Move your photos from ordinary to extraordinary |

Move your photos from ordinary to extraordinary

This is the first in a four-part series about taking extraordinary photographs. The series will continue through January.

Want to share one of your exceptional photos? Visit "> for information on how to do so.

“Extraordinary photographs are those made of a single subject, simple idea and speaks volumes that holds the viewer in awe of the moment.” —Sam Abel, National Geographic Legend

We’ve all seen an image on the covers of Life and National Geographic that define period of time, place or event. They live on what seems forever. To make extraordinary photos, start by slowing down your pace a little to sniff about, and open your eyes to the full range of photographic opportunities everywhere you happen to be.

Whether it’s your phone or a digital single lens reflex camera, hone your attention through your viewer or eye-piece by placing the subject within the frame that defines the moment. Be as methodical or spontaneous as you will. Look for light and color that illuminate the subject. Take risks, and don’t hold back. You never know when the photo you’ve made will go viral on social media or will capture your friend’s and family member’s imagination.

What Makes a Photograph Extraordinary?

The photos most of us take are records of our lives as they happen on the fly. They are a collection of photographs sequenced over time that tell our story doing whatever, with whomever and wherever we happen to be. The world of digital photography has expanded the range of types of photos we see.

The difference between a record and an extraordinary image is subjective, as we all see the world through a different perspective. This is what makes photography so powerful — how each of us sees the world differently.

Records are photographs of a place, event, people, nature, flowers and moment that capture without much regard for lighting, composition, exposure or dramatic effect. They are placeholders, a memory of something to revisit or experience again.

Photographic studies begin to define the subject with some interest in the quality of light, the composition and drama effecting the scene or moment. They demonstrate we are paying attention.

Working or publishable photographs tell a story about a subject and capture the essence of action that defines the scene. These are photographs of nature, landscapes, events, scenes and life published in print publications and online. These images are on the verge of greatness.

Then there are the iconic images that are truly extraordinary. These tell a story of a single subject and simple idea but speak volumes. They are indelibly etched into our memories, defining life and times. Often, they are on the covers of magazines, journals and online. You may have seen the photo on the cover of Life Magazine of the young girl running through a Vietnamese village, naked, on fire and dripping with napalm. It defined the Vietnam War.

Or the piercing gaze of a young Afghan woman, covered with a maroon hood, who has lived through the horrors of war. She was pictured on the cover of National Geographic. These photos cause us to stop and pause in awe. They call out to us to remember.

Today, there are brilliant images being published online every moment that are publishable and working. Rare, though, are ones that define an era, lifestyle or moment.

Sort the images in your camera’s gallery with this scale in mind. Distill what is extraordinary and exceptional to you. You will find what you love to photograph, and you’ll capture images that speak volumes. The best part? It’s fun to make photographs as you move through life. Enjoy and have fun.

Robert Castellino is the author of the photo book “Colorado: Life and Light on the Land.” It’s available locally at Book Train, in Aspen at Explorer Booksellers and at The Bookworm of Edwards. Learn more at

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