Three Stages of Composition

photo by: Don Rutledge

I learned so much from Don Rutledge, my mentor. He took this photo of an Alaskan family on the tundra welcoming a missionary they called a friend. Don was walking up with the missionary and realized this was the moment.

Why does the photo connect? Learn some of the techniques that Don Rutledge taught me in this video on the three stages of composition.

Honduras in Context

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 10000, ƒ/5, 1/100

This young Honduran teen is hanging just outside the door and watching the leader for Young Life lead the group of youth. The couple leading the Young Life program are Michael Aguilar and his wife Daniela Perez. They have only been in Honduras less than five months from Nicaragua.

I love this photo because it really symbolizes a new youth program where they have many teens peering in from outside and not sure about if they want to join or not.

I learned this technique from Don Rutledge.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 400, ƒ/6.3, 1/100

Here I am showing one of the schools that Honduras Outreach Inc built at Agalta Valley, Olancho, Honduras.  Again here I stepped back with the 14mm lens to capture the two classrooms going on simultaneously and to help the audience see how they teach in an open air building.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 500, ƒ/9, 1/100

Here I chose to shoot through a window and a door rather than just two doors. Again, I am trying to place these students in these photos in context.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 280, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

This is a photo of Ubaldo Ponce teaching how to rope cattle. He is also one of the drivers for the Honduras Outreach program.

See how I am not using a left and right composition elements to show the context but now a front to back where the cattle help show what Ubaldo is doing.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 5600, ƒ/6.3, 1/250

 While this photo is a little tighter shot it too has some context. You see the girl in the background watching the other girls at the board.  Hey I want to know is she impressed, cheating or what?

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 5600, ƒ/6.3, 1/250

 Here you can see another girl in the classroom working. I love the expression of her sounding out what she is reading. I also like the repetition of her classmates behind her in the class.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 7200, ƒ/5.6, 1/250

This little boy was sitting so still and behaving himself while we waited for more than 2 hours for a program to start. I love his expression.

Now here I didn’t give you much context in the photograph. You don’t need it in every photograph and actually that would be a problem if you did. Mix it up.

What to include or exclude in a photo

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 140, 1/100


A great place to practice your craft is in the theater. For this production of Steel Magnolias at Roswell High School I sat on the back row and for a good reason.

On the back row you are able to see the feet of the actors whereas on the front row you often find the angle has you missing their feet. Another great reason is you are able to shoot above the heads of the audience and be somewhat out the the view of the audience.

Nikon D4,  Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

You can use your long glass for more than a football game. Here I am shooting on a monopod and sitting on the back row. I am shooting zoomed in with a 600mm lens at ƒ/5.6.  You can see from the first photo to this one I am able to get pretty tight on the actors on the stage.

So do you shoot wide or tight? The answer is simple—BOTH.


The good news is the stage crew and lighting crew have taken care of just about everything for you. Here I just set the white balance to tungsten and found the correct exposure and just shot away. The lighting changes just once in the production to a darker scene, which made the color temperature a little warmer.

Nikon D4,  Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 1600, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

I prefer shooting with a cinematic approach. This is where you are thinking of filling the frame that the viewer will experience the photos, which is assuming more of the size screen in a movie theater. The size is more about proportions of 16×9 or 3×2.  You are not thinking of cropping to a square or vertical.

Nikon D4,  Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 1800, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

I choose to fill the frame of my Nikon D4. This means I am watching the frame edges to see what to include or exclude. Here in this photo I am letting the actors on either side determine the width and I am watching the curtains and the feet to be sure they have a little room. Too much higher and you see the top of the set.

Nikon D4,  Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

Now I am also thinking about what the play is all about. They are in a hair salon and when I think of this place I think of the gossip that goes on. So in this photo while I could have cropped in to just show the two on the right a lot tighter. I am letting the actress sitting and the photo up on the wall both show how this is a place for eavesdropping.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 140, 1/100

Sometimes I am including more around the edges to help establish the scene, which is inside a High School theater. I am intentionally showing the audience as they watch the production.

