Best book endorsement I ever got….

(shared with me, published with permission)

My Dad was a photojournalist, one of the original run-and-gunners, reporting from two wars, shooting rangefinders.

When he left that job he set up a very successful high-end portrait studio, shooting medium format, doing incredible work. He often traveled, bringing back volumes of photographs from Asia, Africa, Central America….he never got to Australia, but who knows, maybe someday, he’s only 82!

He loved photography his whole life, but he admitted to me, when I was still in college, that the spark had kind of gone out of it for him. Right about then, digital cameras came along, and he was re-bitten by the bug. And just about when that was wearing off, he took up digital editing, and that bought him a couple more years of interest.

I think he finally quit carrying his camera somewhere around 2005 or 6. I was getting back into photography myself, but he said that for him, he was just kind of spinning wheels, shooting the same things the same way over and over, and he wasn’t sad about it, but as a hobby, for him, it was just over.

He took up watching TV.

I came across a book last year that really turned my thinking around about photography, and it was so different from what I’d learned in school, and from other books, and even from my Dad, that I thought, just maybe, it might shake something loose in him.

So I gave him a copy for Christmas. He appreciated the thought, but I really got the idea he’d never read it.

But I was wrong.

About a week later, I saw him going out the back door with his camera. I got excited for him. But it got better. I went from window to window in the house, trying to spot him, and he’d vanished!  So my curiosity got the better of me, and I snooped out the door after him.

There he was, laying on the ground, taking a picture of a mushroom. When I came up beside him he was gushing “You see how the curving top of the mushroom from this angle gets contrasted against the straight lines of the landscape fencing? Of course I’m having to shoot at f22 and I hope my shot doesn’t get too gritty, but maybe if I make it black and white I won’t mind the grain….”

And his gush didn’t end there. He talked about that mushroom, and explained about 7 different ways to shoot it, for 20 minutes. He was 81 then, and about 10 years old at the same time.

That was 10 months ago. He hasn’t left the house without his camera one time since then. Many times to the mild annoyance of my Mom. He’s shot thousands of pictures, and printed and framed dozens, taking over the basement like it’s his personal art gallery. He obsesses over having exactly the right track lighting for each new “wing” in his installation.

And he’s never, ever, without that book.

And he shoots in the rain, the snow, the wind. He was 81, but when the weather changes, good or bad, he grabs his camera bag and goes out the door. And wherever he’s shooting, he usually finds time to sit down and read a little from that book. Or he doodles in it, or scribbles notes. Actually, the book got to be kind of a wreck.

So with his 82nd birthday approaching, I knew exactly what to do. I found the author of the book online, and told him the story. I showed him some of Dad’s photos. We chatted quite a bit. I was hoping to maybe buy a hardcover version, but there wasn’t one available. Instead, the author sent me another copy of the book. This one was signed, but more importantly, at the back, he had hand-written a new story, called “The Magician,” something he said would be in a book he was publishing next year. This meant that Dad would be the first to read it.

This book my Dad loves is not big. And it’s not at all what most people would expect, and it’s absolutely the best darned book on photography you can ever pick up. My Dad and the author now chat and exchange pictures and ideas, and I think that linking him with this new friend was probably the best possible present you can give an 82 year old little kid.


Charles and his daughter are OBVIOUSLY two of my favorite readers.  He’s still shooting every day, at 84.

You can get the book The Mountain & the Pebble on Amazon.
Or you can contact us directly and buy a pdf download for $7

Breaking down the photo…

Seven things I did, that made this image work.

  1. I shot at night.  Actually, it was very early morning, there was light, but not much.  I’m not faking the shot, you’re seeing what I took, essentially straight from the camera.
  2. I shifted my white balance to give everything a ‘midnight’ color tone.  A great thing about how white balance works, the fog lights were orange, so they remained relatively un-affected by the compensation.  That’s why they POP.
  3. I timed my shot to get three subjects.   Groups of three are more interesting.
  4. I found a stretch of road with personality, and used a long lens, the compression magnified the road’s quirks.
  5. I cranked the car sideways across the road, to give it some “I don’t care.”
  6. I put the subject within the subject (the driver) at the two thirds mark.
  7. And…….I created a composition with an aspect ratio WIDER than 3:2

sony a58, tamron 70-200f2.8

A history of cameras…

This week was a rare, landmark point in the history of camera tech.

After decades of being the king of cameras, SLR technology got knocked off of it’s throne, and barring some kind of miracle,  that’s gonna be permanent.

