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

Learning to see photographically is something that takes practice. When you look at a scene, you need to be aware of the little things in the composition that will help you select the subject. Once your subject is chosen, then you need to find the best means of highlighting that subject by utilizing various camera techniques, elements of design and your creative imagination. Once you learn to see the subtle details in your image, then you can emphasize those factors that will make your image outstanding.

In this Image Talk, I would like to introduce you to Allen Cagle and look at what makes his image special.

The Flow of Light
by Allen Cagle

Photo of rock in the Virgin River in Zion National Park by Allen Cagle
© 2011 Allen Cagle. All rights reserved.

Subject: Rock in the Virgin River in Zion National Park

Conditions: Allen was in Zion National Park at the trailhead for the Lower and Middle Emerald Pools Trails (directly opposite the Zion Lodge). It was about 10 in the morning and the sunlight had crested the edge of the mountain rim just enough to shed light on the red rock cliffs and cause reflections in the water that was still in the shade. “I used a slow shutter speed … the ISO was set to 400, my aperture was set at F 14 and the shutter speed was 1/3 of a second. I wanted to get the colors in the water as well as the soft motion.”


1. The rule of thirds applies with the rock’s anchoring position.

2. Swirls of color in the water encircle and cradle the rock, keeping your attention focused on the subject before you travel through the remainder of the image.

3. There are two opposing dynamic diagonals.

4. The motion of the water is slowed enough to give a smooth texture but still let you know it is moving water.

5. The proper exposure controls the bright glare on the top of the rock and the reflections in the water.

Noella’s comments:

This is one of those very special images that is simple in design, but very effective in holding one’s attention.

The two opposing diagonal lines welcome you to inspect the overall image. The angle of the camera and the placement of the rock in the lower one-third portion of the frame is the start of the first diagonal. Your eye then follows the wave line up to a tiny leaf caught in the water at the upper left. The opposing diagonal lines are created by the movement of the water, allowing the eye to follow its flow and the imagination to carry that movement downstream.

The use of the diagonal lines in an image will grab your attention and adds a sense of energy to the composition. In Allen’s image, the subtle diagonals are not hard and harsh but ones that flow smoothly from corner to corner.

The swirl of water around the rock is a supporting element to the subject and creates the sense of movement and force which again is a part of the dramatic impact of the image. But notice another part that adds to the effectiveness here and that is the small area of calm in the “shadow” of the rock. It invites the eye to rest near the subject for a period of time before moving on.

Water, along with the exquisite colors, creates a sense of calm. The cool, soft pastel blue tones with their complimentary amber and gold highlights sets the tone of this image so that the eye slowly moves around within the frame. These colors are all reflections of the surrounding rock and the blue sky. It is good to learn to see your subject but then to also look more closely as Allen did, to see the subtle details that can add magic to your composition.

Allen, you did a wonderful job on this photograph.

Come back and join us for another IMAGE TALK in the near future.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Marla Meier for her editing assistance in order to present the images for this series. And, our thanks to the photographer/artists who allow us the use of their wonderful photos in these columns.
You inspire all 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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