Nikon D4,  Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 1600, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

Now in this last photo you can see that the bottom of the photo is just including the bottom of the chair and the top is including the photos on the wall. Those photos are then proportioned left to right to again keep the full frame filled. Now if this were for a print piece I may crop a little on the left and right, but this is a great example where you make the very best you can of the composition. I tried to go tighter, but thought the bottom of the chair helped to anchor this photo much better.

Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 4000, ƒ/4.8, 1/500

I went back the second night to get some photos with the second cast of the show. I decided to shoot some of these photos with my Fuji X-E2 with the FUJINON XF 55-200mm ƒ/4.8 lens. This worked great.

Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 4000, ƒ/4.8, 1/500

Here is a small collection from the show. Can you see why I composed the shots as I did for these? Maybe you would do something different.

Great Photographers are like Great Fishermen

Alaska [photo by Don Rutledge]

Fishermen know the habits of fish and know they are creatures of habit. They work hard to be in the best spot to drop their lines to catch fish when they are biting.

There is a lot of waiting for the fishermen. I have sat for hours waiting for nibbles then all of a sudden you can catch fish as quickly as you can put the line back in the water.

This takes a lot of time for the fishermen. The photographer spends time waiting for people, however too many people live by the saying, “Be picky with who you invest your time in, wasted time is worse than wasted money.”

Dominican Republic [photo by Don Rutledge]

I think way too many and especially myself for the first few years of my career didn’t spend enough time with a subject when I had the time.

If I could boil down to one of the biggest differences between Don Rutledge and other photographers I would say his photos were better because he had more patience and worked situations longer than most anyone. He would be waiting for so long that many of the writers and people who traveled with Don would say he would just disappear into the woodwork of the room.

Oklahoma [photo by Don Rutledge]

Looking at Contact Sheets

I wish I could share with you the contact sheets of Don’s work, especially his coverage of Bailey King. I just don’t have easy access to them.

You would see situations with little variance back to back and over time, then there would be about two or three really nice images, then maybe a frame or two more then Don would move onto a new situation.

The difference between Don’s contact sheets and everyone else is how consistently Don would stay with subjects and then have an outstanding shot. You could almost just look at the last 3 to 5 images in a series and consistently pick a winner.

Today I watch many photographers relying on their LCD on the back of the camera. They look and if they think they got the photo they move on.

Brazil [photo by Don Rutledge]

Don would ask me when he saw some photos and I moved on to a new situation what I saw and why did I start taking those photos. What is it you saw that you were trying to capture? Then he would ask why didn’t you stay longer with the situation.

Over and over I watched Don review photographer’s contact sheets and the constant theme I heard over and over you need to stay longer on the subject and let it happen. If you felt like you saw something you will most likely see it again.

Creatures of Habit

People are like all animals we are creatures of habit. Dave Black knows this all to well with professional athletes that they work so hard and being a creature of habit that they will go through the same routine over and over. So he would study tapes of athletes so he could anticipate their actions.

Don Rutledge [photo by Ken Touchton]

Don wanted to do a better job of capturing moments so he studied other photographers to see what tips he could pick up. It was common for Don to call up a newspaper and ask if he could ride along with some of the photographers while they were working.

While Don picked up some tips he was also surprised at how many times photographers rushed through assignments. One time they were covering a factory when the president asked if they would like a tour to see how they make their product. Don wanted to go on the tour, but the photographer he was shadowing didn’t want to stay. They left the place so the photographer could go and sit at a restaurant and drink a cup of coffee.

When Don told me this story he went on to tell me this happens more often than he could remember.

The other day Mark Sandlin and I were catching up on memories of Don when this tidbit about Don came up. Mark pretty much talked about the same memories, but they were his of Don.

