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Bending The Rules

A Third Reference • Polarizers Plus • Monitoring Your Monitor • Who Took My Pictures? • Oversaturation

Keukenhof Gardens in Holland. Two white mute swans glide into the image as Lepp previsualized it. The composition places the subjects on a vertical line of thirds—not a classic position of the “rule of thirds,” but one that better tells the story of the birds’ journey.

A Third Reference

Q I just purchased a grid-focusing screen for my Canon EOS 5D, and I have to wonder why the grid divides the screen into small sections that aren’t consistent with the “rule of thirds.” While the added lines are helpful in keeping my architectural photos straight (or, at the very least, straighter), they really aren’t very useful for composition. I would think a grid based on the “rule of thirds” would be a fantastic tool for composition—making following compositional rules as well as deliberately breaking them all the more obvious.
M. Darby

A In most cases, grid-focusing screens are designed to intersect at the points where the camera focuses; that’s one reason why they aren’t interchangeable among manufacturers and specific camera models. The most common grid-line patterns on focusing screens are also useful, as you note, for alignment of architectural images, and for maintaining a straight horizon when using a wide-angle lens. If used to maximize and precisely position focus, the screens are, of course, also compositional aids.

While I appreciate the idea of facilitating composition with a nine-section grid that represents the “rule of thirds” (that is, placing the subject on one of the lines or at the intersection of two lines), I can’t say I’d recommend it. Even beginning photographers don’t need hard-and-fast lines to help them place their subjects off-center. The best way to learn powerful photographic composition is to carefully study the great photographs and think about what message is conveyed by how the subject is placed within the frame, either at the time of capture or by cropping in postprocessing. A photograph needs balance and a story. I find that when many new photographers diligently apply the rule of thirds, their images become unbalanced, with two-thirds of the photograph lacking any reason for being.

Nonetheless, the grid/focusing screen you imagine is available for many DSLRs from KatzEye Optics ( They have a variety of focusing screens to which grids and cropping guides can be added, including the “rule of thirds.”

Polarizers Plus

Q I read the March OP article on polarizers with great interest. I recently returned from Hawaii, where I experimented with a high-end polarizer on my D7000/Nikon 18-200mm setup. I got the deep-blue sky and the eye-popping, well-defined clouds, but everything else in the shots (flowers, gardens, etc.) came out dull and flat and had to have saturation and other adjustments in postproduction. Any thoughts?
K. Hodges

A The reason polarizers are desirable for use on foliage is that they remove reflections that mask the color, resulting in a more saturated appearance. But polarizers only work well when the sun is positioned at approximately 90 degrees to the subject. I’m surmising that the foliage you photographed wasn’t positioned optimally for the polarizing effect or didn’t have any reflective surfaces. Sometimes the polarizer works on everything in the scene, and sometimes you have to do some postprocessing to even out the effects.
My partial solution to this is the Singh-Ray Color Combo polarizing filter (, which includes a modest warming effect and a slight color intensifier. So even if the polarizer alone doesn’t render the desired effect on every area of the scene, the warming and intensification of color will improve the overall appearance straight out of the camera. The Singh-Ray Color Combo filter also has the advantage of being one full ƒ-stop faster than other polarizers, allowing either more depth of field or a faster shutter speed while still maintaining excellent color and clarity.

Monitoring Your Monitor

Q I’m an old salt in photography (40 years), and I just discovered the wonderful world of digital. I know how to take sharp images, and when I preview them in the camera, they’re sharp, but when I transfer them to my computer, they’re soft. The ones that I enhance and print are sharp. Someone told me that my monitor has a card and it’s probably the wrong one to view my photography. Could that be true? It’s driving me nuts to look at soft images on my monitor.
J. Anderson

A The card that controls the images on your monitor resides in your computer; it’s called a graphics card. The graphics card needs to be compatible with the monitor you’re using. Usually, the computer and monitor are purchased as a set, and the graphics card is already configured optimally for the monitor. But if your computer and monitor aren’t the same age, they may be incompatible.

Your monitor may be incapable of resolving the images you’re trying to display. If it’s an older model, it probably has lower resolution than needed. If you have a new monitor, but an older computer and graphics card, these may not be up to the task of supporting the resolution capabilities of the newer monitor.

If the age difference isn’t the source of the problem, determine the resolution of the monitor (such as 1024×768 or 2560×1440) and the capability of the graphics card, which would be expressed in similar numbers within the specifications for the computer. Graphics cards can be upgraded to match newer monitors.

Who Took My Pictures?

Q I removed the memory card from my camera and took it to an automated print kiosk to have prints made of a friend’s party. The pictures were the last of about 100 images on the card. When I put the card in the first print machine, the last 12 or so images were gone. I tried three different machines about four times. Gone! So when I got home, I downloaded them into my computer and there they were. What could have happened to them? The CompactFlash card is a SanDisk 4 GB Extreme IV. This is very puzzling! Should I not use this card again, or should I format and reuse?
L. Hebert

A Every camera has a numbering system for image files. When a maximum number is reached, the camera creates a new folder for the next set of images. Different manufacturers and levels of camera bodies have different file management strategies. As an example, a DSLR may begin a newly numbered folder after 999 images, or may simply start over again with duplicate numbers at 9,999 images. Some DSLRs offer the photographer the capability of starting a new folder with each insertion of a new CF card or, even better, you can create your own folders and organize images at capture into a folder of your choosing. You can learn more about creating folders on some Canon DSLRs at

I’m surmising that while you were enjoying your friend’s party, your camera reached a turning point and created a new folder; thus the images stored on the CF card were separated into two groups. Since print kiosks aren’t as sophisticated as your computer in reading multiple folders, they only recognized the images in the first folder on your card.

So there’s probably nothing wrong with either the printing machinery or your card. I would have no problem reformatting the card and using it again. To avoid the problem in the future, try downloading all the images you want to print to a USB jump drive and take it to the kiosk for printing.


Q I’ve been in several professional photographers’ galleries recently, and what I’m seeing is gross oversaturation of color. Is this the new norm? I remember you telling us in a seminar that oversaturation is one of the deadly sins of digital photography.
Participant At A Lepp Seminar Portland, Oregon

A If one makes the judgment on the basis of what’s selling in successful galleries, unnaturally colored photographs of natural subjects are currently in fashion. Perhaps this is because our senses are so overstimulated these days that some people only recognize that which is over the top. So the photographer makes an artistic statement by rendering the natural subject beyond reality, and the person viewing the image either accepts it as art because it’s different and beautiful or rejects it being unrepresentative of nature because it’s unrealistic. But no one is unmoved.

Those of us who photograph for the purpose of conveying the reality of nature to others might find these exaggerated gallery images disturbing. As a nature photographer, especially in the digital realm, you have the power to control your work. Your guiding principles as a photographer are in play from the very first moment, from how you treat your subjects and their environment, to how you represent them to others in your final presentation.

It’s for you to decide—what your photography is about, what message it sends and how that message is received.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.