The Rule of Odds and Using a Border

I wrote about the rule of odds. Which is to use odd number of things such as 3 rocks rather than two, or 5 puppies rather than 4 if possible.

Here is a very nice example of three mushrooms that seem to work.  What do you think?

We Love You Little One

Blog_rule of odds and no border vs

If I kept the two large mushrooms, it would work but would not be as effective.

It maybe a little hard to see, here is the same shot only with a simple black border and key line to help keep the eye focused on the mushrooms.  A simple matte can sometimes be the difference between an average photo and a winning photo.  I usually try both ways and then make a decision. It also depends on who is going to judge the photo.  If it is a bird shot and i submit it to a bird association, I most likely will not use a border. They want it natural.  If I am submitting to a fine art competition, I may consider a border.

We Love You Little One- with border and key line

Blog_rule of odds with border vs no border

I submitted this photo as a macro shot with the border and key line.  I should know how it did after February 10th.

Adding a Good Foreground to Landscape Photos

Landscapes are the toughest photos for me to get right.  Recently, I decided I would pay more attention to my landscape shots. One of the first things I do now is to find a good foreground.  I run around looking for something that will lead my eye to the background like a mountain, rock formation,giant tree or great sky/clouds. The foreground does not have to be exceptional but make sure that there is some contrast with the background.  If there are leading lines, as in a string of rocks, flowers or bushes that sort of take your eye along the way to the mountains that is helpful.  Also, you don’t want to stick the items in the very certain.  Don’t forget the rule of thirds.  Easier said than done right, yea right.  Hat tip to all you landscape masters.

Here is a simple example:

Tip of the Shaft

2015September11_vasquez canyon_001

Note the plant adds a little more oomph to the photo. Your eye looks at the plant and then moves forward to the rock.  It was not easy to find a plant that worked this way with the rock.  That’s nature for you.  This stool has three legs: Foreground, Background and Strong Light. I will touch on Background in another blog.

What Camera Settings Should I Use?

I get asked that question a lot. In fact, I was speaking to a Canon employee at their Learning Center in Costa Mesa, CA last week and he asked me the same question. I think it is just like what cloths should I wear on a particular day.  I change my camera settings to fit the situation.  Since I am an outdoor natural light shooter here are my initial settings when I go out and photograph nature.

f/8, 1/1500, ISO 400- I put my lens on auto focus and go to manual if the subject matter remains still. I shoot primarily in Manual or Aperture Priority. I adjust my settings as the circumstances dictate.  I also use “live view” to determine my settings too.  Click here for a description of live view. If I am following a fast-moving animal, I am usually on Auto Focus with a low or high burst rate, meaning how many frames I can click off at a time.

Here are three different photos all using my initial walk around ready to go settings. I used a Canon 70×200 2.8L  lens for all three photos. Note that having a glint in the eye of a bird helps make a bird photo better.

Resting Pelican- Marina del Rey, CA

Blog_Settings to start with f 8 1500 iso 400_1

Pelican- Marina del Rey

Blog_Settings to start with f 8 1500 iso 400

Seagull- Marina del Rey

Blog_Settings to start with f 8 1500  iso200

One setting change on this seagull. The ISO was 200 not 400. That is why the photo is a little darker.

The Foot Drag Shot- Uncommonly High Percentage Shot

As I said in the previous blog, the foot drag is harder to get than the wing drag for me.  It is really a timing and anticipation shot. Also, it happens so fast that in most cases the human reflex is not quick enough. If and it is a BIG if you could get just a toenail skimming calm water it could be a spectacular shot.     I would not spend my day trying to get this shot unless you want to work on your tan or have nothing better to do. With that said, if you get a bird with something in its talons like a fish by all means go for the shot. That is the story!   These photo are not competition photos but you get the idea of the foot drag shot and something in the talons of a bird like a fish.

Water Walker– High Percentage Shot

Blog_Peek A Boo With Foot Drag1

On the Attack– Again a high percentage shot

Blog_On the Attack-128

Early Morning Catch– This is the cousin of the toe dragger and is worth going for as explained above. I saw this Osprey in a tree and walked to my car to get my long lens (I came to get landscape fog shots at the lake and was not prepared for distant bird shots). It took me 15 minutes back and forth.  The Osprey was still there and I just waited. Patience paid off. I also got some good shots of the breakfast meal being eaten in a nearby tree.

Early Morning Catch

Based on our discussion in previous blogs this photo pretty much has it all. Tells a story, has impact and is pretty much in focus and the rule of thirds is in play. Note the reflection in the water leads the eye to the bird. Also, the bird has room to move to the right. It has someplace to go, as they say.



Wing Tippers add elegance and grace to a photo

What the heck is a Wing Tipper.  It is a hard shot to get and doesn’t happen all the time.  Waterfowl at times use the tips of their wings to glaze the water for balance.  Sometimes it is just sloppy navigation too.  Be on the lookout for this special shot. The other hard to get shot is the toe dipper. This is the shot when just the bird’s claw  skims the water. This is even harder to get.

Graceful Take Off

Graceful Flight-010

Peek a Boo Wing Tipper

Graceful Wing Tipper

If the eye was not showing this shot would not be good.

Power Wings

Power Wings_Denver1

This mute swan gracefully skimmed the icy lake.  The wings touched the ice surface with each beat of his wings.

I am sure it helps with stability, balance and navigation.