Maybe the one key thing that Don did better than everyone else was spend time with his subjects long enough to really get to know them and long enough to then capture those moments that encapsulated the person. He was so good at capturing a person’s character in a photograph.

The other thing that happens when you wait like a fisherman for a great photo—your compositions are stronger. You compose and wait for the characters to be the creatures of habit. You are able to anticipate just like the fishermen.

Maybe this is why so many fishermen enjoy certain fishing spots—they too become like a composition.

France [photo by Don Rutledge]

“What you invest your time in defines who you are,” said noted author & speaker Todd Duncan.

Don Rutledge spent his life investing into subjects with his camera telling their stories. His photos changed people’s lives. Many readers of the stories he produced would feel a call to help those in the stories and people like them. The photos also blessed the subjects of the stories by changing their lives forever.

Don’s investment in people changed their lives for the better.

Depth-of-field is more than Aperture

[Photo 1] Egypt—Missionary Mike Edens (left) worked closely with Egyptian Baptist pastors trying to enhance their discipleship and pastoral ministries. These pastors—(left to right) Mikhail Shehata Ghaly and Anwar Dakdouk—took MasterLife discipleship training in Cyprus during 1984. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Technically Depth-of-field—is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.

Don Rutledge

I have never met a photographer who understood more about packing more into a frame to tell a story than Don Rutledge.

The reason is it takes a lot more ability to take a photo of what appears to be clutter and compose it in such a way that you capture a story than it does to isolate by either getting closer or zooming in and isolating a subject.

What Don Rutledge taught me and yet I still haven’t begun to execute it as well as he did was to use the environment around the subject to provide context and tell a better story.

He taught me to spend time with a person before I take a photo of them. Spend time getting to know their story, this way once you know them you start to see things around them and their body language that help inform the audience through visual clues as to who the subject is as a person and how they interact with people in their world.

[Photo 2] Cincinnati, Ohio, 1968: Children with a trophy of the streets. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Don taught many photographers not to just watch the edges of the photograph but pay attention to the “Depth-of-field” when making the photograph. He wanted to use the thing in the foreground and background more than any other photographer I knew to help tell the story.

In Photo 1 you can see down the street and around the men as they walk down the street in Egypt. While most everyone is laughing as if a joke was just told—notice the woman just behind the men. Her expression tells another story.

I can picture this woman being similar to the woman in Matthew 9:20, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned—caught her at it.

She is not apart of the men’s group but has an interest in them.

In Photo 2 you see not just the rat being held by the boy but his friend and the place of their discovery. His friends body language adds so much to the context as does the alley where they found it.

[Photo 3] This is early morning in Mississippi for Luvenia and Bailey King. King sleeps as his wife puts breakfast on the table. [photo by Don Rutledge]

To get this type of “Depth-of-field” Don invested time with his subjects. In 1979 Don spent a month living with the King family in Mississippi. He added just enough money to the family budget to not add any financial stress on the family, but also not to change their living standards so he could cover what it was like living below the poverty line in America.

This photo [Photo 3] became a favorite photo of many from the story. The photo captures Bailey King and shows how thin he is and how hard his wife also worked to provide for the family. It is not a photo just about Bailey, but his wife as well Luvenia.

[Photo 4] Appalachian migrant family in Ohio during 1968. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Here in Photo 4 you can see a father who is obviously concerned and then you see his children in the background. The children are like all children and pull the viewer into the story of a migrant worker who will travel wherever finding work to provide for their family. Many photographers would crop just above the father’s head and left out the boy in the window. The reason is they most likely would not have seen the boy.

Don had a patience about him that let him truly be in the moment. He could see things that most missed. I think Don really and truly had more empathy for his subjects than just about any other photographer I have known.

[Photo 5] Africa—Sally Jones (white coat) felt emotions well up inside as she shared this moment with concerned mothers at the Southern Baptist feeding and health care center’s clinic in Ethiopia.

