The Venetian Pool, Coral Gables, Florida, 2013
This historic pool, built in 1923 within a coral rock quarry, holds 820,000 gallons of spring water fed from an underground aquifer. During the spring and summer seasons, the pool is filled and drained daily. The Mediterranean design and coloration of the pool is exquisite, and my composition attempts to express the era and style in which it was built. I anchored the image upon the curving staircase that descends from one of its huge lookout towers. The repeating play of light and shadows upon the curving steps echo the play of light and shadow on the curving red railing just above them. Four entry steps – some above the water and others underwater -- emerge from the diagonal thrust of the pool’s edge that carries the eye from the stair railing all the way to the top of the frame. Meanwhile, the shimmering reflection of the pool’s second lookout tower rides the surface of the pool’s deep blue water.
Plaza Theatre, Palm Springs, California, 2013
This theatre opened here 76 years ago, and is still going strong. Once home to radio broadcasts featuring the likes of Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby, it now features a vaudeville show known as the “Fabulous Palm Springs Follies,” starring performers ranging in age from 54 to 83. Here’s how I composed this image: I moved in on a poster placed outside the theatre, tilting my camera slightly to make the visible part of the poster’s frame into a dynamic diagonal running through the center of the image. This emphatic image structure invites a comparison between the enthusiastic image of a performer on the right, and the curving lights over the theatre’s doors, as well as the massed bunting and flags above them on the left. Those flags hang from diagonal poles, while the arm and costume of the performer echo those diagonals. Finally, the placement of the flags, arm, and costume pull the eye of the viewer diagonally through the image from corner to corner.
Hotel, Scottsdale, Arizona, 2011
I used my spot metering mode on the reflected late afternoon sun as it illuminated the rough texture of the wall at left. That reflection on the texture becomes the focal point of this image. I allowed all else to fall into silhouette here. The walls on either side are drawn together by the repeating diagonals -- the shadow at lower left and the slope of the building at upper right. I introduced the silhouetted leaves at top to draw the eye into the picture from the top, while the deep blue sky adds a striking backdrop to this geometric composition.
Groovy, St. Bart’s, French West Indies, 2010
I used my frame to abstract this small boat, moored among the huge yachts that lined St. Bart’s harbor, and incongruously named “Groovy.” I use the three ropes to create diagonal leading lines to draw the eye through the frame. I also truncate the pier that leads towards the boat and stops abruptly just short of its stern, creating an anchor for the image. The image’s focal point revolves around the space between the pier and boat, a gap that energizes the frame with tension.
Monument Valley, Arizona, 2009
I structured this image as a diagonal composition, leading the eye into it by placing the base of the road at the lower left hand corner and letting it lead the eye into the dominant butte in the upper right hand corner. A car rolls through the midpoint of the image, defining the function of the road that splits a rich red desert landscape in half. A large bird in flight, and the twin spires of one of Monument Valley’s signature red rock monoliths add additional identity. If you move back from this image and view it from several feet away, these details become subservient to the powerful thrust of the composition itself. (I photographed this same road and landmarks, but in an entirely different way, a few day’s later. ( See http://www.pbase.com/pnd1/image/119661839
Autumn in the park, Kiev, Ukraine, 2009
I stood on a high hill overlooking the leaf strewn walk below and waited as strollers entered and left the frame. In my mind as I composed this image was the use of negative space. I wanted to anchor the image with a person at the bottom, and then space others evenly as the image fades into the background. The very last person is half hidden below a branch of leaves but his presence is critical. He completes a series of four evenly matched slots of negative space that lead the eye through the image and echo the gradual pace of a walk in the park.
