Composition and More – The Whole Story Behind a Photo

Ron Niebrugge Grand Tetons, How to, Photos, Travel, Wyoming 5 Comments

Kayaking in the Tetons

I have received a number of emails lately asking for more of the details behind each photo.  It is a good suggestion, and I have promised to do just that on occasion.  What I thought might be interesting would be to share my detailed thought process behind a single image.  I decided to do that with this photo from our spring trip.  I think some people might be surprised all that goes into just one photo.

First the good:


I had to move the tripod up and to the right a little, and wait briefly for my super-model (Janine) to drift downstream and towards me.  I thought it was very important that her head and the bow of the boat didn’t merge with the reflection of the mountain.  I also didn’t want the reflection of her head to be cut off by the bottom of the frame.  In fact, I felt like there should be a little buffer between the edge of the frame and her refection, so this gave me a very short shooting window.

I also felt it was important that she looked into the frame from the bottom left of the mountain and reflection.  She probably couldn’t see the reflection from where she sat, but the casual viewer wouldn’t be aware of this. 


I would have loved to have shot this at sunrise, but I knew there would probably be other photographers there, and I didn’t want to mess up their shots.  I figured by waiting until an hour after sunrise the other photographers would be leaving, and the regular visitors wouldn’t have arrived yet, giving me a little window of time to myself. 

My timing was good.  There were a couple of photographers just wrapping up.  They appreciated that I waited for them, and I appreciated that they didn’t shoot my setup – although they had every right to.  We had the place to ourselves for the rest of the morning, at least while we were there.  I have spent a fair amount of time searching for a similar spot that isn’t popular with photographers for some more shooting this fall – I think I may have a spot or two. 


Having visited this spot in the morning on other days, I knew the scene would be dominated by blues and greens.  For this reason I thought it would be imperative to have a red or yellow kayak.  I felt like these colors would be more pleasing in the scene, with red my first choice just because it is my favorite.  The owner of the kayak rental shop was very understanding even though it meant doing some digging through the storage area to reach a red kayak.   

The Hat

The hat helps give the photo a casual, relaxed Wyoming-ish type feel.  It would look out of place on the tundra, but looks pretty good here.  Plus, super-models can be very demanding these days, and I do my best to keep this one happy.  So if she wants a hat…


I shot this with a Canon 5D with the ISO set at 100 to minimize noise – I certainly had plenty of light!  I used f/14 which should have provided all the depth of field I would need, so the resulting shutter speed was 1/30 of a second.  I used the Canon 24-105 set a 47mm, and of course I used a tripod

The not so good


Every photo has some flaws and this one is no exception.  In order to keep the elements in place that I mentioned above, I also had to include a little shadow in the lower right hand corner.  The casual viewer would never see this especially now that my copyright hides it – I think the viewers eyes would start at the kayak and would move and circle around the mountain, reflection and back to the kayak.  For this reason, I don’t think the black corner hurts the photo, but I would have preferred solid grass.

A bright corner can kill a photo in my opinion.  I often find this in scenes where a portion of the sky is inadvertently included in one of the upper corners of a photo.  The viewers eye is almost always attracted to such a bright spot, ruining an otherwise well composed photo.  A dark spot doesn’t seem to have the same effect.  A square crop would work perfect here by eliminating the whole right hand side, but I almost never crop an image.


I love to photograph predawn and the first light of day.  It was frustrating to not have that killer light, although I think this photo will be successful anyways – many buyers prefer the bright blue sky.

So there you have it – way more then you ever wanted to know about 1 of our 301 photos from our spring trip – that is if anyone is still reading :).  Here is a larger version on the photo.

Comments 5

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  2. I know you wanted the magic light with this Ron, but it still works quite well I think. The red kayak has a nice ‘flow’ line of the reflection of the mountains and the brighter upper left corner helps pull your eye back that way. I have always thought triangular paths for your eye to travel in make effective compositions. All in all a pretty dynamic shot I think.

    I enjoyed reading your thought pattern of how this was created, as well as relating the situation with having other photographers present and how that can change your planning.

  3. Post

    Thanks Mark,

    Yeah, triangular paths do seem to be a strong composition component as do diagonal elements in general.


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