Recently, Kevin, Thor, and I took a drive to Borrego Springs, a small town located about two hours east of San Diego in the Southern California desert. The town is a haven for snowbirds due to its warm winter weather and access to popular Anza Borrego Desert State Park, but what really intrigued us was a series of 130 metal sculptures, created by artist Ricardo Breceda, which are scattered throughout the desert surrounding the town. We had seen photos of the sculptures, but wanted to check them out ourselves. So, on a warm, sunny day, we piled in the car and headed east.

After several hours tracking down various figures, we headed over to the very popular “serpent” sculpture, a 350 foot long snake with a dragon-like head. When we drove up, I noticed 3 elderly people – a man and two women – sitting in lawn chairs about 50 feet from the sculpture. They were facing west and it looked as if they’d met up to watch the desert sunset.

As I was moving around the head of the Serpent and taking photos, I heard the man – we’ll call him “Stanley” – say to the others “Why is she taking so many photos?” followed by “Oh my god, is she gonna take a picture of every angle?” One of the women said something which I couldn’t make out, to which Stanley responded, “I just don’t understand why anyone would need to take so many pictures of the same thing!”

Ignoring the unsolicited comments from the geriatric chapter of the Mean Girls club, I continued taking my photos. But as we drove away, I got to thinking about why it was I took all those pictures.

And the simple reason is this: because I took a photography class years ago where one of the lessons was – and I quote – “Take lots of pictures.”

The instructor, a professional studio photographer, explained to the class that it can be hard to tell what’s going to look best as a finished product and small changes in lighting, shadows, or angle can have a huge impact on the final result. It’s why when you watch a press event you hear what sounds like a thousands clicks from the bank of photographers, and why professional photographers click away as their fashion model subjects strike numerous poses. A newspaper or magazine may only publish one photo on the cover of their publication, but you can rest assured, the photographer took hundreds of photos of “the same” thing.

OK, Stanley? Can I take my pictures now? Ya jerk.

Anyway, this whole encounter got me thinking about the things I learned in that class and I thought it might be helpful to share some of those tips and tricks. And to be clear, I took exactly one six-session beginner’s class on digital photography and don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I just like taking photos and I try to follow some of the lessons I learned in the class. So, take all of this for what it’s worth.

Tip #1: Take Lots of Pictures

What Stanley and the girls didn’t appreciate was that minor changes in perspective can have enormous impact on the final product.

It’s because this photo:

The "serpent" sculpture by Ricardo Breceda in Borrego Springs

is totally different than this photo:

The "serpent" sculpture by Ricardo Breceda in Borrego Springs

So, Tip Number 1: Ignore the Stanleys of the world and take as many photos as you want. Try different angles, different perspectives, even different times of day. Unlike the days of film processing, it costs nothing to take photos on your phone and digital storage is cheap. There is no downside, so get creative, experiment, and click away!

Tip #2: Time of Day is Crucial

The truth is, I’m not a big fan of the photos I took in Borrego Springs. I’m using a couple of them here to demonstrate some points, but the pictures themselves aren’t that great. And one of the reasons for that is I violated a cardinal rule of photography: I was taking photos in the middle of the afternoon. Because we had a 2 hour drive from San Diego, and we didn’t want to be driving over unfamiliar mountain roads in the dark, we arrived in Borrego Springs around 12:30 and left around 3:30 p.m. That means the majority of my photos were taken in the early afternoon, and any decent photography website will tell you to avoid that whenever possible

Midday light is extremely harsh. Photos appear with sharp shadows, they are washed out, and the sky has minimal color. As the sun goes down, the colors soften, the light warms, and shadows elongate.

Late afternoon light at Mount Rainier
Late afternoon light at Mount Rainier – golden light, soft colors, long shadows.

Photographers refer to the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset as “golden hours” because they offer the best light for photography. However, depending on your exact location and the time of year, you can often stretch that into the several hours after sunrise and the several hours before sunset. Just try to avoid taking photos in the middle of the day, if possible.

Tip #3: Keep the Light Behind You

On a related note, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been at a tourist spot and watched someone taking photos and thought, “that’s not going to come out the way they think it’s going to come out.” The biggest mistake: Shooting into the sun. While your eyes can adjust for bright sunlight, your camera cannot (absent specialized camera filters which we’re not talking about here). Additionally, it can be hard to tell what the final product will look like when you’re standing in the bright light looking at your phone screen. The easiest solution is to make sure you don’t shoot into the sun in the first place. This can be done by moving your body, shading your camera, or changing the time you arrive at a particular location.

Here’s an example from Borrego Springs. With the sun hitting my lens, the photo is washed out, there’s visible lens flare, and there’s no detail in the sculptures:

Horses sculpture with too much light and lens flare in Borrego Springs

By taking about 3 steps to my left, I was able to get the sun off my lens which resulted in a bit more contrast and more of a silhouette:

Horses sculpture with too much light, but less lens flare in Borrego Springs

But by walking around to the other side, so the sun was now over my shoulder, the lens flare is gone, the colors are richer, and you can see detail in the sculptures.