Cyclist, Port Angeles, Washington, 2009
The “S-Curve” is often seen in photographic compositions, a device that best serves the eye by leading it into or through an image. I found this s-curve first, and was determined to build an image around it. The curving parking cutout is painted in primary colors, giving it even more of an “eye-pulling” effect. I positioned myself over the yellow portion and waited for someone to become my subject by crossing at the intersection. My first attempts failed – too many cars cluttered the intersection while people were crossing with the light. After about five minutes of futility, I saw this cyclist heading towards the intersection. Even better, there was a simultaneous break in the traffic flow, giving me an uncluttered shot at him. I put my camera on burst shooting, and followed his progress with shot after shot as he approached. I had hoped to line him up with the red curbing as he passed me, but he decided to give me an even better shot by turning right into it and bringing the yellow and red s-curve to life. This image captured his lean perfectly as he flows through the upper left hand portion of my frame.
Amtrak Station, Portland, Oregon, 2009
The pedestrian bridge over the rails offered me an ideal vantage point from which to compose this image. The first thing I noticed was the dominant reddish pattern of rooftops that bisected the railyard. I moved to a point on the bridge that allowed me to divide my frame with the two vertical roofs, and then add a top to the “T” by blending the horizontal roof into the top of my frame. Tracks on both sides of the image echo the vertical flow of the center roofs, while a waiting train adds important context in the upper right corner. All I needed was a figure moving towards the train, and after a few minutes of waiting, one of the last passengers to board emerged from the station and crossed the track at left center. He is heading towards the dark opening between the two vertical roofs. I caught him in mid-step, and he becomes the focal point of my image.
Rotunda, Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas, 2009
A single star sends a series of decorative rays and circles spinning towards us as we look up into the interior of a dome that soars higher than the United States Capitol. These rays and circles lead the eye down to a series of circular galleries that mark each floor of the 120-year-old Texas State Capitol building. By limiting the scene to the vertical frame of a 24mm wideangle lens, I am able to compress the energy of the circular patterns into a narrow channel that leads the eye all the way up to the lone star at the center of the dome -- the focal point of the entire image. Organized by concentric circles and partial circles, the image guides the eye through the scene. Meanwhile, the color temperature changes from the palette from gold in the lower galleries, illuminated by electricity, to the white light playing on the dome’s interior, illuminated by the window light.
Not much doing in Kingman, Arizona, 2009
We choose to shoot with early light on the fringes of Kingman, too early for much activity. I wanted this image to speak of silence – a lone car and a single person surrounded by empty streets and sidewalks that stretch as far as we can see. (I am not sure if the light changed to red while the car was already in the intersection or not – but at this time and place, a traffic violation would hardly matter.) I compose the photo by using the wideangle lens to emphasize the massive scale of the sidewalk in the foregound, which gets smaller and smaller as it flows into the background. I interrupt the flow with the silhouetted man sitting on the corner, staring into space. He has been stopped in time, just as the camera has stopped the car, and just as the stop sign above him requests.
Water bearer, Kairouan, Tunisia, 2008
High vantage points often reveal leading lines that can draw the viewer’s eye into and through an image. I was shooting from an upper floor of a building overlooking cisterns built in the year 860 to provide Kairouan with water. Ironically, a 21st century woman in traditional Muslim dress carrying a plastic bottle of water proved more visually expressive than the vast cisterns. She was walking towards me along an overgrown sidewalk, following the curving line of a low curb that separated the sidewalk from the street. I created a frame, flanked by a band of greenery on the left and the curving sidewalk on the right. When the water bearer passed below me and entered that frame, I used the curving sidewalk to track her journey by placing her alongside the powerful leading line flowing from the bottom to the top of the image.
Irrigation, Los Banos, California, 2008
The subject is just water gushing out of a big pipe. Yet by using geometric principles to compose this image, I can make an ordinary subject become part of an extraordinary image. The key is the low angle of the light. It is late in the day, and I move my camera position to take advantage of the light passing through the flow of water that is frozen in place by the shutter. That translucent light turns the water flow into an illuminated arc, positioned over a rectangular trough that is illuminated only along one plane. All else falls into abstracting shadows. The illuminated planes of the trough and the upright board that anchors it in place, create a series of diagonal and vertical thrusts that support the illuminated arc of water and give the image its coherence and meaning. Out of a very small place, a glowing and precious resource brings life to the vast lands that sprawl beyond it.