IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

One of my mentors has always urged me to look at what I see in a way that no one else has seen. So often we look but don’t really “see” what is right in front of us. So how can we show the viewers of our images something different and unique if we don’t see it ourselves? It is the puzzle that faces us when we lift the camera to our eye. It all begins with the slowing down, being patient and observing your surroundings and the intended subject. It begins with asking yourself this question before you press the shutter button: “How can I get my viewers to say I never saw it that way?”

Profile of a President
by Anita Kratofil

Subject: Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a granite sculpture near Keystone, South Dakota. The four U.S. presidents that represent the first 130 years of U.S. history, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, are carved into the face of Mount Rushmore.

Conditions: Anita told us… It was a misty, rainy day. When we entered the park the clouds began to melt away. It was then I looked up and saw the profile of President George Washington.


1. Shows the usual in an unusual way

2. Subject within a strong “V” shape

3. Mountain layers add depth

4. Foreground adds environmental interest
5. Misty clouds add to the mystery

Noella’s Comments:

We have seen the traditional images with all four President’s faces carved into Mount Rushmore many times before, but in this image Anita shows us an entirely different view – the “I haven’t seen it that way view!” Initially, I didn’t see the profile of Washington either, but once I did, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it.

Typically, having the subject in the center or near the center of the image frame is a compositional rule that doesn’t always work, but there are some very good reasons why it works in this particular photo. First, the strong “V” shape between the dark mountains creates a “cradle” that keeps your eye focused on the profile of the face. Then once seen the strength of the subject compels one’s eye to return to it over and over again.

By including the mountain layers and the foreground environment in the image, one gets a sense of depth, distance to the memorial and the grandeur of the location.

There is a mysterious element to this image and it is the peek-a-boo effect of the misty clouds. Is there more to see? Will I be able to see the other Presidential heads? What will be around the next corner? This element of wonder and curiosity keeps us looking.

The challenge for all of us is to create images that will cause our viewers to look in wonder at what we have seen. Anita has shown us a view of the usual in a most unusual way and literally forced us to look at what she has found. Well done.

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