Horses sculpture by Ricardo Breceda in Borrego Springs

Depending on what you’re trying to photograph, it’s often easiest just to plan your outing at a time when the sun will be where you need it to be. If you only have one opportunity, though, you can try using your hand or a piece of paper to shade the lens of your camera to keep some of the light out.

Tip #4: Use the Rule Of Thirds

THE go-to rule of photography composition is called the “Rule of Thirds.” You basically imagine a tic tac toe board drawn across your photo, and place objects of interest (“focal points”) along the lines or where the lines intersect. The theory is that placing objects off center makes photos more interesting/balanced/appealing.

Here are a couple examples of the rule of thirds. Notice where the objects of interest (e.g., the lighthouse, the sculpture, the dock) are located in the pictures. Not dead center:

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Of course, like most rules, this one is meant to be broken. There are plenty of times an object looks best when it’s centered in the middle of the picture. The idea is really to be intentional about where you place your focal point, rather than just defaulting to dead center.

The Rule of Thirds is also applicable to horizons. One way to make a photo more interesting is to put the horizon on the 1/3rd line or the 2/3rd line of your tic tac toe board. The idea is to either have 2/3 of the picture be sky or 2/3 be ocean/desert/grass, rather than splitting them 50/50. Again, it doesn’t always make sense to do this. It’s just something to consider when framing or cropping your photo.

Hiking trail at Henrys Lake State Park

Additionally, as a general reminder, make sure your horizon is straight. It is such an easy way to improve your finished product and it can quickly and easily be edited right on your phone.

Tip #5: Use Leading Lines

Another standard rule of photography composition is to use leading lines. Find natural lines and photograph them in a way that leads the viewers eyes into the photo/toward your focal point. This will help to give your 2 dimensional photograph a more 3 dimensional feel and draw the viewer’s eye into the scene.

Straight lines, like roads and walking paths, are everywhere, and can make for cool pictures:

Long road in Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia

Walking path at Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania

Example of leading lines inside a building

But also look for curved lines that may grab the viewer’s interest:

Curving road in Glacier National Park

Sprial staircase inside the Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Tip # 6 Compose the Photo to Create Depth

Another way to lead the viewer’s eyes into the photo is to place items in the background or foreground. Again, the goal is to make your 2 dimensional photo feel 3 dimensional.

Here, the lighthouse at the back of the photo is the focal point, but the rocks at the front create depth:

Portland Head Light

And here’s an example of the opposite: the focal point is the individual chair at the front, but the chairs in the background create depth.

Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial

Tip #7 Be on the Lookout for Patterns and Symmetry

Human brains like patterns and symmetry, so anytime you can find them, whether natural or manmade, they make good material for photographs:

Wall of records

Historic buildings, bridges, and churches often provide stunning examples of man-made symmetry. Inside the dome of the Texas State Capitol

And, of course, nature provides the best of everything.

Black and yellow butterfly

Tip #8: Include a Person or Other Object for Scale

When you’re photographing a really big landscape, it can help to include a human or some other familiar object in the photo to provide scale. The goal is to communicate what it feels like to be standing in a given place, and sometimes the most effective way to accomplish that is by, well, including a person standing in that given place.

Kevin standing at Alstrom Point

Hikers on the Narrows trail in Zion National Park

Other familiar objects can also help create context for a scene. Car driving by Balanced Rock in Garden of the Gods in Colorado

I stood in this spot for about 5 minutes trying to get a photo of this rock without any cars or people in the way, but in the end, I actually liked this one because I thought it provided helpful context. (Once again showing the value of taking multiple versions of ‘the same’ photograph. Sorry, Stanley.)

Tip #9: Get Close/Fill the Frame/Change Your Perspective

Most people walk up to an object, click the camera, and walk away. That’s fine if you’re just trying to capture a memory of what something looked like, but if you’re trying to create a more engaging photo, oftentimes, it’s better to get close to the object, lose the negative space, and/or shoot the object from a different perspective. And don’t be afraid to crop part of the subject matter out. Some photos are more powerful because of what they don’t show.

Typical snapshot – from in front, eye level, lots of empty space that doesn’t really add anything:

Ricardo Breceda's sculptures in Borrego Springs, California

I thought getting closer, focusing on the top half of the sculpture, and shifting the perspective upwards, was a bit more interesting.

