Towards Better Pictures

Following Roger’s recents talks Towards Better Photography, below is a reminder of the key points.

This presentation is aimed at members with compact cameras and with, perhaps, only a passing interest in photography. It attempts to propose a few simple ways to obtain a more satisfying result, and to equip you with a few tools that allow you to record the scene that you saw and the emotion that you felt at the time, and thus obtain the enjoyment that comes from producing a good picture, one that you might want to show friends or put on the wall of your lounge.

We will talk about the pictorial aspects of creating a picture and of using the light to enhance the picture, so that you achieve something that gives you greater pleasure. There will be no talk of equipment or technicalities.

Camera Settings

Make sure that your camera is set at its highest resolution and set at its highest quality.

Scene Modes

I believe that far too great an emphasis is placed upon technical aspects, and far too little upon looking for and “seeing” a picture, so as a way of freeing you from the technical, I will propose the use of just four of the scene modes with which your camera is equipped. Every manufacturer has their own way of providing these features, so you will need to explore your camera manual to get the detail.

Landscape Mode

  • Everything on focus from foreground to background
  • May create movement or blur, so support camera on a wall, post or table

Macro Mode

  • For ultra close-up pictures of small subjects such as flowers or insects
  • Be aware of distortion
  • Limited range of focus

Portrait Mode

  • Subject in clear focus, background out of focus
  • Subject stands out
  • Distraction of background “clutter” is reduced

Sports Mode

  • Freezes movement
  • Good for anything that is moving
  • Shutter delay may become a problem

Composition & Light

We all see things in different ways and what we think we see is not what our eye sees. The brain interprets the scene and will be influenced by your knowledge set and by your experience. If we all went to one location, I doubt that anyone would produce exactly the same pictures.

When your eye views a scene, it sees by moving around the whole in a series of smaller images. Be aware, too, that we “read” a picture from left to right and from top to bottom.

The use of perspective is important to create depth in an image. This is achieved by;

  • Relative size of the elements of the image
  • Overlapping of objects
  • Geometric recession
  • Atmospheric recession
  • The use of shadow
  • Definition of each element

When you compose your picture in the viewfinder, you will make two key decisions.

  • What will you include?
  • When will you press the shutter?

Importantly, what will you exclude? Everything in your picture should be there as a result of a conscious decision to include it.

  • Choose the zoom on your camera to frame the picture, to show only the things you want to show and exclude the irrelevant.
  • Every picture should have a subject.
  • The subject should be obvious.

Where do we place the subject?

  • In the centre, the picture becomes static, placing off to one side produces a more dynamic feel, possibly of movement.

Where do we put the horizon?

  • Generally, avoid putting it in the middle, this creates the feeling of two separate pictures.
  • A low horizon emphasizes the sky, a high horizon emphasizes the fore-ground, is that what you want to show?
  • Vanishing point with high horizon gives greater sense of distance.
  • Verticals are always vertical. Horizontals may be – e.g. seascape

Key Photography Rules

  • Follow the rule of thirds.  Place subjects on the meeting points
  • Look for natural lead lines that can be used to draw the eye to the subject.
  • For a moving subject, leave space in the frame for the subject to move into.
  • Try to avoid taking at your eye level, choose a low viewpoint or a high viewpoint.
  • For a portrait, especially of a child, get down to the level of the child’s eyes.

Other Tips

  • Try all the options, there is no cost implication in digital photography.
  • Take time to consider, move around, explore the subject.
  • Include something to give a sense of scale.
  • Include close up detail as well as the long view.
  • Simplify, remove the chaos.

Does the picture suit the vertical or horizontal?

  • Horizontal (landscape format) emphasizes width, vertical (portrait format) emphasizes depth.
  • A diagonal produces a more dynamic feel.



Photography has been called “painting with light” so first look at the source of light, its direction and its nature, and either aim to work with what is there, or return when the light is as you want it for your picture.

  • Has intensity (but, in general, let the camera take care of that)
  • May be harsh (sunny) or diffuse (cloudy). Try to exploit the conditions.
  • Has colour
  • Morning light is blue or cold
  • Evening light is red or warm
  • Remember the magic hours, the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset
  • Has direction, produces shadows
  • Front lighting loses detail
  • Top lighting can often produce unpleasant effects, eg dark eye sockets
  • Side lighting emphasizes and shows texture and shape
  • Rear lighting produces silhouettes, but can produce attractive results with translucent subjects

At any given time of day, the direction of the light is fixed. You should work around and move around to suit, or plan to shoot at the time when you are likely to achieve the result that you want.

Roger Gage