10 Principles of Beautiful Photography

by Trey Ratcliff – note: this article appeared in Smashing Magazine.

Farewell India

The backside of the Taj during a summer sunset


A camera does not work like an eye; memory does not work like film.

There is a fine line between a photo that is quite nice and one that is quite breathtaking. At some undefined point, a photo can cross the Rubicon and be forever a piece of beautiful art. That hinterland between a regular photo and evocative art is a moving target from person to person and taste to taste. However, that zone of wonderment can be narrowed a bit once you start to consider about the way the brain stores memories and emotions.

And, yes, it gets a bit touchy-feely here to determine if you have been able to cross that line. With rigorous practice and peer feedback, you can start to appreciate where that zone is and consequently improve your hit ratio.

The good news is that it does not require rune rites of scapulimancy to divine your way to a more beautiful photo. There are some basic things and mantras to keep in mind as you practice and fail then practice and succeed then practice and fail and then rinse and repeat. I’ll detail a few of these below.

Swallowing the Ruins

Swallowing the Ruins – a remote temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia

1) Think about the brain

I’ve always thought about photography differently. I grew up only seeing out of one eye, thanks to several botched surgeries in the 1970’s, when the state of the art was refurbished archaeological tools of Australopithecus medicine men.

When you see out of one eye your whole life and then start using a camera in your mid 30’s for the first time, something happens to you! You come to realize that a camera works nothing like the eye. Forget 3D; I’m talking about the way the brain stores images and scenes.

After birth, you have legs, but it takes a few years for your legs to get along with your brain enough to actually walk you around the savanna a bit. The eyes are the same way. They get wired faster than the legs, but the neural pathways from the optic nerve into the parts of the brain that matter take a while to find their chemical trails. You start to sense light levels, then shapes, then edges, then relative positions, and the like. And then, around age two or three, you finally come up with a tagging system to know generally what a “barn” looks like. Your brain has been working nonstop over that time to give you the visual and memory infrastructure to enable that watershed event.

Now let’s fast forward to today. You are older, your brain is more or less fully formed (!) and you happen upon a barn in a field. But it’s not just any barn – it’s the barn you’ve been wanting to see your entire life. And in the distance, there is a storm brewing as a gentle sun is setting. It’s beautiful –- you LOCK it into memory. The way you lock it into memory is nothing like the way a camera records the image on film (or CCD). This is what I quickly came to realize as I sat there, looking at a photo I took with a fabulously expensive Nikon as I was showing a friend, “Well, you really had to be there.” I’m sure you’ve all said that!

Now, this step 1 is a big step – it’s a philosophical re-assessment of how the camera works versus how the memory maps a scene, layering the visual reality with the emotions and previous memories that are linked to the scene. You see, you are not just remembering that barn, but you are remembering every barn; you are not just remembering that storm, but you are remembering every storm. A beautiful photo must tell the epic tale of the memory linked with other emotive memories that fold into whole.

Fourth on Lake Austin

Fourth on Lake Austin – the first HDR photograph to hang in the Smithsonian

2) Engage in the Neo-Global Salon

In the 1860’s, all art roads led to the Salon in Paris, which was the most important judged competition of art in the western world. In a period of just over 10 years, the Impressionist masters like Renoir, Monet, Pisarro, and Caillebotte battled it out in a competitive and cooperative tour de force that created a panoply of creations that we cannot imagine the world without.

The reason Paris became the center of the art world to enable an explosion of new art was a combination of new technology in travel and communications combined with Napoleon III’s focus on the infrastructure around the Salon.

Today the same thing is happening – only no one really seems to realize it in a grand historical sense. It’s called Flickr. Flickr has become a techno-Salon, allowing the world to use the Internet to easily enter the competition and force them to evolve and improve their art. The automated “Explore Algorithm” does a pretty good job of automatically choosing the best photos that are uploaded every day. Go ahead and look at the current some of the best in the last 7 days. Click RELOAD a few times and I promise you will see something that impresses. It is quite unbelievable the level of art and beauty that is created every single day. Now, all of this amazing art on Flickr can either inspire or intimidate you depending on your mindset for competition. I hope it inspires you to upload one photo a day and see if you can make it in the top 500 or the top 10 for the say — and don’t give up. Competition makes everyone better; this is an undeniable truth and you are not realizing your full potential if you keep yourself removed from the process.

Now, I can think of a number of tangible things Flickr can do to improve this new global competition. Their AI algorithm to find the most interesting new artists still makes many mistakes – maybe I will save that for another article! In many ways, Flickr is squandering an amazing opportunity to set the art world on fire.

Hindu Ascent (by Stuck in Customs)

An elderly woman, who has never cut her hair, ascends the stairs to her daily Hindu pilgrimage

3) Get rid of your toy camera

Oh, look at that camera you have! It’s so tiny and slim and techno-looking. Look! It fits right in your pocket! Oh my, you can take it to parties and to sporting events and it’s so convenient. Oh – it does 10 megapixels too! Oh my. Well that is a good camera then!

No it’s not. It’s a toy – give it to your kids or the nearest Japanese gradeschooler (for whom it was designed) and get serious. I know that 19-year-old blue-shirted-Best-Buy-boy told you that your compact camera was really neat and just what you needed. But are you gonna listen to him, or me?

Get yourself a good camera. I have a list of HDR camera suggestions that aren’t very expensive for people just starting out or ready for an upgrade. For those of you that don’t know, a DSLR is one of those cameras you have seen pros carrying, but it doesn’t have to be one of those giant ones you see in NFL endzones.

Sorry to be rude about the toy thing, but you want to take more beautiful pictures, yes? Well a decent DSLR has such a good sensor chip, combined with more flexible lenses, that your batting average will dramatically improve.

Also, (people with DSLRs already know this) it is important you have a good wide-angle lens for landscapes. Beautiful photography does not have to be a landscape, but they commonly are, and this is what people envision when they want to make their own “beautiful” photos. Thus, we should talk about wide angle lenses here for a moment. If you are used to a toy camera, the you have never really seen the world through a good 10-24mm lens. It’s almost the difference between regular TV and HDTV. The vistas are wide and bold, the clouds and the sun and the mountains all FIT, the river and the bridge are easy to compose, and the like. Once you go wide-angle, the landscape will never be the same!

The Lost Hindu Temple in the Jungle Mist (by Stuck in Customs)

An ancient Hindu temple at sunset in the jungles of Indonesia

4) Carry a tripod for those beautiful sunsets and sunrises

Oh, what’s that? You don’t want to carry a tripod? Are you a 9-year-old girl?

No, come on now – you are a grown up and you want to take some seriously beautiful photos. Do you think pros carry around tripods because they just like carrying extra weight? No, of course not – they know what the heck they are doing.

If you bit off on getting a DSLR above, then you are going to need a tripod, especially for sunset and night shots. Unless you have the steady hand of a T-2000, then you are going to get some camera shake.

A tripod allows you to do the following things for landscape photography (in no particular order): set up and take your time to compose a photo with serious intent; enables low noise as the shutter stays open longer; look cool while you carry it around; allows you to keep the shutter open for 5+ seconds for the fleeting sunrise and sunset shots; and it can be used as a weapon in a tight spot while traveling (not kidding).

So, you are still worried about carrying it around? The problem is mostly with your attitude, you understand. Let me give you a new perspective. Nothing in life is worth doing unless you are going to be serious about it. You are going to shoot that sunset, and you are going to take your nice DSLR and your tripod out there and make it happen and no one is going to stop you. You’re carrying that tripod because your serious about this. Otherwise, you can just go sit on a pretty beach at sunset and drink beer with your friends and not be serious about it… go ahead… but you won’t be getting any beautiful photography.

The Bridge of Death (by Stuck in Customs)

The Bridge of Unholy Death in Dresden, Germany

5) Admire impressionism

I spoke earlier about the Salon of Paris and what happened in the Impressionist movement. While the process and history of what happens when artists begin cooperating and competing is interesting from a social-group evolution perspective, this section is more about the art itself.

Early critics of the artform found it crude, sloppy, and unconventional to the point where it didn’t even deserve to be placed alongside classical masters. But the public was awestruck by the new art form. It doesn’t take a critic to know good art, but it does take a careful and discerning eye.