Ricardo Breceda's sculptures in Borrego Springs, California

The same holds true for the photo I used at the top of this post. Here’s a snapshot from a couple feet away:

Ricardo Breceda's sculptures in Borrego Springs, California

And here’s the up close and personal version:

Ricardo Breceda's sculptures in Borrego Springs, California

As for perspective, not only can it make for more interesting photos, but it can also be used to create the feeling of movement. For this photo, rather than taking it from the side or eye level, I crouched down in front to make it seem like he was coming toward me:

Ricardo Breceda's sculpture of a miner and his horse in Borrego Springs, California

And for this dinosaur, getting up close and photographing it from underneath made it a bit more intimidating, which is the whole point of the sculpture. Look at those chompers!!

A sculpture of a dinosaur by Ricardo Breceda

Tip #10: Let the Grammers Inspire You!

Whenever you visit a popular tourist spot, you will encounters the Grammers. They will be younger than you, fitter than you, better looking than you, and they will, without question, be wearing yoga clothes.

Instagrammer at Crater Lake

They will arrive at sunset (they understand lighting), they will take their positions (they understand photo composition), and they will deploy their boyfriends to capture their well-practiced “Insta-gaze”:

Instagrammer at Zion National Park

Sometimes they’ll even show up with props. In the case of Borrego Springs, a shiny Jeep Wrangler positioned just in front of the serpent sculpture:

Instagrammer at Borrego Springs

The Jeep, after all, is one of the world’s most iconic brands and a mainstay among outdoor enthusiasts and RVers. In fact, the Jeep is so popular, so recognizable, and so timeless, Ricardo Breceda built a sculpture of one to memorialize it for all time:

Jeep sculpture at Borrego Springs

Were we intimidated by this professional Instagrammer’s high impact prop?

Hell no. We were inspired!!

That’s right, Jeep owners, you may possess the quintessential symbol of rugged capability and go-anywhere freedom, complete with an attractive blonde hanging out the window, but we’ve got a hella sexy 2014 Honda CR-V made even cooler by a middle aged engineer rockin a Captain America T-Shirt… and we’re. in. your. house.

Kevin in CR-V in front of Jeep sculpture in Borrego Springs
Looks at those curves!

The lesson? There is no lesson. We’re just easily entertained.

Ok, obviously the ‘helpful’ part of this blog post has now concluded. If you’re interested in reading more about this stuff, there are hundreds of websites dedicated to improving photography composition. They are worth a look, and the the more you read, the more you’ll realize there really is no one right answer. These things are completely subjective because people are completely subjective.

Except Stanley. He’s just wrong.

Next up…spending the winter in sunny San Diego!

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  1. Lol! Stanley! I really wish he could read this, but I highly doubt he’s into blogs – or even knows what they are! I am nowhere near the photographer that you are, but I also subscribe to the “take a million pictures” train of thought. Kinda like the pictures in Rain Man, but that’s because I want to capture everything (1) to show people who weren’t there and (2) for my own memory. We are fortunate to travel )when it’s not a pandemic) and as you know that’s what we do for special events now. We don’t need things. We love experiencing things together and pictures are a way to forever memorialize that for us. This post also brings back special memories of our trip to Niagara Falls when you, Kev, Jer and I were down at the falls at night with tripods and you guys gave us a nighttime photography lesson. That was so much fun and those pics came out great!!

    • It’s nice to live in a time when we all have the ability to capture memories so easily. I joke, but I really do forget stuff when I don’t take pictures. As a society, we have so much information coming at us all the time, it can be overwhelming. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to keep a sort of visual journal of our day to day life. And, like you, as we travel and have these experiences, my favorite mementoes are my pictures. We don’t buy anything, but I always have my pictures and this blog to look back on.

      Hard to believe it’s been almost two years since our trip to Niagara!!

  2. Just another in the long list of great photography lessons and tips you have shared. I’ve learned so much from talking to both of you about taking pictures. Learned a lot by the fantastic pictures you have taken as well. Thank you both.

    • D’awww, thanks! I’m glad it helped. Like I said the other day, you really would enjoy taking one of these classes. It was a great overview of this kind of stuff as well as making the most of digital cameras, different types of lenses, effective use of tripods, studio lighting, and post processing. It was a little taste of everything, and once you know what to look for, you can find in depth information about any subject online and on youtube. You should do it!!

  3. Your Stanley was not a kids “Flat Stanley” interested in going new places and learning new things. Too funny, I take snapshots not photos, but grandgirl Kg is the true photographer in the family. I have forwarded your blog to her, to refresh what she may have already heard in photo class. Great instruction!
    There are 130+ sculptures within the Galleta Meadows (Avery property open to public access) and many on private lands. My favorite are the Borrego Sheep on Indian Head Resort … What was your favorite?

    • Oh jeez, I’m sure any pro photographer would tell you I’m an idiot and don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m sure most true pros know exactly how a picture is going to come out before they take it, and can skip right over what will end up being a throw-away pic, while us amateurs are encouraged to take lots of photos to learn what works and what doesn’t. The composition rules are pretty universal, though.

      Anyway, as predictable as it might seem, my favorite sculpture really was the serpent. It was just so huge, so detailed, and so unique, it really stood out. I also really loved the scorpion and grasshopper.

