Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Entitled to celebrate!

Saturday, August 1st, 2015

I’m delighted to announce the release of my latest book, Elements of Great Composition: A Quick Reference for Photographers and Other Visual Artists. It’s now available in e-book format at!


It’s a long title for a compact little book that overflows with information to strengthen your artistic and photographic compositions.

I hope you will join me in celebrating its advent! As a special introductory offer and especially as thanks to my closest followers, I am making it available at NO COST on Sunday through Thursday this coming week only (based on Pacific Standard Time).

Knowing that so many friends were out there, waiting with bated breath (or not), kept me at the task. So thank you for your encouragement.

Feel free to tell your friends about it, too, so they can take advantage of the free offer while it’s available. Even if they miss this special introductory promotion, they may be interested anyway. So please spread the word!

If you should choose to download the book for yourself, I hope you will leave a review on Amazon so other potential readers can more easily determine if it will suit their needs. It would be a great service to both them and me.

Should you prefer to offer constructive criticism in a more private format, you’re welcome to email me through the contact page on this website. (Be sure to write “Composition” in the subject field.)

I will value your feedback.

From drawing board to Kindle

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Coming soon, for an e-reader near you…

The manuscript is finished and polished, and illustrations are in position. I’ve been struggling to get the files uploaded for Kindle, converted, and previewed to verify a satisfactory presentation, then tweaked, and uploaded again to go through the conversion and verification process again, and again, and again….

Will it eventually cause me to leave my perfectionist tendencies behind? Probably not. Though my increasing frustration level could definitely be a determining factor.

My concerns about why some of the chapter headings inexplicably justify to the full page width, while others don’t, may seem inconsequential to many readers. But, as a former book editor who has professionally designed numerous textbooks, I find it difficult to overlook major editorial glitches and glaring inconsistencies. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that these, like many other aspects of e-formatting, are out of my hands.

Other issues, such as image sizing and positioning (and even the opening page…despite having clearly designated a starting point), are apparently totally beyond my control. So, to paraphrase the serenity prayer, “God, grant me the perspective to accept the things I cannot change, perseverance to change the things I can, and the perception to recognize the difference.”

Having also attempted to verify the appearance on as many different Kindle and mobile devices as possible, I have been astonished at the differences that show up. And I’m afraid that most of these inconsistencies will be unavoidable, since they appear to be due to coding peculiarities introduced in the KDP transpositions rather than anything I do (or don’t do) in formatting the manuscript.

I do understand that page proportions, line length, and page length must change from one kind of device to another, resulting in different page breaks, depending on the reading device used. But I had supposed that there should be some logic and consistency in alignments, and in whether a line is justified (stretching out the words and sometimes individual letters to fit the page width) or simply be allowed to remain unjustified before breaking onto the following line, even within an otherwise entirely justified paragraph. I find neither rhyme nor reason (nor can I get any explanation) for it. It just is.

Similarly, while I have taken into account the fact that some devices display in only black and white, and have tried to select images that can be read well both in black and white and in color, I would have expected images to at least maintain their relative proportions rather than being elongated when translated into narrower formats such as iPhones. Most devices show the illustrations almost the full page width (though indented to match paragraph indentions). Some devices proportion them down to a somewhat narrower width (and, in my opinion, they look better for doing so). So, depending on how your device configures them, … well, that’s just what it’s going to be.

I also recognize that, in many cases, fonts, font sizes, and justification can also be adjusted by the viewer, so there’s little point in expecting them to follow a single specification. But I would have supposed that basic text fonts would still look like … well, at least similar text fonts across the board. I obviously still have a lot to learn.

As I attempt to resolve those issues that are within my control, I am anticipating a release date on August 1 for Elements of Great Composition, to be available exclusively through Amazon. It’s taking me a while to ensure that it’s being published in as professional a manner as possible.

In my opinion, KDP is better equipped to publish books incorporating straight, unillustrated text than books heavy in illustrations, like this one. I must say, though, that, despite the inherent peculiarities of e-publishing, self-publishing through KDP is much faster (if not always easier) than the old, traditional publishing process.

For my readers, an additional benefit of opting for KDP is that, particularly for a book like this, with a high proportion of illustrations in relation to text, e-publishing will allow me to keep the pricing much lower than I could ever have hoped to in a hard-copy format. As it is, I’ll be able to make it available at a great value –for less than the cover price of many monthly magazines. So stay tuned!

