A conversation with Chris Marquardt

Today I have a special guest with me. He is the host of the longest running photography podcast on the planet, Tips From the Top Floor, and if you’re not a subscriber you should totally go check that out. Chris Marquardt, welcome to the show…

Chris, tell us a little about yourself and your photographic interests.


Today we’re talking about a few topics. We’ll get into a few design principles in photography and some travel tips, in particular, cold climates.

Chris, set the stage for us. What’s one of the foundational items you have for us when it comes to approaching this idea of design in photography?

  • Establish your goals for what you are shooting. What is your purpose?
  • Do you need to then improve your technique? Composition? Timing, attention?
  • Do you shoot for advertising? Or “likes” on social media? Maybe you want to convey a message. Or tell a story. That would be your goals. 
  • Then, you can look at design principles to achieve those goals. It all becomes more purposeful.

Some of the baby steps we can take to achieve those goals?

  • Some “concrete” terms, to know what your photos are about. What’s the subject?
  • “Rules” such as rule of thirds, not worth a thing if you don’t know what your subject is. So, get that figured out first. 
  • Spacing, placement in the frame. What does it feel like.
  • Scale, the relative size or impression of how big things are. What lens do we use? How does that affect proportions of the subject. 
  • But start with the subject, and find ways to emphasize that.
  • Backgrounds are important. Or frames, leading lines.

Slowing down

  • I have an “itchy finger” to start shooting right away. But spending time with a subject before you start shooting is super valuable. 
  • Look at it from different angles. Walk around it if you can. Place it in front of different backgrounds if you can by doing that.

Sometimes, you don’t take a photo at all, not to begin with anyway.

  • Brent relates a story about an experience in Ireland where he missed a shot due to leaving a lens behind.
  • Chris talks about a visit to Canyon Lands National Park in the US.

Specific design ideas: Scale

  • Focal length is a key component. It dictates how far you have ot be away from the subject. Closer you are the more that proportions are stretched out between items in front of you compared to items further back.
  • I love showing scale by putting it in relation with other things. Back in 2009, in the Himalayas for the first time, at Base Camp at Everest in Nepal. As long as you’re not around things that you know, it will be really hard to derive scale from what you see.
  • Only when something that is familiar is close by then the real scale can snap into understanding.


  • When shooting things like scale and texture, being familiar with the subject is necessary for proper interpretation.
  • The viewer brings all their experiences and knowledge to the photo that we look at, and if we have an experience with that subject, it will inform our interpretation of that subject and our impression of the photo.
  • Chris tells a story about people in Nepal and their experience between looking at photos of themselves compared to images of the Black Forest in Germany.

Polar Extremes Discussion

  • Lake Baikal, Freezes over, weather forces causing large ice shapes, methane bubbles in the ice, shards of ice, it can get up to 6ft thick. Some people ice dive, they cut a hole and dive under the ice, which is so clear you can wave at them.
  • Warm sunset over bluish cold ice… a wonderful view. 

Find Chris online https://discoverthetopfloor.com

  • Feb 2020, Lake Baikal
  • April, Bhutan, The Land of the Thunder Dragon
  • Later in the year, Cappadocia, in Turkey. 300 wild horses just for us!
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