What photographers can learn from Instagram's privacy policy 'confusion'

Taking someone's property and selling it without permission is wrong - even if you are one of the more popular photo sharing sites.

That's what Instagram learned this week, but what can photographers learn from Instagram's misstep?

For those of you who missed it, Instagram caused a firestorm by announcing it was updating its privacy policy. According to the update, IG would be able to sell your photos in ads -- without getting your permission and without compensating you.

Instagram users revolted, with many threatening to boycott the service or move their photos elsewhere. Check these reports from USA Today and CNN.

It didn't take a full day for Instagram to backtrack.

"Earlier this week, we introduced a set of updates to our privacy policy and terms of service to help our users better understand our service. In the days since, it became clear that we failed to fulfill what I consider one of our most important responsibilities – to communicate our intentions clearly. I am sorry for that, and I am focused on making it right.

The concerns we heard about from you the most focused on advertising, and what our changes might mean for you and your photos. There was confusion and real concern about what our possible advertising products could look like and how they would work.

Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010."

- Kevin Systrom co-founder, Instagram 

This isn't the first time we have had a social sharing site try to infringe on ownership of their users' images. Facebook's terms of service allows them broad latitude over your photos on their site. Google + had similar complaints when they launched. Pinterest had the unique problem -- their core feature, pinning photos you liked, amounted to potential copyright infringement. Pinterest's terms of service says if someone sues your for pinning, or stealing, a photo, it's not Pinterest's fault.

Before all returns to normal in IG-land, let's pause and see what we might learn about sharing our photos in this socially enabled world.

Read the fine print

For most of today's social sharing sites, the fine print is long, tedious and boring...but it is worth reading. Make an informed decision. Do you care if someone repins or reposts your photos? If you do, you should know what controls you are giving up before you begin posting. Today, Instagram is the popular photo sharing site. A couple years ago, Flickr enjoyed that status. Next year this time, it could be something we haven't heard about yet. Each has its own ideas about ownership.

In the meantime, Facebook or Google + could decide to update their terms of service, further restricting your rights. This area is fluid, as we saw this week. Just because IG backed down, doesn't mean that Mark Zuckerberg will. Know the rules and your rights.

Post your best photos on your own real estate

Post your best photos on your own site -- somewhere you control. Create your own blog or web galleries to host your best work. Many photographer web sites will allow likes and comments -- the same experiences you enjoy on sharing sites. Once you are established on your own site, you can post links back to your photos from Facebook, Google + or the latest site of the hour. You can share low resolution pictures with your friends in their social networks but encourage them to click back to your site to see your photos in a bigger size. This keeps your high resolution photos securely within your control.

If your best stuff is on your own real estate, you don't have to worry about a social site changing its rules tomorrow and destroying what you've taken years to create.

Reconsider your own Terms of Service

Is it a bad thing that someone decides to use your photo in a presentation or as wallpaper? Trey Ratcliff didn't think so, and he claims that he ended up making more money as a result.

Trey uses a licensing construct called Creative Commons. This allows you to pre-authorize anyone to use your photos within specific guidelines. For instance, a common option is that someone can use your photo for a non commercial purpose without asking, as long as they provide you credit. Trey found that his HDR photos were used so frequently, with links pointing back to his blog, that he was far more popular than if he tried to closely regulate usage.

At the end of the day, he wanted exposure and credit for his work. Creative Commons allowed him to achieve both.

Register your images with the Copyright Office

This won't protect you if you voluntarily give away your rights, but if someone happens to "accidentally" use your images withour permission, you now have the ability to seek damages.

The process is fairly simple, and you can register a batch of images for just one fee.

Remember the Photographer's Golden Rule

This seems obvious, but I can't tell you the number of times I have seen other photographers take my photos and post them without credit. I'm sure they mean well and intend no harm, but I think photographers should operate by a different unspoken agreement. 

My Photographer's Golden Rule says, if you would want me to acknowledge your photo, you should do the same for mine. Ask first and offer credit. It's only fair. (Unless you see a Creative Commons license, of course.)

The Instagram debacle showed that as more of us spend time creating art on different platforms, we will also insist on a voice in controlling the destiny of our images. 