Remember the target date: August 1, 2015!

On multiple facets of composition

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

One of the many projects I’ve undertaken this year is a book. At least I hope it will become an e-book in the not-too-distant future. Though limited in scope, the information it conveys is valuable, and I trust that it will prove useful to its readers.

At the beginning of this year I felt compelled to compile my thoughts about the elements of good composition as a kind of checklist and measuring rod for my own work. So I began to list the various components as they occurred to me.

A month later, I joined a photography group in our community and quickly saw that the other photographers were searching for answers to many of the same questions I had had when I was first learning to paint. It immediately became clear that the same information that I had already begun to compile would be just as helpful to them as to my painting students.

So, instead of preparing a series of quick lessons to insert into my blog or newsletter or to develop into a lecture series, I began to develop my topic points and found myself digging into a more involved writing project. The difficulty was not in the writing but in maintaining my focus and intention of purpose. I had to control my enthusiasm and establish a specific and limited focus for the work.

I knew my purpose was not to teach people how to take photographs or how to paint. Those topics are covered by a wide variety of other resources already, including the noteworthy Virtual Art Academy (, from whose curriculum I drew many of the points in regard to painting. But simply identifying these universally applicable elements of composition, and recognizing why they are important, appears to be a topic often brushed aside by most easily accessed sources. Some of the information is certainly available in piecemeal form or through more comprehensive educational sources than this book, but there seems to be a lack of information accessibility, for those who don’t have the time or financial resources to devote to a comprehensive art course, that simply points beginners toward the many pertinent elements of good composition.

Since most beginning artists and amateur photographers are largely self-taught, they often don’t realize what they have not yet learned regarding effective composition. This work will help them recognize some of those gaps in their knowledge to help them seek out appropriate answers to suit their own medium and artistic needs.

For more advanced artists and photographers, the work will provide a checklist against which they can compare their work to find where their work can be strengthened or improved.

I was undecided at first about how to approach the project or to what extent I should cover the topic, but I took a tip from Pablo Picasso, who said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” He was right. Little by little the manuscript has expanded. Rather than more words, it begs now for images to illustrate my thoughts. I look forward to working on those in the weeks ahead.

“Neither a borrower nor unethical be”

Friday, July 1st, 2011

As I borrow and rephrase Plutonius’s advice to Laertes (from Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3, line 75), I do hope Mr. Shakespeare will forgive the liberties I have taken. Fortunately, since I wasn’t able to ask his permission, his original line is now in the public domain. But I still can’t claim it as my own.

101205 Holly Berries 2010

An artist for whom I have considerable admiration and who has influenced my own work has been struggling lately with her students’ and others’ “borrowing” her compositional concepts for their own commercial use. What’s wrong with this practice? Aren’t they selling their own paintings? The answer to that is a matter of ethics. Yes, they did lay the paint on the paper. But no, since the concept and the original composition did not spring directly from their own minds, it is not really theirs, any more than the title of this article is mine.

Perhaps it would help to ask what constitutes “original” art? Many artists might see the same view of a subject and have the same general idea of recreating the image in paint. The originality lies in the artist’s perspective, interpretation, and treatment of the subject. This includes the parameters within which the subject is placed (the placement on the paper, as well as how closely cropped it is), the angle at which it is depicted, lighting, tone, and mood, as well as what the artist chooses to emphasize or minimize. These differences become quite apparent in sketches made by different artists. But it is true in photography, as well. No two photographs taken by different photographers are likely to be exactly the same.

What if two artists base their paintings on different sections of the same photograph? Can they claim that their works are “original”? Only the artist who shot the reference photograph can ethically claim the resulting painting as solely his own work. Why? Because the original photograph was part of the concept of the paintings, and the photographic perspective was selected and composed or cropped by the workings of that artist’s mind. In that case, the photographer may be able to claim originality in the painting. If the painted treatment, however, is not original – for instance, if the treatment copies the style of a different artist – the finished painting still might not be considered “original” even though the artist did shoot the original photograph. Though the composition was original, the style was not; therefore the finished painting is still considered derivative.

In that case, is it ever acceptable to base a painting on someone else’s photograph or style? It can be for certain purposes.

