Posts Tagged ‘spring’

Mastering Composition – Rule of Thirds

February 22nd, 2014

The Rule of Thirds is a compositional principle that is widely used. And for good reason because, well, it works.  At least, it works in a lot of situations.

What is the Rule of Thirds? You superimpose a tic-tac-toe grid on your image, two vertical lines equally spaced and two horizontal lines equally spaced. Then you place the key elements of your image on or near those lines, or at one of their intersections.  They don’t have to be exactly on the lines or intersections, just near them.  This is art, not engineering, so it’s important that it feels right.  But the Rule of Thirds gives us positions that are visually very strong and command the viewer’s attention.  That’s why you want to use this principle for the key elements of your composition, the elements you want to draw the viewer’s eye to.


One should be cautious in overusing the Rule of Thirds. It should not be applied mechanically and certainly not universally.  It does not apply to all compositions.  After all, aren’t our ‘Rules’ of composition made to be broken?  But on the other hand, sometimes a composition gets just a little bit stronger when you move the key element just a tiny bit to place it closer to or right on a 1/3rd line.

The fact is it works so well in so many situations that the camera manufacturers give us the ability to display the grid on our camera’s LCD screens and viewfinders. Also, software publishers like Adobe display the grid when we use the crop tool. This is true of Elements, Lightroom and Photoshop. And these aids can be very helpful in achieving strong compositions.

Why does the Rule of Thirds work so well? To answer that let’s talk about Visual Tension.

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2013 Death Valley Workshop

February 21st, 2013

Wow, the Death Valley photography workshop was great. We had a terrific bunch of participants and good weather.

Zabriskie point is always a highlight for me and my enthusiasm for it rubbed off. Some of the other highlights were Mosaic Canyon, Devils Corn Field – at night, Aguereberry Point and Cotton Ball Marsh. Some of these were first time visits.

Another first was breakfast at the Furnace Creek Inn, a new tradition I do believe.

There’s so much more to see and do than anyone can possibly cover in three days but just being there is a joy. And, two coyotes greeted me on the way in. I was wondering if they would be there on the way out and sure enough. They said farewell as I departed.

I’ll be back next year. Come join me.

Ralph Nordstrom Photography Workshops


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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3 (Part 2)–Bodie

June 15th, 2011

Well, the third leg was so exciting and so filled with beautiful locations that its account had to be divided into two parts.  So we pick up after sunrise at Mono Lake and continue on with the wonderful ghost town of Bodie, California.

If you missed the first thee posts here they are.

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 1 – Lone Pine

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2 – Bishop

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3 – Lee Vining

Bodie is a fascinating place on several levels.  It is one of the best preserved examples of a boom town, supported in grandeur between 1877 and 1880 by the gold that was extracted from its mines.  Many of the buildings are still standing although considering that at its heyday there were around 2000 buildings that housed a rip roaring population of about 5000 to 7000, the several score of buildings that are left is rather small.

And yet, walking along its streets it’s easy to let your imagination run wild and guess what it might have been like to live there.

This was a wonderful day to visit Bodie.  The parking lot was surprisingly empty except for two big yellow school busses up from Mammoth.  The 4th graders were having a field trip as part of their studies of California history.  And boy, what a field trip that must have been.

I’ve never had so much fun photographing Bodie as on this day.  So I think I’ll just let the  photographs speak from themselves and present them without further comment.


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And finally as we retraced our steps back down Cottonwood Canyon a farewell party met us to send us safely on our way.


So that’s it.  Not long after this last photograph was captured I found myself unwinding the week that had just passed as I returned down highway 395 towards home.  As I left Lee Vining and passed through Mammoth, Bishop, Big Pine, Independence and finally Lone Pine wonderful memories came over me like passing through a dreamy fog.  I felt a sense of both gratitude sadness, gratitude that we had been so fortunate to have such wonderful light and sad that it must come to an end.

But my family was waiting for me 300 miles away and I was ready and eager to see them again, share my experiences with them and catch up on what I had missed while I was away.

If you know of someone who might enjoy this account please feel free to pass this post along.  There is a Share button at the top of the post for that purpose.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3–Lee Vining

June 15th, 2011

With two wonderful and highly successful legs already completed we left Bishop and headed further north.  Our travel day was a big day for photography with a lot of very exciting stops planned.

But before heading out, here are the links to the first two legs in case you missed them.

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 1 – Lone Pine

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2 – Bishop

For our sunrise shoot I had planned to photograph the snow clad mountains from the Alkali Ponds just north of Lake Crowley.  It was going to be a 45 minute drive and we wanted to arrive at 5:00 so you can do the math.

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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2–Bishop

June 11th, 2011

After a great few days in Lone Pine (click here to read about them) we headed north to Bishop.

