Composing your subject in a photograph

Composing your subject in a photograph

During my education at two art academies in Holland I was trained to look at the composition of paintings and sculptures. That was a big advantage for me when I started making taking pictures.
In photography the usual rule of thumb is the rule of thirds. It’s a great rule to start with, but in this blogpost I will explain some other possibilities for composing a photograph.

1. Rule of thirds

rule of thirds

Divide the image in three equal parts both horizontally and vertically. Important areas are the four intersections on which you can place the most important part of the image. In the picture seen above one of the eyes is on such a crossing point.

And there are four lines that can be useful in positioning the elements of your composition. Have a look at the pictures below, you can use either one of the vertical or horizontal lines.

rule of thirds

rule of thirds in landscape

2. Symmetry

The easiest way to make a composition is symmetry. I call it the Catholic way, because the mass consists of symmetrical gestures and objects placed on either side on the altar. Pictures composed this way are peaceful and will have a quiet mood.


A clear example are these tiles. Less obvious is the image of the trees as a sample, but I guess you can still discover the symmetry in that picture.

3. Dynamic composition

Although I take a lot of symmetrical pictures, I think it is very interesting to look for a dynamic contrast. Possible contrasts are:

• full of details / empty space
• lots of color / monochrome
• dark / light

dynamic composition

In this picture of a boat you can see I have looked for a symmetrical composition, while using a dynamic contrast between the left and the right side.

4. Diagonal

diagonal composition

Usually a diagonal will make a composition dynamic, depending on the subject of course. If that subject is a frozen puddle, the image will be very peaceful.

5. Vanishing  point

A vanishing point will suck the viewer into the image and creates an enormous suggestion of depth. The purest way is to position the vanishing point exactly in the middle, but as you can imagine, this point can also be on the thirds-line.

vanishing point

vanishing point

6. No grid at all

Not every picture needs to follow one of the former composition rules. A lot of my pictures are textures of all kinds. They don’t have grids. Unless you desperately want to see a grid, in that case you may notice the diagonal From top-left to bottom-right in the yellow picture with the light playing on the fruits. 🙂

composing a photograph

7. Knowing the rules means you can break them

I am a strong supporter of knowing the rules, but that does not mean that you should follow the rules no matter what. Once you know them and mastered them, break them. (Uhm… concerning the composition, I mean).
The funny thing is, that I deliberatly broke the rule of thirds in this landscape and put the horizon extremely low, but when I drew the lines in order to show you, I discovered that the rule of thirds was in place after all!

composing a photograph

Good luck!


A lot of cameras have a display at the back or a viewfinder with the grid shown. It helps you to follow the rules or to disregard them. One way or the other, I am sure that if you take your pictures with these rules in mind, they will come out better than before. Good luck and please let me know if you have any questions. Put them in the commentbox below and I will gladly answer them.

7 do’s and dont’s using text in a blog or website

7 do’s and dont’s using text in a blog or website

Readability has two definitions:

One is about the text itself. Is the meaning of the words clear? Does the style support that meaning?
The other definition is about the design. Can you read the text? Is it easy to read the text?

The guidelines for text on a screen are not that different from the guidelines for text in any use. Whether it is on a screen or on paper, on a truck or on the facade of an office, always ask yourself: “Can people read this in an easy and clear way?”

#1 Well designed letter fonts

serif sans serif fontDo:

Choose a letter that is properly drawn and has a clear appearance on the screen. Fonts that are optimized for display on screen are for instance Tahoma, Verdana, Georgia. The difference between Tahoma and Verdana with Georgia is that the first two are sans serif letters and the Georgia is a letter with serifs.

Do not:

Don’t use script letters like Comic Sans for a business text. No one will take your text seriously. When I get an invoice in the Comic Sans (and you wouldn’t believe it, but I really do) my first thought always is “Did I buy something in a toy store?”
Use a script letter for articles about illustration or comic books. And use them sparingly. Read my article about manuals!

#2 Know what you are doing if you modify fonts


For printed text a serif letter generally is recommended because the serifs guide the reader more smoothly. For fonts on screen recommendations are not that clear. The tests found on the internet are usually instigated by Microsoft, who is the editor of the Verdana. And the tests show that you can best use the Verdana. Duh.

text in a blog or websiteNo matter what font you choose it is advisable to use the “normal” version of a letter. It is called “normal” for a reason! For parts of the text that need more attention, such as headings or quotes, you can take the bold or italic version.

