IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work

There are many talented photographers who make beautiful images, but now and again, a photograph will come alive. It is especially difficult when dealing with historic locations. Often we get caught up in the history or the subjects and forget to think about the quality of the image. When analyzing an image for its composition and structure one frequently finds that it is the simplicity of thought or subject matter that makes all the difference in the world. Bill Canosa made just such a photograph in Fort Jefferson. Let’s take a look at the elements that make this image work so well.

Inside Fort Jefferson
by William Canosa

Photo of the red brick structure and arches inside Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, Florida by William Canosa.

Subject: Arches inside Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, Florida

Conditions: It was mid-morning and the light was angled nicely to showcase the archways all the way down to the authentic Cuban Chug boats.


1. Simplicity of idea

2. Repetition of shapes and negative space

3. Leading lines

4. Effective side lighting

5. Dried leaves – sense of times past

Noella’s Comments:

Simplicity in photography is the art of taking the complex and reducing it to one idea or one theme. Photography, unlike other art forms, is a “subtractive” art. You can be presented with a complex scene, and little by little, you begin to remove objects from the scene until finally you have one idea. For example, let’s take this image. Bill could have shown us various surrounding structures or moved from one side to another to show more of the side of the tunnel or where the light was flooding in to the area. He chose instead to center himself in the tunnel, thus eliminating distractions. He took the ideas of this tunnel down to the “bare bones” and thus created a strong and powerful single idea image.

Repetition is a powerful tool in photography and certainly was a key concept in selecting the viewpoint in this photograph. We see the arches repeating the same shape over and over again as they diminish in size in the distance. The strength of these arches, one after the other, multiplies the impact of the shape. But look again at the arches and see how effective the negative space works as another layer of repetition. Negative space is the area that occupies the space either around or within the object.

The floor, as well as the diminishing size of the arches, not only lead the eye to the end of the tunnel but add a third dimension of depth to the image. Although the photographer tells us what is at the end, we can’t really see or decipher what it is, leaving us to wonder. This makes it even more fascinating to the viewer.

Side light will effectively bring out the texture of a subject, add depth and create wonderful shadows. Here the light floods into the side of the tunnel, adding a warm, rich glow to the texture of the bricks and sandy floor. When you look closer, you’ll see the subtle shadows being cast by each column, which in turn creates even more repetition and depth.

There is an abandoned air to the image as emphasized by the dried leaves scattered on the floor. The photographer actually challenges us to use our imagination. We know it is a fort, but we are left to once again wonder… what relics lie beyond this tunnel, what was life like within its walls, what obstacles did the soldiers face, and who were the men who painstakingly built this work of art?

All of these factors contribute to making a powerful and very impressive image. Bill, thanks so much for sharing this stunning image with us and allowing us the privilege of looking closely at your work.

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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