Consider the colors and the styles of Degas, Cézanne, Monet, and Renoir. There is not a single thing about any well-known Impressionist painting that is the slightest bit realistic. But yet, the rough shapes and colors still make sense. What do we mean by that? There is something there that just feels right. What is it?

To me, what feels right about Impressionism is what was discussed in part one above. These Impressionist images get deep into the viewers brain and evoke memories of shared scenes and events. The memory is in fact an Impressionist playground of fleeting colors, shapes, and edges. A face here, a blur there, a hint of something almost there but not quite.

Look at the Monets. Think about how the yellows of a sun in the distance is the same yellow as in a nearby flower, but something about the nearby colors makes the sun feel brighter than the flower. How does he do that? Can you get closer to achieving this with your photography?

As you look at Impressionist paintings, juxtapose them to your own photography. If you want to evoke the same sorts of feelings, then consider the realism that is not there.

The Majesty (my largest photo ever) (by Stuck in Customs)

An icy lake at sunrise, fed from the seasonal melt at Glacier National Park, a pano of 90 shots

6) Practice with HDR

What is HDR? It’s short for High Dynamic Range photography and it’s all the rage. I have an HDR Tutorial right here on my blog. I will explain with HDR is in the following paragraphs in a circuitous but meaningful way.

About 80% of my photos use HDR, but I do something a little different. As you start looking into HDR (many of you already have), you will begin to notice how absolutely horrible most HDR looks. When many people begin experimenting with it (myself included!), it was overdone and looked too psychedelic. Over time, mine have improved via rigorous self-examination and evolving methodology.

Remember that bit me growing up and seeing the world with one eye? Now we come to part two in this daring mini-biography as we are cross the stepping stones to my point. My background in college was Computer Science and Math, so I’ve always thought about things in terms of algorithms and software. After the very first time I used a DSLR camera when I was 35 or so, I very quickly came to the realization that there was something missing.

The missing something was the “software” layer between the eye and the memory. Consider what you do on the scene with the barn, and juxtapose the following sequence of events with how the camera works. You survey the scene. Your eye jumps around from interesting object to interesting object, sometimes moving slowly, sometimes moving quickly. Your eye lets in more light in some areas, less light in others as your pupil dilates. You squint into the setting sun and see warm colors splashed across the clouds, the grass, and the barn. You remember other barns, other storms, other sunsets. You are with someone or your are alone, but you certainly remember. You lock it all up in your mind’s eye forever.

Since we are all visual creatures, a photo or a painting can evoke great memories, just like a song or a smell. But the only way to trigger some of those intense memories on a deep level is to adjust the light levels in the photograph, so that the effective light levels and color match those that are buried in your head. The HDR process can help achieve these goals.

This is Nathaniel (by Stuck in Customs)

A young Amish boy allows me to freeze time after I help him carry wood with his sisters.

7) Take your camera everywhere

Don’t just take your camera out on those rare occasions when you actually decide to set aside a portion of your day for photography. Face it: we’re all busy people with real lives and setting aside 3-4 hours for anything extracurricular is rough. But it only takes a few seconds to get inspired for a photo, and it’s no good if your camera is back at home.

Keep it in the trunk of your car in a fun little photo backpack with a small selection of lenses. You never know when you will see something wonderful.

Use this opportunity to take at least one photo a day. It doesn’t have to be a grand landscape – just something small and nice that you really should have noticed before.

Dante’s Gates of Hell, a sculpture by Rodin, captured in proper lighting

8 ) Understand the fantasy/reality membrane

Do you have kids? Are you a kid at heart? Think about being a kid and what happened when you turned into a jaded old grown up. Maybe by the end of this section you can ask yourself some new questions about reality.

Kids have this remarkable “membrane” between fantasy and reality. They can jump back and forth between the two in an effortless way. In fact, the membrane is wonderfully “thick”, in that there is a vast dreamstate wilderness where the world is both fantasy and reality. When pressed, the kids will tell you what is real and what is pretend, but that is often a painful process that extracts them from the escapism that was so visceral just a few moments before.

When we are all grown up and serious, that membrane is razor-thin, and there is little tolerance of what is “pretend” and “fantasy”. Why is this? Is it because we are surrounded by other serious people and we want to conform? Is it because fantastical events and escapades are what “kids” do, and thus is not pertinent to the practical?

Obviously we all still can get into that fantasy zone and we all love it. That’s why movies are still such a potent force; they give us social permission to be like a kid for 2 hours, once a week. It also explains the waxing relevance of online games.

But when we start talking about photography – well now, that is a different subject! Photography is a serious art form, practiced by classically trained masters whose reality is quite serious indeed! There mustn’t be anything fantastical introduced via the art form. The process is the camera straight to the film, you see!


Learning to Draw by Candlelight (by Stuck in Customs)

My personal foray over the last year into learning how to draw

9) Learn to draw

Hey this is a weird one, eh? Who on Earth has time to learn to draw? Well, you would have time if you stopped wasting time on nonsensical activities. You’ve got one life here so you might as well start applying yourself.

I didn’t have any time! Heck I have a load of kids, a full time job, a bunch of cool games to play, books to read, I have to go exercise, I do a bit of photography, and blah blah blah… So, as a personal experiment, I was going to see if anyone can learn to draw. This is similar to another experiment I did on myself to see if I could take something I hated and turn it into something I enjoy. Only that experiment was coffee, and I was afraid learning to draw would be harder, particularly because of the jitteryness introduced from the first experiment.

I’ve always admired people that can just grab a pencil and paper and make something amazing. Man, I always wanted to do that! I went into the experiment with the hypothesis that there are great natural artists that can draw anything with zero instruction whatsoever. These are true masters and I was unlikely to achieve that goal. However, I thought I could get passable at drawing and get to a point of satisfaction. A great side effect, I envisioned, is that it would give me new insight into photography – into line, shape, light, and composition.

All of this turned out to be true. So, if you have hit a rough spot or the doldrums with your photography, take up drawing. There are a few instructional books out there that are practical hands-on guides that can get you the basic pointers you need. I think you will be quite impressed on how it starts to bleed into your photography art!

The Place Where Rebekka's Horses Run Free (by Stuck in Customs)

A wild-haired tame horse on the windy fjords of Iceland

10) Make mistakes

Last, make a lot of mistakes. Throw yourself and your art out there and see what works and what doesn’t work. Get your stuff looked at by real friends that give you frank feedback.

Don’t be like those sorry saps on American Idol who make fools of themselves in big auditions because they’ve spent their whole life with their tone-deaf mom telling them they are incredible at singing “Over the Rainbow”, because Aunt Mabel enjoyed it so much during that 2nd grade play. Get yourself online and begin making friends by finding other photographers that you respect. Beg and plead for them to come look at one or two of your photos and get their frank feedback. They will cut you apart, but just take your medicine, lick your wounds, and go out there and improve.


And there we have ten things to shake up your world a little bit. I’m no Baudelaire when it comes to writing these sorts of polemics. However, just as he drove Manet to be Manet, perhaps I can do my own little part to stoke the fires and drive a new art revolution forward; evolve and evoke, or whither into nothingness.

Extra Credit

Vitaly, the kind guru at Smashing Magazine, asked me to include a some other photos because readers love the sweet eye candy.  So here is a random selection of some of my favorites, which is somewhat of a canard because I get caught up in an endless loop of recursive objective self-objectivity.

The Lonely Trinity (by Stuck in Customs)

The Lonely Trinity

Merry D3Xmas from Trey and Stuck In Customs!

A Snowy Night at the Kiev Opera House

Stuck in India - Humayun's Tomb

On Frozen Pond

The Veins of Bangkok

The Bombing of Dresden

  • just wonderful Trey!

  • This is a great section that I will visit regularly. “Evolve and evoke” has been my motto for years, I just never had that terminology for it. Awesome.