I consider it acceptable use if someone else takes a photograph and either requests that a painting be derived from it or grants clear permission for it to be used as the basis for a painting. But in either case, the artist must not claim full credit for an “original” work of art, and appropriate credit should be given to the photographer.

In the same way, for certain purposes, it can also be acceptable to base a work on someone else’s style. For instance, a teacher might ask all her students to work from the same photograph or painting. Isn’t that granting permission to develop work based upon someone else’s? Yes it is. However, producing derivative (non-original) work in a learning environment is very different from deriving financial profit from non-original work. Students have long been encouraged to study, copy, and imitate other artists’ work. The purpose, however, has been to help those students learn skills and techniques, not to gain financial profit from someone else’s creations. Derivative work can be educationally profitable, but it should not be used for financial gain. And it should never be presented as “original.”

Non-original artwork should be neither sold nor entered into art competitions. It is often recommended that an artist retain any reference materials used (such as original photographs and sketches) so, if challenged, he or she can verify the originality of the artistic concept. Although U.S. artists are automatically considered the copyright holder of all original work, the copyright can be registered officially through the U.S. Government Copyright Office. This registration makes it much easier to prosecute violators.

“But what’s the big deal?” some people might ask. “What harm does it do if I sell a copy of someone else’s painting or photograph that I’ve painted myself?” In the first place, the unrecognized photographer is usually not being compensated for his contribution to the work; and your derivative work reduces the value of another artist’s original work because it is no longer unique. In the second place, not only has your work created competition for the original, but (being derivative) it could be mistaken as poor quality output by the original artist, thus compromising that artist’s professional image. In the third place, presentation of derived work as original is extremely damaging to the long-term reputation of the derivative artist. Word gets around the art community, and such short-sighted actions as selling derivative pieces as originals can leave a permanent scar on an artist’s name.

(Please note that I do not have a background in law and am not attempting to offer legal counsel. The comments presented here are the philosophy that I try to follow in my own practice, and I feel that they are a good guideline for most artists in a similar situation to follow. If you face a sticky ethical question, you are encouraged to seek appropriate and knowledgeable legal advice in your own locale.)

Composition contrivance

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “I am the cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to me.”  A cat also has definite opinions about who he knows and doesn’t want to get to know, how much sun he’ll tolerate in his eyes, and whether he’ll just plain “wanna” or not.  Multiply that cat by two, and it’s a considerable challenge to shoot a paintable composition in a single photograph.

Boots & Bandit

For this commission, the two cats, Boots and Bandit, could not be persuaded to sit together in the sunlit chair that had been placed for the purpose.  Bandit, who had never met me before, didn’t trust strangers, so sat, haughty and uncooperative, glaring at me … when he deigned to sit at all.  Boots took off on his own to lie down between two other chairs, in the shade.  Not that I could blame him.

When being held/posed/manhandled in the blinding sunlight, both cats kept their eyes closed.  Yet their owner requested that I show the characteristic eye color of each of them.  I knew it would be hopeless if we continued the photo shoot in the sun, so we changed tactics and allowed the cats to run around in the open shade of the enclosed lanai.  I tried to position myself in one location from which I could capture their antics, wherever they moved.  And I took shot after shot after shot.  (What a cost savings digital photography is over film in such circumstances!)

Eventually I managed to get a good photograph of each of the cats individually.  Selecting the best photos of each cat, I repositioned them in relation to each other, through digital magic, to create my primary reference.

Aside from ensuring that their relative sizes were appropriate, my main concern in matching up the animals’ photos was that they should be lit from the same direction.  Fortunately, I had two good photos that were lit from the right, though Boots was largely in semi-shade and Bandit was sidelit by brilliant sunlight.  Degree of light can be altered in the painting process, but the contouring that directional light and resulting shadow creates on a subject is considerably harder to adjust.

I chose a few back-up photos of each cat to use as supplemental reference material, not only for color, lighting adjustments, and variations on pose, but also for that important and telling detail, their eyes.

This is when I really appreciate Adobe for having created that powerful photo-manipulation program called Photoshop.  It took me a while to learn; I still use cheat-sheets and refer to how-to books, but the program allows me to set up and adjust compositions on my computer screen that were unobtainable in life.