Photography Tips

The Color Wheel, Reimagined

The Color Wheel, Reimagined

Posted By on Aug 16, 2017

Trying to pick colors for a page layout, or looking for inspiration to freshen your brand hues? Since the 1800s, designers have used color wheels to identify which colors work well together to set a tone or draw attention.

Adobe Color CC takes the color wheel online, offering three ways to find fresh color combinations.

Duy Mai uses Adobe Color CC to help Ruralite members find strong color combinations.

Browse for Bright Ideas

Start at You will see sample color mixes from designers around the world. On the top left drop-down menu, select “Most popular” to find current color trends.

Need to evoke a specific feeling? Search palette names in the top right search box. The feature is hit or miss, since color names are highly subjective. But you might find a fun, unexpected mix.

Looking for the colors for a brand (Seahawks or 49ers fans, anyone?) or a palette to match an occasion? You can search for brand names or generic events, too.


Pull Colors from a Picture 

Upload an image to find five colors that convey a colorful, muted or deep meaning.

After adding a picture, use the left drop-down navigation pane to set a mood (colorful, bright, muted, deep or dark). Each option picks five different colors from the picture to help evoke a feeling. You can also use the custom option to handpick five colors from the picture.


Custom Blends

Ready to create your own color combinations? Use the manual color wheel at

Enter a color you want to work with. If your logo uses NRECA’s green ball icon, enter the green RGB color (Pantone 348, RGB 0/132/61).

Now use the drop-down color rule menu to view analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary or compound colors. Want to stay close to home? Opt for shades of the selected color. You can also pick five colors you think pair well with each other, using the custom option.


Save Your Colors

Find an inspiring color palette? You do not need an Adobe membership to use Adobe Color CC, but you must be a member to save the colors you discover. If you are an Adobe Creative Cloud member, save your palettes to other Adobe software (i.e. PhotoShop, InDesign, Illustrator). Otherwise, take a screen shot and jot down the formulas (RGB or CMYK) for your favorites.

Need help finding a Pantone color (used by printers) that matches a screenshot? Adobe Illustrator’s Recolor Artwork tool (Edit> Edit Colors> Recolor Artwork) can help. If you do not have the software, your editor can work with you to find a Pantone color that works for your brand. Screen and printing colors will always be different, so keep that in mind.


Mobile Color Mixes

Need more tools to find fresh color blends? Try the Adobe Capture CC app (iTunes, Google Play). The app makes it easy to pull colors out of your surroundings. You can also turn pictures into vector shapes or brushes, then make the files available in Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator.

The app is free to download, but you must sign in with your Adobe Creative Cloud password to use the features.

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Challenge yourself to make pictures that go beyond mere records of someone doing something. See if you can capture a picture that emits emotion and reveals what your subject feels about whatever it is they are doing.

How can you capture engaging moments? David LaBelle shares four solid tactics:

  • Invest time.
  • Be invisible and likable.
  • Prepare for the unexpected.
  • Watch for cause and effect.

Put Time on Your Side

Intimate pictures do not happen overnight. Allow time to get to know your subjects and build trust.

In October 2016, Denise Porter took this portrait during David LaBelle’s photo scavenger hunt at the Ruralite Writers Workshop in Bend, Oregon.

“The best portraits are of faces that are comfortable with you,” says David. “The portrait should look as if you’re not there.”

While you are setting up for a picture, talk to your subject. When they think the session is done, subjects tend to relax and talk a bit more. When someone feels under the microscope, they tend to tense up. It takes time for someone to relax. Keep talking and shooting. This is often when you capture your best moments.

Time spent with a subject builds trust—and that trust adds intimacy to photographs.

Be Invisible and Likable

According to David, the trick to catching moments is to be invisible, blending in with the subject’s background. For photographers hesitant to immerse themselves into a subject’s life, he shares how he views the process.

“I believe I am giving a gift to the people I photograph,” says David. “If you believe you belong, that you are performing a service, people allow you into their lives. You are not trespassing. You are honoring them. Believe they like you because you like them.”

Prepare for the Unexpected

In addition to building trust, giving yourself extra time gives you the freedom to catch moments before and after events. If shooting an event, do not rely on agendas.

