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How Size Matters

When picturetaking, most often I’m concerned about the subject that is closest to me. I’ll pick the length of the lens that emphasizes the subject.

But there are often times that I’ll want the subject to fit in nicely with the background. By using a zoom lens, I can compose the subject in the viewfinder by varying the lens length setting.

While taking these photographs, I stood in the same place at the same distance from the foreground subject. I changed only the length of the lens (using a 24 to 240mm zoom lens).

As I’m not verbally astute enough to give you a proper explanation, I’ll show you visually how changing the lens length interacts with the perspective of the background.

My favorite is the last photo taken with the longest lens setting which emphasizes the mountains in the background.

For those that are interested, the foreground subject is the Moulton barn along Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park. The background are some of the iconic mountains of the Teton Range.

For reference this is a photo taken with an iPhone at 4.5mm (equivalent to 26mm lens)

full frame camera with lens set at 27mm

full frame camera with lens set a 37mm

full frame camera with lens set at 53mm

full frame camera with lens set at 66mm

full frame camera with lens set at 83mm

Zooming In

18th March 2021

Zambriskie Point is of my favorite areas to visit in Death Valley. I am awed by its magnificent landscape created by millions of years of erosion. When climb the steep path from the visitor entrance, you’re immediately greeted by the heavily textured, sandy colored alluvial fans.

This day as I walked up the path I could barely see two people standing on one of the flat areas in the distance. They looked like ants on the rocks. The juxtaposition of the tiny figures against the huge backdrop of these badlands was an interesting view.


My equipment was a Sony NEX-7 camera with a medium 18-200mm zoom lens.

This is the image that I captured of the couple.

The EXIF data tells me that the lens was zoomed to 44mm.


The above photo was the only one that I took of the couple.

When I viewed the image in my “computer darkroom”, I wanted to see how the scene would look if I had used the zoom feature of the lens. I magically zoomed by cropping the original image.

The result is that the the couple and the rocky landscape show up in much more detail.

Which one do you preferr?

While I like both images, I prefer the zoomed in version. This is an example of composing your image after the fact.

The Rest of The Story

I’ve been wanting to visit the iconic Horseshoe Bend for many years and I finally had my chance a few weeks ago.

As its name suggests, the Colorado River makes an abrupt 270 turn in the shape of a horseshoe. It’s located downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell near the city of Page, AZ. Drive 5 miles south on US89 from Page and you’ll see a gravel parking lot. From there a half mile hike on a moderately sloped dirt trail brings you to the overlook.

I arrived late in the day and found quite a few onlookers and photographers awaiting the sunset.


The overlook is about 50 yards across and provides a wonderfully wide view of the river – both upstream and downstream. The Colorado sits below the jagged cliffs about 1000 feet down.

These spectators are standing pretty close to the edge of the cliff. And while I love the scenic surroundings, I am not a big fan of steep cliffs so I made it a point to stay behind this couple.

There’s plenty of room to accommodate dozens of visitors without feeling crowded.

As you can see these photographers had lots of space in which to set up their equipment while waiting for the sun to go down.

From this vantage point, the cliff on which they are standing looks safe…….

However, in this next photograph I’ve stepped away from the edge so that you can see the rock platform on which they were positioned.

These people are a lot more brave than me. I couldn’t bring myself to stand next to them. I wasn’t about to stand just inches from the cliff’s edge that drops down by a thousand feet. No, not this photographer.

So how did I get this unobstructed view of Horseshoe Bend?

As Paul Harvey would say here’s “the Rest of the Story”.

My shooting position was immediately to the left of the four photographers with tripods. To take this photograph, I laid on my stomach and carefully crawled to the edge of the cliff. My camera was safely hanging from my neck by its strap.

Since I had a very wide angle lens (15mm), I first took a deep breath to get some courage, leaned over the edge, calmly composed the scene in the viewfinder and finally snapped about three shots.

So there you have it. By itself, this Horseshoe Bend photograph certainly doesn’t tell the story behind it. To inject a slight bit of humor here, let me say that I’m not afraid of heights, only of falling from them. I wasn’t going to leave the overlook until I had my shot. A little dirt on my clothes is the price that I had to pay to get it.

