B&H Optic 2016: Essentials of Creative Composition in Landscape Photography-Video

Creative composition is a topic I’m really passionate about, and I was honored and grateful to have been invited to speak about it at the B&H Optic 2016 Conference a few weeks ago. Here’s the video recording of my presentation – enjoy. Also, be sure to check out the other videos from the amazing list of speakers at the conference, including Michael Kenna and John Paul Caponigro.

Feel free to leave your feedback or questions below!

Watch on youtube

The Best Way To Be Original

During my recent presentation at the B&H Photo Optic 2016 conference, I spoke briefly about the role of originality in composition. While they are deeply related, I think there are many difficult creative obstacles that can arise if originality becomes your sole focus.

Artists throughout the ages have always had to consider originality and how to somehow embody that in their own work. Yet here we are in a creative field that has existed for over 180 years, and I recently heard that more images are made every day than were made in the first 75 years of photography’s existence.

People have been making lots of photographs for a long time. Making uniquely original images will be incredibly difficult if not impossible depending on how much time you can devote to being in the field. It’s also an easy way to add lots of pressure to an activity that by definition necessitates open mindedness, and an absence of self-criticism and judgement.

Working with that kind of pressure, consciously or subconsciously, is a sure way to inhibit creativity and motivation.

If you study great artists from the past and how they made their work, you’ll learn they weren’t much different from you and I when they got started, and many struggled all their lives with the same voices of fear, insecurity, and doubt we all have. They all traveled the same path that we find ourselves on, and there are no shortcuts.

My experiences in music and photography have taught me that the most important thing to strive for is not originality, but authenticity and sincerity. Originality is a moving target that is elusive and comes from a sustained creative habit that values consistent work. Sure, being original is one of arts highest achievements, but we are equally moved by the authentic voice.

We resonate with those things that we relate to, that move us emotionally. That may or may not be original, but we can feel when an artist is being themselves, in the most vulnerable way.

Don’t try to be original simply to be different. That doesn’t respect or honor your intent or your voice. The tools are there for a purpose – to allow you to say what you want to say effectively and clearly. The end result is what matters, and if convention is what works best for your purposes, then so be it – there is nothing wrong with that.

“Just say what you want to say then, and say it with all of your heart. Share whatever you are driven to share. If it’s authentic enough, believe me – it will feel original.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, The Big Magic

What we need in my opinion, are people more willing to commit to their personal vision, instead of popularity metrics or Flickr likes.

Authenticity is key to that. It provides the path that leads to your own voice, and that is something that will be original because there is only one of you, just as there is only one of me. Take advantage of of your uniqueness and show us what really moves you. That is the only originality you need.

My Upcoming Presentation on Creative Composition at B&H Optic 2016

OPTIC TypeJust an update to let you know that I am very honored and grateful to be a presenter at this years Optic 2016 Photography Conference given by B&H Photo in NYC. I’ll be giving a talk on Creative Composition in Landscape Photography where I’ll discuss my approach to composition and how I’ve been influenced by music and art in general.

When I saw the list of names of the other photographers that will be speaking, I was definitely intimidated to say the least. As with any challenge, fear is always an obstacle. But this is also the perfect opportunity to realize that fear is mostly a mental construct, and we can get past it when we put our focus on the right things; the things within our control. Now I just have to put my words into practice 🙂

It will also be live streamed, so be sure to check the B8H website for the specific link.

Photo Journal: Lower Courthouse Reflection, Utah


Canon 5DS R |  f/14@1/30 sec, ISO 100, 29mm, no filters

I’ve been a bit quiet here on the blog for a few reasons, mainly because of a busy travel schedule. I’m currently in Moab, Utah for the upcoming Arches and Canyonlands workshop, just days after a ten day trip to northern Italy with my family. That was mostly a personal trip but I did manage to capture a few interesting images which I will post soon.

Another reason is simply a lack of time due to several projects I’m working on. But no worries, I am very much committed to the blog and sharing as much as possible in hopes that if helps you in your creative pursuits.

I wanted to share an image I captured a few days ago while hiking in one of the lesser known areas of Arches. It was late in the evening and I didn’t think I would have any opportunities to make the kind of image I had in mind. I didn’t start the hike with a specific image in mind, that’s something that develops as I respond to what I see. In fact I wouldn’t even want to start with a pre-visualization because I think that inhibits your potential connection to what’s actually happening in nature.

Lets not forget, Ansel Adams talked about “visualization,” which means that in real time he formed in his mind a picture of what he saw and felt. That’s a dynamic and fluid situation that keeps you engaged with nature. Where is the light at every instant? How is if affecting the tonality, highlights and shadows, and most importantly your internal dialogue?

So as I thought about where I was and how I felt, I imagined an image that felt cool and dark, yet had something that captured the beauty I saw and the gratitude I had for opportunity to experience it yet again. But it was simply too dark and the contrast too extreme to make an image of the interior of the canyon and the golden light hitting the walls above. That’s when I came across this pool of water and wondered if I might have enough of a reflection to “fill” the foreground with the same warmth and light above.

I got my tripod fairly low to the ground and worked the composition for what seemed like too long of a time considering the light was slowly disappearing as it moved up the canyon walls. As I looked through the viewfinder, I realized it was important to keep the entire reflection of the tall rock intact, and also important to get a sharp silhouette of the trees on the right. I didn’t want to retain shadow detail, I just wanted the shapes because the it’s the blue sky in the reflection that adds the contrast, the “cool” element I mentioned before. It keeps the feeling of being inside of a canyon, which felt cool. Too much detail in the reflection or the canyon background and the image becomes too busy, less clear.

When I first edited the image in Lightroom, I thought I wanted to lighten the foreground, but I found it moved away from the feel I wanted the image to have. So I tried darkening it even further and that made the silhouettes more effective, and the blue color of the sky darker and richer. A little bit of highlight recovery for the brightest part of the sky and I was basically done. I must admit I was tempted to lighten some of the trees and other foreground elements, but every time I did, it moved away from the image I had in mind.

It’s so tempting to repeat the things that have worked in the past, or to follow conventional ways of capturing and processing our images. But as I always tell my students (as a way of reminding myself), use your eyes. Look at the image on your monitor and decide if it resonates with you, never mind what the controls or camera settings are.

There are no formulas, no presets, and no guarantees in creative photography. The only thing you can be confident in is your emotional connection to the subject. Then you try again, and again, and again.