IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work

Sometimes the urge to photograph just grabs us. We see something that intrigues us or are in a particular place with other-than-prime light. What I always do when that happens is pick up my camera and shoot anyway. However, here is the key; I find subjects and ways of looking at the subjects that will make them work. I force myself to interpret what I see in a way that goes past any of the typical reasons or excuses for not picking up the camera.

Let us look at one of Marla’s images and talk about the conditions she faced and what she did to make the image interesting.

© 2011 Marla Meier. All Rights Reserved.

Sago Palm: 1/160 sec., f/11, ISO 200, -1.00 EV, 200 mm, hand-held


It was a hot, hot day in Jacksonville, Florida when Marla decided she just had to pick up the camera and get out for an hour. It was close to high noon and the sun was bright, glaring and directly overhead. There was a bit of a breeze blowing that made it nice for the photographer but not so good for any small flowers. These were definitely not prime conditions for photography.


The area near Marla’s home has some Sago Palms that drew her attention. Since the subject had not been approached previously, she decided to see what she could do with them. She looked at them from a variety of angles as well as from the grass area below them. What attracted her originally was the pattern of the spikes jutting out from the strong center spine. What she saw from below the frond was the checkerboard pattern of the shadows. Marla had her subject.


1. The strong spine of the frond on the diagonal added to the impact of the image.

2. By off centering the spiky leaves, the shadowed area was allowed to have more prominence in the image.

3. By moving in close, the white hot, uninteresting sky was eliminated.

Noella’s comments:

What I really like about this image is that she approached her subject, the Sago Palm, and looked for a fresh angle. It is both a pattern shot and a texture shot. By offsetting the main spine and allowing us to see the shadow pattern, Marla added “weight” to the main subject area. Minimizing the sky and the majority of the hot, sunny look made this image stand out while still maintaining the edgy, transparent look of the leaves.


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