Posts Tagged ‘beginner’

Simple Lighting Set-Up for Flower Photography

Friday, June 20th, 2014

I spent quite a few years photographing flowers wherever they happened to be. I mostly used Velvia slide film because I liked the way it handled greens and there is a lot of green in flower photography. At the time I was writing for a gardening magazine so there wasn’t much call for arty images, just attractive pictures of plants and flowers growing wherever I happened to find them. There is a world of difference in my approach to photographing flowers when that photograph is being used to illustrate a point in an article, from when that image is destined to be printed onto a 40” canvas and hung on the wall.

For me wall art is at its best when distracting elements are reduced to a minimum. For me that means simple backgrounds, attractive lighting, and a pleasing subject. If you want to get a feel for this subject, and what is popular, have a look round a store that sells mass-produced low-cost art. This is a great source of ideas for how to style your images.

But I digress; I really wanted to show you how simple it is to set up a shot using a flower, or several flowers, as a subject using a minimum of equipment.

Here’s the shot I produced.

I used one Metz 58 AF–I, one Yongnuo YN560-II, a wireless trigger, my Canon 6D, a Giottos tripod for the camera, my old Benbo MKI tripod for one light, and a low-cost lighting stand for the other light. I used two Lastolite bendy flash holders (not their official name) so I could easily change the angle of the lights and attach them securely to the stands, a small Ikea table, some black mounting board left over from when I framed a panorama print, and two bits of hardboard that were drawer bases from some furniture that was no longer needed. The draw bases were painted white on one side and make excellent reflectors.

The Metz was attached to the wireless trigger, and the Yongnuo was set to slave mode.

This was the arrangement. The orchid that I used for my subject was one I already had on the living room windowsill.

I started off by pulling the curtains and setting the camera to manual mode so I could independently adjust shutter speed and aperture. Aperture was set to f16 because I was shooting so close to the subject and wanted the depth of field this aperture setting would give. Shutter was set to 1/160. An exposure was made to ensure everything was dark and no daylight was affecting the exposure. Then the power and position of the back light was adjusted to give me that highlight you can see along the edge of the flower stems and the buds. I adjusted the power output of the flash to get the effect I wanted – not the aperture. Adjusting the aperture would have allowed me the same control over exposure but would have changed the depth of field.

When I was happy with the back light, I adjusted the front light to give me the desired effect. That was when I noticed that those two sprays of buds going off to the left were a little dark so I added the second reflector on the left to bounce back some of the light from the other flashes. Although I had another Yonguo, and I could have used this to add more light, I wanted to keep it simple. This reflector lifted the brightness sufficiently and I was happy with the result.

Two flashguns, a method of triggering them and some card or even white paper is about all you need to produce images like this.

Popularity: 35% [?]

Macro Photography

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Strictly speaking macro photography is close-up photography where the image size is life size or greater. So that means if you are photographing something 1cm across then the image that forms on the film or digital sensor must be at least 1cm across. Of course since we always enlarge the image from the film/sensor the viewed image ends up many times larger than real life.


Having established the rule that macro is 1:1 or greater, macro is nowadays anything that is done with the little flower symbol set on the camera – and this is invariably a far cry from life-size reproduction. So I am now going to ignore the rule and for the rest of this article treat macro as another word for close-up photography.

My first ‘proper’ macro lens was the superb Tamron SP90 which, in it’s pre-digital incarnation, allowed half life-size reproduction on 35mm film. True macro (1:1) required the use of a matching extension tube, which I rarely used. I’m currently using Canon’s 100mm EF macro, a lens which creates images up to life-size and focuses as close as 31cm (about 12″).

Macro lenses are available from the big two in a variety of focal lengths. When I used the Tamron on a 35mm camera its 90mm focal length made it incredibly useful for two reasons: it functioned as an excellent portrait lens; and its moderately telephoto focal length meant I didn’t have to get quite as close to flighty insects in order to fill the frame. The 100mm Canon I now use, because of the 1.6x crop factor is effectively a 160mm telephoto. This is excellent for insects still, but just a little long for portraits. There are other advantages, however. The lens hood (ET-67 available to purchase separately), is very deep, so that extra distance you get from the 160mm means there’s generally enough room in the studio to get some light into the small space between end of hood and the subject.

And just in case you think you need to fork out hundreds of pounds on a dSLR and macro lens, here are a couple of images I took with a 5 megapixel bridge camera (Minolta Dimage A1) several years ago.