We learned that as sharing sites become successful, the lure of creating more money through advertising will become seductive. Big companies might buy out the cool new site, and the culture could change. We saw a glimmer of that with Instagram, as we did with Flickr.

If you care about your work, take an active role in controlling it.

Recording - Infrared photography with Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson shared his infrared photography project on Civil War battlefields. This was a great presentation because Mark didn't just show photos, he taught a practical workshop on IR photography. Learn everything you ever wanted to know about this technique, and see how he interprets the genre with his personal project.


Mark says he was initially inspired by the work of Nick Brandt and his photos of the African Savannah. Nick Brandt Photography

He also mentioned being inspired by some of Clay Blackmore's weddings in IR. Clay Blackmore & Co

If you are interested in learning more about our Civil War battlefields, visit the Civil War Trust.

Mark is also a member of the Friends of the National Zoo Photo Club. FONZ Photo Club

Free Photo Webinar - focus on infrared photography with Mark Anderson

Mark AndersonFree Photo Webinars focuses on the invisible light of infrared photography with Mark Anderson.

Mark is a lifelong photographer who is working on a longterm project taking infrared photos of Civil War locations. Infrared photography allows you to capture the spectrum of light just beyond what humans can detect with their normal eyesight. It creates a unique effect, but it can be tricky to shoot.

One of the keys to great infrared photos is choosing the right subject, and Mark has found success producing infrared images of Civil War battlefields. His project helps him create an otherworldly look and feel for these historic landmarks.

Join us to see more of his infrared photos and learn more about shooting in this format.

See Mark's work at http://manderson.com.

Register now

The one photo suggestion you should always ignore

"I only shoot in this mode"

Ed crouched near a bed of golden autumn leaves, squinted into his viewfinder, and paused -- clearly waiting for the right moment.

I glanced in front of him to see what he was shooting and noticed a small squirrel scampering his way. The shutter squeezed just as the animal paused and looked up. Friendly squirrels are a common site around the monuments where I teach my photo tours, but I'm always interested in what photographers are trying to capture.

"Did you get it?" I inquired.

"I think so," he said as he began to review his images.

"Great! What settings did you use?" 

"I shot in aperture priority, f/16."

"Why did you choose that combination? What were you trying to create?"

"I'm not sure. I once took a class from an instructor who said he only shoots in aperture priority mode, so I do, too."

While I hate to criticize other methods of teaching, here's my exception to that rule. If anyone begins a sentence with "I only shoot in ____ mode..." ignore everything else that follows.

The beauty of a camera that allows you to change your settings is in your ability to create so many different photo possibilities. As you change combinations of shutter speed and aperture, focal lengths, and camera position, you can create so many different images from a single scene. For instance:

  • Aperture allows you to control depth of field;
  • Shutter speed allows you to show motion or movement;
  • A higher ISO allows you to shoot in low light without always needing a tripod;
  • Large focal length allows you to bring your subjects closer and creates a flattening effect in the background; and
  • A wide angle lets you capture a wider field of view and also has an elongating effect on your background.

I like to think of it as the ultimate form of decisions and consequences. The better you understand your tools, the more decisions you can make to create different effects -- the consequences.

If you choose to only use one setting, you have limited the range of images you can create. At best, it's not very creative. At worst, it's lazy.

That sounds harsh doesn't it. Aren't there times when someone might legitimately only shoot in one mode?

Perhaps. Photographers will sometimes limit their options voluntarily as a personal statement or style. Some photographers only shoot in black and white. Some focus exclusively on a specific theme -- abandoned buildings, for instance. Some might limit themselves in lens choice. I use my 50 mm as my primary walk around lens.

Many of these are style choices. They can actually help you develop your creativity.

Shooting only in aperture priority mode at f/5/6 is less about style. It's more about routine. Sometimes it is about safety and security. 

What it seldom does is help you become more creative, grow or stretch. You often have to leave your comfort zone for that to happen. And besides, mimicking someone else's choice doesn't help you develop your own creative style.