We were following the weather north. “What is he talking about?” For the three days we spent in Lone Pine the great weather – magical clouds, wind and rain – was on top of us and extended north from there. This made for some exhilarating photography. But when the weather petered out in Lone Pine and moved farther north, that was when we were planning on heading north anyway. So we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions.

Now Bishop is the “big city” in the Owens Valley with a population of nearly 4000.  One of the main attractions for landscape photographers is the Mountain Light Gallery.  This is Galen and Barbara Rowell’s gallery and a kind of Mecca for nature photographers.

There are a number of really interesting places to photograph around Bishop.

For example, once we got settled in to our hotel rooms we headed north of town to photograph the Owens River.  It still runs free in the Bishop area; that is, LA hasn’t diverted most of the water into the California Aqueduct.  We drove out the Five Bridges Road off of US 6 to where it crosses the river.  We got out and walked to the west along the river bank.  The river runs through an open pasture with grazing cattle so you need to be careful where you step.  But between the fishermen that frequent the river and the cattle, there are plenty of good trails.


The sunset was happing to the north so we found a location to shoot from that had a bit of a reflection of the clouds in the water.  The river comes around a sharp bend here, almost 180 degrees, so there is a lot of upwelling of the water that creates a constantly changing texture on the surface.  This was where I knelt down on the muddy bank to get the camera low to the water and maximize the reflection.  It was only after shooting for a while that I noticed the smell – cow pee.  Well, you do what you have to do to get the shot – right?

Above Bishop in the Sierra are three lakes you can drive to – North Lake, Lake Sabrina and South Lake.  The plan for the following morning was to drive up to North Lake for sunrise.  We got up at 3:00 AM to make the drive up.  But when we got there the road was still closed.  Spring is coming really late to the Sierra this year and the snow melt hasn’t really gotten underway yet.  That was a disappointment because North Lake is exquisite and they drain Lake Sabrina and South Lake during the winter so that when the spring melt does come the lakes have enough capacity to hold the runoff.  Otherwise there would be uncontrolled flooding downstream.  But that means there are no photographic opportunities at either of those lakes.

But there is a really excellent plan B in the area – the South Fork of Bishop Creek.  You could tell from the aspens that grow in groves along the creek where spring was.  At the high elevations of South Lake the aspens hadn’t started to bud yet.  But as we traveled down the creek to increasingly lower elevations we first noticed buds, then sprouts and then full blown leaves.


The place along the road where we stopped to photograph was where the aspens and willows both were just in the sprouting stage.  We photographed the mountain side in open shade which combined with the fresh green and red colors of the emerging aspen and willow leaves to produce a very soft, delicate effect.  This is what keeps pulling be back to the Sierra at this time of year.

From Bishop we’re about an hour and a half drive from the ancient bristlecone pines.  These are the oldest living trees on the planet.  It is a humbling experience to even be in their presence.  You realize that not only have countless generations of humans come and gone in their 4500+ years of existence but entire civilizations and empires have done the same.

But this year we couldn’t get to the bristlecones, again because of the late spring.  The road was not open to my favorite tree.  But along the part of the road that was open is a magnificent viewpoint that looks across the Owens Valley to one of the most rugged sections of the Sierra Crest – the Palisades.  So with thunder storms all around we drove up there to experience this view under some truly remarkable conditions.


While the weather conditions were really exciting, this is still a difficult shot because of the great distances involved.  So I rendered the photographs in black and white to fully emphasize the incredible excitement and power we felt as we watched the weather unfold.


The folks fortunate enough to live in the Eastern Sierra talk about God Beams or God Light.  Well, as you can see they were streaming down all around Mount Tom and the town of Bishop.  You know, you’re up there and see this kind of light go on for literally hours and you get kinda giddy.  It’s difficult to put the excitement and joy you feel into words.

Shortly after the 8:15 sunset we headed back to the hotel in Bishop.  It was close to 10:00 when we got back to our rooms – a very long day.  And the following morning was going to be another 3:00 AM wake up call.  But you really don’t mind.  The energy you get from being in these beautiful places keeps you going.  You can always sleep when you get home.

There’s one more leg to our workshop, the Lee Vining, Mono Lake leg that I’ll share with you in the next post.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 1–Lone Pine

June 7th, 2011

No matter how many times you repeat to yourself, “Bad weather makes for great photography,” it’s always a bit disconcerting to be checking out the skies the day before the workshop is scheduled to begin and see solid high clouds with nary a speck of blue in sight.  And the wind’s picking up.  And checking the Weather Underground website shows more clouds moving in from the west!

So, yes, the prospect of striking out seemed very real.

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Latourell Falls

August 26th, 2008

Latourell Falls is one of many falls along the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.  It is particularly beautiful because it takes a long slender down a spectacular basalt cliff.  I was shooting up there over the Memorial Day weekend and have these three different views of the falls to share.  Each is distinct and carrys its own unique message.  Enjoy

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