The chocolate curls image is my most popular image on microstock sites and I’ve sold many copies of it. It was taken in the garden with the camera on a tripod. I used the self-timer to trip the shutter – thus avoiding jerking the camera when the shutter release was pressed. The damselfly was captured while I was wandering around the Dorothy Clive Gardens.

Subjects for macro photography are everywhere. I frequently go for a wander around my garden to see what I can find. It’s largely a matter of starting to take pictures and then as you become more familiar with the process you ‘get your eye in’ and start to see potential subjects everywhere. Here is one I took just a couple of days ago.


Macro shooting, like most other photography, can be done indoors and outdoors. Indoor macro photography has some very distinct benefits over shooting outdoors so I will look at these two aspects separately.

Almost anything you have in your home is a potential subject for macro photography – from a close-up of your partner’s eye to a pile of coloured pencils.

Lego Truck

You will need a tripod for this. The Joby Gorillapod is a particularly useful lightweight tabletop tripod useful for low-level shots outdoors too. The tripod gives you two huge advantages over handholding. The obvious one is eliminating any softening of the image as a result of camera-shake. The other is that it frees you up to concentrate on the composition. With the camera locked in place you can continue to make minute adjustments to your subject, check it in the viewfinder/screen… tweak it again… and again… until everything is the way you saw the image in your mind. This really is a very pleasant way to work and allows you not only to exert fine control over the way the subject is presented but also over the light and shadow too.


Whether you are using window light, portable, or studio, flash remember that the use of white paper/card is invaluable for lifting shadows and reducing contrast. With a tripod too, shutter speeds can be relatively slow, though sometimes a touch of flash is need to add a little sparkle – but using flash doesn’t mean it has to provide all of the light for the exposure, be aware that you can balance it with window light to create quite pleasing effects.


When shooting indoors with subjects that you’ve had on display. Watch out for dust particles. They really stand out once you get close to life-size reproduction. So keep an anti-static cloth handy.

Again a tripod is useful and back in my film days when I was selling a lot of flower and garden images the camera was almost permanently tripod mounted and the Tamron SP90 rarely off the camera. However, for insects – like butterflies and dragonflies – a tripod is a bit of a hindrance as they rarely co-operate by remaining in one place for long. They can also be quite difficult to approach closely – this is where the longer focal length macro lenses like the Canon 180mm or the Nikon 200mm come into their own. One place that I found the Canon 100mm 2.8 macro really useful was in the butterfly house at Chester Zoo.

Butterfly Houses

Butterfly houses are a great place to practise macro photography – the butterflies are generally much larger than out in the real world (at least in the UK) and so much easier to get frame-filling images. Lots of nectar sources often mean that feeding butterflies will remain stationary long enough for you to grab a few shots.


If you look carefully among the foliage you can also find colourful and exotic caterpillars feeding and since caterpillars are really slow movers you can take your time, watch the background, and capture some stunning images.


Butterfly houses are hot, humid greenhouses because they re-create tropical forests. On a cold day, this means that the minute you take the lens cap off, the cold lens is covered in condensation. On a warm day the lens is just covered in less condensation. Wiping it off is a waste of time until the glass has warmed up. One really hot day I was surprised to find the glass stayed clear but that’s the only time I haven’t had to hang around waiting for the camera to warm up. For the same reason, if using a dSLR, change the lens before you go in, if you open your camera up inside then you increase the chance of condensation forming in the interior of the camera and on the sensor – and that’s one place you can’t wipe it off.


Depth of Field

Depth of Field is the portion of the image (measured as a distance from front to back) that is in sharp focus. This area of sharp focus changes as the aperture changes. Smaller apertures (larger f numbers e.g. f11, f16) mean greater depth of field, Larger apertures (e.g. f2.8, f4) mean very shallow depth of field. But there is another factor that affects this area of sharp focus. The nearer the subject is to the camera, the shallower the depth of field for a given aperture. At macro distances the depth of field, even with small apertures, can be measured in millimetres.







You can see this as a severe limitation, or you can choose to see it as a beautiful way to focus attention on the part of the image that is really important. Using a tripod means that you have total freedom to choose the aperture, large or small, that is most appropriate from a pictorial point of view, since you don’t have to worry about camera shake when using slow shutter speeds.

Watch your backgrounds. It is so easy to become wrapped up in the subject that the background is largely ignored – only to realise when you view the images on your computer that there are unsightly blobs, lines and other distracting elements that you didn’t notice at the time. You can also use the aperture to throw a background out of focus as in the shot of a tulip below.