Many photographers might crop in much tighter on Sally Jones in Photo 5 here. Don goes wide and gets really close to be sure you see her expression. I remember often seeing the contact sheets of moments like this when Don was editing. He would show me the moment before and after where sometimes the lady in the background was only there for one of maybe 10 frames. She adds so much by helping pull you to the background after you have already seen Sally. There are more mothers outside is what this helps to convey.

[Photo 6] Israel—Missionary kid Sommer Hicks plays on the rocks of the sea of Galilee with her dad, Ray Hicks, in the background. [Don Rutledge]

So often photographers get so focused on the main subject they forget that those around the subject can sometimes give us insights into them. Here we get a glimpse of how normal life is for Ray Hicks in Photo 6 when we see how much fun his daughter is having at the sea of Galilee. Don shot it in a way to bring Ray into the photo and give a context that Don did so well time and time again.

Please take a look how often Don uses depth in his photos to tell stories. Here are two coverages of Russia that Don did in the 1980s. Don shot these for a magazine which would only use on average maybe 8 to 12 photos, but look at the true depth of his coverage. I remember seeing these coverages up on so many light tables and Dan Beatty commenting on how he could tell so many stories whenever Don returned.

Photographers love the triangle and for good reason

Rembrandt Lighting

Rembrandt is generally considered one of the greatest painters. Rembrandt lighting is characterized by an illuminated triangle under the eye of the subject on the less illuminated side of the face.

If you want to learn more about how to achieve this look then read my earlier blog post where I show some the student’s work from a workshop I did in Kona, Hawaii with the School of Photography at Youth With A Mission here.

Create Triangle with Off Camera Flash

Another triangle used by professional photographers is the triangle created between the camera, subject and flash.

Here you can see the simple setup I used for the photo above. The sun was behind the clouds. I caught this photo just in between showers. The flash also helped give that needed pop on an overcast day.

Create Triangle with Subject

One other way the triangle is used in photography is in subject placement within a frame. Putting subjects in a group photo in triangles creates a pleasing composition.

Create Triangle with Gear

To make your camera stable we also use a triangle. Three legs to our tripods and light stands create very stable platform for our camera and light stands.

May the triangle be ever present in your photographs: from lighting, composition and support.

Composition Tips from world renowned photojournalist Don Rutledge

Don Rutledge took this in 1967 inside the Arctic Circle. People are so comfortable with Don that he is able to be apart of the woodwork.

This is my favorite photo that Don Rutledge took. I have enjoyed seeing the world approximately 150+ countries and all of the United States without ever leaving my own home.  Most of the traveling was done with the help of The Commission Magazine and Missions USA.  Both of the magazines have won some of the highest awards in the country.  The Commission Magazine has placed third in magazines in the “Pictures of The Year” contest sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association in 1989 and 1990. CommissionStories a newer version of the magazine just won as Finalist for Magazine division of the Pictures of the Year contest behind National Geographic Magazine for 2014. Missions USA has earned similar awards.  These Southern Baptist magazines are in a league with National Geographic and Life Magazine for their photography and design.

The reason for their success can be tied greatly to Don Rutledge.  Prior to coming to work for these religious magazines Don was one of the staff photographers for the elite photography agency Black Star. During the 1950s until 1980s if you were to look for the credits of the photographers in the major magazines you would find Black Star the agency that handled getting their work published.

The shoeshine man had to be told by Don that John Howard Griffin was white and not black.  He could hardly believe that this man was really white. [by Don Rutledge]

One of the biggest news stories, which Don covered, was following and documenting John Howard Griffin who transformed himself with drugs and makeup from a white man into a black man. He would later write about his experience as a black man in the book Black Like Me.

“Don discovered these two youngsters who proudly displayed the results of their morning hunt.  In that section of Cincinnati, rats were not particularly difficult quarry to locate.” [Walker Knight, See How Love Works]

Don’s story is really a series of stories. Using the storytelling model I introduced in the last blog here is a short story of Don.

