This week Tom Tweedel will be presenting the Feature Photograph.  He's been wanting to write a Feature Photograph article for some time and this is his first attempt.  I encourage you to provide constructive feedback to Tom Tweedel via email.


This week Tom Tweedel will be presenting the Feature Photograph.  He's been wanting to write a Feature Photograph article for some time and this is his first attempt.  I encourage you to provide constructive feedback to Tom Tweedel via email.

Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-200mm VR @F7.1  1/500th  18mm  ISO 400


The photo was taken at a lion dance at a Chinese New Year celebration in Austin.  This photo “works” on many levels, and illustrates a several concepts and flaws of successful composition.

The first thing that is really working here is the focal length, 18mm on a crop camera, 27mm equivalent on a full frame.  The wide angle in this case is not really used to “get it all in” but to get up close.  The perspective effect of a wide angle lens emphasizes the foreground at the expense of the middle to background.  It makes close up object larger than life (in this case the Lion and the Boy).

Next we have the compositional element of lines.  Lines are very powerful compositional elements, especially when people are involved.  They imply connections which give a photo more feeling.  In this case there is a strong connection formed by the Lion facing the boy and the boy looking at the lion with a hint of a smile.  In addition the blue lion was also looking at the boy from over the shoulder of the rainbow lion.  This connects both the foreground and the middle ground.

The angle the shot was taken at was critical to the composition.  It’s important to remember that not everything looks its best from 6 ft above the ground.  Bringing the camera down to the level of the boys head allows the lines of connection to really play out since they almost connect with the camera itself due to the position.  If I had just stood there and taken the shot standing up it would not have been as powerful.

Color is a strong compositional element.  The color of the rainbow lion is complex an interesting, it breaks up the detail allowing you to study each of the facets of the costume. The red in the head also ties to the red in the boys outfit.  The colors of the blue and green lion also draw our attention away from the less “successful” compositional elements.

The background is a mixed back. The sign above and to the left of the lion is useful in that it places the location of the photo for those familiar with the area.  There is also a lot going on in the background as one would expect in a festival.  The little girl pulling her brother is a nice touch.  The trees on the right tend to give balance. The bucket is a minor annoyance, not something your likely to notice in the moment though.

One compositional flaw that illustrates the concept is depth of field (or lack thereof).  One of the challenges with close up photography is getting enough depth of field to have your foreground to background in focus.  In this case the boys head is slightly out of focus.  This is because the focus point was on the Lion (should have been the boys head).  Things move fast and there isn’t always time to get the right sensor selected or to focus and recompose.

The relatively low F-stop (F7.1) contributed to the problem.  There was enough light to go F11 or greater.  Using a higher F-stop would have given more depth of field.  But at the time I was more concerned about getting a high shutter speed to capture other elements of the dance (specifically the explosions of the firecrackers).  This was also the reason I was going at ISO 400 vs. a more optimal 200.  The high shutter speed does add to the photo in that the “beard” is frozen in the up position, though 1/250th would have been acceptable.

A lot of compositional elements went into making this a great picture, more than you’re likely to have time to think about each time before you push the shutter. But with study and practice more and more of them will become automatic and you’ll find yourself taking better pictures without thinking about it.