Do not:

Modified letters are more difficult to read. The extended, condensed, black or light versions are hard to read in the drawn version, but even more so if they are digitally edited. You can be sure to give your readers a headache if you do.

#3 Choose the right size of the font


You as an author have no control over the way the viewer sees your text on a screen. The viewer can adjust the size whenever they want. Yet it is wise to choose a letter that is not too large or too small. A good size is 12 or 13 points. Do take in account that a PC-screen shows letters in a bigger size that an Apple-user will see them.

Do not:

Some programs give the choices: x-small – small – medium – large and xlarge. I strongly advice against the use of x-small.

#4 Justified text is old fashioned

justified textDo:

Left-aligned text provides a quiet image with equal word spacing. Text is readable well if the overall impression is a plain ‘gray’, without darker or lighter concentrations.

Do not:

The technique of lead typesetting required justified text. Those days are long gone, but still a lot of people hang on to justified text. The main disadvantage of block text is the appearance of “ditches”, which make reading very tiring for your eyes.

#5 What do you want to emphasize?


Distinguish between the different parts of a text in a clear way. A heading in a larger size, or an intro in bold or italic for instance.

Do not:

If you want to scream, then PUT YOUR TEXT IN CAPITALS. Capitals or uppercase make reading difficult, so limit the use.

#6 Increase the line space

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It is better to increase the line spacing. 120% to 150% let the characters come out better and keep the lines of text clearer.

Do not:

It’s never good to exaggerate. A too tight spaced text will color the text an even gray, but makes it difficult for the reader to find the beginning of the next line. A too large spacing provides too little coherence in the text.

#7 Beware of the column width


Set columns at a sufficient distance from each other. For the width of a column 10 to 15 words per line is a good thumb of rule.

Do not:

Don’t turn your blog or web site into a tennis match. There are people who have a large screen (mine is 27”), which makes a broad column really annoying to read.

Do you have tips of your own to add? Put them in the commentbox below.

Red, White and Blue in Pictures

Photography: Red, White and Blue in Pictures

Photography inspired by the Dutch flag

red white blueA lot of countries have flags in the colors red, white and blue. The USA, the Netherlands, France, the UK, Russia – to name a few. Flags are an offspring of heraldry. Every color had a specific meaning in ancient heraldry.
Drawing: the Dutch flag

In medieval times colors and flags were a necessity to distinguish one armored knight from the other. Only seven colors were allowed and they all had a black and white ‘translation’. For instance blue was also indicated by a pattern of horizontal lines and red by vertical lines. This variation was used in wax seals.

If you have read this other article of mine about photography – looking through the square hole – you have seen that I love thematic photography. In this article I combine those themes with the colors red, white and blue.

A modern variation of the heraldic colors are the red and the blue states in USA election time.

In these series I selected 3 pictures in the colors red, white and blue for each subject. Some are bright colors, others are more saturated. I call them “powdery”.


red glasswhite glass
blue glass
Still lives and windows

Do you know the still lives of Morandi? If you don’t you really should try to have a look at them. Either in reality or in reproductions. I have admired his work for a long, long time and still am not tired of looking at it.


red door
red white blue in pictures
blue door
Doors and windows. Every holiday I come home with at least one of those on a picture


red chairs
white chairs
blue chairs
Have a seat. Somewhere. Anywhere.

Flowers from the Dutch bulb fields

red flowers white flowers blue flowers
The bulb fields are a feast for the eyes in April and May

Rock solid

red rock white rock
blue rock
Is every picture of a rock?


red white blue boatred white boat red white blue boat
Red, white and blue combined within a picture

And one for my American friends

4th of july
Have a great 4th of July celebration!


Color theory: show me your colors

Color theory - show me your colors

color contrast

One of the best books in my private library is “The Art of Color: The Subjective Experience and Objective Rationale of Color” by Johannes Itten, a teacher at the Bauhaus that I admire so much. Of course Itten’s notions are only one way of looking at colors. There are many researchers, artists and scientists that have constructed a color theory. But it seems logical to me that as a designer and artist I have a strong affinity with a fellow artist.

Itten explains about the reality of color and the way we as humans perceive colors. Colors seem to affect each other. That influence is an action of our brain. “Eye and mind can only by comparison or contrast come to a clear perception.” On a black background yellow, red and blue will have more strength than on a white background. Both artists and designers take this phenomenon into account when creating their own work.