  • Trey,
    You continue to be a great inspiration to me. Your thought provoking insights both here and in Flickr are a perfect match to your evocative HDR photography.
    Thank you and wishing you and yours the Happiest of New Years.
    Bob Voors

  • I can’t believe I have the honor of being near the top of this comment list! This is very inspirational. You made me realize I am like a 9-year old girl!. I resisted forever getting a good tripod, but now I’m ready to go out and get one. As well as a better ultra-wide angle lens. I loved learning about that fuzzy zone between reality and fantasy and how that applies to photography. I now understand better why that smithsonian photo is so popular as well as why some of my most popular photos are hits, I didn’t understand until now! Now I’m determined to put this newly learned stuff to use and go out and win some contests, starting with this HDR max one here. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Tin

    “A beautiful photo must tell the epic tale of the memory linked with other emotive memories that fold into whole.”

    Great saying, totally agree.

  • Thank you very much – I recently opened up all these pages to comments, and I’m glad I did! 🙂

  • Todd Burleson

    You are a very generous artist. I agree that we only have this life, apply yourself! Thank you for the motivation. I look forward to growing and your work inspires me to evolve.

    Most sincerely,


  • SiPat

    Hi. Just discovered your website… what beautiful photographs.

    I just love the photo of the Taj Mahal, which I visited 25-odd years ago and came away with nearly a hundred photos on 35mm slides — I’m going to convert them to digital some day soon.

    Just wanted to say that the bit of the Taj Mahal which sits on the plinth is actually symmetrical, all four (actually eight if you’re pedantic) sides being identical and of equal length and so doesn’t really have a “backside” which in most parts of the English-speaking world I have visited (haven’t been to the USA yet) means your posterior or bum!

  • SiPat

    Clarification: the eight sides are not equal — the four “corners” are not the same length as the four main faces. The four main faces are of equal length, and the four corners are of equal length.

    There! I feel better now.

  • christos

    Hi..your site is a new discovery for me also. I,m heading out right now to take my one photos for the day. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Happy New Year

  • I ran into one of your photo’s on Flickr.com about a year ago. I enjoy seeing your new photo every morning. After reading your site and and helpful pages, I have started researching and reviewing programs, books and even upgrading my camera. Thank for all you have done and keep up the hard work!

  • Jacques

    Wow! I really enjoyed reading this and getting a better understanding for how you approach your work. I have really been inspired and plan to do my best to incorporate as many of the principles as will work for me into my creative workflow. Thanks for writing this for us!

  • Thank you all! 🙂

  • Thanks a lot for your insights. You continue to be one of my go-to contacts on Flickr when I’m looking to push my work a bit. Your thoughts here are spot-on as far as I’m concerned. Occasionally I’ll get a little lazy and wonder why I don’t have any good photos streaming out. Simple answer – I’m not exerting the appropriate amount of effort. When I suck it up and get out, get creative and do some work, it comes together!

    Now – back over to your HDR tutorial for another pass.

    -Sean Mc.

  • Thanks Sean – I appreciate it. I hope you find the updated tutorial to be to your liking! 🙂

  • marcel

    Hi creative geniuses, this site is amazing!

    I can´t belive what is possible with the right adjustments 🙂
    Thanks for you guide to make the best fotos, especially 4) Carry a tripod for those beautiful sunsets and sunrises…

    Dear Trey, your Tipps and the way you did fotos are indescribable, you really draw light into a pic!
    Can you please tell me how do you create the dream / glow effect in your fotos?

  • Your pix and advise are really good, I do this a bit myself but am sometimes dissapointed with the mid tones and light that surrounds objects and buildings. When I look at Images in a galery and notice these effects I’m instantly put off, it’s geeky I know but i wouldn’t put my images in a galery if any 21 yr old pup photog could walk past with a “pffft amature” attitude. I know this, cause i am that 21 yr old pup! You seem to have honed it down though, your the Mercedes to my Datsun. Happysnappin!

  • That was a great read and your photos are amazing. It gave me a lot to think about. And in point 10 you said, “Beg and plead for them to come look at one or two of your photos and get their frank feedback.”

    So I’m begging and pleading. Here’s a Flickr set of my favorite photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/richtpt/sets/72157612614512758/ Please give me some honest feedback. I’m not looking to become a professional photographer (I have another job I love), but I would like to take great pictures. I still have a lot to learn and thanks to websites like yours, I’m learning. 🙂 I’m also a musician, so I’m used to honest, hard hitting feedback. What I would love is not, “That sucks,” but “That sucks because… Here’s what you could have done to make it better.”


  • WOW! Thank you so much for taking the time to look at and comment on some of my photos! That really means a lot to me! I checked my email this morning and saw I had comments then my jaw dropped when I saw they were from you. Very helpful! One thing I haven’t done a lot is crop them mainly because I haven’t had time to do that. But now I’m going to make some time to do that. Thanks again!!!!

  • WOW these are amazing and such a good tutorials you have as well. Seeing all your photographs makes me want to grab my camera get in my car and of course my tripod and go to find my own remote locations of this little rock and create art. I think that Okinawa Japan really does have some great beautiful landscapes and also several HDR possiblities. If you are even down this way trying to get stuck in customs please look me up. If we are still stationed here that is.

  • Hehe – thanks all… I’d love to check out Okinawa – I was thinking of coming to Japan late next year in fact

  • For the amateur hoping to step up in the world, advice like this is first rate. You have inspired me to try HDR when I get some more time to edit.

  • Blake

    Hey Trey! I’m mustering up the courage to beg you to check out a small set of my photos.
    Well…It seems I already have, even if it’s more or less indirect! I saw your photos about 2 years ago and loved the processing, and it finally put into place the restrictions I’d been feeling in the way of art. It seemed as though I tried my best, found compositions I felt were strong, but it just wasn’t the same. Things started to evolve to “Well, what I’m imagining I want from this scene won’t be what I get. Maybe it’ll turn out nice as something different.”

    Once I found your tutorial and began applying the principles and methods, it all made sense. (I was upset that I hadn’t put it all together before!). Now I’ve been working on expanding towards landscapes (I think my transgression has been backwards), and it seems like it all falls into place, like the progression was prepared for me and find affirmations that I’m moving the right way.

    Aside from the semi-unnecessary novel, could I ask you to check out a few from my set on flickr? (I know you’re extremely busy)


    Thanks for everything, I really appreciate it!

  • Thanks — and yes I checked out your work and left a few comments…. can’t promise I can do it for everyone.. I have mail overload sorry yall!

  • Javier Barrera

    Thanks for your help. I’ts so good when people don’t try to impose a point of view, and instead, like you do, just tell the personal story along the way.

    Thanks a lot, and pelase excuse my english.

    From Colombia,

  • This article rocks – thanks

  • Great post. Thanks for writing it. I love your images, your take on the world and photography, and that you get to see so many great places and share the photos with us all.

  • Cool thanks all! Nikographer – that is nice of you – I appreciate it…

  • Very nice article…very inspiring!

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  • I have to say the drawing thing I have always been afraid to do as well. I’ve always wanted to attempt to learn how and still to this very day run from it. I have hit a little bit of a bump in my joy for photography so maybe it’s time to pick up a drawing book and put down the coffee (a habit I’ve been trying to break). Great article Trey. Every time I come to your site I’m always re-inspired.

  • Thank You.

    This is great article, I will have to read it again when I have more time to sit and ponder each point.

    Your “Make mistakes” section reminded me of something from way back in junior high school. I was learning how to throw pots on a potters wheel. And my teacher told us that to take your first 100 pots and throw them against a wall. They will be bad anyway so no big loss.

    The point was of course to make mistakes and learn from them. but as a kid it was interesting for a teacher to tell us that he expected us to have nothing to show for the year of classes. 🙂

    I cheated and kept a few, still have them to this day.

  • casusan

    Great Trey!! Interesting and informative!

  • john edward

    Great article and great photos. Now I’m going to visit the hdr tutorial to get some much needed tips.

  • Excellent post!

  • CJ Kern

    Thanks for a great post… you really have given me much to think about.

  • Sue

    What an interesting read, Trey. You express yourself quite nicely! I already knew that but felt the need to comment on it again. I love the ideas you put forth about perception of light and beauty and now I know a bit about why you have a heightened sense for it.

    I feel I am experiencing those “doldroms” with my photography. I think I have location “burn out”. I do one day want a DSLR. Might I interpret your idea of taking a “shot every day” as an assignment? Motivation has been lacking and I think it might be a “kick start” for me.

