Learning Lightroom with Porcupines

A prickly subject to say the least.

The assignment was composition.

I set out to photograph animals–not my normal subject. I prefer plants, they stay in one spot and can smile all day without getting bored. Capturing animals into the rule of thirds is tricky. Plants naturally swoop and pose and fall right into line in the mid corners of the frame either through careful positioning or cropping, but animals–not so much.

So I thought, okay then, I could choose patterns instead–tortoises, jaguar spots, porcupines–ah ha! Pinyon, the porcupine is a shy fellow, perhaps he is self-conscious about his warty nose, but for corn, he will do anything. Granted, I get special access being the Director of Education at Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Scottsdale, but there were two porcupines with me in the enclosure so I had my watch my back (side).

But wait, there’s more! I have been shooting since I was 12, made money off my photography work, owned many cameras, was a photography major in college, I already knew composition. What I don’t know is Adobe Lightroom and that’s the other half of the assignment. Aren’t smart phones awesome? What does that have to do with it, Nikki? Are you changing the subject? Umm, sort of, I’m a whiz at Snapseed, the photo editing app.

What I thought was an easy cheesy assignment has become a true learning moment from what I have become proficient at (plants as subject, rules of thirds, and Snapseed) to pushing into uncharted territory (animals as subject, patterns/symmetry, and Lightroom).

The results are a porcupine explosion.

The original… (you can click on this to make them bigger)

Then Lightroom…


porcuipine explosion with better cropping sm 25x25

“Pinyon, the Porcupine”

Then, just to be sure, I did the Snapseed app too…

okay, so here’s the discussion…

When playing with cropping, I couldn’t figure out how to get the grid to overlay in Lighroom, so the nose is dead center and the eye is off to the left of center–not quite the mid corner third. You can see that I barely touched the cropping.

I’m more adept at Snapseed so I moved the eye to the vertical center and I think that the composition isn’t as good. I also did the eye dead center H/V and again, I’m not convinced. His warty nose should be the center of attention though his eye is the focal point. This version also doesn’t appear as balanced. I like the crops above with more of the wall of the den on the right–it seems to add more room to move. Here’s that compositional crop. Tell me what you think.


The instructor for the course, of course, needs some questions answered. The questions are: 1-what editing was done?, 2-how did your photo meet the assignment?, and 3-what was the value of this assignment to you?

#1 Editing in Lightroom was super mild as I just learning where the buttons are, here’s a capture. Anyone know how to save the history any other way? I wanted to make sure to lighten the face up. Pinyon’s face is really dark naturally so I had to spotlight that area to get that interesting warty nose to show.


Editing done in Snapseed was a bit of cropping, played around with the highlights and shadows settings but it didn’t do as much as in Lightroom, had to hit the drama setting #2 to add the contrast, put on a vignette mask to brighten the face, and added a vintage black filter to give it a bit more character.

#2 It met the assignment through playing with composition. I could have easily gotten a shot of prickly pear fruit in the rule of thirds,  but I wanted to work on pushing that boundary between symmetry and off center. I really liked how I managed to get the grove on the den directly at the porcupine’s eye level–that line is across the top third and maybe that bears the real weight of the rule of thirds here. Also, the porcupine guard hairs (the quills are underneath) really create an amazing pattern exploding outward from the face.

#3 The value in the assignment was immense. Like I said, I could have done something easy, but that would hardly be learning, would it? The value was really in testing out where symmetry ended and where the rule of thirds needs to take over. I have to say I like the cropping with more den to the right and the eye off center rather than the eye dead center.

I am interested to hear what you think.


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