  4. You should get yourself a business card with your blog name and website on it . . . when someone shows an interest (or makes a whiny complaint), I hand my card to them, “Here, I write a blog if you’re interested.” Teach someone something new!! lots of geezers don’t even know what a blog is!! And by the way, all your photos in this post are absolutely wonderfully artistic and beautiful. I know how many hours you spent analyzing each photo’s strength on your computer 🙂 It’s all much appreciated by your many fans!

    • “Fans”? I have fans??? That sounds serious. Maybe I should put that on my business card? “Laura Greene – I have fans.” Ha! Stanley would be so confused…. Anyway, thank you for your kind words about my photos. I take a ton of crap ones, so it’s nice to be able to find some decent ones, too. Hope you’re doing well, Terri!

  5. Poor Stanley, he probably only eats hard boiled eggs for breakfast, heaven forbid if you scramble them! I’ve gotten some pretty funny looks when I lay on the side of the road to “change my perspective”. I’ve even had people stop and ask if I was ok. I LOVE the Jeep sculpture, but I feel bad for the shiny, clean Jeep. It looks like it doesn’t get to go out and play with the other cool Jeeps. They are supposed to be muddy and rough.

    • You’re right. Maybe I’m being a bit hard on Stanley. If he just had some good breakfast food, maybe he’s be less of a crank. I’d be willing to bet that one well-prepared plate of Huevos Rancheros with plenty of spice would get him in the right frame of mind in no time. I’m gonna try that next time!

      BTW, I can totally imagine you lying on the side of the road and people stopping to check on you. And I can further imagine you telling them to bug off. Hahaha. Admittedly, it does look a bit odd when crawling around on the ground, but the pictures come out SO much better! 🙂

  6. Seems to me you’re ready to instruct basic photography. Nice recap with spot on examples.

    What I’ve never understood is why reporters use the manual shutter option vs electronic. All that clattering when it could all be silent and we could hear whatever is being said.

    • That’s a good point. I wonder if professional photographers just get used to the their preferred equipment and hesitate to change. I’m assuming mirrorless cameras are a relatively new concept, so maybe they would just rather stick with what they know? Or maybe the quality for certain situations isn’t as good? I don’t know. I’ve never delved into that stuff, but you’re right, it sure would be nice if those historic moments weren’t interrupted by all that clatter.

  7. Great post and cool sculptures! Thanks for the reminders on taking photos too. I had taken a short photography class a few years ago, but it’s always great to get a refresher.

    • Thanks, Robin. In thinking about what to include in this post, I poked around some photography websites and was quickly reminded how much there is to know about photography. It is such a cool art form with so many unique methods and specialties. Once we settle down again and can do things like enroll in adult education classes, I’d really like to dive in more.

  8. Great information! I try to follow those rules but the sunlight one can be a bugger if you do not have time to wait for the right lighting. Where was that slot canyon picture from? I want to hike that one!

    • Hey! The canyon is in Zion National Park. It’s the Narrows Hike – where hikers walk up the Virgin River for several miles as the canyon narrows. It’s only open at certain times of the year (depending on how fast the current is moving). Honestly, it’s one of the best hikes we’ve done during our travels. Unique and challenging with a side of stunning views. Highly recommend it!

  9. So very interesting. Thank you ? on our way to Titusville Fl. From Corona Ca the slow way. Taking our time. I will be taking lots more pics.

    • Taking the slow way, and stopping for lots of photos, is the exact right way to do a trip like that. 🙂 I hope you get to see some rocket launches while you’re in Florida. SpaceX has been launching them like crazy recently. Either way, thank you for reading and commenting. Safe travels to you!!

  10. Great post! These are all great tips, I need to remember them. Sometimes when we are traveling to cool new places I forget to take the time to compose the best shots, and just click. It’s a balance, for me, between trying to be in the moment and enjoy a travel experience, and remember everything I’ve read about how to take good photos. I do always remember to follow tip #1 and take a zillion photos! Thanks for the reminders, and your example photos really showed the value of the tips!

    • Your photos are always awesome, and you go to the most epic places! Every time I read one of your posts, I instantly add whatever place it was to our list. But I totally hear you on the “being in the moment” thing. People say that all the time and I struggle with whether I should put the camera away and just experience stuff, but honestly, taking pictures is HOW I experience stuff now. Sometimes I make the effort to compose good shots and sometimes I just click to remember stuff , but either way, taking photos is an integral part of the experience for me. Oh well, to each his own, right?? Hope you guys are doing well!

      • Thanks, I love your photos too! I totally agree that taking photos is an integral part of the experience for me too. On the rare occasion that I don’t have my camera on me, I struggle with photo FOMO!

  11. Poor Stanley! He probably has an old Kodak camera with a drawer full of undeveloped film….cause it’s too expensive to develop them. And now he won’t even remember where the photos were taken even if he can find a place to develop them. Thanks for all your tips!

