foreground is soft, the image should probably be tossed in the trash. Check focus on your camera back when you shoot, just to be sure.

Forced perspective photograph of sand dunes

Forced perspective photograph of sand dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Forced Perspective takes a little practice, but it’s a great technique for creating powerful, dynamic images with an exaggerated sense of depth. Try it next time you’re photographing architecture or landscapes. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Elephant seal rookery

Wildlife Photo Safari Adventure On The Beautiful California Coast

Photography and Text by Chuck Place

The air was filled with burping sounds and rather high-pitched screams, punctuated occasionally with deep booming notes that you could actually feel in your bones. I was standing on an elevated boardwalk above the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony where mothers and pups were calling to each other and huge bull elephant seals were challenging each other with deep belching notes that seemed to come from the bottom of a well. It was sunrise in late February and the beach looked like total chaos, covered with hundreds of elephant seals. This was going to be good.

Male elephant seals fight for dominance

Male elephant seals fight over dominance, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony, near San Simeon, California

I had packed all my main wildlife equipment with a fast 300 lens on one body and a 80-200mm zoom on another. I knew access was restricted at Piedras Blancas and I wanted to be able to reach out and fill the frame with these amazing creatures.

Elephant seals mating

Elephant seals preparing to mate, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony, near San Simeon, California

I left home quite early so that I would arrive just before sunrise. Elephant seals spend much of the year in cold open ocean waters and sport a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm. Hauling out on a beach, even during February’s cool temperatures, elephant seals can quickly overheat if they are too active. If you want interesting images, all the action is early and late. Most of the day elephant seals sleep soundly looking like large, smooth boulders on the beach.

Male elephant seal portrait

Portrait of a male elephant seal announcing his territorry, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony, near San Simeon, California.

As I hauled my heavy lenses out onto the boardwalk, I quickly realized how redundant the 300mm lens was going to be. If I accidently dropped a lens cap off the boardwalk, it would bounce off the nose of an elephant seal. They were packed together all over the beach and for the most part, ignored people walking around above them.

Elephant seal sleeping

Female elephant seal nudges a sleeping male, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony, near San Simeon, California

Photographing this chaos could be tricky. Coming from an editorial background, I constantly think in terms of a complete magazine article. What range of images would an art director or photo editor need to cover this subject properly? Establishing beach shots? Of course. Interactions, portraits, action shots and tourists? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Female elephant seals

Female and young male elephant seals sleeping on the beach, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, San Simeon, California

Sunlight began to crest the sand dunes lining the beach, giving me a beautiful edge lighting that helped separate the sand-colored seals from the sandy beach. A battle between two males developed right in front of me on the edge of the surf. I thanked the technology gods for motor drives as I burned through dozens of frames, knowing that at least some of them would capture peak action. Large males posed for portraits after emerging from the sea while young females stacked up like piles of driftwood. A dominant male, known as a beachmaster, reared up a ways down the beach, announcing his territory and his ladies, allowing me to finally use the 300mm lens!

Beachmaster elephant seal

Male elephant seal announces his territorry, Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony, near San Simeon, California

Within two hours, everything was settling down. The sun got stronger, seals were throwing sand over themselves to cool down and tourists began to arrive. One last parting image of tourists viewing the napping seals from the boardwalk completed my coverage and I was off to find breakfast in nearby Cambria.

Tourists view elephant seals.

Tourists photograph the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony, near San Simeon, California.

Few wildlife spectacles in the U.S. pack so much action into such a short period of time. This is a uniquely California event with easy access and lots of subjects to photograph. February is the month and early morning is the time to shoot action. If you have a long lens, take it with you. You may not need it, but it’s great to have when action pops up a distance down the beach. Luck does favor the prepared!

Equipment List:

Canon EOS 5D Mk III Bodies

Canon EF 80-20mm Zoom f2.8 Lens

Canon EF 300mm f2.8 Lens

Manfrotto 3221 Tripod

Arca Swiss Monoball Head

Main building, Getty Museum

The Art of Subtraction in Contemporary Architecture Photography

Photography and Text by Andreina Diaz

When it comes to visiting, exploring and photographing contemporary architecture, there are two places in Los Angeles that I find myself going back to again and again; the Walt Disney Concert Hall (by Frank Gehry) and the Getty Museum (by Richard Meier). These two locations manage to capture my undivided attention for hours. Over the years I have created hundreds of photographs at each location and I still discover new photographs every time I go.

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

Aristotle said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” but when it comes to photographing these specific locations I feel like the parts are greater than the sum. These two sites are architectural masterpieces, but what really amazes me are the lines, shapes, forms, textures, patterns, and colors you can find once you begin to break the buildings into sections and sub sections. This is what I call the “Art of Subtraction”, when you take parts of a grand subject and capture it in sections.

Getty Museum by Richard Meier

Getty Museum by Richard Meier

Next time you visit either of these places, try to capture their simplicity, harmony and mystery. Make sure you find an interesting composition that holds a unique point of view under the perfect lighting.

Getty Museum by Richard Meier

Getty Museum by Richard Meier

I can’t wait to see what you will find. Feel free to tag me on Instagram so I can see your pictures @eyeseesb

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

Eye See Santa Barbara offer photography tours for people of all photographic skill levels. Explore Santa Barbara with your camera while learning how to take better photographs by join one of our photo tours. For information about times, tour locations or to book a tour, visit our Photography Tour Section