Here's an alternative. Shoot only in [fill in the blank] mode for a day. Then shoot only in [fill in the blank with something different] for another day. Get comfortable with all your tools. Then you can choose the right one for the effect you want to create. You can shoot with greater confidence.

Best, you will ignore the people who want to limit your photo choices because of their lack of imagination.

Old school exposure trick: Sunny 16 Rule

One bright Sunday morning, Jill showed up at my Annapolis photo tour with a Pentax K1000, a vintage SLR. The camera is a classic for those of us who remember the film days. The last time I'd witnessed one was at B&H Photo Video behind a museum-like glass counter. I was getting excited about seeing one in use again when she told me it had one problem. The light meter didn't work.

A vintage light meter. An old school way of measuring light to determine your best shutter speed and aperture combination.

That means there was no way for Jill to look through the camera viewfinder and tell if her photo was going to be properly exposed. Without the instant feedback of a digital camera, she would never know what she had captured until she developed her photos. By then it would be too late to make adjustments.

This problem is much easier to solve today than it was years ago. I just asked Jill to download a light meter app for her iPhone. With the app, she was able to measure light accurately and predict the correct shutter speed and aperture in any light condition. But what if she didn't have the app?

The Sunny 16 Rule

The Sunny 16 Rule is an old school metering trick that Jill also could have used. Photographers turned to this technique when they didn't have a light meter and needed to judge the correct exposure quickly.

Here's how it works. On a sunny day, set your F-stop to f/16. Next, set your shutter speed to the fraction equivalent of your ISO. If you are shooting at ISO 100, then set your shutter speed to 1/100th of a second (or 1/125). What if your ISO is set to 200? Easy, set your shutter speed to 1/200th of a second (or 1/250). Using these settings should give you fairly accurate exposure.

Now we all know that every day we shoot won't be sunny, so how do we adjust in different lighting conditions? Use these guides:

  • Snowy/sandy, use f/22;
  • Overcast, use f/8;
  • Slightly overcast, use f/11;
  • Heavy overcast, use f/5.6; and
  • Sunset, use f/4.

You don't have to be stuck with a broken meter to use these shortcuts. I meet many photographers who want to begin shooting in manual mode, but they aren't sure where to start. Rather than being intimidated, use the Sunny 16 Rule to make sure you have correct exposure. You can make adjustments from there. 

Use these guides to calculate exposure based on the Sunny 16 Rule.

A photo enthusiast's thanksgiving list

Tomorrow over Thanksgiving dinner, many of us will express our gratitude for the significant blessings we experience. I will likely do the same thing.

Before that day, however, I'm going to give thanks for the everyday things -- all the things that make my life as a photographer just a little more enjoyable. Here, in no particular order, is my photographer's thanksgiving list.

Digital cameras

Once upon a time, we would go out to shoot with only 24 or 36 exposures and make them last for the entire day. We had to make every shot count. We couldn't spray away 36 frames on one scene just to be sure we got it all.

We had to do this thing called bracketing. We would shoot one shot at the exposure our meters read, then we would overexpose by one stop and underexpose by one stop. We couldn't see what we were capturing, so we had to cover our bases. Photographers still do the same kind of thing for HDR photography, but back then we didn't do it to be artsy. It was a CYA move.

Speaking of exposure. When you chose ISO 200 on your way out the door, it was a commitment. There was no changing the ISO with every new lighting condition. How did we ever survive?

Camera rentals

I shot with far more gear than I would have ever purchased this year, thanks to online camera rental companies. How cool is it that you can rent lenses worth thousands of dollars for just the specific time you need them ... and sometimes spend less than $100. Next time you want to try gear that you don't really need to own, consider renting.


Photography used to be a solo sport. Not anymore. If you love to shoot and want to find others who share the same passion, go to meetup.com, enter "photography" and your zip code. Voila! Photography enthusiasts groups for just about every interest and genre. That's how I got started on this journey. I just wanted a few photography friends. I got a new career and a community of like minds. Priceless.