Written by: Arnie Lee







Wild Misdirection

16th March 2013

Making Wildlife Appear Even More Wild

I consider myself pretty honest and straight-forward – both in business life and in personal life.

So you may wonder why I am writing an article about deception. Maybe this is too harsh a word – let’s just call it misdirection.

Let me explain. Often photographs tell only part of the story. If I am clever, I can photograph a tiger in a zoo by carefully orchestrating the background, lighting, angle and surroundings to make it feel that it was taken in the heart of the Bengal jungle. I might lead you to believe that I shoot for National Geographic.

Following are a few examples of how you might creatively use point of view (POV) to enhance your wildlife photography skills and put you in line for work at the nature magazines.

The blue heron on the left was standing across a shallow ravine about 50 feet from me. At that distance it was easy to capture him among his surrounding.

By kneeling down and zooming the lens, I was able to isolate his head and avoid the cluttered background in the above photo.

The lovely anhinga on the left was drying his wings on a nearby branch. Again the presence of the branches detract from the fine detail of the bird.

A few minutes of patience paid off. I was perfectly positioned to capture this bird as he became airborne. The trees in the background are blurred by the shallow depth of field. Overall, this photo gives me a better sense of wildness.

These wood storks in the left photo were very fond of the tree. But somehow photographing a flock of birds in the tree wasn’t the feeling I was seeking. By isolating a single bird using a longer focal length, I was able to maintain more of a sense of wildness.

Here’s a series of photos that show that these vicious looking alligators were actually in a tame part of the Everglades. The wood deck protects the visitors from all of these alligators.

Above, without the onlookers, the group of alligators appear in a more “wild” environment except for the inclusion of the wood railing in the foreground.

Left, I’ve again isolated the creature from the human elements. I think this method enhances the wildness factor.

Those of you who have already used photographic misdirection, please raise your hands!

Of course, creative point of view can be used for any kind of photography, not just wildlife. So get out there and change your point of view around.

Written by Arnie Lee


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Everyone has a point of view

But hold on!

For this discussion, I’m not talking about your opinion. Rather, I’m referring to your visual point of view.

Your view of the real world is determined by the physical specs of your eyes. When standing, the average person’s eyes sit between 5 and 6 feet off of the ground. Looking straight ahead, the eyes can take in about 45-degrees of a scene. Historically, the “normal” lens on a camera was designed to duplicate this angle – thus a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera has this same view.

In today’s photo-frenzied world, we’re taking hundreds of million of photos daily. And aren’t most of these photos taken from the average person’s viewpoint? Probably.

My contention is that changing your point of view slightly results in more interesting (and less boring, me-too) pictures.

How do you do this?

If your camera has a zoom lens – change the zoom factor. Zoom in to get a closer (and more shallow) view of your subject. Zoom out to include a smaller view of your subject. If you’re having a hard time picking out a face that’s far too tiny to see, zooming in can help it magically reappear in your photo. The plate of appetizers below has better appeal up close than at a distance. Unfortunately, some of our commonly used picture-taking devices lack a zoom feature. For example, the popular iPhone 4S has a fixed lens of about 35mm (equivalent on a 35mm camera) so you’ll have to resort to one of the other methods.

Dance a Little
Another way to zoom in is to move closer to your subject. Conversely, zoom out by moving farther away from your subject. This sounds almost silly until you realize that not very many picture-takers use this method. It’s almost as if their feet are cemented to the earth. Dancing with your camera can actually produce interesting views when compared to the immovable object school of photograph. You’ll notice that I danced a little to get closer to the green soles on the young boy’s feet.

Do the Slide
If you see a light post coming out of Betty’s head, move yourself to the right. If you want to see the gentleman’s cellphone instead of the back of his shirt, slide to the left. It’s perfectly reasonable to change the direction from which you snap your photograph. You’ll most likely end up choosing a direction which others don’t often see such as moving closer to the fence to capture the blackbird.

Get a Pair of Stilts
Another way to achieve photos with impact is to shoot down on your subjects. Standing on a stable chair can add two feet to your eye level. Or a set of nearby stairs can also give you a needed boost such as the overhead shot of the table and chairs. Whatever method you use to get up there will make your pictures stand out from the norm.