Red and green

simultaneous color contrast

Are you familiar with the expression “Red combined with green is a farmer’s decency”? It’s probably only a Dutch saying. Shutters and frames of the old farmhouses used to be painted in red and green. It is not meant positive though, because the expression means that something is of bad taste. 😉

A person that is colorblind can not distinguish green from red. The intensity of the colors red and green is the same. And if you’re not colorblind you can feel dizzy if you see the colors next to each other. Sometimes I see books that have a red cover with green letters or vice versa. That is so hard to read, that my desire to buy the book dies at the same instant.

Take the test: watch the red-green example with almost closed eyes -> the 3rd line is hardly readable.

In the old days the electricity cable used to have one green and one red wire. Thank goodness they were replaced by a brown and blue wire. Color blind electricians made too many mistakes!
The funny thing is that one of my printers is color-blind, but he has no problem with that whatsoever. He uses a densitometer to stay in control of the printed colors and therefore doesn’t have to rely on his own eyes!

Simultaneous color contrast

color theory - simultaneous effect

Yellow, red and blue are the three primary colors. Black and white, and the mix of them, gray, are not really colors, but they are important because of their effect on other colors. The exact same gray square in the middle of the orange and the blue frame appears to be a cooler gray in the orange frame and a warmer gray in the blue one. No matter how your monitor is calibrated – and this is something I have absolutely no influence on, each screen presents the colors differently – I expect that you can see the different appearance of the grays in the example below?


Isn’t this amazing: I had been studying “The Art of Color” for some days, when I went to a seminar in the Graphic Design Museum in my hometown. The first speaker brought up Edward Adelson’s Checker shadow illusion. His question for the audience was, which square is the lightest grey, A or B?

The answer is, they are both equally light. I was amazed by the result. Aren’t you?

Colorful design in relation to the color theory of Johannes Itten

Colorful design in relation to the color theory of Johannes Itten

Theory of Itten

Teacher of the Bauhaus

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At the Academy for Visual Arts in Holland, as a student, I learned the color theory of Johannes Itten and I became a huge fan of Bauhaus. Lots of famous artists have been teachers at the Bauhaus, like Piet Mondriaan and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. And Johannes Itten who developed a theory with a color wheel. With this wheel we learned to mix pigments and oxides to use in paintings and on statues.

It wasn’t until I started as a teacher myself that I realized it was only one way of mixing colors – the subtractive way. The technically schooled boys in my class had learned about television screens that use the additive way of color mixing.
The result was confusion on their part, but also on mine, because I couldn’t understand why they kept mixing up the primary and secondary colors.

Well, we have a saying over here: want to learn something well and quick, go teach the subject.
It’s true. And by the way, blogging about that subject has the same result! 😉



In science and art

In the 19th and 20th century several people have developed a color theory, even Goethe, the German writer. Most theories are based on the subtractive method. Logical, there were no televisions and monitors in those days.

Subtractive means that the more colors you mix, the more sunlight is absorbed (subtracted) and the darker the color becomes.

colorwheel ittenFrom Johannes Itten’s color circle, the following can be read:

  • the primary colors red, yellow and blue in the triangle in the middle;
  • the secondary colors orange, green and purple, these colors are a mixture of each primary pair
    – red+yellow = orange
    – yellow+blue = green
    – blue+red = purple;
  • the tertiary colors, that are a mixture of a primary and a secondary color;
  • complementary colors, those colors mixed together will make an almost black shade. They reinforce each other the most. On the color wheel they are opposite each other
    – yellow–purple
    – blue–orange
    – red–green;
  • the light and dark colors, with the strongest contrast between yellow as lightest and purple as darkest color.


Ink and paint

The hues differ

Oil paint, gouache, printing ink and toner cartridges are all based on the subtractive methods of color mixing. But the shades will differ slightly because they all use a different medium: linseed oil, gum arabic, egg.

The medium of ink is artificial. That’s why printers do not have blue and red as the primary colors, but cyan and magenta. Even the yellow has a slightly different tone in oil paint or ink.

Almost every color can be made of mixing percentages of cyan, magenta and yellow. Mixed in even quantities those three colors will make a brownish black. For a beautiful deep black a fourth cartridge is needed – black. It’s called the keycolor, hence the abbreviation CMYK: cyan, magenta, yellow, key.

color mixing


Computer and television screens

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Mixing colored light is called the additive method. The primary colors are Red, Green and Blue (RGB). This is the color system used in television and computer screens. Mixing all colors – adding them – in even quantities will make white. (By the way, that’s another reason to call Black in the CMYK-system Key, otherwise there would be confusion with the B of Blue in the RGB-system.)

As you can see in the picture above the primary colors of CMYK are more or less similar to the secondary colors of RGB and vice versa.

