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

For photographers in many areas of the world, the cold weather brings special opportunities to set a mood while photographing those clear night skies. When you can reach out and touch the viewer through color, a strong subject, illuminating light that plays on the scene, and a path into the image, you will have made a very dynamic image.

This month we turned to one of the professional photographers and writers for Apogee Photo Magazine. Let’s take a look at why this professional photographer’s photo really grabs and holds the viewer’s attention.

Moonstruckby Joseph Classen

Winter landscape titled Moonstruck - woman standing on shore at night with moon and reflection on water by Joseph Classen.

Subject: Woman looking across a quiet lake at a winter night sky and full moon.

Conditions: The image was made on a perfectly still winter night. The camera settings were set at ISO 100, 8.0 sec. @ f/4.0 During the 8 second exposure, I gently light painted the subject and the immediate foreground with a low intensity, dim flashlight.


1. Subject with foreground interest
2. Line of sight
3. Blue color tones – creating a mood
4. Horizon line centered
5. Stream of light merges background & foreground

Noella’s Comments:

Strong photographs make the most of every section of the image area. In this picture, Joe has a strong subject and foreground, and a calm and serene middle and background. The person in partial silhouette is placed in a pleasing location and invites us to follow their line of sight into the distance. To enhance the person and foreground, he “painted” the area with a low intensity light. This served the function of opening up the shadows so we could see more of the details. For those of you who have never tried this, it is a wonderful technique. At night, set up a silhouette and set your camera so that you have a time exposure. Then use your flashlight as a paint brush and move it over the areas that you want to brighten.

Color can play a major role in your images. Blue represents the sea and sky and draws forth visions of open spaces, heaven, faith, and serenity. Here the evening glow in blue has a very soothing effect. The lake and sky seem to melt into one another almost seamlessly, adding to the relaxing mood of the photo. By placing the horizon line almost dead center, it adds to that sense of calm and creates balance. So the illusion within this image is paramount to its success.

The full moon is the accent piece in this image. Notice the faint starburst. This can be created by using a very wide angle lens, in this case a 12-24mm lens – close to the 12mm. With that lens, a highlight will frequently become a starburst and adds a little sparkle to the photo. But also notice the path of light. As it dances and shimmers across the lake, it gives us a way to journey back to the distant trees and then forward again to the mysterious person watching from the near shore. Your eye becomes trapped on that line of light because it is where the lightest light meets the dark. It becomes the object that ties the entire image together.

Joe has been wonderful about sharing this incredible image with us. Hopefully when you get that beautiful cold weather sky, you will go out and create a stunning image that you will enjoy and share with the rest of us.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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