Photography my way

Hello everyone.  As some of you know, I have been a photographer for almost 40 years.  During that time I have been fortunate to capture many very good photos. I am posting some of them here. Since I have been capturing images for a long time, a few of these were captured with film but most of them are digital images.  I do have other interests, but whenever I have free time, I am taking pictures.  Right now I can barely wait for the Darkroom classes to start since I have about 10 rolls of film to develop! Lately, I have been using two different film cameras, a Bronica STRs 645 and a Fujifilm 6×9, both great cameras. As soon as I print some of these images I will post them here, or rather, on my other website dedicated to film photography.  Here is a link, for the darkroom class, Check it out and share it with your friends.


Solar eclipse in Crystal City, Missouri

A trip to St. Louis to see the eclipse.

Hello, everyone.  Well, now that the eclipse is over, we can all go back to our lives and relax a little. My wife and I took a trip to Festus Missouri to witness the event.  Using Google Maps, I found a private boat club on the edge of the Mississippi River where we “kind of trespassed onto the property”.  One of the people in charge came over and he actually welcomed us, but not before letting us know that we were on private property.   But they let us stay for this historic event as long as we stayed out a few places and cleaned up any debris we might have had.   This was a nice place to see the eclipse from.  The best thing for me as a photographer was that I could just concentrate on what I was doing and nothing else. Everyone, there was doing the same thing.  In the end, the event was so awesome that none of my pictures can convey what we all witnessed there.

To capture the sun in the middle of the eclipse I used a filter to reduce the brightness of the sun by 18 stops!  That is the darkest filter that I have ever used. Of course, when the amount of light is reduced by that much, you cannot capture anything else but the sun and maybe some clouds, which is what I captured.  At the moment of totality, I took the filter off to capture the incredible site. It was just as they said on the National Geographic Chanel, the temperature dropped about 15° the crickets started to “chirp” very loudly and the stars came out. IT WAS AWESOME!!!

And please don’t forget about my upcoming classes at Truman College.

Hello everyone.  Hope your summer has been GREAT!  The new classes for Fall are going to start soon, I hope that many of you sign up for the classes. The new schedule is as follows:

Beginning Photography: This is a class for new students of photography.

September 9th to October 21st, Saturdays 9:00 am to 11:00 am.

Studio Lighting Photography: This is a class for students interested in learning about lighting.

September 9th to October 21st, Saturdays 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

Darkroom Photography: Learn how to expose your film correctly in the camera and how to develop it in the darkroom.

September 6th to October 18th, Wednesdays 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

Photoshop for Photographers: This class is for people that want to learn how to use Photoshop to edit their photos.  This class is strictly for beginners.

September 5th to October 17th. Wednesdays 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Truman College is also offering some photography workshops for students who want an introduction to lighting or for parents who just want to learn a fast way to photograph their children.

Studio Lighting Workshop: This is an introduction to studio lighting for students who want to start learning about lighting.

On class, August, 26th, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

Photography for Parents: This is a workshop for parents who have a new camera and want to learn how to photograph their children.

One class, August 26th 9:00 am to 12:00 pm.

Please sign early it is very easy, just call 773-907-4440 and ask for Laura Smith, she will take care of you.



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Photographic Composition

Learning where in the frame the subject should be, is very important in a photograph


Composition in photography is a subject that I enjoy teaching and talking about the most. I’ve seen so many students over the years that are lost when seeing through the viewfinder of their camera because they have no idea what is important in the scene that they are capturing.  I hope to give you a strong instinct of how to see the world through the viewfinder of your camera.

Composition is not something that comes naturally to many of us, we have to learn it! From time to time I find some students with a natural understanding of what is important in a photograph and how to arrange the different elements to create a good image. But as I mentioned, it is rare. Composition is something that we can all learn, from the core principals to the technical aspects of good composition. Some photographers argue that the person has to have this innate ability from birth because photography is an art form.  That may be the case if you want to become a fine art photographer but, the principals, the techniques, the way of seeing the world can be learned.

