thoughts on beginning photography John Rothe

I started photography as a serious hobby in 2014. There is a tremendous amount to learn. My journey has provided me with some thoughts to share.

Why did I like some photos better than others?

As a beginner I took many, many photographs. I only liked a few. Not knowing why I liked some photos but not others was very frustrating. After exposure to the rules of composition, gestalt theory, how the eye moves through an image, and works of others, it began making sense. Let's look at a few of my likes.

A seed pod near the Lehigh Gap, Pennsylvania.
  • Clear subject.
  • Lighting. The subject is highlighted by light.
  • Subject is interesting. It's different. It's ambiguous. A seed pod or a creature?
  • Background is not competing with the subject.
A fly fisherman on the Little Lehigh River in Pennsylvania.
  • The fisherman and location are both interesting.
  • The composition has foreground, middle and background that work with the fisherman.
  • The natural lighting is providing both depth and highlights to the picture.
  • The eye follows the churning foreground water to the fisherman then to his fishing line then up the sunbeams and finally back towards the sunlight touched bush behind him.
  • It captures the feel of fishing.
Taco, a rescue from Texas. Taken close-up with a wide aperture to focus on the eyes.
  • The viewer's eye is drawn to the part in focus, the eyes.
  • The catch light adds to the impact of the eyes.
  • The blurred background does not compete with the subject.
  • The subject is balanced within the frame.
  • She's cute.

Here's one I don't like and why

Trail near the Lehigh Gap, Pennsylvania.
  • No clear subject.
  • No clear separation from background.
  • No accents from natural light.

The rules of composition are guidelines. For example, the rule of thirds guides the balance of the image. Your brain reacts to that balance.

Learn why you like the photos you like.


A feeder to Lake Nockamixon, Pennsylvania.

When I took this photo, I did not notice the power lines nor the gray sky. The brain affects the perception of your surroundings. The brain emphasizes some things and ignores others. The camera simply records what it sees and often surprises us when we look at the recorded image.

Learn to see like the camera sees.

The same photo after retouching.

Getting THE SHOT

Great photographers understand the aspects of a good image.

  • Subject
  • Composition
  • Lighting
  • Foreground, midground and background
  • Technical use of the camera
  • Planning
  • Time and Location
  • How your eye walks through the image

Even so, great photographers will often take many shots of a subject to get a winner.

An illustration of how a few inches can change an image.

A park bench shot from slightly different positions. My favorite is the top photo. And yes, it’s just a bench.

Minor changes in position, subject, light, foreground, background and other factors can make a surprising difference.

Work the shot.


Cropping an image often reveals a hidden gem. I use Lightroom Classic CC. Edits done in this program are non-destructive. One can always back out of a crop.

Crops can isolate an interesting part of an image, enlarge a subject, and sometimes even remove an unwanted part of an image

Before cropping
Isolating part of the image
Before cropping

Look for cropping opportunities


Aspect ratio: The dimensions of a rectangular image in ratio form.

An 8 x 10 inch print (4 x 5) ratio will cut off some picnickers.
  • My camera's sensor is a 2 x 3 ratio which perfectly fits a 4 x 6 inch print.
  • A 5 x 7 print or an 8 x 10 print (4 x 5 ratio) cuts off part of the image.
  • Frame matting will cover 1/8 to 1/4 inch of a print.
  • Instagram supports photo post ratios of 1.91 x 1, 1 x 1, and 4 x 5.

You have made the image look perfect using the full framing of your 2 x 3 ratio camera. Then are using a 4 x 5 ratio to display it. Whoops!

Consider end use aspect ratios when taking the photo.


The sooner you create a system for organizing your photos the better. For me , I have two main objectives:

  • Be able to find the original
  • Be able to see it's subject

There are many systems and software programs. I use Adobe Lightroom Classic CC which I have as part of the Adobe Photography Plan. This program provides for very flexible organization and provides for retouching while always retaining the original photo.

My system

File name for images coming from the camera

  • File name: Date followed by subject description
  • Date should be in YYYYMMDD format. 8/31/20 become 20200831. Always use a two digit format for month and year. January becomes 01, the first of a month becomes 01.
  • Example filename: 20200831 Teddy Bear Picnic

Image name

  • I rename the image upon import to Lightroom Classic CC.
  • The new image name: File name plus image name from camera.
  • Example image name: 20200831 Teddy Bear Picnic_DSC_1789.NEF
  • Note that the actual date of the image is available in the image metadata


  • The files are organized by date and can easily be grouped into years.
  • I can easily find the original image if derivative images are put in a different folder.
  • A derivative image might be a jpg in a folder labeled for images going out for printing.
  • Example: folder: "jpg for printing"; image: 20200831 Teddy Bear Picnic_DSC_1789.jpg.

Use a system for organizing your photos.

Learn, Do, Critique

Photography is a knowledge based skill. Learn about it, take pictures, critique the work, and, most of all,

Have Fun