    • Aww, poor Stanley. Now I kinda feel bad for him. He really should stop being so judgy, though. Or at least, if he’s going to be judgy, he should make sure he doesn’t say things loud enough for the subject of his ire to hear it! Jeez. Old people…

  12. Thanks for the photography tips! Your pictures are beautiful- even the supposedly “wrong” ones. Seeing Borrego Springs sculptures brings back wonderful memories of the past couple of years during springtime. My husband and I love going there and camping out in the BLM land nearby. We like hiking in Anza Borrego desert and a part of the PCT at Scisscors crossing. From Northern California we stop at the poppy fields in Lancaster on the way down. We complete our trip with a visit to our son in San Diego. We find Borrego Springs to be more to our liking than Palm Springs. Less people and less concrete! Love your blog. Keep up the good work!!

    • Thanks, Nancy! We really liked what we saw of Borrego Springs and would love to spend more time set up nearby. I looked into camping at the state park there, and it looks fantastic, but it can be tough to get a spot. I didn’t realize there was BLM nearby, but that could be a great alternative too, depending on the weather. Either way, we’d love to come back to the area and explore more. Also, I knew nothing about poppy fields in Lancaster, but just looked it up and wow! So pretty!! You’re giving me new ideas! Thanks!!

    • Haha. If you do, definitely say hi for me! Tell him I was inspired to write a whole blog post because he was mean to me. 🙂

    • Thanks, Ingrid. If anyone really wants to take their photography to another level, they really should go read your posts on the matter. I’ve learned a lot from you over the years…and I’m still screwing around with the idea of getting a different camera. I have serious analysis paralysis when it comes to those things.

  13. I love your writing – funny with a good dose of wonderful insights! Thank you so much for the post. As always – it is so well written – entertaining, reflective and educational to boot!!

    • Thank you so much, Suzanne. I really appreciate it and I’m very happy to hear these posts are helpful/entertaining. They’re a fun project for me to work on as we travel, so I’m glad folks find value in them. Hope you guys are doing well!

  14. still cracking me up . . . love the blog to this day! Great post and really helpful and my favorite part was the Grammers section, a real “slice of the life” insight ha ha

    • I mean, is there life at all without the influencers influencing how we feel about life in the first place?? Can we really say anything happened at all if it wasn’t captured for the Gram? So meta…

      Anyway, glad this nonsense hasn’t gotten on your nerves yet. Give me a couple more months. We’ll get there. 🙂

  15. Classic post, Laura. Classic! Thanks for the mini photography lesson. I love your photos and it all makes sense. I’m inspired now to take my photography game from crappy to mediocre.

    • You know, you have amazing subject matter…. I see no reason the girls wouldn’t love to be mom’s model for a day. “Alex, move a little to the left… gotta get the rule of thirds done right” and “Have you even practiced your Insta-gaze, Cori? Jeez. Are you gonna take this seriously or not??” Yeah, that should be fun for them!! 🙂

  16. While I really enjoyed the topic and the pictures, what I liked the best was that you guys took a field trip. As odd as the curmudgeonly Stanley’s commentary was, even more odd is what the hell were they doing right there with their chairs? They had to know they were plopping themselves in a high-photo-traffic zone. And he thought YOU were the nutty one ?

    • Yes! The field trip was a nice break from the usual. It was a fun drive too, up and over the mountains. I do wish we could have spent more time there, though. There’s a lot of good stuff in that area.

      As for Stanley and his friends, I really don’t know why they decided to set up there. Maybe they were trying to get an epic selfie with the serpent in the background???

  17. Laura, these are really interesting tips — I learned a lot from them! Thank you for this. But you forgot one tip: be born with an inborn talent, an instinct for taking beautiful pics. Which is what you have. I am always just awed by your photos, and I know that if you and I were standing next to each other taking the same pic, yours would be the stunning one. (You have a digital camera, right? If you told me you get all of these on an iPhone, well, that’s just freakishly good.).

    • You are way too nice to me. Seriously.

      There’s a common refrain on various photography websites that “the best camera is the one you have with you,” and I think that is 100% true. This composition stuff makes a huge difference and is the same no matter what camera you’re using. And once you start looking for it, you’ll see it in professional photographers’ work. Of course, it’s hard to figure out all the OTHER stuff they do to make their photos so striking, but these rules really do make a big difference.

  18. Another good photo tip I heard somewhere was a reply to “What is the best camera for getting good travel photos?” The answer is “whatever camera you have with you” — the idea being that a large, heavy “professional” camera isn’t going to help you get amazing photos if you always leave it at home because of the bulk. With the advent of digital photography and the advances in phone cameras, it is absolutely possible to take incredible travel photos with the computer we all carry in our pockets, as your post demonstrates. Plus, it’s easier to get into weird positions with a lightweight phone! I say all this to justify to myself the fact that my “real” camera has been gathering dust for months and every photo I have taken recently is via the phone…..

