Photographing at Oak Alley: 8 tips to bring home more “keepers”

Photographing in South Louisiana with landscape photographer William Guion.

8 tips to bring home more “keepers”
Second article in the series.
West row, morning shadows
Someone told me once that I’d need to make lots and lots of bad photographs to make a few good photographs. Yes, they were right, but there are ways I’ve found that can help you shorten this learning curve. Here are eight suggestions (I won’t call them rules) you can use to make a fast-forward jump in the number of "keeper" photographs that you bring home from your visit to Oak Alley. And you may even find these tips are applicable to making photographs anywhere. 
1. Simplify your photo. Imagine for a minute that a photograph is like a sentence. It has a subject, verb, and modifiers. The easiest sentences to read and understand are short, simple, and to the point. When things get too complex, the reader can get lost. Similarly, when you keep your photographs simple, you make it stronger and easier to read. 
Alley tunnel in fog.
Like a sentence, the “subject” of your photo is the main point of interest. It’s the thing that first attracted your eye, the thing you want to point out to others. To keep your photo simple, make the subject obvious to the viewer.
The “verb” in your photograph is the mood, the quality of light, and the essence of what gives life and emotion to the subject. A strong image connects emotionally with the viewer and that’s what makes memorable photographs. 
“Modifiers” are subordinate objects that support the subject or enhance emotional content. They clarify, provide setting, and add interest. 
2. Build your photograph—compose. A photograph is simply a rectangle of visual space—essentially a two-dimensional box or frame. The way you arrange the things in your frame is called “composition.” You can guide the viewer’s eye within the photograph’s frame by arranging the elements in your picture to create more overall unity, which most of us find interesting and pleasing.  
3. Move your subject from the center of your photo. Generally, the center of your photograph is the weakest spot for an interesting composition. If your subject is smack in the center like a bulls eye, the viewer’s eye goes right to that spot and stops. Moving the subject off-center to the right or the left adds visual interest and keeps the viewer’s eye moving within the photo frame. I say “generally” the center is the weakest spot, because there are always exceptions. 
East row, #12 tree from house.
Also consider moving the horizon line up or down from the center of your photo. By raising the horizon, you can emphasize the foreground, add depth, and simplify the content of your photo. By lowering the horizon toward the bottom of your picture, you emphasize what’s above the line, like when photographing buildings, mountains, and sky. 
4. Keep the viewer’s eye moving within the frame. Ideally, you want to arrange the elements in your picture to keep the viewer’s eye within the frame, rather than letting their eye move out toward the edge of the frame and off your picture. 
5. Fill the edges and corners. The quickest way to keep a viewer’s eye inside the frame of your photo and strengthen your composition is to move distracting objects and bright spots from the edges and corners of your picture’s frame. Bright areas in your picture attract the viewer’s eye. So avoid having lightest areas of your photo near the edges or corners. Use brightness and light to guide the eye toward your subject. 
12 oaks, view from outside east row, toward levee.
6. Use diagonal and leading lines. Since our eyes naturally “read” through a picture from left to right and top to bottom, you can arrange elements within your picture to lead the viewer’s eye in that natural direction. Diagonal or leading lines can be used to point toward your subject or toward a vanishing point in the background. This helps create dynamic movement and a sense of depth and dimensionality.  
7. Use near-far spatial relationships. Another way to create a sense of 3-dimensions and space is to place one element close to you within the frame and other elements further away. This allows one’s eye to move from the thing that’s close to the things further away, naturally drawing the eye into the photograph, creating movement, depth and scale. Look at just about any Ansel Adams landscape to see what I mean. He was a master at near-far spatial relationships. 
View across alley, sunset light
8. Think before you snap. All of this talk about composition is another way of saying, “think before you snap you camera shutter.” Instead of pointing your camera and hoping for a good shot, arrange and design the objects within your image to create a stronger, more memorable photograph – a true keeper. 
For more great tips on composition, view Art Wolfe’s free video “The 10 deadly sins of composition.”
Read the previous article, "Photographing South Louisiana" by clicking here.


About William Guion

Fine-art photographer, visual artist and writer – I'm known for my images of and writing about Southern and Western landscapes and architecture ( My images have been used on several book jacket designs for publishers such as Simon & Schuster, Random House, Crown Books, Harper Collins, W.W. Norton, and Bulfinch/Little, Brown & Co. 
I've published three books - monographs - Heartwood, Meditations on Southern Oaks (Bulfinch Press, Little Brown Co.), Heartwood, Further Meditations on Oaks (100 Oaks Press), and Across Golden Hills, Meditations on California Oaks (100 Oaks Press); as well, I've published multiple articles on live oak conservation. I'm currently working on a fourth book project on historic Oak Alleys of Louisiana. 
I’ve photographed live oaks and the Southern landscape for more than 30 years. In South Louisiana, live oaks are heritage, heirlooms, and history all rolled into one. More than any other tree or physical aspect of the land, the live oak symbolically reflects the most memorable characteristics of the people that settled this area – strength of character, endurance and longevity.
Many of Mr. Guion's prints, canvases and postcards are available for purchase at Oak Alley Plantation.  Others are available on his website.
All photographs are copyright by William Guion and used with his express consent.  Please do not reproduce without express written consent of the photographer.