Me and my new friends on our very first Shutterbug Excursions Meetup in August 2008. (Photo by Steve Rosenbach)

Camera phones

You know the old adage, the best camera is the one you have on you. Now thanks to my iPhone, I know a camera is always within my grasp. Go ahead and do something silly or interesting within eye shot. It will be on Instagram and out to the rest of the world in moments. Is that a blessing or curse?


I love talking photography, and I consider it such a blessing that you have chosen to share and learn with me. I treasure your interest, attention, and friendship.

What about you? What's on your photography thanksgiving list? Share them with me in the comments.

Free Photo Webinars - focus on Darling portraits

Our Free Photo Webinar returns with a talented street portrait and people photographer, Jim Darling. Since first picking up a camera in the 1980s, Jim has always been drawn to stories of people, but it was the 100 Strangers project that nurtured this inclination.

The 100 Strangers project builds a community of photographers who meet new people, get to know them, then photograph them. Jim completed all 100 photos and created some very emotional portraits along the way. I'm looking forward to seeing some of his best and hearing his insights on the next Free Photo Webinar.

Join us on Nov. 13, at 7 pm eastern.

See Jim's work at Jim Darling Photo.

Register now

Instagram for 'serious' photographers?

Download the app at instagram.com.The photo snobs are scoffing at Instagram.

"It's debasing real photography," moans Kate Bevan, in The Guardian.

"The very basis of Instagram is... to feign talent we don't have," Rebecca Greenfield bristles in The Atlantic.

In fact, google "Instagram ruining photography" for more hate than you can stand. 

They're all missing the point. Instagram is a tool that you can use to create crap or great art... just like you can with a Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800.


What is it anyway?

Vote hair? Use Instagram to tell the stories of your day.Instagram is the ultimate shoot and share app for mobile photographers. Today they claim more than 80 million users who have uploaded 4 billion pictures. The photos keep loading at the rate of 5 million per day. 

Part of the reason for the growth is its simplicity. Take a photo, crop it to the square format, add a tint, and share your work with relevant hashtags. People can follow individuals or follow the conversation of hashtags.

Because Instagram is so easy, many users flood the site with mundane images of their lives. Just like those same people probably do in their Facebook feeds or Twitter accounts. It would be a shame to focus on them to complain about the platform. Many people also use Instagram to share creative and interesting images, participate in contests, or even communicate about their lives.

If you have... or plan to... take the leap to Instagram, many of the same principles of photography -- and mobile photography -- apply there as well.


Insta-photo principles

Keep it simple. 'Less is more' still applies with Instagram.Keep it simple - Less is more, especially when you have such little real estate. Pick one subject and a background that supports it. Remember that many people will be viewing your images on their small phone screens. Don't make them squint even more to see what you've taken.

Shoot often, share sparingly - With all apologies to Brooks Atkinson, the virtue of your mobile phone and Instagram is not the power it has to transform you into an artist, but the impulse it gives you to keep looking. And shooting. Your mobile phone camera is likely always with you, so you can always be on the lookout for great photo opportunities. Even better, you can experiment. Shoot often. Try different approaches. When you're done, be very selective of the images you share. Nobody wants to wade through 100 images a day from you. Take the best one or two and share them.

Composition carries the day - Composition will be one of your best opportunities to showcase creativity. Remember the principles from our 21-week photo challenges? Keep them in mind as you shoot with your mobile phone. Choose a clear subject. Fill the frame. Move the viewer deliberately around the frame. No filter can correct a poorly composed photo.

Tell stories  - You are likely capturing the stories of your life, so make sure your photos tell them. Take images when something is happening. Think about your hero, supporting characters and storyline. Think storytelling to shoot storytelling.

Follow and engage others - The beauty of Instagram is not just your opportunity to shoot photos but to engage with others. Find friends and others who share your artistic outlook and follow them. Get inspired from their work. Find themes or contest hashtags and join in. That's such an easy way to connect.

Give likes to receive love - We all know the Like buttons from Facebook. You'll also find them on Instagram. When you Like an image, you see a heart appear. Love. Don't be shy about sharing your support when you find other work you admire. Artists always appreciate the love, as you will when someone returns the favor.

Speaking of sharing the love...


