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

Find one sunrise. Add 1 part water, 1 part waterfall spray, a dash of serenity, and find a photographer that is in the right place at the right time and you have all the ingredients for creating a stunning image. 

There’s an old saying about the sun and the moon waiting for no man is true especially for photographers. Anne Westfall was up early, prepared with her camera in-hand and standing in the right spot to anticipate the action. A few moments later and she would have missed this golden opportunity.

Niagara Falls Sunrise
by Anne Westfall

Photo of sun through the mist at Niagara Falls by Anne Westfall
© 2012 Anne Westfall. All rights reserved.

Subject: Sun through the mist at Niagara Falls

Conditions: “My hotel room overlooked Niagara Falls. As I looked out of the window in the pre-dawn, you could see for miles. The air was crisp and cold and the mist from the Horseshoe Falls section of the Niagara Falls was billowing up. Just as dawn was breaking, the mist settled down and thinned out. I used my wide-angle lens and a small aperture. That combination allowed me to get a starburst effect as the sun broke the horizon.”


1. The theme of this image is light.

2. The crop concentrated the effects on the sun and the mist.

3. The violent explosion of light is in contrast to the still water and bridge.

4. The mist mutes the details of the background.

5. The intensity of the colors makes the image come alive.

Noella’s comments:

As photographers, we look for light and the play of shadow against light to bring out the contour or the excitement of the object. By removing the object and photographing the light, often times the statement about the subject becomes more dynamic. In this image the subject or theme is light. But it became more than just a simple image of a sunrise. This photograph by its boldness and the starburst effect of the sun coming over the horizon became compelling.

By nature, horizontal images where the subject is centered top to bottom in the image, present a more tranquil appearance. In using an elongated horizontal crop, Anne concentrated the effects of the sun and the mist into a tight range that removes your ability to see anything but the brilliant effect of the sunrise.

As you begin to study this image more, you will see that there are many contrasts. The most obvious one is the violent explosion of light as a counterpoint to the softness of the mist. The peek-a-boo effect of the mist playing with what appears to be a motionless river and the solid structure of the bridge also contribute to making this picture a statement about contrast.

In addition, the mist contributes by muting the details of the background prohibiting the eye from finding and lingering on any distraction and thus the viewer becomes locked into the image.

The intensity of the colors brings life to the image and yet, it adds shades of subtlety and softness to the overall effect. The colors, both vivid and subtle, make the image come alive.

Being prepared to photograph a moment in time takes preparation and some detailed thought. Choices need to be made. Your moments of success contribute strongly to your exposure and framing selections. And sometimes, the attitude of being willing to take a chance and see what happens is an alternate choice. In Anne’s case, the choices were made and the moment came. Congratulations Anne … it is an exciting and terrific shot.

If you would like one of your images to be considered for IMAGE TALK…, please send Noella an e-mail with a low resolution copy of the image. Put the words “IMAGE TALK” in the subject line and send it to

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

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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