    *wonders if he recognizes…*

    Nice job on the article as well as the art. :~)

    You’ve stimulated my mind’s eye, in more ways than one.

  • Great contribution to the literature, Trey! I’m going to have my high school digital photo students do some work with this article. Meanwhile, a couple of comments:

    You touch several times on the camera-eye-brain discontinuity and that is so correct! I, also, am a missionary for this idea. So many times I encounter people who are post-processing minimalists because they are slaves to “reality” and view processing as some kind of non-level playing field for photographers who are cheating at the reality game. Actually, the opposite is true! Even the best camera handicaps image capture incredibly, compared to the eye/brain, and seldom faithfully reproduces reality. Severely limited processing is a dysfunctional idea.

    I respectfully disagree with your requirement for a good wide-angle lens to do good landscape photography. I do some pretty good landscapes without ever touching a wide angle (http://www.flickr.com/photos/further_to_fly/2701127801, http://www.flickr.com/photos/further_to_fly/2690116027)as I am a big fan of stitched panoramic photos shot with a normal lens. This technique, which I know you are familiar with, provides much finer control of distortion and the opportunity for very high resolution of detail. Several times I have advised people to forgo buying a high-end wide angle solely for landscapes, and instead learn stitched panoramas and save a few bucks in the bargain.

    Thanks very much for a great article!

    Tom Horton

  • Thank you everyone — and that is good to hear Sue 🙂

  • Trey,

    Nice pictures but i disagree with the DSLR is must opinion. I know of loads of photographers who shoot better pictures than most experts out there with small point and shoots like a Sony T7 or a Canon A540 kind of a toy camera.

    High speed photography and wide angle photography requires DSLR’s. So does critical focus on macro’s and high resolution prints or professional portraits. No doubts about that, i completely agree with you on that one.

    General shooting of casual portraits and landscapes and events can very well be accomplished with a good prosumer camera with a good zoom and that opens upto F/3.5 on long end and F/2.8 on wide end.

    DSLR’s are a must only when extreme wide angle, huge prints, long exposures kind of specialized requirements are the case.

    I fail to see why i need a DSLR to do HDR images. Many point and shoots now do exposure bracketing and some even shoot RAW. All i would need is a tripod to get the right framing and then a good work flow knowledge of processing HDR images from multiple exposures.

    What most people don’t understand that professional experts like yourself are good at is support and composition. Most people don’t use a tripod. It slows you down and help things go better as slower shutter speeds and higher F numbers are possible when u have a tripod. Secondly, the most important part. Composition.

    Mostly, all it takes is practice. More the practice, better the images. Its quite evident from seeing your work that you have put in truck loads of time and effort into what you do, which speaks volumes of yourself in the form of these excellent images.

    Nice write up on the whole about discussing photography. A must read for the ones serious about photography.

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  • Dilip – thanks for the note.

    Well look – you are right… I figure that people that have been taking photos for a while get to know the best of the best prosumer cameras like the one you mentioned. In fact, I have a LX3 compact as a backup. Some of these have very nice lenses, great aperture settings, etc. I grouped many of them together as “toy” because 96% of those consumer handheld cameras are limited in their high-end flexibility.

  • c

    what a bunch of overprocessed crap hdr shit

    makes me want to puke

  • Use always too much HDR isn’t beautiful photography…

  • Indibang

    11th principle of photoghraphy is “Person behind the camera is more important than the camera itself”

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  • Pam

    I dabbled in photography 30 years ago when I begged my parents to buy me a SLR. Lordy, I was pretty damn good at it, that camera went to school with me and everywhere else. I picked up on the concept of shutter speed and exposure easily. Now, I look tat those camera’s that operate on the same concept, but are extremely initimidating to me because of all the digital doo dads. Point is, I want to go back to doing what I love, stop seeing the new camera’s as a stumbling block and find a camera that is amazing but affordable, since my car was reposssed and I’m gettin evicted due to the layoffs in MA. I intend to check out your list of camera’s, but I REALLY want to do macro photograph, and have a feeling that those lenses are more expensive than 10 camera’s. Again, the point is that reading your material reinforces that If I want to create beautiful photographs I need to find a way to make it work, find beauty in everything, and start small. Your photographs and travel are amazing and inspiring. Instead of wishing I was you, I intend to start my journey, even if it’s down the street, today. Thanks.

  • Great guidance here. You truly think outside the normal realm of the brain.

  • hi trey,

    this is my response to all the negative comments on your Smashing Magazine article and some comments made here (#43)


    213. paul (dex) (February 22nd, 2009, 6:06 pm)

    first of all: trey – thank you for sharing your views and knowledge so unselfishly; you’ve been an inspiration to many, including me, for a long time. all your efforts ARE appreciated !!!

    secondly: I don’t pretend to be a “pro”, I just like beautiful images regardless of how the end result is accomplished and if “rules” have been followed or broken, but I spent quite some time reading all comments and it’s hard to believe (unfortunately not as shocking as it should be) how aggressive and rude some people can be, getting even down to personal attacks on someone trying to be positive and to encourage us “mere mortals” to have better results when taking pictures

    for those who truly don’t like over saturated images there is an easy solution – MOVE ON! but instead you choose to take precious time out of your life to publicly put a negative spin on honest advice and come up with “constructive criticism” such as:

    “the author is such a toss pot! … Get a life.” (8), “… that’s a piece of crap” (10), “I don’t think I’ve ever heard worse advice” (27), “masses have spoken” (29), “These HDR make me sick. HDR should be banned from the Internet!” (64), “.. .which in the end should be the main purpose” (65), “Bad. Please don’t do this again” (112), and on and on…

    do I detect censorship (64)? do I detect an internet census by an authoritative (God-like) figure (29)? are we being told what the end result “should be” (65)?

    who are you people? where did you come from?!? where is YOUR “art”? why don’t you let the “masses” of mere mortals give you the taste of your medicine and judge you, and your advices and tutorials? where is your “better” work that gives you the nerve to make these comments? (I’m not addressing the ones who bothered to explained their opinion, and with some good points too)

    could it be that a simple technique which doesn’t require a university degree makes the “pros” feel threatened and you feel you have to make this effort and criticize HDR to this extreme and try as hard as you can to crush it? could it be envy that something so simple has such a huge potential and you feel threatened? or you feel it’s unfair that normal people can achieve amazing results without all the effort it used to take (to come up with just a pompous result?). btw: Ross (192) and Philosaur (186) – you both have a great analysis !

    again trey – thank you for all your efforts!

    paul (dex)



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  • p.m.w

    Thanks for posting the article in Smashing Magazine. I enjoyed the debate on HDR Photography and it was a good laugh too.

  • Wow, great article. I really enjoyed what you had to say and your photos. Thanks for the info.

  • Wonderful photos as always. Thanks for this article … I feel a renewed sense of “photographic energy” thanks to you after a long, cold winter.

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  • I like your list Trey. I think you should amp it up to 11 ;o)
    11: Travel – Doesn’t have to be far but you won’t get these sorts of images yourself sat on your behind reading stuckincustoms or browsing others Flickr streams. Get out there and have fun..

  • Michael (Verticordia)

    Outstanding Trey. The article is quite good. I have some ideas about improving it but some excellent fundamentals are present. I suppose, those areas which I see improvement is really what you wished to trigger in the mind of the reader. The article being intended to inspire and draw out the artist in the reader. Nice Job! I am not a pro-photographer and certainly beautiful landscapes, HDR, a good wide-angle, exotic subject matter (See Romanticism), and impressionism will always be a big draw in the beauty department. There certainly are other markets and aesthetic sensibilities. Also, all the major identified art movements are there because they identify specific qualities of the mind and visual arts. Impressionism does engage the mind of the audience, who piece it together within their own minds. It is worth examining the Gestalt Principles or laws. Of course there is no formula to great Photography. Your inclusion of the “fantasy/reality membrane is a key , that and getting up off your butt and DOING IT hahaha (See “Art Brut” or as it’s known “Outsider Art”. ) I somewhat agree that Flickr has a great potential exactly as said. I don’t pay that much attention to the interestingness or explore function . Not that I don’t like it, I certainly love when mine or friend’s hard work is rewarded tangibly with ranking in explore. It’s quite encouraging. Also back about 3 years ago, was intending to use it as a tool very much in the vain that yuo speak of it. A Solon of sorts. (And it was a business, that got thwarted – long story) However, it does seem like it could use some improvement. (until a state of perfection is achieved, what doesn’t need improvement.) I don’t think the magic donkey it is fully automated. Do you know for a that it is a fully automated algorithm, and ? I keep getting the impression it’ dependent on a source of human intelligence, and not just in a page rank sort of way. I would love to know what you know about it, Flickr isn’t exactly sharing their secrets with me hehehe – Ok thanks, this post was very inspiring. I know I don’t post comments that much but you have inspired me sa lot with your photos and posts. Nice work!