If you are photographing flowers then dead stems show up as highlight lines that immediately pull the eye away from the subject. Nowadays it is possible to remove these things in a photo editor like Photoshop, but life is much easier if minimal post-processing is necessary. Usually a slight change of position is all that is needed to remove unsightly objects from view. I also tuck pieces of offending foliage, or dead flower heads out of the way – be careful not to damage plants in any way if you are shooting in someone else’s garden.

Manual focus
When you are working really close and the depth of field is quite shallow, it is a bit of a lottery to allow the camera to choose the point of focus and the best pictures are made when the photographer is in charge – not the camera. So switch to manual focus so that you can accurately direct the viewer’s attention to the correct part of the image. When I’m working in my studio I use the live-view screen on my Canon dSLR, switched to maximum magnification. This is just a little easier than using the viewfinder when the camera is at around waist height on a tripod.


Macro photography, in some form, is possible with most cameras. But you will only achieve consistently good images if you learn the limitations of your equipment. When using a compact you need to know if that blurred image is because the subject was closer than the camera can focus or because of a slow shutter speed and camera-shake? Bridge cameras and dSLRs have their limitations too. The benefit of the dSLR is that spending money can remove the limitation. Let me know if you find this information useful and let me see some of your images. Contact details on the website

Macro Photography Kit for Beginners
Canon 1100D
50mm f2.5 Macro
Tripod + head
cable release

Macro Photography Kit for the More Advanced User
Canon 60D
100mm 2.8L Macro
Manfrotto tripod
Manfrotto head
Cable release

I recommend Canon equipment because I’ve been using it since 1977. I have no doubt that Nikon equipment is just as good – I am just not as familiar with it as I am with Canon.

Michael Hadfield

NB All images in this post are copyright Hadfield’s Photography. If you want to use any of them, then rather than steal them, just drop me an email with details of what you want them for. If it’s non-profit, and I get a link back, I’ll probably let you use them for free, and certainly give you a better quality copy than you’ll get by grabbing the image from this page.

Popularity: 76% [?]

Fun Things to Photograph on a Wet Day

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Ever planned a day out indulging in your favourite hobby (photography, naturally) only to wake up to the sound of raindrops hitting the window like gravel on a drum. Well rather than roll over and snuggle down into the quilt, why not get creative, pick up your camera and discover what do indoors instead. I remember the first time I tried this, I ended up with one of my photographs gracing the pages of Practical Photography – and I even got paid for the privilege.

Indoor photography is very entertaining and if all you have is a camera, then that’s just exactly what you need. If you have a flash gun, you have a little more versatility. If you have several flashguns, there’s little you won’t be able to achieve. Stuff you have lying around the house can be pressed into service. Windows, table lamps, torches, even candles can all be pressed into service to provide that beautiful play of light and shadow that will lift your images above the ordinary. Bits of plywood, mdf or hardboard from the shed make excellent backgrounds, and if there’s a bit of leftover paint you can make use of that too. Although you may not have any lying around I have quite a few pieces of mount board for framing that I frequently make use of – so next time you’re near an art supply shop, pop in and get a few sheets in different colours. White boards not only make great backgrounds but also make really good reflectors to fill in shadow areas. Quite often the only light I use is a single flash coupled with a large white mount board to bounce a little light back into the shadow side of the subject.

A tripod is really handy, I find the tabletop Joby Gorillapod really useful. Otherwise you will have to find some other way to support your camera – books are handy for this. And if you don’t have a cable release use the self-timer to fire the shutter. Unless you are using flash, light levels indoors will be much lower than outside, consequently shutter speeds will be slow and if you try to hand hold your camera you will just get blurry photographs – that’s why your camera needs to be supported. Try it with and without and you’ll see the reason when you look at your images. Finally, you will need a table. I have a small folding one that that I just use for photography. It provides me with a lovely reflective black surface (see the Lego Truck, below). And is the perfect height for small objects. Before I got this I just commandeered the dining table for a little while. Once I even used two speaker cabinets to support a Perspex shelf so I could light some transparent glassware from below using a Metz flashgun resting on the floor and pointing upwards.

Unless your camera has an effective macro setting you may have to choose large objects so you can still fill the frame at the closest focusing distance. The more the subject fills the frame, the less background you have to worry about and the more impact your photography will have.

You will probably have lots of your own ideas by now, but if you need a little inspiration to get you started, here are seven suggestions.