It was always just a matter of time, a camera with a moving mirror, that alternately blocks either your view or your autofocus, was ALWAYS a temporary design, and getting that mirror out of the way was always the goal…even if Canon and Nikon pretended for years like it wasn’t true.

It’s impossible to foresee a reason (besides nostalgia) to go backward to including the mirror, so it’s fair to say, that while DSLRs will be around for a while, their time at the TOP is over.

Enter the Sony a9.





Packing so much tech, the details will have to be saved for another entry.
(but pssssst….20 frames per second, silently, with AF tracking and no blackout…seriously)

And for a fun history of the cameras I’ve used (just the primaries, I left out some scraps) and my own sense of their relative value as a creative tool, I give you this:

About composition…

What is composition?

Every year I survey 1000 photographers, and this year, most of the questions surrounded that ONE question.

What is composition. Here’s what I learned.

We need to spend far more time studying and learning composition. Most photographers, of the advanced amateur and professional ranks, are quick to mention the “rule of thirds” and almost as quick to get stumped after that. Yes, I think we’re collectively a little over-obsessed with the rule of thirds.
I asked “which of these TOOLS of composition have you used at least once in the last year?”



1. diagonal lines
2. negative space
3. symmetry
4. leading lines
5. rule of thirds

…to which, almost universally people clicked “yes” on all of them.  But we encouraged them to upload examples (and made it very easy) and the result (not shockingly) was 38% uploading something for “rule of thirds”….with no other tool of composition getting even a 5% representation.

Now, I should point out that this isn’t about shaming anyone, unless it’s me and all the other photography instructors/professors/authors and self-proclaimed experts out there. We dropped the ball. This year, last year…for the last 20 years, we’ve gone and dropped the ball.

We’ve let people get too focused on PHOTOSHOP.  Too much emphasis on filters. We think too much about gear. We’re too invested in the SUBJECT and let’s be blunt, we’re just not as interested as we should be in the TOOLS of COMPOSITION.
And I think that word, “tool” is very very important. It’s never been the “rule of thirds.”

Putting the subject at the one third or two thirds mark often makes the image stronger. But not always. And if it’s not ALWAYS, it’s not a RULE.  It’s simply a powerful tool for making our compositions stronger.


And there are so many more tools! Beyond the few that most of us know, there are a dozen that just some of us know.  And beyond those there are dozens more that almost NONE of us know!  Now, some of the tools of composition, though we can’t name them or even SPOT them without help, we might still use instinctively, because our INSTINCT for COMPOSITION is a valuable resource.  But just think how much better we could be, tomorrow, if we had knowledge of the many different tools of composition.

What if we practiced them! What if we challenged ourselves to use them! What if we learned how to COMBINE THEM! Heck, what if we were discovering new ones, redefining old ones, and finding stronger ways to use them all.

What if we flipped the tables and made post-processing LESS important, and composition MORE important? What if we looked past the subject and low hanging fruit that is “tool of thirds” and pushed ourselves to try to employ more tools with every shot?

My definition of “composition” (the verb) probably differs from what most of us were taught. To me, it’s a collection of tools, and their use, that have the ability to raise the value or impact of an image. We start with a subject, like a lump of clay, and we adjust and we shift and we change and we adapt through technology and technique and style, to build that subject into a bigger world. A more crafted world. And sometimes we go the other direction, taking a subject in a complex and noisy world, chiseling away the extra and the un-necessary and distracting and the confusing to reveal a singular message.

How many tools of composition are there? Five……….ten? Are there twenty? I think I can safely say we’ll never find them all. Some are so subtle, working only on our subconscious, no one will ever clearly define them. For me, after 20 years of searching and scrutinizing and testing and analyzing and diagramming……I count SIXTY-ONE. In fact, several years ago when I got to 50 I wrote a book about it, but the search for tools is never-ending for me, and I’m sure, or at least I hope, that many years from now…….on a rare day….I’ll look at an image and still be amazed for a brand new reason.

In more practical terms, we can build our toolset. We can refine it, we can expand and sharpen it. I like to write down a tool of composition on a piece of paper and carry it around. I sometimes take a subject, and see how many different tools of composition I can apply to just one image of it. And I spend time looking at great images, even paintings and sketches and identifying and diagramming the tools.

I like to say “The five most important things in photography……….are composition.”

And I take that so seriously, I don’t ever intend to stop trying to be better at it.


You can find my book The Composition Code on Amazon
(or you can contact us on Facebook and download a pdf version for $7)

Wide aspect ratio is my thing.