Composition is subjective, even if the composition in your images is bad; there is always someone that is going to tell you that it is cool. This is bad for a person that wants to become a photographer because you cannot listen to the average Joe, of course, unless he/she has an art degree.  To capture truly great shots a good composition is key. A well-composed photograph doesn’t have to be explained, almost every person that sees the image is going to approve it.  So with that being said, here are the fundamentals to taking strong compositions:

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The Rule of Thirds.  An image should be divided into thirds, horizontally and vertically, as to create nine equal parts and important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

In the world of art a painter chooses what to include in a painting, a photographer must choose what to exclude. What you leave out, is just as important as what you include in your image. For this to be effective, you need to selectively include ONLY the things that are important or interesting in your images by selectively framing what is important. For this to be done right, the photographer cannot be lazy. They must walk around the subject, study it, look at it from different angles and then decide what and how much to include in your picture.  

What the heck does this mean? It means that when you photograph any subject you should never place the main subject in the middle of the frame, you should place the main subject in any of the intersections of these imaginary lines. Most good photographers know that this technique of aligning a subject within these points creates more tension, energy, and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject like a mug shot.

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A straight horizon in a scene is a must

Many subjects in photos that I see may be interesting but the horizon is slanted to one side or the other and that makes the images to look like is going to slide right out of the frame.

Look at the image on the above. Vertically and horizontally it has been divided into three parts. Notice how the main subject, (the twigs encased in ice) are placed to the left side of the frame off center and the horizon line is placed on the upper third of the frame. This is how good framing and composition is created.

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Use ‘Lines,’ vertical, horizontal, diagonal or a combination of all, to your advantage 

In the photograph above, I use a combination of vertical, horizontal and strong diagonal lines and in the middle a human figure for contrast. The balance and tension in this picture is very strong and every single element is needed to keep the image engaged with the viewer. Even the lamp acts as a spherical counterpoint to the round shape of the man’s head.

Don’t leave large empty spaces. Leaving large holes in the composition such as uninteresting expanses of water or dark or very bright elements should be avoided. Change perspective by moving from a different point of view or maybe move your tripod up or down to compress large gaps in the mid to near foreground. Conversely, elements should not be cluttered; raise the height of the camera to increase the distance between elements. Don’t forget that the lens that you use on the camera is very important to give you the perspective that you want it in your photographs.

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In this photograph again I am using lines to create a strong composition. I included a post from the fence to break the repetition of the smaller iron bars and then simply waited to see what happened. Since there are many birds in my courtyard I did not have to wait too long. Note: in this image, the three birds are unified by the triangle that they form with their bodies.

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Once again I am using lines for a strong composition but this image has the added element of a spiral which is something that is found in many things in nature.

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Cut seashell (sample)

  1. When you go out into the field looking for images, concentrate on one or two different composition techniques and purposely look for items that fit your desired images, this, of course, will help you develop the way you see. Do not just go out and shoot anything and everything, doing that will not help you become a good photographer.
  2. Make sure that both the foreground and the background are interesting or at least that the background does not compete or intrude with the main part of your image.[foogallery id=”223″]
  3. The background is just as important as the foreground. Pay very careful attention to what you photograph and the angle of view you take.

Take a look at this next image:

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I could have created this image with the orchid perfectly straight but that will make a very static composition. By tilting the camera sideways I created a strong diagonal composition making the image that much more interesting. Because you have the camera in your hand, you can decide how and why your images should be the way you record them.

Use leading lines such as rails or lines created by shadows, fences or anything else to lead the eye into the main part of the image.

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The lines from the rails, road, and sidewalk are leading into the silos which are the main subject in this photo.  Lines can always help you make your images much more interesting.

Avoid distracting elements in the composition. This is done by paying careful attention to what is close to the frame in the picture. You have to check the edges of the frame to make sure that nothing is coming into the picture, for example; a distracting branch of a tree, or someone’s part of a body, or a portion of a colorful car, etc. etc. Many things can destroy the composition if the photographer is not careful and ignores the edge of the frame.

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This is a very good photograph with good composition, unfortunately, the photographer neglected the edge of his frame and the graffiti on the very edge of the image is very distracting. In fact, when you look at the entire image the very first thing your eye goes to, is the graffiti and not the cat. Just a little attention from the part of the photographer and this image will be great.

One of the great masters of photography was so careful with the composition of his images that it took him a few minutes to compose every image (on a 4×5 or 8×10 camera). But for him, those few minutes of composing an image was how he became a master photographer. The fact is that when a person has a real interest in becoming a very good photographer, you have to have lots of patience and take the time to always compose your images correctly.