1. Flowers


Flowers are a good choice, because of their own inherent beauty they photograph well. Choose a background that complements the colour of the flowers. Think about how you are going to light it, if you use window light be aware that light levels drop off quite dramatically across the width of a typical room. If you use a single flash, use it off the camera and even consider lighting the flower from behind so that the petals glow with transmitted light.

2. Fruit


Fruit is that staple of the still life or you might consider the odd vegetable too. Use a single fruit like an orange and practice lighting it from different directions, side, top, front, back, and if you’ve got something translucent or transparent to stand it on (or even an old lightbox from your film days) then you can even light it from beneath. Just doing this teaches you a lot about lighting. When you tire of that, add a few different fruits to make a still life, add some props – a bowl, a knife and a sliced fruit perhaps. Let your imagination have fun.

3. Food


Food is one of my favourite subjects: cake, cookies, chocolate, cook something or persuade someone else to do that and dress it up, napkins on the table, a fork, glass, wine so that your photograph looks like you caught it just in time before someone ate it. With food photography it is the accessories and background that make or break the picture.

4. Ornaments

Lego Truck

Ornaments, toys even, can be pressed into service. Be mindful though that if you are taking close-ups that scratches and marks will be more obvious and may need a lot of Photoshopping to correct afterwards. Take your photograph from an unusual angle so the object is not seen the way it normally is.

5. Pets


If you have pets in the house then press them into service as models. Spend an hour or two stalking them and playing with and watching for a cute pose. Make sure you focus on their eyes. Just be mindful if they start to tire of the game. Leave them in peace and come back to it a little later. Check out CritterStudio if you want to see how it’s done.

6. Family & Friends


Members of your family, or friends, may be persuaded to model for you. If you are using window light you may want to consider using a white board, a sheet or some other white surface to provide a little fill to lighten the shadow side of the face.

7. Puzzles


Go around the house and make a collection of about a dozen or so objects and then take close-ups from unusual angles. Go into your photo-editing software and assemble them together as one jpeg and then email it to all your friends and ask them to identify the objects.

And if all this gives you that taste of adventure and you realise that you could do so much better with a small equipment upgrade then check out these cameras and maybe have a look at some low cost lighting to give you that creative edge so you can continue to enjoy your hobby whatever the weather.

Michael Hadfield

Popularity: 59% [?]

Jessops, the Home of Good Photographic Advice – Maybe Not

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

I was in Jessop’s yesterday and there was a saleslady in there who was very keen. When I arrived she was talking to a family, the daughter of which appeared to want to buy a dSLR. I only noticed them because they were parked right in front of the Canon display window that I wanted to have a look at. Anyway she said something that caught my attention. An SLR is an SLR and whichever one you buy you’ll get brilliant pictures.

Mmm! I thought is it really as simple as that.

Then before I had a chance to position myself in front of the Canon Gear (of which there was a disappointing quantity I might add) a gentleman started looking at the same stuff and there she was again. The guy said he was looking for a full frame dSLR, she hesitated and I was about to offer my knowledge when she said, the 7D is full frame and the 5D. There was no mention of the two EOS 1d’s – neither of which they had on display, and interestingly no mention of any full-frame Nikons in the very next case.

Canon Digital SLR Camera EOS 5D Mark II + EF24-105 Kitcanon5d

Now here was a guy who was looking for a full-frame dSLR and this young lady was happy to sell him a 7D with an APS-C sensor which is a lot smaller than full-frame. I got the feeling she didn’t know much about photography, though I guess Jessops had trained her well enough to be able to demonstrate how a camera’s controls work.

Canon EOS 7Dcanon-eos-7d-2

Me, if I’d been selling, I’d have asked him what was the reason he wanted a full-frame sensor. My gut told me he was moving from film to digital (his apparent age was one of the factors that suggested this might be the case) and that a full-frame sensor was a belief that they maintained 35mm film quality.

Anyway, having now established that this young lady did not know as much as she was pretending to know, my thoughts returned to her opening comment. An SLR is an SLR.

Now I own two dSLRs a Canon 400D and a Canon 40D, and I’d upgrade to a 5D, 7D, or either of the 1D mkIII’s at the drop of a hat. Do both my cameras produce identical quality images? That is a much harder question to answer, but I’m sure if I rooted out some old photo magazine reviews I’d find that there was an improvement with image quality in the 40D over the 400D, or would I? It would certainly be an interesting comparison to make. I tend to use one or the other body, with the same set of lenses. I take the 400D with me when I want to have a camera, but can’t be bothered with the weight and bag full of lenses that I always take with the 40D. So I have no comparison images. This is something I need to correct.

