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Using complementary colors to make more impactful photographs

I'm often asked for tips on how to make great photographs, and how I create dynamic compositions.

To my mind, one of the most powerful tools in crafting a successful photograph is using complementary colors to draw the viewer into an image.  Here are two good examples of that.  Walking in our neighborhood last week, the fall color was really at peak.  Everywhere I looked, there was beautiful red, orange, and yellow leaves both in the trees and on the ground.  So how did I choose where to aim my camera?

Rather than do a photograph that only had those warm tones, I chose to make pictures where there was a complementary color scheme in play.  In one, I used a green sprout growing out of a tree trunk to contrast with the primarily red leaves on the ground.  Doing so makes both hues more impactful. 

The same holds true for this photograph of the vibrant yellow leaves of this tree.  Rather than focus in on the leaves, I made sure to include some blue sky in the upper right.  Doing so made the yellow all the more powerful.

To make better photographs, there are lots of tools we can use.  Keeping complementary colors in mind when composing a photograph is one of the most valuable.


Dance Photography workshop in Santa Fe Day 2

After a spirited and insightful critique of images from the first day of the dance photograpy workshop at Santa Fe Workshops, we resumed our journey into lighting dancers in the studio.  Working off of the foundation from yesterday when we only used one light, today we worked with three.  In this demonstration with dancer Deollo Johnson, in addition to the key light, a Chimera medium Super Pro soft box, we added two Chimera Super Pro Strip lights on the left and right.  The results were dramatic in that we could separate the dancer from the background and create more depth in the picture.  And more than that, help define the muscles in the torso and left leg.  Of course because this is a demonstration, I can't take time to evolve the image as far as I would like, but clearly there was a lot more we could do had this been a personal shoot.

It was great fun to see the participants take this approach and run with it to make some wonderful images on their own.  And that is truly rewarding for me to see.

Tomorrow, after a morning critique,  we go to a wonderful primordial property outside of Santa Fe to shoot dancers on location into the early evening.  It's bound to be a great day. 


Dance photography workshop in Santa Fe Day 1

Today was the first day of the Dance Photography class at Santa Fe Workshops.  Ten participants came from all over the country to attend, and we jumped right in to creating images.

The first thing we focused on the using a single light source to create drama and depth.  Here is an image I shot as a demonstration with the talented Rulan Tangen of Dancing Earth.  The photo was made with a medium Chimera Super Pro softbox positioned overhead and slightly right of center to give some directional shadows.

Tomorrow we move on to working with multiple light sources, and it's bound to be another fun day.


Shutterbug magazine features Allen Birnbach

Writer and creative consultant Maria Piscopo interviewed me for an article in the June 2014 issue of Shutterbug Magazine.  I enjoyed her thoughtful questions and the opportunity to share my experiences and images.  To see the full article, go to the blog page of

Thanks, Maria!


Iceland Photography Workshop registration is open

I'm delighted that registration for Iceland:The Photo Hot Spot is now open.  

Of all the places I've been to, Iceland is the country that speaks to me at the deepest level.  With all but one of the world's ecosystems, there are incredible images to capture at every turn.  Registration is limited, so you'll want to sign up soon for this once in a lifetime experience.

Detailed information about the course is at the website for The Santa Fe Workshops.