In this photograph entitled;

“Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine” 1944

Adams made use of the rule of thirds and masterfully darken the middle mountain and lighten the trees in the bottom making the horse stand out. Great picture, great composition, and a great way of using contrast to help the viewer look at the entirety of his photo.

A frame within a frame. Look for objects that frame other things. In nature, there are many things that a photographer can use to frame an object and make it look more interesting. Look at the following image so you understand how this works.

Harry Callahan – Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, c. 1953

Look at the composition in this image. The photographer (Harry Callahan) uses light and shadows to frame the image of his wife and child. His use of light is amazing and as many great photographers know, using anything that is available in nature to make your photographs more interesting is not something you do lightly.

One other thing that I recommend to all my students is to, be critical of your work. Capturing good images from time to time does not make you a great photographer, but it’s a start. And when you do, always ask yourself, “How can I improve this image?” Whatever it is that you photograph, there is always a way to make it look better. Sometimes it’s just by getting closer to the object, sometimes eliminating part of the image, sometimes by placing it in a different part of the frame. There are many ways of improving images.  Do not be content with mediocre work, if an image that you create looks bad to you, admit it and go shoot some more.  Look at other photographer’s work, something similar to what you like to shoot and see how they compose their photos. Good composition in your photographs could be a long learning experience, but don’t despair, eventually, you will learn how to see through the viewfinder of your camera.

 -Ignacio Alvarez

© February 2016

Creativity in photography

How creative are you? My wife tells me that she was not present in class when they thought that class. Of course, it’s a joke. But seriously, when you take pictures do you click and just hope for the best, or do you very deliberately select a composition that is going to make your photograph stand out from the rest?  Knowing about composition in photography can be of great help. I have seen so many photographs of people or just mundane things in which the main subject is dead centered in the picture. Of course, the photographer has no idea of what to do so they limit themselves to focus and shoot. The other group of images from some people I know is a repetition of the same bad composition hoping that this time it looks different. (Isn’t this the definition of insanity? Repeating the same thing over and over hoping to get a different result). I am going to tell you how you can improve your pictures.

  1. After you focus on your subject, hold the shutter button down *halfway* so the focusing mechanism keeps the subject in focus, don’t let go! Now move the camera and place the subject anywhere in the frame, just not in the middle.
  2. Keep your background uncluttered! Make sure that the background is very unobtrusive, if the subject is merging with the background or if it is so busy that takes all the attention to from the main subject, choose a different point of view or location. This means watching out for light poles, piles of garbage, or even waiting for people to cross and get out of the way…
  3. If you are photographing portraits of people, use the lens fully open! This is going to give you a faster shutter speed making your portrait much sharper. Just make sure that you focus on the face of your subject and not the clothing. More specifically, try to focus on the eyes. The depth of field will be short with the lens fully open (high aperture number, or f-stop), and capturing the face sharp is enough to have a very cool looking picture. If you focus on the clothes of the person, the possibility of leaving the face out of focus is very high. Make sure the person occupies at least 50% of the frame. The nice thing about using the lens fully open is that you can make anything stand out when you use the lens in such way. Take a look at the following photo. 
  4. Photographing landscapes can also be very tricky for some people, just make sure that you use a 50mm lens or wider and use it around f/8. This will give your image a tremendous depth of field making everything very sharp. Of course, using a low ISO is important for great photographs. High ISO will give you a lot of digital noise (grainy pictures) and if you don’t know how to get rid of it, that can be a problem.

So, there you have it, a few suggestions to improve your photography, yes I am including a few samples. Thank you for reading and I will post more helpful hints soon.

Interested in my digital photography classes in Chicago? Join us at Truman College! Also if you want to apply concepts to film photography, join the darkroom classes.

Ignacio Alvarez



Welcome to the Truman College Chicago Digital Photography Site


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We are thrilled you are here.  Hopefully, you are interested in taking photography classes or at least curious to see what we do at Truman College. Since Truman is one of seven City Colleges, learning something through the Continuing Education (CE)  department is fairly inexpensive. The price for our seven-week classes are lower than any other place in Chicago and the best thing is that our instructors are excellent. Give us a chance to show you all you can learn in our photography classes. You just may keep coming back to learn more.

check out our upcoming classes for both digital photography and darkroom.