Follow my Project 365, and I will follow your feeds as well

Follow and contribute images from my photo tours using #phototourdc

I just started using Instagram for my Project 365 approach. Follow me @lynspics365. I'm shooting daily for fun and sharing images from my photo tours using hashtag #phototourdc.

Follow along. Join in. Who cares what the photo snobs think. We're all 'serious' photographers.

Are you using Instagram? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.

Picture Equality auction offers photography for empowerment

I’d like to share an opportunity for you to see or own some incredible photography, while helping local students in the process. By the way, there's a free photo tour in it for you if you do.

Critical Exposure is hosting their 5th annual photography auction, Picture Equality: An Evening of Empowerment through Photography on Thursday, October 18, 2012 in the DLA Piper Building atrium. 

The auction features images donated by world-class, professional photographers, including Pulitzer Prize winners and contributors to National Geographic and the New York Times. You can even bid on a selection of student photos. This year's donations span from photojournalism to fine art, from social documentary to personal history, from aesthetics to activism and everything in between.

See the donated photos here.


About Critical Exposure

Critical Exposure provides low-income students the opportunity to tell their stories through photography. But they don’t stop there. They then teach the students how to use the power of their images and voices to change policies that directly affect their lives.

Over the last couple years, I've had the opportunity to see first hand the impact Critical Exposure can have. I've seen students empowered to improve their school conditions, primarily using a tool called the camera. I have witnessed the improved self esteem that results. I've even heard new career aspirations that resulted from their experiences.

Critical Exposure is making a real impact. Since their founding in 2004, Critical Exposure has worked with 1,200 students in D.C. and across the country. These students helped to secure more than $500 million to improve public schools, supported campaigns to address youth homelessness and teen pregnancy, and are now working to fix D.C.’s dropout crisis. The students were even featured on Oprah and CNN.



I’ll throw in a PhotoTour DC Gift Certificate

Support the auction, and I’ll throw in a free photo tour.

Early Bird tickets for the auction expire today. You can register here at the early bird rate of $75 through midnight tonight. After that, the individual ticket goes for the regular price of $85. If you own a business and would like to purchase a sponsorship, there are several options for that as well.

Whatever level of support you decide, send me your receipt, and I’ll credit you for a $100 PhotoTour DC gift certificate. You can use it toward any photo tour, and the unused gift certificate will not expire.

Now you can do good, and reap the benefits of your karma right away.

Register now

By the way, you can tell your friends about the opportunity to support the auction and get a free photo tour with the following link.

Click to tweet

Week 21 - Choose the framing format for dynamic effect

One of the first compositional decisions we make is often an overlooked one. You know that we begin the shooting process by deciding where to put the frame, but are you deliberate about what kind of frame you select?

For years, a standard frame format was the horizontal 3:2. Makes sense. The horizontal format is the easiest way to hold most cameras. Also, it keeps the same format of the 35 mm negative, which is 36mm x 24 mm.

Here is the Annapolis Harbor in a standard format - 4x6 horizontal. It is the size and format most viewers expect. It's a safe choice but not always the most creative.

As you develop your eye and choose the frame more deliberately, you’ll consider different options as you shoot. 

Since digital images make it so easy to crop after the fact, we can consider the 5x7, 4x5 (the 8x10) or even the 16x9 (HD video format). Many of these decisions we can make as we edit, but while we are shooting, we can still decide on horizontal vs. portrait.

Here is the Korean War Memorial opened up to a 5x7 horizontal format.

Photographing the same scene in 5x7 portrait mode, allows us to focus on just one of the faces.

The easy way to make that call is to follow the dimensions of your subject. Vertical subject? Flip the camera to portrait position. Horizontal subject? Keep the camera in the same format.

I think it's more fun to do the opposite sometimes - take horizontal subjects in portrait mode and vice versa.

The Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool can be tempting in portrait mode, but sometimes it's fun to experiment with horizontal. This is in 16x9 for effect.

The Challenge

This week let’s try different approaches. Take the same scene and shoot it in different formats -- horizontal and portrait. Experiment with different crop sizes, too. Share your favorites and tell us what influenced your decision. Be deliberate and think about these decisions before you shoot, not just after.


Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.

Week 20 - Place the horizon to emphasize foreground or sky

Before you take that landscape photo with the horizon in the lower part of the frame, stop and think about why you are doing it.

I know that the horizon in the lower third can give your photo a sense of stability, but it might not always be where you find the most dramatic composition.

What will have the greatest interest - the foreground or the sky?


In this photo of the Cherry Blossom, placing the subject in the lower third highlights a bland and boring sky. It’s an expected placement but not the most interesting on that day.

Moving the horizon to the top third of the frame highlights the foreground. In this instance, the reflections provide a little more interest than the featureless sky.

Here is a more extreme angle of the kind of sky that invites you to place the horizon very low. The threatening clouds clearly stand out as the interesting feature here.

Horizons can play a role in other types of scenes as well. When you are indoors, treat the place where the back wall and floor meet as the horizon. Even when you can’t see it, the horizon is usually implied. We all know it is out there and assume its location. Your goal is to place it where it would have the most impact not reflexively move it to the lowest part of the frame.


The Challenge

Feature a horizon in one of your photographs. Be deliberate about the placement and tell us what influenced your decision. What effect were you trying to create?


Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.


Join the Composition Challenge

Sign up to join the 21-Week Composition Challenge. Every week, I'll deliver a photo challenge by email for you to shoot and share. Learn more about it or sign up below.

Sign me up

Week 19 - Use nose room to lead the eye

First we make eye contact, then we follow the eyes. For that reason, we need nose room.

What does that mean? Here’s the internal dialog your potential viewers have when they look at a photo with a person in it. 

“Who is that?” We look at the eyes to identify and connect.

“What is he looking at?” We then move in the direction the eyes are pointed.

A compositional technique says you let that movement take you into the frame rather than out of it. We call that providing nose room.


When I took this photo of the Three Soldiers at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I placed them on the left of the frame and created open space in front of them. My viewer will make eye contact with the soldiers and then move into the frame. If the soldiers were placed on the right side, my viewers make eye contact and run into the edge of the frame. That has a very different effect.

This is a simple technique when one or two subjects are looking in the same direction, but what happens they are looking at each other?


In this case, you try to create a primary subject and secondary one. In my photo of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, my primary subject, the nurse, is looking at my secondary subject, the wounded soldier.

When you have two subjects interacting, it is always best to position yourself so one is clearly the primary. Do that by making sure we can see both eyes. We then follow her eyes to the secondary subject. If we can move our viewers deliberately around the frame, it makes for a much more pleasing experience.


The Challenge

Take a photo with a primary and secondary subject. Make it clear that one is the hero and position that person so we follow the eyes to the secondary subject.

Remember that you will have more impact if we can see both eyes of your primary subject. We’re not looking for two profiles. We want to connect with one person and then move to the second.

Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.


Join the Composition Challenge

Sign up to join the 21-Week Composition Challenge. Every week, I'll deliver a photo challenge by email for you to shoot and share. Learn more about it or sign up below.

Sign me up


Photographing History - Meet the White House Photographer

Sharon Farmer, White House director of photography during the Clinton administration.Sharon Farmer knows what it's like not only to witness history but photograph it. As director of White House photography during the Clinton-Gore administration, Sharon captured many of the enduring images of the time: the famous handshake between late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat; the First Couple watching the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery with John Glenn; and Nelson Mandela being sworn in as president of South Africa.

After the White House, she photographed John Kerry's presidential campaign. Today Farmer works as a freelancer in the Washington, DC area, photographing everything from nonprofits to the WNBA Washington Mystics.

Farmer will share her experiences as a White House photographer on our October Free Photo Webinar. Bring your questions and come ready to learn more about her life photographing history.

Register now

Recording - Composition Challenge discussion & feedback weeks 9-18

This month we reviewed the last 10 weeks of the Composition Challenges. Listen as I discuss the composition techniques we worked during Weeks 9-18, and I provide feedback on some of your submissions.

Join the Composition Challenge

Sign up to join the 21-Week Composition Challenge. Every week, I'll deliver a photo challenge by email for you to shoot and share. Learn more about it or sign up below.