Don Rutledge knew he loved to take photos and looked and noticed the Black Star agency in all the magazines. He wanted to learn more and work for them. He contacted Howard Chapnick, the president of Black Star.

Howard asked for a portfolio, but Don didn’t have one. So Don pitched story ideas which Howard liked. Howard pitched these to his clients and told Don one was interested. Before Howard had a deal Don had already shot the story and sent it to Howard.

Howard wrote back and told Don his mistake and also told him what was wrong or missing from that coverage. Don went ahead and went back and filled in those holes in the story and sent it to Black Star.

The client loved the package and requested Don for more coverages.

Volunteer Mike Edens taught these two pastors Mikhail Shehata Ghaly and Anwar Dakdouk MasterLife Discipleship training in Cyprus during 1984.  [photo by Don Rutledge]

When I got the chance to work with Don I jumped at it. This was for me the Luke Skywalker and Yoda opportunity for me.

Within the Frame

One of the lessons I learned from Don was to scan the edges of the frame. Make the most of the entire frame from edge to edge and from front to back.

If you look at the photos I have posted so far of Don’s pay attention to two things: First how the edges include details and do not make sloppy by cutting off legs or other things in the frame. Second see how much layering is from front to back in all these photos.

Do you see all six people in the photo of the Eskimo family in the first photo. Notice how these are all over and Don has introduced the family, the social status and where they live in that one photo. He also has captured the excitement and happiness that they experience.

Take each photo and notice the edges and how people are anchoring the photos. Their feet are included, but not too much. The people are placed in context with the environment. The environment tells you a little about the people. The expressions of them show how much they love life.

Notice that had Don cropped in tighter to the shoeshine man and Howard Griffin you would not know he was a shoeshine man. You need the shoe polish and the foot rest to help tell the story.

In all these photos there is also just a little tension. Each photo has the reader asking some questions. The photos make you want to know more about each situation.

In the Philippines families cluster together for meal. [photo by Don Rutledge]

One trick Don used often was just including a sliver of light just to see beyond the initial scene. With the Eskimo family it is the tundra to the right. With the family in the Philippines it is the door and the floor that give you a sense of there is stuff beyond them. The photo of the men walking in Cyprus you can see beyond them the man walking away.

Notice in all these photos you have a sense of a problem facing the characters. The boys holding the rat is probably the most obvious, but each one you can feel the tension. You can also sense a victory over their situations.

Surgeon Tim Pennell was able to get five of his colleagues from Bowman Gray School of Medicine to commit weeks of vacation time and thousands of dollars to meet their Chinese counterparts. [photo by Don Rutledge]

Editors and presidents of organizations sought out Don to help tell their stories. They saw in Don’s photos more than just a pleasing photo—they saw that Don was capturing the inner souls of people in ways others just didn’t.

Don captured moments. President of the Foreign Mission Board Keith Parks said,

Although Don took hundreds of pictures, I hardly noticed because he did it in such an unobtrusive way.  When he put it all together he had really caught the highlights of the meeting and the impact that he wanted.  I just think that he is a first rate fellow from every measurement professional.  Of course, he can and does meet the highest standards of the secular world, and yet his deep spiritual commitment has caused him to give himself to the spiritual cause he believes rather than selling his skills to the highest bidder.  I just think that quality and character come through in his pictures.

Dan Beatty, the design editor of The Commission Magazine commented,

Don is the one person who has completely influenced the direction of the magazine. Before Don came we knew that there was a certain way we wanted to present the missions material in the magazine.  None of us had a firm grasp on what direction we should go to achieve our goals.  Don really provided the direction for us to go.  Don never expressed any strong feelings about—in a critique type way—on the magazine.  Just Don’s presence and constant example of someone who always strives for the best is what guided us along. He was constantly putting us into contact with different individuals in the field of photojournalism and layout and design.  He felt these would be good influences on the magazine or influences that would help us along the road where we wanted to be with the publication.