  • Thank you very much everyone… Glad you like it. And thanks Michael for the nice note! 🙂

    Mark – I will amp it up to 11 ! 🙂

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  • You are a wizard–I love your work and your attitude,Bill

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  • I have to say I am new to DSLR cameras I just bought a Nikon D90 and honestly I was a little intimidated by it. Growing up with a Canon Film I was not so certain what to do. Finally I got off my rump and figured it out, but once again I have found myself intimidated by the competition. After reading this article and many others I have realized the only way I will ever “Make It Happen” is to get off my rump and suck it up and involve myself in the friendly competition of photography, it is amazing how sometimes after “growing up” you seem to become more of well a wuss. Looking back realizing how competitive I was in school and not afraid of “making it happen” I know that I can do it. I have to say thank you Trey for all the inspiring blogs and articles you have written and not only that but the most important thing is your art in photography. I will now get back to drawing like I use to and not just that but get back on the saddle and “make it happen!”

    Most Utter Respect
    Neka Rae

  • i’ve never been able to draw. i will. i’ve recently given up FPS gaming, because i fealt i was missing something.
    Then i found the pics i took with my Digital Rebel, that i treated like a point and shoot, and uploaded them to flickr. That got me into blogging (when i had spent my time in forums).
    My comment on this article? It is simply ‘Thanks’.

  • WOW every photo is a masterpiece.

  • so great post

  • Thanks y’all ! 🙂

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  • Thought-provoking, educational; and inspirational.

  • wskrayen

    Great Article and very inspiring.

    Now I’ll be to the first to admit, I’m not a good photographer, but I’d have to agree about the compact digital. When I’m using an(D)SLR, my shots are poor to ok photographs. When I use my compact digital, they aren’t even good snapshots. I noticed I don’t put the same effort into the shots with the compact, that I do with my SLRs, digital and film.

  • I have never seen such beautiful photographs in my life. Is it okay if I downloaded them and use them for my desktop?

  • Thanks – and sure you can use my photos as backgrounds… it’s all Creative Commons – no commercial use without permission…. so…go right ahead! 🙂

  • Hey Trey, thanks for the time you dedicate for us less instructed in sharing your knowledge, wether it’s from studying, experience or, and specially from, mistakes.
    This should be called “10 commandments of beautiful photography”.

  • Matt Smith

    Hey Trey, I just wanted to say that your knowledge and kindness that you show in your website and on flickr is greatly appreciated. I’m a believer in the “treating others the way you want to be treated”, and I think you’ll continue to have great success with the way you act on here. You have great photos and great information. I have only had a camera for 5 months but you inspire me to learn EVERYDAY possible to try and better myself. Thank you for your time. Best of luck.

  • hi.. this so wonderful great photos., i love those.its very useful principles.

  • Sasha

    Wow….I’m a bit speechless right now! your photography is AMAZING, you made me want to take a world tour to all these place. I came across your page completely by accident BUT I am so glad i did because these photos are just simply amazing. I was actually wondering if you have more, or is there a gallery that you have?
    I love this, looking at these kind of photos makes my imagination go wild and I love it, these places themselves are beautiful I think I might visit them now =]
    Thank you for your beautiful photography it really does brighten up a persons day, like mine.
    Hope you can respond and let me know if you have more photos or a gallery.

  • Rut Klempan

    Thank you Trey for all your amazing photographs and tutorials etc..
    I do not do any HDR, I prefer my shadows and mystique, but perhaps I should give it a try, I personally think they can be overdone.
    You must have some magic wings for traveling all over the globe…
    Thanks again
    Rut Klempan (born and raised in Iceland)

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  • Madeline

    #1-10 make sure you use way too much Photoshop, so that it looks completely different than the original photo. And don’t forget the texture layers!

  • Sam

    Just like how there is a fine line between a good photograph and a great one there is a fine line between a PHOTOGRAPH and an ILLUSTRATION.

  • LS

    Thanks for giving my indecisive mind a push. That tough, no options route was what I needed.

  • Katie V

    You know that song by Allison Krauss? It goes “now that I found you I can’t let you go…”

    I just found out about this HDR deal cause I accidentally ran into one of your pics on flickr. Guess I have been under a rock – THANKS!!

  • LILI

    hermosas fotos, muy creativas y tomadas algunas desde ángulos insospechados…

    felicidades por tanta creatividad y vision..!!!

  • I would like some recommendations on drawing books that you have enjoyed.

    Thank you for all that you have shared with us.

  • Thanks everyone – very kind of you.

    Deyson – try “Drawing for the Right Side of the Brain”

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  • great post! very interesting (and funny) with some good tips. thanks!

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  • Amazing read, thank you for taking the time.

    I found points 1 & 8 very insightful and they will definitely stick in my mind whenever I use my camera.

  • Elf Evans

    Vern nicely put and inspirational.

  • Very nicely put and inspirational.

  • Kelvin

    Thank you
    A reminder of the creative energy that dwells within each of us. A world of infinite possibilities, memories just itching to be shared. Thank you for sharing

  • All pictures look amazing and inspirational!

  • 11th principle of photoghraphy is “Person behind the camera is more important than the camera itself”

    Very True !

  • Tom

    Very inspiring and informative, and I thank you for taking the time to provide these tips. And if you really want to learn to draw, get Betty Edwards’ book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”. That’s how I learned, and it is almost as amazing as your photos!

  • Appreciate the article. A couple thoughts:

    (1) While it is true in one sense that HDR photos show us more “what the eye sees,” because the pupil of the eye does change diameter to pick up more color information while surveying a scene, there is an obvious alter-effect going on here. Many of the photos above, while providing more information for the scene, also bring to mind 3-D gaming graphics, and computer-generated graphics on movies. This is not precisely in line with “what the eye sees.” It might be more like, “what the eye sees when looking at a 3d model of ‘The Bridge of Unholy Death’ as prepared for the [insert title] movie in November 2009.”

    (2) There are a plethora of photography markets and purposes. There is no particular reason to emphasize landscape photography. Some of us are so busy with portrait photography that “landscape” and “wide-angle” aren’t even in our daily vocabulary. Also, photography isn’t always required to be artistic either. And if it is, “what the camera sees in a single exposure” is sometimes the appropriate artistic communication intended by the artist rather than “what the eye sees while perusing a scene.” The latter is not, ipso-facto, the definition of better artwork.]


  • wetanklets

    Good article. Although i find the pictures too digitally tampered with. The colors look harsh and unnatural a lot of times. Imperfection in photographs is a good thing, the noise and natural inconsistencies add to the personality of the photo. By eliminating that, pictures just bleed away into artificiality.

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  • linda

    A lot of these photos look fake, sorry.

  • jan


    Very thought provoking – however I like my evocation to be based on aesthetacs rather than shock. There’s a lot of evocation here, a lot of aesthetics, but I still find buildings lying down when they don’t have to a bit of a shock. Internals, are a delight, but when it comes to the external angles I like using humanoid perspective correction, or making it into a pano. Leave that kind of perspective to the bugs, I say.

    Best of luck and all good wishes for your artistic/philosophical development.



  • Quentin

    I fine that HDR is an over-rated technique that induces nausea, much as does artificial foodstuffs. HDR is nothing more than eye candy – you soon get sick of it.

    Incidentally, if you really want a proper camera, rather than buying a digital box of tricks may I suggest you treat yourself to a medium format camera and learn how to use it by joining a decent film photography club.

  • Thanks Trey!

    Another great read.