    • I agree 100%. I almost never use my big DSLR anymore. I always have my phone with me and it takes really solid pictures. The biggest issue is it doesn’t shoot in RAW format without using additional apps, and once you shoot in RAW, the files are much bigger which sucks up space on the phone itself. However, if you want to submit photos to professional publications, they will want RAW. In the grand scheme of things, I am happy just relying on my phone, but it does create some limitations. That’s why I keep considering buying a smaller camera that would have the capabilities of the DSLR without the bulk. Buuuuttt… that’s a lot of money and another thing to carry. So, we’ll see. It IS great that we all have these fantastic cameras on our phones now.

  19. Love your patented combination of really useful info (I learned a few things I had forgotten about good photographs!) and snark (grumpy old man was indeed grumpy!). Good to hear from you and see that you’re getting out and about. And, yeah, despite having been through that area a few times, NO ONE has every mentioned these sculptures, WTH? Now they’re on my bucket list because they look like a blast to photograph next time I’m in the southwest (come on, herd immunity, I want to be there next winter). And if grump old man is there, I might even show him he’s internet famous now 🙂

    • LOL. You would love photographing these sculptures. They’re so unique and fun, some more complicated than others… just a nice mix and a solid challenge to capture. I bet a lot of them would be awesome in black and white. I have no doubt you would enjoy the whole area – the state park is beautiful, the town has character, there are mountains nearby, etc. And I am cautiously optimistic we’ll all able to travel worry-free later this year. Fingers crossed…

  20. Always great to get back to basics! Gonna put this post in front of my eyes next time I wonder out with a camera.

    Also, be quiet Stanley! Grownups are working =)

    • I mean, seriously, Stanley… haven’t you figured out how mature we are??? Very mature!! Jeez…

      Anywho, I’m glad the tips were helpful. Have fun out there!!

  21. Laura, this is the BEST guide to photography I’ve seen. You’ve covered all of the essentials (and more) and the photos you chose to illustrate each tip are perfect. I love taking photos and am an expert at taking lots of them, haha. I always think about light and composition (and keeping horizon lines straight!), but I really appreciated your explanations and examples of using leading lines, creating perspective, and patterns. You made this a fun lesson. 🙂

    One question: Did you really take all of these photos with your phone? Why doesn’t my iPhone take pics like this? It couldn’t be me, could it, LOL??

    • Laurel, you take beautiful photos, too, btw. I was an avid photographer back in the film days, and I really appreciate good composition and light. Yours are excellent. I have never been able to make the transition to digital except for my iPhone and occasional processing with iPhoto. My iPhone 6s lens tends to be a little too wide-angle for close-ups, but I do like it for landscapes. Anyway, you and Laura are my two favorite photographers on my RV and travel blogs!

      • I agree, Heather. Laurel’s photography is fantastic and she does a lot more of the closeup wildlife stuff which is a whole different challenge, and so impressive when done right.

        I will say, I went from the iPhone 6S to the X, which is what I have now, and the camera improved greatly. They’re now 2 or 3 versions beyond the X and the cameras just keep getting better. It’s truly incredible how good cell phone cameras have become. So if you “accidentally” dropped your cell phone on the ground and “accidentally” ran over it with your car, you could probably just go upgrade to a newer one. 🙂

        • Laura, that is really good to know. I hang onto my 6S, because by golly it works just fine and I never throw anything away. My other phone is a rotary dial phone that plugs into the wall. (This is true. After the pandemic you can come over and play with it if you want.) But a better camera on my phone? You tempt me, you really do.

      • Thanks so much, Heather! I’m so glad to know you enjoy our photography. Laura keeps telling me that you and I are destined to be friends. Not just because you’re nice to me, LOL. Apparently we have a lot in common. Email me sometime through our blog…I’d love to connect with you. 🙂

    • LOL. Thanks, Laurel! I’m glad you thought it was helpful. I figured I’d be preaching to the choir for some folks, but it might be new info for others, so I’m glad to hear an experienced photographer found it useful.

      As for the photos I used in the post, for the last two years, I have almost exclusively used my IPhone. It’s an X, so it has multiple lenses which allow me to take photos that mimic what I could do with the DSLR. So, for example, the picture of the bird on the beach in the Rule of Thirds gallery was a DSLR photo taken in manual mode with a wide open aperture which resulted in a blurred background. The photo of the chairs at the OKC memorial uses the same effect, but I was able to do it using “portrait mode” on my IPhone.

      Of the other photos above, the ones contained in the gallery of the lighthouse, Monument Valley, and the Mission in San Antonio were all DSLR. The photo of Kevin at Alstrom Point at Lake Mead, the car in front of Balanced Rock, and the close-up of the butterfly were DSLR. Everything else was cell phone.