“Sometimes the best or most memorable moments happen after scheduled events,” he says.

“It’s not over when it’s over,” says David. “Keep watching, and keep your camera handy. You never know what you might see.”

You get lucky, but you also can anticipate luck.

Watch for Cause and Effect

Keep an eye out for moments that build on one another.

For example, many utilities have images of linemen restoring power in harsh conditions. But how many people have followed a lineman home to show the effect of those long hours on the lineman and his family?

Thinking in terms of cause and effect helps photographers anticipate emotional moments. Combined with an investment of time, invisibility and preparation, these four tactics will help you capture memorable moments and draw readers into your stories.

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Every service territory has its own beauty, whether your power lines sit high on a ridge overlooking the valley or sink deep into sandy soil near an awe-inspiring ocean scene. Celebrating local scenery is a great way to paint a picture of your utility—especially when that image is admired 365 days a year.

Custom calendars—especially calendars showcasing local places—are packed with value, since calendars stay in your members’ homes all year long. Your logo, meeting dates and efficiency messages stay top of mind when they refer to the calendar every month. Calendars allow your utility to become a printed mainstay in consumers’ households for 365 days.

Let your consumers provide the images for your calendars, while showing off their skills photographing the region they love. A contest may seem daunting. Never fear. We have the materials you’ll need for a picturesque pitch.

Request a contest package

In the package you’ll receive

  • Contest timeline
  • Website text
  • Customizable ads and story for local pages and/or local newspapers
  • Social media posts

Ask your editor for the package. Don’t have an editor? Email

Before you receive your package, let’s talk about the timeline. Here is an outline to start building your contest:


Decide what kind of prize you will give winning entries (Bill credit? Gift card? Lots of praise?).

Set a deadline for the end of July or early August. Be sure to allow time for a judge to pick winners and for your editor to design your custom calendar. I am often available as a judge (


Introduce the contest on your local pages. A sample story and layout are available from your editor.


Promote the contest on your social media channels. When space is available, place a reminder ad in your local pages.


Place a final reminder story on your local pages. Remind consumers of the fast-approaching deadline on social media.


Send contest entries to judge(s). Allow one to two weeks for review. Submit winners to your editor for calendar design.

Edit website page about the contest to let visitors know it is now closed.


Run a story on your local pages featuring contest winners. Share when and where the calendar will be available.


Remind consumers to use the calendar for important community and utility events. Share the story on social media channels.

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Cracking Composition

Cracking Composition

Posted By on Jan 18, 2017

We compose pictures based on the way we see the world. Everyone sees things differently. Composition is a personal choice, but it does take foresight.

“Composition is the setting you build in your viewfinder, then you wait for a performer to complete the picture,” says photography instructor David LaBelle. “Always look for potential.”

Work ahead. Think about how you are going to get the shot you want.

Here are three ways to arrange elements and subjects to engage readers.

1. Play With Space

Photography is the art of subtraction. Go closer. Subtract distractions. Fill the frame. Six inches can be the difference between being a participant or spectator.

But just as there is a time to get close and see faces, there is also a time to pull back to set the mood. Know when you should back off. Some stories need space. Is what somebody is doing interesting? Or is where they are doing it interesting? Maybe it’s both. Include the environment.

2. Aim for Details and Patterns

Look for symbols and visual anecdotes you can add to the frame. Well-composed, detailed pictures support the overall story and plot. Remember to:

  • Capture clues. Small details—picture magnets on a refrigerator, a prized heirloom, even a tattoo—are important visual cues to help a reader understand a story.
  • Watch for repeating forms. When looking at patterns and shapes, change your angle to see how it affects the composition.

Look for details and patterns to add color to a story. Photo by Denise Porter

3. Angle for Backgrounds

Backgrounds can be helpful or harmful. Try these ways to boost your backgrounds:

  • Look beyond your subject. Avoid ugly mergers, when a pole or horizon cuts into your subject.
  • Move your lens. Find separation between the background and your subject. Change angles to try to surprise your readers. Things look differently from above. Shoot from below, too. Getting down low changes the affect of your background.
  • Look through your frame in layers. See the subject, then the background. Use foregrounds to lead the eye and create depth in your images. Find foreground to add depth and tone. Without the foreground, an image can become one-dimensional.
  • Backgrounds add scale to images. Use that scale to add contrast to your image. Writers compare things with words for scale. Do the same with pictures.
Image of a boxer

David LaBelle ranked this image as a favorite from 2016 workshop students. His only suggestion was to watch for mergers in the background. Photo by Geoff Oldfather

There are no rights or wrongs in photo composition. It is a matter of choice. For examples of how David sees the world, visit his blog.

