Filtering by Category: New Eyes Photography Tips

The Value of Values - Composition

Added on by Paul Mullins.

Through these first few posts I will be discussing the three C's of creative image making: Communication, Composition and Craftsmanship. My first journal entry was about Communication and how we are inspired, this next entry will be drawn from the second category of Composition.

Proper use of values is an often overlooked asset of photography. Seeing and understanding values can really give your pictures what it needs to take your photography to the next level. Simply think in terms of three different values. Dark values mid tone values and light values. You can see the use of values in both color and black and white images. Begin with a black and white photo to more easily see values in terms of black, gray and white. Ansel had 10 value steps in his zone system but I'm going to simplify it to 3 so we can see the impact this can have on your images.

First, the most boring pictures are made up of a balance of 50% of one value and 50% of another value see example #1 below.


To improve the image we will add in a mid tone value and break up the 50/50 symmetry, but now notice that the black and grey are the same amount and the two combined are the same as the amount of black. Example #2.


Now lets step it up a notch and make it even better by using three disproportionate values, they are different in the amount or volume of the value. This will greatly improve the interest in a composition. Example #3


But, still the gray and black make up half of the volume balancing the white. Rarely achieved but the most impactful, example #4 is the optimum for creating interest. Where all values are different and there is one that dominates.


You can mix up any of the values with each other, it doesn't matter which is dominate, it could be white or it could be gray as well, but the value with the least amount of volume will become your subject. To make your subject stand out you make it the value that is the least amount of the three.

This image of the Merced River is a good example of the least value being the subject. The trees lit with the side light are in the least value and become the subject. The dominate value is mid tone grays and black or the low value is the second.


Here is the image in graphic form using the three values.

art lastlight.jpg

It can be hard at first to see values because we see in color, but keep practicing and it will come naturally to see that way. Shooting with the importance of values really takes a conscious effort, so put on your thinking caps and shoot intentionally!

colorLast Light.jpg

Go out and have some fun and see the value of this technique. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.

Imitation and Intuition - Communication

Added on by Paul Mullins.

“What inspires you?” is a question that always gets asked of an artist. Some artists are inspired by ideas, and people, others by music, places and books. There are many ways to be inspired, two of them are imitation and intuition. Both have their benefits. By imitation you are inspired by observing other people’s work. For example, I am inspired by the works of Ansel Adams. Ansel Adam’s tonal range, straight photography technique, classic composition and timeless quality has always inspired me. He stayed true to what photography is. His subject was the wilderness of America and it created a sense of awe and wonder in me. A few other photographers that have inspired me are Charles Kramer and my favorite photography teacher, Steve Dzergian.

When you observe photography that you like really study what it is about their work that intrigues you and how you can implement that in your own photography. Imitation is really a shortcut for inspiration, don’t get me wrong, it can be helpful, but where I really feel inspired comes from Intuition. Seeing with the eyes and shooting from the heart. This is the way we become original and express our own feelings. My ultimate inspiration comes from the sense of awe that comes from God’s glory seen in creation. When I am exploring, something will emerge that I am drawn to and intrigued by. There is a story waiting to be told there. 

Here are two exercises to stretch your intuition:

Make a list of things that you love most, things that you are passionate about and the most interested in. Now create a series of images that allow you to express that passion, your excitement and curiosity will make this project easier to do, and also more personal and gratifying. Shoot without limitations. Ignore the critical voice in your head. Don’t judge things when you first start exploring, just play and have fun.

Take a break and review your images. Now is the time to critique your work. 

Get pickier. go out to the same location you were shooting at before. This time try to only take 3 pictures that are very well thought out. Refine and simplify. Be conscious of everything you are doing. Pay attention to your point of view, light direction, composition, exposure, focus, cropping, and story telling. If it isn’t something you would hang on your wall delete it and try again.


When I first came upon this scene of aspen trees I tried to frame the image so the fallen tree would not be included in the composition. I worked on various positions for maybe thirty minutes and they were all boring. being frustrated that it wasn’t going to be perfect I made the fallen tree the center of attention. I saw myself reflected in what I was trying to do. I learned it was okay to let others see your flaws and not try to put on a perfect facade. Perfectionism can kill your creativity and hinder relationships.