Sign me up


Composition Challenge discussion & feedback - Weeks 9 - 18

We are nearing the end of our 21-Week Composition Challenge. This is our last discussion and feedback on topics we have covered, as well as your submissions. There is so much to discuss as there are about 10 weeks to review. Please bring your composition related questions.

If you have a specific question or image you would like me to discuss or provide feedback, please leave it in the comments. I'll try to get to as many as possible.

Join me:

September 11, 2012

7 pm eastern

Register now

Week 18 - Create a vanishing point

In Angela Pan’s spectacular photo of the Vietnam Wall, all lines lead to the Washington Monument, creating a photo composition technique called vanishing point.

When you create a vanishing point, all the parallel lines appear to converge in the distance. It’s a great way to show depth - a 2D image now begins to have a 3D look and feel.

This should be a simple one to create once you are aware of the effect. You are looking for multiple lines to lead the eye to the same point. In some cases, that might be infinity.

Once you’ve chosen the vanishing point, where should you place your subject? In this photo, we are led to the Washington Monument, but there are times when you can place your subject opposite the leading lines. 

Imagine someone was standing in the left of this photo, right near the camera. That person would clearly be the subject, but the vanishing point would still continue behind in the distance. Nothing wrong with that.

There are even times when the vanishing point happens outside the frame. We see the lines begin to converge, and it is implied they meet outside the borders of the image. Nothing wrong with that either. You get to decide. You are the artist.

Just in case you still have trouble visualizing the concept, I created a Flickr gallery with more examples. 


The Challenge

Create a photo where your leading lines converge at a vanishing point. You can place the subject at the vanishing point or opposite. You can even make the vanishing point outside the frame.


Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.


Join the Composition Challenge

Sign up to join the 21-Week Composition Challenge. Every week, I'll deliver a photo challenge by email for you to shoot and share. Learn more about it or sign up below.

Sign me up


Note: Angela B. Pan creates stunning HDR photography, which she showcases at www.abpan.com. She discussed how she creates her HDR images on our April 10, 2012 Free Photo Webinar.


Week 17 - Use selective focus to communicate a point

No, we aren't going to use it because it looks cool.

No, we aren't going to use it just to be artsy.

This week, we will use selective focus to communicate... to make a point.

Here is a technique all new photographers want to learn -- how to make the background blurry. It does look cool when you master it. Create a bokeh effect, and it even looks artsy. But why else might you use it?

Selective focus is a great tool to emphasize part of your frame and communicate a message. Here's an example:

I wanted to photograph the Capital Bikeshare racks in Washington, D.C. The rows of bright red bicycles with complementary yellow type make an inviting target. The repeating pattern of bicycle frames is also attractive.

Capturing both effects is great, but I also wanted to include a rider. Adding people to an image can create a new dimension. It adds life. 

I didn't want the person to be the focus of the image, however. Because we are drawn to the human form, it can easily become a distraction. 

Selective focus was the right tool, but how much blur?

In my first attempt, I used f/1.8, which totally softened the background. It was too much for my taste, as I wanted to communicate there was a person renting the bike. 

My second attempt at f/9 created too much detail in the background. I found myself looking at all the other items in the frame, as much as my subject. Distracting.

At f/4, I found my right balance. I had enough detail to communicate a person was renting a bike. I created enough of a blur to eliminate potential distractions.

Selective focus is used to separate your subject from the background. It can also be used to show just the right amount of complementary elements.

Not sure how to create selective focus? Learn about the four elements used to make blurry backgrounds in this blog post.

You can also use this helpful depth of field cheat sheet from Digital Camera World.


The Challenge

Take a photo using selective focus, but don't do it just to be artsy. That's too easy. Tell us why your choice enhanced the photo.


Share your images with us

Once you have a great photo, post it in the comments here or tag it #composition21 when you post it on Twitter or Flickr. Note: Just post the link to your photo, and the system will generate your preview icon.


Join the Composition Challenge

Sign up to join the 21-Week Composition Challenge. Every week, I'll deliver a photo challenge by email for you to shoot and share. Learn more about it or sign up below.

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