I would not be doing what I am doing, at the level I am doing it if it hadn’t been for Don. He is an example of consistency and integrity in a field where that is not always a constant with the different people that I’ve met.  He represented something that I wanted to achieve myself.  He has been the biggest influence that I can think of on me personally and the different photographers that I have worked with along with Don.  The thing that impressed me most with Don is his sensitivity and his regard for human beings.  I think that is what made him the asset that Dr. Parks was looking for in communicating about Foreign Missions to Southern Baptist and other people as well.  The dignity of the human being no matter what the situation is so very important to Don.  To me that is the real strength of Don’s work.  


Don Rutledge spent his career photographing more than 150 countries and all 50 states.  He was published almost every single month of his career in magazines. Few photojournalists were more published on a regular basis in magazines more than Don. He died February 19, 2013 at the age of 82.

Dissecting a photograph

Photo #1

I wanted to walk you through a few photos and let you see what I think makes the photos work.

In photo #1 there are a few things that I think help make this photo work. Here is a quick bullet list of things that I think help make this work.

Rule-of-thirds—The man gesturing is on the right top thirds
Good use of Light—The light is coming onto their faces and brightest where the two men are in the photo
Gesture—The mans gesture helps you know that he is talking to the man next to him. also the little girl’s finger under her nose shows possible sniffles. The little girls eyes also redirect you back to the man gesturing
Shallow Depth-of-field [DOF]—The photo drops off in sharpness as you go back into the photo. This helps keep your attention towards the front to the man

Photo #2
I really like this image of the ladies talking. Who can’t resist good “Window Light?” The rule-of-thirds is also working here. Shallow DOF keeps your attention on the lady listening. Catchlights in the eyes give life to her expressions. The hands communicate tension. I feel like she is dealing with some stress due to the position of the hands. With her head leaning on the wall I also feel like she is relaxed and comfortable with this other lady. The other lady is slightly taller and her body position and the lady listening to her communicates some authority.
Photo #3

Street photography is a lot of grab shots. Here the wall is helping communicate the neighborhood where this young boy lives. You can tell that education is important due to the signage. The little boy is relaxed in his body posture.

The photographer has a lot of space behind the boy and very little in front. This helps create the tension that the future isn’t as hopeful. The boys expression is questioning and wondering who this photographer is and thus communicates to an audience a little tension. The color palette is simple yet the colors communicate Caribbean.

Photo #4

Photo #4 is of NBC news reporter Robert Hager covering a tornado disaster. Here the DOF is increased to be sure the viewer looks towards the debris in the background. You can tell Hagar is waiting to go on the air and talk about the situation.

This is where the elements of the videographer and his gear helps tell the story and is in essence helping to frame Robert Hager and the destruction.

Photo #5
In this photo #5 the subject is dead center, please pardon how this sounds, but this is why I put the subject in the center. This is normally what you want to avoid, but here it helps create even more tension. The edges of the photo are trying to contain everyone in the photo. The lack of color around the photo and then with the American flag center helps to really make it pop and draw the audience’s attention.
Photo #6
Here the photo #6 is using color to help create interest and set the mood. the light is off too the side and lets the viewer see the design of the lamp post.
Photo #7
Using Rule-of-Thirds helped with the composition in photo #7. Also using a shallow DOF the eye goes to the sharpest part of the photo which is the guys face. Here the expression of the man and the man he is looking at keep you going back to the obvious friendship here between the two guys.
Photo #8

The light on the video camera in photo #8 helps start the eye looking and then you look for where the it is pointed. Also all the cameras on the left are helping to direct the eye to the right and the guys holding the trophy.  Here the photographer has moved as close as possible and basically trying to contain everything in the frame.

Can you break down each of your photos? Take a moment today and really study not just your photos but those photos that catch your attention. Break them down so that later you can use some of those techniques in your photos.