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Show Cheer, Not Checks

Show Cheer, Not Checks

Posted By on Nov 16, 2016

Do you cringe when asked to photograph people holding an oversized check?

Your goal is to communicate with readers. To do that, pictures should connect with readers at a base level. Many pictures are universal, sharing a moment of love, pain, wonder or other emotion.

A picture with a plaque or big check is not a universal picture.

“Sometimes you have to use staged pictures, but focus on pictures that tap into universal feelings,” photographer David LaBelle advises. “I’m not against big checks. I’m against placing them on the cover. The general public does not care about those pictures. Someone does, so you can set aside a certain place on your local pages for them. But remember: pictures of people with plaques or big checks do not drive engagement or reading.”

After taking the expected big-check picture, look for casual moments connected to the story. If the check was a donation for a food pantry, get shots of donors stocking the shelves. If the donation supports scholarships, ask to spend an afternoon with a former student who now works in the community.

Capture pictures of the people affected by the money. Those are images you can take to the bank.

Large check with a ban mark struck through it.

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Swapping Fish Tales

Swapping Fish Tales

Posted By on Oct 19, 2016

Workshop attendees learning together

Three great catches from Ruralite’s 2016 workshop, Reel in Your Readers

As the Deschutes River streamed by, Ruralite workshop participants played a game of catch and release: learning valuable writing and photography tips, and giving their peers helpful hints to keep their creative nets cast and stay ahead of deadline currents.

Thirty-four utility communicators and freelance writers met for three days in Bend, Oregon, for Ruralite’s biennial writing and photography workshop. For a behind the scenes look, check out workshop moments on Facebook. Here are three handy tips from the workshop.

First Catch: Aim for the Stars

David LaBelle, a photography instructor, encouraged students to aim for stars in their images—not the celestial kind, but elements that help pictures shine.

“If you see something, identify why you are drawn to it,” he advised. “What stands out?”

A picture can have more than one star, but each image should shine with at least one of these core elements:

  • Light
  • Composition
  • Capturing a Moment
  • Subject

He shared examples of star elements from his 40-year career portfolio, and spoke on the power of pictures to connect readers to people and events.


Second Catch: Strike a Balance

Ideally, a story is not told only with a picture or words. Let them work together to pull a reader into a story.

“Words are not the same on their own,” LaBelle shared. “We need visuals. It’s part of who we are.”

LaBelle reminded students that pictures should not be thought of as filler for pages. Instead, they are a critical communication tool. Readers process pictures twenty times faster than words. A picture can be filled with clues about a story.

The most powerful pictures have a face to engage the reader. Capturing details is also important, especially if you have a large amount of copy.

“Detail pictures provide important information, and they are wonderful graphic tools, too,” LaBelle said.


Third Catch: Step Away from the Story

Much of this year’s workshop focused on photography, but writers got a skills boost, too. Freelance writer Lori Russell worked with attendees to fight writer’s block.

“Writer’s block isn’t something you have to break through or write around,” Russell explained. “Invite it in. The block might be trying to tell you something.”

Often writers hit a block when working on a subject they are not comfortable with. Russell encouraged writers to name the fear behind the block. Listen to it, acknowledge it and use it.

For example, if you fear nobody cares about the subject, find out what the interest of the story is from the consumers’ perspective. Write from that angle.

Other common strategies for fighting writer’s block:

  • Walk away for a few minutes (or days).
  • Outline the story first.
  • Warm up your writing with easier tasks (social media posts, emails) before tackling stories.
  • Write the last line first.


Share Your Favorite Catch!
Highlights from the photography and writing sessions will be shared in future blog posts and the fall issue of OnLine. What was your favorite lesson from the workshop? Share it by commenting on this blog post.

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