      I’ve been really impressed with my phone. As I understand it, it has its own processor that helps improve the final image. When I first got it, I would sometimes take a pic with my DSLR and then the same pic with my phone to compare them. I consistently found that I liked the iPhone images better. So, I think it’s doing a bit of its own processing to improve things like color and contrast, which I can then add to if necessary, using Lightroom.

      • Dammit, now I’m really sorry I didn’t spring for the iPhone X when I had to get a new phone a year ago. 🙁 To be able to use portrait mode to get the bokeh effect would have been worth the extra cost! At the time when I was at the Apple Store and the salesperson was telling me how great the camera on the phone was, I thought, “yeah, right.” Well I was wrong. Your photos are fantastic. Obviously it’s not just the phone or camera, it’s you. But now I wish I had an iPhone X. I ‘might’ need to drop my 8 in the bay on our next kayaking trip. Don’t rat me out to Eric.

  22. I live with a photographer with an MFA in photography and a former teacher of photography in a vocational ed setting. Several of her students have gone on to make a success as photographers. I have no quibble with anything you said and I really enjoy your photographs. The next time you came up from San Diego you might come right up 79 just past 371 where Breccia has a large sales lot with many more sculptures on display. You will know you are getting close when you see the horses leaping over the road. When we travel we always come back with thousands of pictures to work with. It is indeed the only way to get the really great “keepers”

    • Thanks so much, Paul. I would love to take more adult education classes on this subject since it’s all so interesting and there is so much to understand. I’m glad I’m on the right track, at least. Hopefully when we settle down, I can learn more from the real pros. And thanks for the tip on the other sculptures. You had me at “horses leaping over the road.” Sounds pretty great and like something we’d love to check out if we head that way.

  23. At some point, you will “settle down,” I suppose. You have done a wonderful job of bringing your readers and viewers to places and experiences we dream about, but will never see or do. At the end, having recorded so much with wit and wisdom, you will reflect on the effect on your own lives and souls of these years and experiences. I hope you will take the painstaking time and effort to tie it all together. When you do that, I hope you will have the humility to share it with us. Humility because that kind of sharing is really scary and risky. Think of all the people who might laugh at you, you might think. But your friends, Travelers or Stay At Homers, will love you for your efforts. Then we can complete our own quiet self-examination. You three (Thor is a silent partner here) have done so much to bring life to rocks, trees, lakes, people and to your own world. Then we do With Respect #3.

    • John – I truly don’t know what to say. I usually respond to nice compliments with self deprecating jokes or sarcastic nonsense because those are the most ready tools in my toolkit. But I really do appreciate your kind words and your continued encouragement. I think this experience would have been soul enriching and life changing no matter what, but having this ability to share it with so many friends and strangers, and build a little community of friends on the road, has taken it to a whole other level. I am truly grateful to everyone who spends the time to read my random musings and it really means a lot to hear such kind words in response. Thank you (and Ray) for always being so supportive and kind.

  24. Fantastic photos and lessons and a good way to get your point across! 🙂 Aren’t those sculptures amazing? We so enjoyed our explorations of Anza Borrego and Borrego Springs a couple of years ago (

    I actually like taking photos in the middle of the day, with a blue sky. While I agree that shooting snaps in the golden hour can be mind-blowing, pretty, and super interesting, I have a distaste for dark weather photos – cloudy skies, rainy days, dusk, and dawn. Hence my love of blue skies. 🙂

    I actually have that grid option selected on my camera, mostly to shoot straight photos. Thanks for sharing these tips and providing all these amazing examples. Great post! And FY, Stanley. That Stanley anyway. No offense to my father-in-law. 🙂

    • Haha. I am very glad ‘my’ Stanley is not your father in law. Talk about awkward! 🙂

      I agree completely on the blue skies. While clouds can create dramatic effects, oftentimes, they just make things dark. We’ve gotten spoiled by all the sunshine and blue skies around here. It’s gonna be an adjustment heading east this summer.

      I like your photos from Borrego Springs, too! Especially the close up of the elephant. Looks like you took it from inside the van? Talk about changing perspective and being creative. That is really cool!

      • Yes, I did take one of the mammoth photos from inside the van. I snapped soooo many photos when we were there. I actually thought I did a separate post on this art installation, but it must have been in my mind. 🙂 Where are you headed for the summer?

        • Hey,

          So, depending on vaccines and all that good stuff, we hope to be heading cross country, starting in southern Utah in mid June and ending in NH at the end of July. We’ll then spend time with family in CT and then head south along the eastern seaboard through the fall, landing in Florida – to see more family – for the holidays. That’s the general game plan, anyway, though, as we all found out a whole lot this past year, plans often change. So, we’ll see! You staying out west?

  25. I loved this post. In addition to giving a photography “tutorial” it took me back to some favorite places from a wonderful viewpoint!