Christmas Trees and Cameras have something in common

Fuji X E2 with the 18-55mm on a ProMaster XC525 Tripod

Both Christmas trees and cameras do better with tripods that support them and hold them steady.

Now for the past few weeks I have been testing the Fujifilm X E2 camera. Lately I was taking Christmas tree ornaments and enjoying using the Wifi to help upload the JPEGs quickly through my iPad using the Camera App you can download.

I also was taking portraits which I posted on the blog earlier. What I noticed right away was my pictures were not as sharp with the Christmas tree ornaments as compared to the studio. Well of course the ƒ-stop was greater, but really the sharpness issue was with camera motion.

Sure the Fuji camera has vibration reduction, but even when this is flawless a camera on a tripod cannot be beaten.

ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/35

Once I started taking photos with a good tripod the photos looked so much better.  It wasn’t camera error, it was operator error that was causing my photos to not appear as sharp as they could.

ISO 6400, ƒ/7.1, 1/10

The other thing I was able to do by shooting on a tripod was vary my depth-of-field since the camera movement at a slower ƒ-stop wouldn’t affect the sharpness of the photos.

ISO 6400, ƒ/7.1, 1/9

ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/30

While the photos were definitely sharper there is another benefit with shooting on a tripod, composition.

While these photos don’t win a pulitzer for composition, I was able to keep the camera still, which is hard to do when you are focusing as close as the camera will do on such small ornaments.

ISO 6400, ƒ/10, 1/7

Some of the ornaments like this of Snow White were tricky to shoot if you shot them wide open and that would be ƒ/4 on this camera and lens. I stopped the lens down to ƒ/10. How did I know that is what I wanted?

Fuji X E2 Feature Bonus

On the Fuji X E2 when you push the shutter release half way down the camera aperture closes to the setting you have and the viewfinder automatically adjusts in brightness so you can see your depth-of-field as it will look when you take the photo. On a traditional DSLR you have to wait for your eye to adjust to see the DOF. This is one of the really cool things about this new camera.

Now all these photos are using the existing light in the room, which was primarily the lights on the tree. By getting so close on all the ornaments the depth of field was pretty shallow and helped to pop them out from the tree and the background was cleaned up in the process.

My suggestion for any photographer who has a Christmas tree and a tripod is to take time and record some of your ornaments and maybe just post them to your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest account.  I have gotten more comments about these than many other posts I have done.

Maybe the reason is the ornaments is something many of us collect and understand.

At our house you are just as likely to see The Citadel ornaments, photography ornaments in addition to what the season is all about, those that remind us of Jesus.

Go get your tripod and let it slow you down this season to take the time to remember the reason for the season.

What to include or leave out of a photo

Nikon D2X, 70-200mm, ISO 100,  ƒ/20, 1/8 Tripod Used

I really enjoy photographing science and technology. When I go into a lab I am often having to create the photo.

Lighting Diagram

In these photos we were wanting to show the tools this manufacturer makes to help with clear retainers. The difficulty in the photo was to show the blue flame to heat up the tools so they can make adjustments to the clear plastic retainers. This is why I used a tripod to keep the camera still during the 1/8 shutter speed exposure.

I used a soft box to light the subject and tools. I used a separate light with a blue gel for the background.

The elements that I included was the square plastic which was used to make the retainer the technician is holding. I have included the different trimming tools and the Dental Burner used to heat the tools.

Nikon D2X, 70-200mm, ISO 100,  ƒ/20, 1/8 Tripod Used

I also gave the client another version without the technicians face and the background light was turned off. I had the plastic square placed to help separate the clear retainer from the background.

Every type of photo should cause the photographer to think about what to include and exclude in a photograph. You can do this by moving around the subject, your lens choice and how close or far away you choose to be from the subject.

What needs to be in the photo?  You should always be asking this question and being sure your composition helps to guide the audience to the important parts in the photo.