    “…recursive objective self-objectivity…”. Is that like being a “creative perfectionist”? 🙂

  • Tory

    So I am curious… Why heavily photoshop such great photos? Your photos are very nice but they are so heavily photoshopped that they look unreal.

    Just an opinion from a friendly photographer.

  • Alejandra

    Trey me gustaria adquir el paquete de texturas, el básico, pero me gustaria saber que texturas trae este paquete, sería posible saberlo? Sus fotos son espectaculares. Gracias por sus consejos.

  • Andrew

    How do you have time for this?
    What do you do for a living.

  • Gregg

    Trey, you have shown me the true beauty of hdr images. Before I visited your website, I viewed hdr photos as over-produced fake photography. But now that I have visited your website I have found that hdr photos add depth to photos like nothing else. Thank you very much and please keep up the photo tutorials.

  • Roski

    I would like to say that you are really really good at this. My sister has been into photography for the longest time now but her 30$ camera is a piece of crap. The only thing between her is the drawing part (which i can do) and the motivation too. He thinks that you can get into photography at any time and become famous over night. I have been trying to get her into it now so she dosn’t feel dissapointed when the lights turn on and nothing is there. Please tell me how to make her get into it. Love your art, love you, and love this life lol. Have a nice time until we talk.


  • Roski

    PS: E-mail is [email protected]

  • tiger


    May I know why you gave the title of “Fourth on Lake Austin” to the firework shot? Thanks.

  • Thanks all.

    Tiger – Because it was take on lake austin on the fourth of july

  • Awesome stuff, totally agree…

  • This is great! Have been a fan of yours from the first day I stumble on your site…

  • Stephanie

    I see Sweeney Todd in your drawings… you’re my hero. Great photos + Johnny Depp = amazing.

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  • Andy

    Love the honesty and your approach to life and art!!! Please keep up the good work!!!

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  • Amazing tips, Trey. Love the polemics too!

  • agus f

    Those 10 principles are really motivating ! thank you.

  • Ben

    Tip 8 – so so true… I always wanted to be Peter Pan!

  • Doug Weimann

    I like photography a lot. I often pretend I’m taking a photograph because I don’t own a camera. So, I place my fingers in front of my eyes in a boxed-in camera frame and make a click sound. I realize others can’t see my photographs, but I have them all locked in my mind. I often look through my photographs when I am alone.

  • Carroll Hanks

    To all those with negative comments – you are entitled to your opinions, but as my mother taught me, “If you can’t say something nice, just keep quiet.” No one forced you to come to this site and look at the photos, so just go away. Personally I love the look of HDR, so I am trying it with my new Sony NEX5 – which does HDR automatically, taking 3 shots, with preset range or will determine it. My first try looked great.

  • Okta Hariadi Pradana


  • Jessy Karns

    1st off, I happily stumbled on your site. I am blown away. These are amazing. I appreciate your different view of the Taj very much. We always see pictures of the other side just like the moon. Secondly, Ayn is my hero and I had to comment on this list because I work at the company you mentioned and I’m not a 19 year old guy (28 female thank you very much) 😀 I used to work in the digital imaging department (now in cellular phones much more fun to sell) when I was a photography student. I tried to convince every customer and their mother to go the DSLR route but, to no avail people want simple, plain photographs. It is a shame. Just thought I’d share. It’s funny I would pull up my Flickr albums on the computer that I shot with my 40D and then a picture I shot with my pocket Canon….people would say it doesn’t look that much better! Ugh. I also love to see the wonderful pictures you take of your kids. I know lots of parents who hardly take any pictures at all or they buy the 90 dollar point & shoot. They mine as well have used a VGA cell phone for their child’s entire childhood. I was wondering if you knew such people? My mother was an art major at University of Maryland…she bleeds art. She used her Canon SLR from 1970 to take every picture of me growing up and it always feels so warm having a look back. Did your parents do the same? If so did it inspire you? It did me. Thank you for all you do. PS-drawings are fantabulous and your musical tastes are awesome as well; come take more pictures of Nashville soon 😉

  • Tim Kerschbaumer

    Outstanding images and the article is just wow 🙂
    I have a question about the “The Veins of Bangkok” image. Approximately how long was the exposure? i’m trying a start at long exposure photography, but i’m staggering about the exposure times.
    Any tricks on how to figure out the appropriate time required or is that just a matter of feeling and guessing?


  • Tim – will that one was an HDR, so there were several exposures – I believe the longest was 30 secs. There is a lot of feeling and guessing involved yes!

  • Love the photographs! It’s great to see how creative people get, and for me to start dreaming about getting there someday.

  • Thank you Trey – Your inspired insights continue to shine
    light where it can create upon itself more, and even more.

  • I just left a comment in another area and commented that I was impressed by your first step in explaining how to “see”. I do have both of my eyes and I guess that I am just lucky to have always seen things the way that you describe here.

    I know that you probably don’t have the time, but I would love to get your opinion on whether some of my images can be “converted” to HDR successfully. (Take 1 exposure in Raw – Save an Over and an Under Version and then create the HDR) I have made half hearted attempts but always felt that I could get just as close using my Camera Software.

    Thanks, and thanks for sharing your images and your visions.


  • Thanks so much … Chuck — you don’t have to go through all that – see my HDR Tutorial for single raw at http://www.StuckInCustoms.com/hdr-tutorial/

  • I just discovered your blog recently and though I more often capture events with my photography, I also love scenery when the mood strikes! Really enjoyed your insights and plan to become a regular reader! Thanks Trey! Amazing photos! 🙂

  • Trey, I really enjoyed this article. The part where you wrote: “There mustn’t be anything fantastical introduced via the art form. The process is the camera straight to the film, you see!
    Poppycock.” Thank you for that. I feel as if that statement has given me permission to be really creative with my photography. I started learning photoshop about a year ago and I love all of the artistic elements it possesses. The photos on my website are a mix. One of them, my “Sweet Dove”, doesn’t even look like a photograph. Anyway, I’m learning and have started experimenting with HDR. Thank you for your tutorials. Also, I’ve never posted anything to Flickr. I’ll have to give it a try.

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  • Trey, your family Christmas image always delights me. It nails a feeling of Christmas, with it’s rich colors and composition. This should be the size of a billboard, hanging in a public art gallery. Thanks for sharing all your insights. Doug

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  • Zerrin Baser

    I recently started to take photos and found your page through Ted Talks by chance! This is my best lucky day… I am so impressed and you raised my enthusiasm let alone learning a lot. Great work and I will continue to be one of your “guests”. From beautiful Turkey…

  • Francis Gallagher

    Trey, your pictures are amazingly inspiring. It makes me want to get up and go out and use my camera straight away but I suffer from a problem most photographers don’t have or do not seem to mention. Confidence, and I don’t mean about peer reviewal or taking bad pictures. But the actual confidence to set up my camera in a possibly crowded place and try to get a nice picture while many people sit and stare or possibly even question you. I am just happy I am more fond of taking natural landscapes, not many sheep ask hard to answer questions.

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  • Is this the basically same as the new ebook with this title you sell on flatbooks.com? Does the ebook elaborate, or is it something completely revoloutionary new?

  • No – the ebook is the same – with one extra bit… BUT – the ebook is free when you sign up for the newsletter! 🙂

  • Alan Greenblatt

    Just finished listening to you speak at Adobe. I had to watch online from Boston so I missed some of the photos, but the talk was truly inspiring. Thanks for coming in to speak.

  • I have been trying to explain how great photographs are, more than just documenting something. How there is emotion, not just from the people that I am photographing but from the viewer as well. I want the world to understand what the wind was doing, how it felt breezing by or the wall with all of the texture even though my main subject is a bride or a kido. Sometimes, and I love it when it happens, there is more to the subject than just the person in the picture, in fact with me I hope that it is more often than not. It is in this emotion from the viewer that makes me feel like a real artist and not just a portrait photographer.