The combination of the human eye and human brain, see things very horizontally.   One of the ways our images and art shortchange their own potential, is in being too narrow.

Social media can be very frustrating when it comes to this, and knowing that people are most often looking at my images on phones doesn’t help much either.

But given perfect conditions….most often…I’ll choose extremely wide aspect ratios.  The standard photograph is usually 3:2

But there is a reason our movies are wider….most often 16:9

….it takes advantage of more of our natural vision.  And if you press, if you get out there even wider, you can create a sense of SPECTACLE.  That’s where I like to live, out at 2.5:1 and even wider

The Eyebrow Peak, a Lesson in Composition

First of all, not all of use are lucky enough to have one, lol…..some of us have straight brows, rounded brows, thin brows……

But a lot of us DO have a peak to the brow, and I can’t help but notice that many of us don’t know what to do with it.
Here’s a couple things you should know…first, eyebrow SHAPE is trendy. The trends keep changing and a lot of us follow the trends and I’m going to be blunt, that’s a reallllly bad idea.
Everyone’s face shape is different, so it should be obvious to us that no ONE eyebrow shape, no matter how trendy, will be the best choice for all of us.
And two, trends or not, a lot of women OBSESS over their eyebrows to the point that they’re not doing themselves any favors. Your natural brow shape is actually what’s most likely to be best for your face…and while minor grooming and minor changes might help, MAJOR changes just create a distraction from the more important parts of your face…..

…because in the end, compositionally, your eybrows just do TWO THINGS, and neither one is about being the “star.”

On your face the EYES are the star…..your lips are a star. Your cheekbones and eyebrows and nose and jawline are ACCENTS that frame and shape and POINT at the stars. If you get carried away and make any of the accents into STARS you’ve gone too far. You’re working against yourself.

That’s why making your eyebrows wider or taller than they actually are is usually a mistake. Making them darker than they actually are is often a mistake. Making them really thin, or carving them until they look like a sculpture, those are usually mistakes. Eyebrows should not be the center of attention…..but it’s one of the things on a face that women can play with endlessly, so it can be hard to resist the temptation.
But let’s say we want to make some MILD, RESTRAINED, CONSERVATIVE changes to our eyebrow shape so that they do their job even better….it’s good to know the two mechanical things that our eyebrows actually DO in the composition of our face, to make our face even more attractive…and yep, both things have to do with the REAL stars of our face, the eyes and the mouth.
The first thing they do is frame your eyes. Framing is a powerful compositional tool for drawing and focusing attention. But it’s a balancing act….you want the brows to frame but not distract, which is why you don’t want to ADD brow to the end and you don’t want to draw them up higher on the forehead. They gently shape around the top of the eye…..and this is important, there is a BOTTOM piece of framing….it’s the shadow created by the eyeball that some women panic and try to cover with silver under-eye makeup. Noooo. That shape is supposed to be there, without it your eye has no lower frame.
The second thing your eyebrow does….compositionally…and this surprises most people…it POINTS AT YOUR MOUTH! They do this by lining up, roughly, with your eyes and forming a TRIANGLE with your lips as the bottom point. And this is where that ARCH comes in handy.

On some of the most beautiful faces in the world, you have a little bit of an arch, and it’s slightly to the outside of the center of the eye, so that when you draw a line from that arch, through the eye, that line points at your lips.


If you understand that simple mechanical device, it actually becomes kind of obvious that you don’t want to MOVE that arch to the inside, or too far to the outside….it has a job to do, and there is a best place for it. You also don’t want to ROUND that arch if you’re lucky enough to have a sharp one!

When I see beautiful brows, what stands out the most for me, is how they haven’t been messed with too much…..and how they do their jobs, not fight for attention. It’s hard not to obsess over brows, but in the end, you’re best off leaving them mostly alone, and just doing minor grooming and minor adjustments.

So your eyes and lips can own the face.

But math and strategies aside, if you DON’T have an arch, don’t panic….one of the more fascinating things about beauty, is you can NATURALLY break all the rules and still come out gorgeous….some of the most unusual faces somehow manage to be absolutely striking. My best advice, though, is that if face DOES follow the rules, don’t mess it up!

(bonus tip, practice smiling with your eyes)

Books in pdf

As part of our celebration…..we’re reaching an important goal, selling our 35,000th book…..we’re experimenting in 2017 with selling several books in pdf format.

The Composition Code
Understanding Sexy
The Mountain and the Pebble

…will all be available for $7, by contacting us directly through Facebook