Knowledge about these two systems can help you when editing pictures in for example Adobe Photoshop. I’ll show you in How to improve the color quality of your printed pictures.



How to improve the color quality of your printed pictures

How to improve the color quality of your printed pictures

Why does your print not match the precious picture you had on your screen?

The quality of the printers is improving fast. Nowadays a lot of color printers have more than four cartridges, making sure all the tones are printed. Yet the extra cartridges are gray or black, never a color, which means there are still colors you see on screen that can’t be printed on paper.

Taking pictures and printing them on your colorprinter can be disappointing. Sometimes the result is NOT what you expected. I’ll give you the reasons for that disappointing result.

color printing


The most beautiful shade of blue

I collect cobaltblue glass objects. They are nice in my room as decoration and great to make still lifes pictures with. But I better not print them on canvas or paper, as I do with lots of my pictures, because the result is not good.

I tested the picture shown here on my inkjetprinter and when I saw the greyish blue vases I was really upset. So I sent a little part of the picture to my supplier for a test as well.
He had a better result than I did, obviously, because his printer is a professional one, but still it wasn’t what I wanted.
But can I fix this?


Two different color systems

The article “Colorful design” explains the difference between CMYK and RGB. Why is that important? Because your camera makes pictures in the RGB-colorsystem, but the four cartridges in your color printer are cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

RGB Red Green Blue

An additive color system

Each primary color of the additive system has a maximum value of 255, as shown below. The order is always Red first, than Green and than Blue. All other colors on the screen are a mixture of those three primary colors. As shown in the examples here.

RGB color system

CMYK Cyan Magenta Yellow Key (Key=Black)

A subtractive color system

Printers have four colors in the subtractive system. Each primary color plus black has a maximum value of 100%, as shown below. In the example, the numbers indicate how much of each color is mixed to get the result that you can see.

By the way: the K is for Key and not B for Black, because the B could be confused with the Blue in the RGB system.

CMYK color system

Color Range

Millions of hues

Most CMYK-colors can be converted to RGB, but not all RGB-colors can be converted to CMYK. We can see more colors than the printer or the screen can show us.

The color schedule below is a model to explain the differences. Although it doesn’t represent all colors, you’ll probably get the picture.

However, if you have Adobe Photoshop, you can see beforehand which colors will not convert the way you want them to.

color range

Color Picker

A useful tool In Photoshop

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In Photoshop select a color in your image with the tool pipette and go to the Color Picker. Here I selected a very bright green. As you can see there is a triangle in the middle with an exclamation mark in it, indicating that the RGB-color will cause problems when converted to CMYK. Clicking on the exclamation mark will show the CMYK-result.

Mind you, it’s still just an indication. If you really want to know the result, you’ll have to print it. Colors look very different on paper (subtractive colorsystem) than on screen (additive colorsystem).

Greens and blues will cause the main problems. Another trick to know up front where you can expect trouble is by looking at the RGB-values: the higher a RGB value (e.g. Green = 0-255-0) the bigger the chance that the conversion of the color will go wrong. As you can see in the example the RGB value of 0-255-0 is 71-0-100-0 in CMYK. But the much darker green that is displayed after clicking the exclamation mark has the same CMYK-value.

photoshop tool color picker

So how about fixing the problem?

The bad news is you can’t fix it completely. The good news is you can limit the problem.

  • Using a professional printer is a wise thing to do. It doesn’t has to be your own. Not all pictures will cause you this problem so let the professionals deal with that couple of photographs that are giving you a hard time.
  • Use glossy paper or glossy varnish – that will enhance the image considerably.

Good luck!

Yellow summer in Spain

Yellow summer in Spain

Traditional landscapes, food and customs

yellow summer in spainWhen I walk on a Spanish market, I think I am in a time capsule and catapulted 40 years back. The market looks exactly the same as back then when I was on holiday with my parents. It’s nice. It’s cozy. I like it.

I am in Spain a lot nowadays because my son lives there. He married a Spanish girl and settled down exactly in the middle of Spain. That’s why the markets look the same as in my childhood. You won’t see any Dutch or English market vendors here, as you see on the costas.
(ETA 5 years later: I now live in Spain myself as well)

My love for Spain, the Spanish food and the Spanish landscapes grew during time. There is a huge variation in the different regions and their customs. Nowadays we hardly come here in winter. Mostly in spring and summer. And the most significant color in those seasons is yellow.