    My dad was a professional photographer in the war and for many years afterwards. He always said to shoot, shoot, shoot, and you’ll eventually get a good picture! We had a darkroom in our basement and I remember developing rolls of pictures and then tossing most of them away.

    I think there are more grumpy old men around these days, don’t you? We met our first when we pulled into Wickenburg, but we’re on the look out for them now! They do have a “look”…..

    • LOL. There DO seem to be a lot of them, huh? Or maybe they’re just feeling a bit… emboldened? I don’t know. Sadly, it feels like there are an awful lot of people who are on edge and looking to be angry, which is not great. Hopefully we can all steer clear for a while and things will settle down.

      That’s so interesting that your dad was a photographer and you had a basement photo lab! What a great way to learn about all this. It’s also neat to think that all the “post-processing” changes we do nowadays on a computer screen was once done with chemicals in a dark room. We really have become spoiled by all this technology.

  26. Stanley sounds like my honey each time i took so many pictures of a tree, or a rock or something 🙂 Well this is great reminder especially now that my camera is gathering dust! I went back at my pics of those gnarly structures and wished you were beside me and whisper those tips ! We did enjoy our time there and my fave is the stand off between the grasshopper and scorpion.

    • We LOVED the grasshopper and scorpion, but man, they were hard to photograph! I don’t know why. I just hate every pic I took of them. But the sculptures themselves were so cool! And yeah, you certainly don’t need photography tips from me, that’s for sure. Oh, and you are not alone in having a husband who really wishes their wife would stop taking pictures of every damned thing 12 different ways. Kevin just wanders off now, and leaves me to it. 🙂

  27. Definitely we were intrigued by the idea of the sculpture park in the dessert. But then we really got into the photography pointers aspect of the blog. Very much enjoyed the categories and the photos you used so well to support your point. Very entertaining post.

    Some of the rules, I am well aware of but still it’s always helpful to get reminders and I did read this post aloud to him because he thinks that I made up the rule about the sun and he is a serial violator of many of these rules. End of the day, its the reason my photos generally are way better than his!!

    Loved the graphic photos to illustrate a point. All really great shots that we enjoyed. Love to see more of these.

    About the grammers.. those people that show up JUST to get the cool shot for their instagram page. Seeing as we have been living and travelling in South East Asia for the past five years or so, I can tell you that they look mighty different to what you are describing. Chinese, Japanese and Korean grammers take posing to an entirely NEW level. They are never wearing yoga clothes but they are wearing the clothes that they imagine is consistent with their image of a place. For example, in Japan, we saw countless Chinese dressing up as samurai era Japanese men and women (in Kyoto and Nara) and they were so ridiculous it was laughable. In Flores, Indonesia, we hiked to the top of a hill and lo and behold there were the Korean instagrammers, dressed up in Victorian dressees with huge floppy hats, make up and heels. Whaaaa????? Bizarre, In Sri Lanka, bus loads of Chinese tourists jump out of buses and start taking a thousand photos but in the exact same point just switching the person who is in front of the ocean. Stanley would have passed out!

    Peta (& Ben)

    • LOL. It’s nice to know that crazy Instagrammers are a thing everywhere and not just here! It really is amazing how one person gets an idea and then everyone copies that original idea. That part is just silly, but it can become pretty offensive when tourists are disrespecting the local culture. I would be mortified if I did something so thoughtless and obnoxious. Hell, we see it in other ways too. People risking their lives to take dangerous photos, people accessing locations that are obviously off limits – all in search of the elusive perfect photo for Instagram. Weird, weird, weird.

      Anyway, I’m glad that you found some helpful ideas in this post. My goal is always to have my photo accurately capture what a place looked or felt like. It’s easier said than done, but I do think some of these rules help.

  28. Your pictures are beautiful and these are all great tips and lessons. I have been taking pictures all my life, I understand iso, aperture, shutter speed and I have a good dslr. But I always struggle with composition. And if I took 1000 pictures, I wouldn’t know which, if any, was right. You have a very special talent of making this seem obvious. Thank you and I am excited to be following you on your travels!

    • Thank you for your very kind comment, Lysette. I totally understand what you’re saying about all the fundamentals of photography. I remember talking to our instructor and saying, even with paying attention to the ISO and shutter speed, what I had in my mind wasn’t what was coming out on paper, and he explained that so much came down to composition and thinking about what you want to capture before taking the picture. It sounds so obvious, but it really isn’t. Anyway, it’s an endlessly fun and creative hobby, especially when you’re traveling, and I really don’t think there’s any one right answer for the final product. It’s whatever speaks to you.

      Speaking of which, I just poked around your site and you’ve got some beautiful photos of places we’re heading to soon – like Capitol Reef NP. So thanks for saving me some research and giving me even more reason to be excited for our upcoming travels! Happy trails to you and I’ll be following you guys as well!


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