Things are Looking Up
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … You get the idea. Thankfully, our heads are hinged and move upward and downward. Taking a photo of a kid climbing on the monkey bars and seeing his face up close from beneath is very different from the usual playground photo taken from 20 feet away.

Do Deep Knee Bends
If most of your pictures look like they’ve been taken from 5 to 6 feet off of the ground, you may need to do more calisthenics. Lowering your body slightly by bending or kneeling can produce a dramatic effect in your photos. Instead of capturing the top of the young girl’s hair, I was in the right position to photograph her face.

Down and Dirty
If you have the strength and fortitude, you can shoot by laying flat on your stomach and crawling around. I often use this technique to photograph flowers and the like. This changes my normal perspective to that of a bug and usually results in some interesting shots. However, it usually takes me a bit longer to get myself upright afterwards.

Enough talk. The following are a few photographs that I’ve taken using one one of more of these suggestions.

My last suggestion, is one that you’ve already seen in some of the above photos and that is to:
Mix It Up
Use the above suggestions in combination with one another. For example, zooming out and bending at the knees gives you a wider angle and lower view of your subject. Hopefully, the physical requirements to do this won’t impair your health.

In photography, it’s fine to take a different point of view and go against the masses. Sometimes, it’s like that in life too.

Written by: Arnie Lee

Filling the frame

07th June 2011

Sometimes it pays to move in close


For portraits, conventional composition has you surrounding your main subject with a “border” – space around the face

For a more intimate look at your subject, throw away the rulebook!

In this photo, the young girl’s face has an interesting look but the background is slightly distracting.

Here we’ve moved closer to subject, eliminated the background and keyed in on her eyes and her giant smile.

By including the yard in this photo, we’ve caught this young lady in action but lost the emphasis of her face.

Again, by moving in close (or zooming in) we’ve changed the feel from an action shot to a portrait.


By simply minimizing or eliminating the border, you’ll key in on the all important eyes and face of your subject. The next time you’re shooting faces, try filling the frame.



Written by Arnie Lee


Composition Tip # 1

30th September 2010

Creative framing is one of the secrets to taking top notch photos.


Often, the photographer feels compelled to frame the entire subject. But you may find it equally interesting to be more selective about how much of the subject to include in the viewfinder. Suggestion: Move Closer I call this zooming with my feet.

Here we’ve included most of the wooden sculpture. You can see that the background is slightly distracting.

By moving closer to the sculpture, we have paid special attention to the face and also eliminated the background.

The large number of balloons make for a very colorful scene. However, the balloons don’t stand out very well because of the building in the background.

For this shot, we concentrated on a single balloon. By moving closer to the balloon, we are able to isolate its bright color against the blue sky.
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Kids Tip # 4

26th July 2010

Taking pictures of kids is one of the most popular uses for digital cameras. From time to time, we’ll present tips for taking better kids pictures.

Fill the Frame
When shooting portraits, the usual tendency is to carefully frame the subject in the viewfinder.

In this snapshot, we’ve left an even border around the head and upper body of the child. It makes for a nicely framed shot although the background is a little distracting.

For this shot, we moved in closer to fill the viewfinder with the child’s head. There is almost no border around the photo, yielding a more dramatic view of the child.

Landscape Tip #6

24th October 2009

Picture taking is often quite spontaneous but you can turn it into something that is more planned. To capture that perfect shot, you may want to take a few minutes to find the best view.

Take a Short Walk

What a view! I jumped out of the car and snapped the gorgeous Grand Tetons from the road at the Jackson Lake Dam. My initial thought was that here’s a view that can’t miss. However, a quick in-camera review revealed the orange floats in the foreground.

For this photo, I just walked twenty feet to the left and snapped. The objectionable orange floats had disappeared and a sliver of beach appeared in the viewfinder to yield what I found to be a more interesting shot. What do you think?

Landscape Tip #4

15th June 2009

Most of us have scrapbooks filled with landscape photos. Pictures are a great way to extend your vacation memories and to show off your worldly travels. From time to time, we’ll present tips on taking better landscape photos.

Wide is Nice Too

Many photographers zoom in close to the subject. You can see that this photo shows the rock formations in great detail.

Here, the photographer has chosen to zoom out to take in the widest view. In doing this he has nicely framed the formation with the surrounding pine trees. At the same time, the pines add to the depth of the photo.
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