Yellow fields

The region of Toledo is agrarian

yellow field
The blue sky enhances the color even more

Spain was called the wheat belt of Europe and if you drive from San Sebastian to Salamanca you see exactly why. On the plains it’s all grain. On the slopes in the Sierras – the mountain areas in several parts of Spain – there is partly grain and partly bleached out grass on the fields.

The walls of Avila in the evening

If you are like me and you like both nature and culture, you will love Spain. This spring we were in a cabin – una cabaña – in a village called Nuño Gómez. Some 50 miles to the north are the Sierra de Gredos (a national park), behind these mountains lies the beautiful walled city of Ávila and both Madrid and Toledo are about 80 miles away. Inviting us to a lot of hiking in nature and sniffing culture in the cities.

sierra de gredos
A traditional shelter for sheep and goats in the Sierra de Gredos

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The perfect travel companion,  it’s a good thing these guides are well made, because our (Dutch) copy has been our companion on every trip to Spain and used extensively. What I like most about this guide are the 3d technical drawings of the buildings. It clarifies a lot about style and decorations.

Yellow flowers

My favorite is Mimosa

cabana las molinos
Our cabana was covered in buzzing Escobon

Mimosa blooms in February. We were too late for the lovely smell of those beautiful fluffy little flowers. Blooming this time – and our cabin was hidden in it – was the Escobon, a kind of Dyer’s Broom. You can see these flowers everywhere, constantly buzzing because of the enormous amount of bees they attract.


I looked up the translation both in Dutch and in English. Google translate said: Escobon. Not a big help. I guess it’s a typical Spanish flower.


Visiting in the late summer or autumn you will see a lot of sunflowers. Grown for their seeds and oil. Sunflower seeds are delicious. Unfortunately the Spanish add an enormous amount of salt to it, and I don’t eat salt, so I eat them a lot at home – in Holland – but not in Spain.

Without yellow there is no blue
–Vincent Van Gogh

Yellow decorations

Traditional acanthus motif

ceramics talavera de la reina
This acanthus ornament is used the most in Talavera

Talavera de la Reina is one of the three main ceramics centers in Spain. The Tajo flows right through it, bringing huge amounts of clay to the banks.

teatro Victoria
One of the theaters in Talavera
(BTW don’t you think it’s funny that the sign says TE ATRO instead of TEATRO?)

In the 16th century the decorations of the household pottery in Talavera was blue on white. Later a very specific yellow was added. There is an industry of painted street signs, fountain parts, wall tiles and decorated pottery. It’s very traditional and at the moment they have a hard time to survive. A friend showed us a factory where nowadays 12 people work. There used to be 160 workers!

The bricks factories outnumber the decoration factories, but these too have a hard time to survive due to the economic circumstances, especially in the building industry.

Even a simple churrería has a beautiful decoration outside

Churros, in Holland we have Stroopwafels, in the States there are Donuts, the Spanish have Churros. It’s made of fried, sweet dough.

Yellow fruit

Colors have an influence on us


Yellow fruit and vegetables are harmonizing, laxative and purifying. Bananas, pineapple and lemons are soothing and stimulate happiness and wellbeing.

I always think it’s clever when a market trader looks at the colors to display his fruit

Every color of food has its own blessings. Have a look at my article about orange food.

Yellow food

Difficult to make, but nice: Tortilla

tortillaA traditional Spanish dish is Tortilla. It consists mainly of potatoes and eggs, baked together they produce a nice, soft yellow color. Variations are adding some ham, onions or other things, but they always add that in little quantities.

My son’s mother in law makes them a lot. I am going to ask her for her recipe and will share that later. According to my husband it’s difficult to make Tortilla right. I wouldn’t know. Because I don’t cook!

¡Buen Aprovecho!


Do you link a color to a country? Let me know in the commentbox below.

Optical illusion

Color: Optical illusion

In 32 tips to get ideas to spend your free time is a drawing of a sun, giving the optical illusion that the inner circle is much whiter than the surrounding white outside the drawing. A former colleague even made an airbrush in which the inside of such a form was darker than the environment, and still it seemed lighter.

sun: optical illusion

So I wanted to examine that. How much black can I add until the inner shape seems darker than the outer space? It turns out that there may be around 5 to 8% black added to the white before the effect is eliminated. Pretty much, isn’t it? It’s way more than I expected.

And in the example above you can also see how much influence colors and shades have on each other. The shape on the right side is the tint I used in the inner circle!

The gray of Adelson

Another great example is at the bottom of this blogpost. I find it hard to believe my eyes, but the proof is laid out in the video.