    Drawing!!!! Yes! Yes! Yes! I went to art school and studied photography. And minored in Art History, Renoir is my favorite…Well…I still Love me some Rembrandt and that amazing lighting. But I learned how to draw and paint and do printmaking at the same time as I was creating photography, I have know idea what my work would look like without all the other studies. There were more, like sculpture, and ceramics. But I really loved photography. I can tell when I see someone’s art when they have studied (I don’t believe that everyone has to go to school to get schooled) and when they haven’t. My theory is that un-schooled photographers capture moments that they like or think are great without knowing what makes them good. They don’t know why they choose things, they didn’t notice the choice they were making but by not making a clear choice they made one just the same. This results in a lucky shot or a bad photograph. The odds will always get better with more practice.

    You have inspired me to take photos for fun, not just when I am working. I carry a camera all day and when I am not caring a camera I am editing the photos or taking to people about the photos I have taken or are about to take.  When we are having family time or time off, the last thing I want to do is pull out the camera. But I need to. I need to share with my family the way I see them and take the time to look at something I should have noticed and appreciated on a deeper level. Like my parents farm house. 

    Sending love

  • Rachelle

    So cool Trey! I just outlined my own course of study for photography rather than paying $3000 a class. While I aspire to HDR, I’m going to begin with the basics. I’d appreciate any feedback on some amateur shots I posted on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/rachelle728/.
    I can’t give enough praise for this wonderful website you’ve created as a reference for the rest of us. I appreciate all the knowledge you’re willing to share. I plan to take your HDR webinar once I’ve built up enough knowledge and skills to understand the terminology, etc… It’s hard to believe it’s under $200 when one class at an art college is upward of $3000. Too cool!!! You da’ man!! Thanks again!

  • Jeannette Aracri

    Do you touch up your photos with photo shop because the colors and texture of some of your absolutely beautiful photos just don’t look like something that has not bee touched up. Thanks love your web site and send it to all my friends. Do you ever come to italy, I live near Venice and take lots of photos there, in fact I am having a show in Treviso starting June 4th. Really excited to be able to do this. Keep up the great work. ciao Jeannette Aracri

  • Amanda

    Amazing *-* this is extremely helpful both to help me get going on my photography and to convince my parents to buy me a tripod and stick to the idea of buying a nice camera 😛
    Just one small thing, don’t mind me being a grammar freak here… on #4, 5th paragraph…
    “You’re carrying that tripod because your serious about this. (the “your” is supposed to be like the first “you’re”)
    Oh and a small question, if you do have the time (this is where I annihilate the quote “There are no stupid questions”)… do you think a Sony SLT a55 would be good for HDR photography?
    Keep up the awesomeness of your pics [:

  • I love your bit about getting a real camera. I feel like there’s obviously a limit, you don’t want to outspend yourself, but just playing around isn’t necessarily going to push you forward. Having my point and shoot limits me in what I can create by its sheer technical specs. It keeps me from wanting to push myself forward for want of simple ability to do so. And of course your photos are amazing, thanks for sharing!

  • SMS

    This is the excellent post on photography for newbies. This is nice idea. I got useful info on photography. Thanks you. Keep posting

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  • Very nice pattern and excellent subject material , very little else we need : D.

  • Olivia

    Thank you for explaining things in a way that finally make sense to me. It’s great for newbies like myself who get intimidated by all the so called experts out there that focus so much on the technicalities of photography that the feeling and emotion get lost. You’ve inspired me to just get out there and not be afraid to just make mistakes.

  • My goodness. Wow. As a journalist, let me first say what a well written piece this was. It was informative, fun and inspirational. I trained some years ago as a news photojournalist (more than I’d like to remember or admit too!). As writing took over, the photography took a back seat but recently I am timidly wanting to resurrect my forgotten passion. The conventions of my training and earlier work had left me feeling constrained; as though I was confined to a tight prescribed skin that I was pushing and pulling at in order to break free. I could be an artist…possibly? Reality could be fantastical, right? Not everyone will like what I do but I am gaining the courage to think that is cool with me. Thanks Trey, you’ve helped me take one more step toward more confident exploration. I had been a little skeptical of HDR but your images were stunning and yet truthful. The photographs of the Amish boy and the Icelandic horse almost leap off the page!

  • Maldon

    I am a former journo/writer and advanced amateur photog with a lot of pretty Canon gear and a G11. The first thing I should say is that I believe it is necessary to learn your craft first and then apply the craft rules to your creativity. I think of Andrew Lloyd Weber, among others. He had to learn what Middle C was before he could create beautiful music. That’s a start. Second point is that there aren’t any rules in art. I learned in the ole days of Ilford FP3, Dektol developer, brown fingernails and darkrooms. We would manipulate images then just as we do so now with things ranging from filters to Photoshop. There’s no right and wrong. Art is an expression of you and your soul. I gave up exhibiting, photographic societies and so on, because I didn’t want my work to be judged by people whom I considered ill-informed. A final story: my wife and I make “smashed potatoes”. These are Desiree potatoes, with skins on, cooked whole then smashed into a lumpy mess with chives, olive oil and salt/pepper. We love them and so do our friends. Then one night I saw a cooking show in which a poncy judge said anyone who produced mashed potatoes that were not absolutely smooth would fail if he were judging the competition. I thought he was an idiot. So…. HDR? sure. But technology should be an aid to creativity and not an end in itself. Dunno if this makes sense, but your photos are yours and no one else’s. I have a dinner toast that I use every time we have guests: “Here’s to us and them that’s like us and to hell with the rest…..”

  • I love your bit to make a real camera. I feel there is obviously a limit, you do not want to spend more than, but just to play is not necessarily going to push you forward. My point and shoot limit myself in what I can create simple by its technical specifications. It keeps me wanting me to push forward the lack of ability to do simple. And of course, your photos are amazing, thank you for sharing!

  • Cat

    i just bought Sony Nex C3 recently as a beginner. previously i use normal digital camera and come across a problem where my photo appear dark but the actual scene was very bright with the sunshine and clear sky. So i start explore the camera found HDR and google it found your site. I really amaze with your photo taken using HDR and the simplicity detail of photo really means a lot than too much detail in a photo.

  • Wow, just absolutely amazing. I am an amateur photographer and would love to take photos like this

  • Graham

    Awesome site!. I worked in commercial television operations for 30 years, so I understand the concept of reaching for the emotions. I’m used to seeing what’s really there, and, more importantly, what should be, but isn’t. For those complaining that HDR doesn’t look real, that’s because it isn’t. As your eyes move around a live scene, they change speed of movement, focus, aperture, filter stuff in and out. When you look at an HDR photo, you take in the whole lot at once. Sometimes, not looking directly at the photo will evoke different feelings. As for drawing, I can’t draw a straight line even with the aid of a ruler, but it’s on my “to learn” list. Trey, as I reached the part about drawing, I was distracted (puppy). As I looked back at the screen, my first impression of the top drawing was one of a head in profile. Then I focussed. Mind you, I’ve spent 30 years working in a world of fantasy, smoke and mirrors, totally disconnected from reality. We didn’t even get a window to the outside world. Now retired, I get to play with a camera. This is a site to which I’ll return, often.

  • Just started my journey in to HDR when suddenly I found your site. How inspiring! I will be back!

  • Really nice pictures

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  • Arjit pawar

    amazing world of HDR………….wonderful.thanx

  • Mike

    I guess I have never thought about it in such detail but I agree, the emotional connection one has with a photograph really determines its ‘value’ and HDR can add richness and depth (not DoF) to an image that brings it closer to our mind’s experience. Emotion is why our own personal favorites may not be so popular online but those shots we post with an ‘ah what the hell, whynot’ attitude may be hailed as stunning (the most overused adjective on flickr btw). Although I think composition, exposure, etc., is always important, this has gotten me to think more about consciously evoking emotions with my photography – so thank you.

  • Kally

    Wow.. That was fascinating reading.. I had just gone into a tropical forests but being a beginer i did not know which lenses to carry with me. Besides for a particualr shot do you get the time to change lenses.. I have put one of a peculiar spider found only in these areas but you dont get time to change lenses and if you do , i would not which lens to change.

    I am an enthusast and i have a long way to go but your blog really motivates me. U rock Trey…

  • Joe

    i really do like you pictures. Do you have some on picasa?

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  • Great one 🙂

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  • Thank you, Trey, for this fantastic bunch of inspiration:) Can’t take my eyes from some of these wonderful artworks. Really amazing.

