Sam Abell:

Project Description

Sam Abell

Sam Abell

Sam Abell – Artist of the Week

About Sam Abell – (born 1945 in Sylvania, Ohio) is an American photographer known for his frequent publication of photographs in National Geographic. He first worked for National Geographic in 1967, and is one of the more overtly artistic photographers among his magazine peers. Sam Abell’s style of photography is documentary in the sense that his major avenue, the National Geographic magazine, is a publication of record. However, his best work is known for its transcendent qualities, starting at the documentary level yet open to interpretation on an aesthetic level.

One of his favorite photographs (based on how often he mentions it when asked about his work) is of the tree viewed through a Japanese window, which graces the cover of his book Seeing Gardens. It’s a documentary photograph of a tree, but due a combination of light and Abell’s inclusion in his composition of roof tiles in the background, the photograph takes on the transcendent, illusory quality of a stained glass window. Abell rarely uses flash, preferring a pure relationship with light. He has said that he could be perfectly happy with his photography even if his only subject was light itself.

Sam Abel to Photography Students:

  • Equipment does not matter. You need to learn how to compose.
  • It’s okay to record everything. Think of yourself as a diarist, photographing everything you see. (You see many examples of this in the book.)
  • Reverse your thinking and learn how to make photographs from back to front. In every situation there are always at least two pictures that can be layered into a single frame.


Critique the Artwork of the Day

What elements and principles are used? Composition Rules? Are there shapes and forms? What is the subject? What does it communicate and HOW? Break it down into Elements, Principles and Composition.


Line, Shape, Value, Form, Texture, Color, Space


Balance, Emphasis, Rhythm/Repetition/Pattern, Scale/Proportion, Unity/Variety, Contrast, Movement


Fill the Frame, Rule of Thirds, Triangle, Frame in a Frame, Leading Lines, Circle, Rhythm, Positive/Negative Space

Please sketch out the composition and critique the photo below in your photo journal:

Sam Abell - National Hotel, Moscow, 1983

Sam Abell – National Hotel, Moscow, 1983

How many layers does this photo have? How do the layers create interest?

Sam Abell - Dolphin

Dingle Bay, Ireland

How does this photo use composition? Does it break any rules? What does “compose and wait” mean? (see video)

Sam Abell-Montana cowboys-branding-1984

Sam Abell – Montana cowboys branding,1984

Discuss the composition. Look at the layers? How many stories/components are going on? Look at the framing , depth and space.

Other Photos

Other links

Project Details

  • Date November 6, 2014
  • Tags Featured Artists
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