Action is better than no Action

It is really hard to get an animal to do something other than sit, when you have limited time.  I once had a mentor tell me that, “let them see the blood and gore”, if you want a better score in competition. It needs to tell a story. Here is a simple example to get the point across.  This California Brown Thrasher caught my attention while he was singing away.

California Brown Thrasher- Mouth Closed

Blurb_CaliforniaBrown Thrasher_Mouth Closed

California Brown Thrasher-Mouth Open- The title could be “Chatter-Box”

Blog_California Thrasher_Mouth Open

Same bird, same position, only one photo has the mouth closed and the other has its mouth open. Does the title fit the photo? Which do you like the better?

The morale of the example is let them see the guts and gore.

Adding Impact to an OK photo

As I said in a previous post, one of the three most important essentials to a good or great photo is IMPACT. So what do you do if you have a photo that looks pretty good but you feel it needs a little more juice. Based on my competition experience, I find that the judges know too that a certain photo needs a little more umph to get it in the merit classification. Often, the piece of advise is to add a border with the possibility of  a stroke or key-line to hold the focus on the subject.  These two items can really change how a photo looks. I know the purists will not like this but I think for the  beginner photographer this is one easy approach without knowing a lot about Photoshop etc.

Ready for Take-Off

Ready for Take Off_Denver1

This shot was taken in Cape May, New Jersey. It was one of those anticipate and be patient shots. This Red Wing Black Bird never stayed still and it was windy in the marsh.  When I looked at the photo in the computer I liked the action of the wings. It was perfect. I always wanted to get something like this but the situation never presented itself as it did on this day.  As I looked at this image, I asked myself how can make this image even more impactful. When I do use Photoshop it would be for  borders and key lines. Click here for description of a key-line.

Ready for Take-off , with border and key-line

Blog_Red Wings Ready for Take Off

This photo now has a black border and a little line that goes around the photo about an eighth of an inch from the edge of the photo. The photo won Best of Show and Best in Class in two different competitions in 2015. The only major change was adding the border and key line.

Here is another example using the border and key line options:

Power Wings with no border or key line- pretty nice photo as is

Power Wings_Denver1

Power Wings with the border and key line:

      N_Power Wings Skim the Frozen Pond_Akers_Jim

This photo also won Best of Show and Best of Class in two different competitions as well as garnering a merit in International Competition in 2015. I believe the border and key-line took it over the top.

What’s the Point

When preparing a photo for competition or for show and tell, I try to pick a photo that has two major factors, well maybe three. They are:

  • Impact
  • Does it tell a story
  • Placement or composition

If you find yourself wondering what the point is with a particular photo you may want to reconsider showing it. Better yet, ask yourself what is the point of this photo.  Yes there are varying degrees of the above qualities. Anyone of these qualities may overpower the other two and win the day.  A firemen running out of a building on fire with a child in his  hands has more impact than the composition. A bird such as a raptor gliding is nice but what is the point. If it had an animal in its talons or beak that would be better and a story teller.  That is not to say that the underbelly of a full spread Red Tail Hawk against a blue sky is not beautiful. All I’m saying is add impact to the shot somehow or perhaps you should move on to another photo. Then again maybe the sheer beauty of the bird is the impact and story wrapped together. Each photo has to stand on it’s own merit of Impact, Story Telling and Composition.

Hand and Hoof

Blog_Hand and Hoof

Impact- yes; tell a story-yes (look at the steam, shoe and those burly arms); composition- ok follows the rule of thirds somewhat; nice mat to contain the photo and make the eye focus on the POINT.

Feed Me Now

Feed Me Mom

Impact-yes (ah how cute); story- yes (baby wants to be feed) ; composition- yes- not quite rule of thirds but the two are off-center and towards upper left quadrant of photo

Next week I will address how to take an ok photo and put some juice to it. I know my purist bird photographer friends cringe when making adjustments to bird photos. And, some competitions frown or will not allow you to make major changes to your photo.  So my tips will be up to you to decide how you want to proceed.

A Different Perspective

Sometimes you may want to look for a picture within the picture.  There can be a gem hiding someplace within your larger photo.  Here is an example.

Swamp Ears

Blog_Swamp Ears_Close-up_2015_10_11_untitled_1426

This is a shot of a lot of lichen on a log. Only this particular shot is very small. The photograph illustrates a shot within the shot.

Here is another example of a photo within the photograph. I took a portrait shot of a huge eucalyptus tree. The bark had a lot of texture and color. I played with the sliders to get even more color.  I then turned the portrait to landscape which made the wave more noticeable.  As an abstract, this came out pretty interesting. Interesting enough to get a Judges Choice and Best of Category in Fine Art.

Eucalyptus Abstract

Eucalyptus Abstractus

Rule of Odds- or is it just a guideline

Don’t get hung up on the Rules of this and that.  I use the “Rule of Thirds” as a guideline. I don’t adhere to it all the time. It is a starting point and then I work my composition to what I think is the most pleasing to the eye.  There is another rule that I use when possible. It is called the “Rule of Odds”. 3 and 5 subjects can be more pleasing to the eye/brain than 4 and 6. With the following example, I could have easily left the little mushroom out of the photo. The photo seems more interesting when the “third” little mushroom is included.

We Love You Little One

N_We Love You Little One_Akers_Jim (1)

So the moral of the story is don’t get hung up on rules of this or that they are just guidelines. Of course, some of the great master painters used these rules or guidelines.

Click here for more information concerning the rule of odds.