  • Trey, I couldn’t agree more with all that you’ve said. You, Micheal Freeman & Brian Peterson (creativity) have inspired me, repeatedly. You first when I started posting photos to flicr (2007) and came across HDR and your photos and recommendations for software (bought PhotomatixPro and Noiseware, great products as you recommended). I’ve been working ever since on improving, including all of your insights (and possibly more) about learning to draw and paint (want to be able to use Painter, have you worked with it?), to see as the mind sees, cognitive psychology, etc. etc. Did you know that Richard Feynman learned to draw late in life and got quite good at it? Feynman was beyond an inspiration for me, reading his biography (Genius by Gleick) made me aware of just how important it is to be confident (I can do this, maybe not as fast as others, but I’ll get there), and to remain open in evaluating something (He said, “Don’t say it’s shouldn’t look like that; nobody knows what it should look like, just figure it out for yourself”), not to discount or judge as a first reaction. And the most interesting part is that he scored above average, not genius level on IQ tests (like me, around 120). The problem with people with sky-high IQ is that they are intolerant of other people’s (much slower than theirs) processing speed (watch The Social Network to see an example of this :o) and they tend to become lazy in thinking through something; most analytical problems come to easy for them so they think they know everything. Feynman said exactly what you have expressed: keep trying and making mistakes and *learning* and don’t care what others say, you’ll get there.. How to read a technical book (advice to his sister who got her PhD) start at the beginning, read until nothing makes sense, stop. Start again the next day at the beginning, read until …, repeat this process until you have reached the last page. Like you, I have only one good eye, except the other one is still usable but only with peripheral vision (lazy-eye blindness)) which means I have zero depth perception (and today this is a simple operation done before age two but in my day they didn’t have a clue that it is a muscle imbalance not a defect with vision in the eye). So I fell in love with photographs and visual art early in life, but only recently in later life have taken up photography in a serious way. Thank you for your example and inspiration, it has made a difference in my life.

  • Ant Williams

    Outstanding and inspiring…

  • Gil Meriken

    Thanks, especially for the kick in the butt about using a tripod. I needed that.

    One quick editorial correction: under “FIN” you wrote “evolve and evoke, or whither into nothingness”, I believe you meant “wither into nothingness”.

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  • Facebook User

    Dude, you are my new Photography Idol!  =) Thanks for the inspiration!  🙂

  • Jennifer Moore

    I think your work is lovely though I am not so into the HDR stuff. I have tried to fool around with it a little  but it doesn’t seem to work so good on my animal shots. 🙂 I am an animal photographer and most of what I do is for animal hospitals and pet stores and some other local businesses, they seem to like a more natural look…I wish I could make it work for me because I really do love it, it’s beautiful. 
    I also do animal portraits and a lot of stuff for animal rights and welfare, I love what I do and I put heart into every single project I take on.  Don’t get me wrong I take pictures of everything but you know that feeling you get when you are shooting in your element, that feeling in your stomach that says “This is it, this is what I was meant to do”, thats what I feel when I am with animals, especially when it’s for a cause. Any advice for someone like me who doesn’t travel to all of these magnificent places? 

  • Fabien Warniez

    I absolutely love your writing! I also like your photography even though I am not so much into HDR. I am going ot bookmark your website 🙂

  • I discovered HDR quite by accident.  My cousin posted a photo on facebook and I was almost screamed out loud from its impact on me. Clicking on the photo dove me deeper into this wonderful movement being created by some wonderful artists out there when I happened upon your site. WOW is where I am at now. It is as tho this is what I have been looking for in my minds eye everytime I shot a picture. You are such an inspiration and now I am challenged to be the best. I have been shooting for almost over 30 years and I am a self taught portrait artist specializing in carbon and color pencil so my mind sees and feels all of these photo so vividly.
    I am now on a journey and with your tutorials and inspiration I am very excited to photograph the world as I already see it and more…

  • Adrine Dawson

    Hey! thank you so very much .You have inspired me.  I was feeling a bit sorry for myself I hate my job and I want to give up work in the near future and start up my own photographic business with my son who has a double degree I have done a couple of weddings etc. but now I am getting serious about my photography.   I will take a few courses to help me on my way want to get into real estate and travel photography any suggestions :).   Anyway thank you again for this beautiful web site.      

  • Wild Xtyle

    new born kittens

  • Don’t really have words to say. Wish I could actually just roam around with you and learn a thing or two about photography.

  • No offence but HDR is nasty. Id much rather have a generic well processed picture instead of some over done, fussy and frankly ugly piece. Time to get out of the “HDR” hole kids. Lets face it, ANYONE can do HDR. These pictures are amazing ! The skill of the photographer with composition and exposures is just awesome BUT why use such a horrible technique to process them? Also, Stumbleupon brought me here. 

  • This is my first exposusre to the real stuff great photos are composed of, I mean, made of.
    Thanks so much for the enlightening details.

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  • Some inspiring thoughts ! I’m not a big HDR fan but the overall process remains the same for every photographer. Keep it up !

  • Basically, I think, photography is the interplay of light and shadow. Light and shadowboth capture and re-play colors directly arising from the light source, and then fixated, filtered, and transformed by their own manifold properties.   The advent of HDR ( I still have to try it) and Trey’s techniques explore the ways we transfigure a moment to memory.  This is HDR’s compelling beauty. My photos, though taken from a “toy camera”, in this case a cell phone (Nokia 2600 Classic), are composed beforehand as I move to compose scenes and leave the rest to the vagaries of light, changing even as I click the shutter, hoping my original composition will prove true. I’m indeed challenged by HDR as an art form that can best preserve a moment of an emotion , a passing mood, or a fanciful play in the mind.

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  • WOW. Amazing photos and great suggestions. I have saved this post to come back to time and time again. Thanks!!

  • I believe in realistic, good looking HDR photos. The bridge image is clearly overworked for my taste…

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  • hairymary

    This is not photography. This is digital art perhaps but photography it is not.

  • Sheila Maceira

    Great piece of advice! Thank you 🙂
    Loved the 10th Commandment btw – have to plan for making mistakes (and trying nice shots) more often! 🙂

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  • Tray Ratcliff I’ve heard of, you… not so much. Who are you to say what is or what is not photography?

  • Don’t recall Mr. Ratcliff asking for Nasim Mansurov’s opinion… I’ve heard of Trey Ratcliff… you, not so much

  • hairymary

    Look at the poor troll, all bent out of shape by someone else’s opinion.

  • But, opinions can be incorrect!

    noun: photography
    the art or practice of taking and processing photographs.

    Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    Yet, sometimes you refer to him as “Tray”.

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    You realize that not everyone has the same opinion, right?

  • hairymary

    Im sorry. I can’t hear you over the sound of you being wrong.

  • It’s the definition of the word.

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  • I’m definitely late for this party, but I still wanted to share my 2 cents.
    Like other forms of art, photography is also subjective. Some photographers prefer to edit their images ever so little, while others process them to the point they transform into whimsical fantasies. There’s nothing wrong in either approach, and, in the end, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Also, I believe that photography shows a different perspective on things and is a point of departure for fantasy. This is why I enjoy your HDR images, even if others consider them too much. I think photo-processing can reveal details we never noticed about the object/person that we photographed. Many photography guides also fail to mention that post-processing is an important part of photography. According to these guides, post-processing can completely change the end result. https://creativephotoconnect.com/basic-photography-tips/ / https://digital-photography-school.com/post-processing-tips-beginners/

    I know these photographs are very old, but I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance between some of them and a few games I enjoy. The image with the tree looks exactly like an ancient ruin in Dark Souls (Lost Izalith).


    The bridge in Dresden, Germany reminds me of an area in Bloodborne, and Dante’s gate resembles an area in Devil May Cry.
    This further strengthens my point that photography captures fragments of reality that can then be used to inspire fantasies. I can’t help but wonder how many photographs game devs looked over before they created their worlds:)

    I really enjoyed your tips. The only point I disagree with is the one about the DSLR. I strongly believe that you can take incredible images with point-and-shoot or smartphone camera.

  • Prerna Pashte

    Thanks for writing such an insightful and detailed article. Great blog and good collection of photos.

  • really this is a fantastic article, with beautiful photos and your knowledge, thank you for sharing

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