The 40D is undoubtedly a much nicer camera to use with a better control layout and features that suit my photography. Now, as to whether Canon is better than Nikon or what I believe to be another contender for the crown – Sony. That is an interesting point to consider.

I wasn’t convinced by the young lady’s comment in the slightest. Every review I read finds some good things and some bad things, and picture quality is one of those things that varies from camera to camera. And if you ignore sensor-size/pixel count, which tends to be comparable in similar priced cameras from the big dSLR manufacturers, then the lens makes a big difference. The kit lens that comes with the 400D is pretty much fit for the bin. I only realised this after I bought the 40D and immediately noticed superior image quality from its kit lens. The 400D kit lens, when the camera was available, cost around £60. The 40D kit lens around £300. Then I bought my first L lens, and that shifted everything again.

The lens is the single most important factor for picture quality, yet the advice that was being given was, shortlist 3 cameras and then come and handle them and pick the one that feels best in your hand. Excellent selling technique. Puts responsibility for actual choice in the hands of the customer – no comeback in the form of ‘you advised me to buy this junk’; yet acknowledges that buying is an emotional rather than a logical act. The one that feels right. You’ll know it as soon as you hold it, she said.

I handled neither of my cameras before purchase; I bought them, mail-order, based purely on reviews and my (this is my emotional bit) 30 year experience of Canon SLRs. They both did exactly what I expected them to and I am very impressed with the performance of both.

To me there is only one reason to own an SLR and that’s to make use of the fact that the lenses detach and can be changed to suit the subject matter. Without this it’s just a big clunky camera bought to impress, rather than a tool to actually use. This aspect of SLR ownership was, interestingly, ignored.

So, to get back to the original comment – an SLR is an SLR, clearly suggesting that it makes no difference what you choose as long as you like it. Clearly ignoring lens quality as a factor. Clearly ignoring the size of the manufacturer’s lens range as a factor. I don’t believe the statement to be true.

Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Popularity: 66% [?]

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

2009 sees the release of an upgrade for Panasonic’s excellent DMC-FZ28. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38(DMC-FZ35outside Europe) is a 12 Megapixel camera with a massive 18x optical zoom and an impressive specification. Among other things it offers HD movie mode; quick start-up (just over a second); face recognition plus; ultra high speed autofocus; and full manual operation. Optical image stabilisation is an improved version of the already excellent FZ28′s. While the ultra high speed autofocus, doubling the speed of the DMC-FZ28, now works in the dark as well.

Although the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is a lightweight camera it feels nicely solid and comfortable in the hand, and like all good cameras, it has a viewfinder, albeit an electronic one. On top of the body is a pop-up flash, but, alas, no accessory shoe. The stereo microphones, clearly needing to go somewhere, have been located on top of the flash housing.

The lens is a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit producing images with a fine level of detail, good colour depth and dynamic range. The focal length, in 35mm terms, ranges from a respectably wide 27mm (f2.8), to a substantial telephoto 486mm (f4.4). Noise in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is well controlled for a camera of this type with almost noise-free images at ISO400, though even at the maximum ISO of 1600 the results are good enough for small prints, though fine detail suffers. AT ISO 80 images are sharp and clean with good edge definition.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has an improved image stabilisation system POWER O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabiliser) and offers twice the stabilisation of the DMC-FZ28 . This means that longer zoom settings can be used hand held. Also indoor photography, where flash would destroy the ambience, (church interiors for instance) becomes more accessible. Makes me wonder how long it will be before tripods become obsolete.

The mode wheel on the top plate, alongside the flash housing, has 14 shooting options (mode wheels are definitely going to have to get bigger) to cover every photographic possibility, so whatever your skill level, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has a setting to suit. For the absolute beginner there is even Intelligent Auto Mode – just set the Mode dial to IA. This is the ‘Photography for Dummies’ option that lets you concentrate on the picture you want to create and let the camera worry about all those complicated aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. I am totally in favour of anything that makes it easy for novices to take great pictures. While on the subject of Intelligence (Panasonic seems to like that word): Intelligent Auto Exposure sorts out high contrast problems; and with the Intelligent ISO of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 ‘The camera automatically sets the optimum ISO sensitivity and shutter speed to suit the movement of the subject and brightness of the scene to minimise the jitter of the subject.’ That’s straight from the manual. Great stuff. It won’t be long before the camera takes itself for a day out and comes back with the pictures you would like to have taken.

The innovation and enterprise of camera software designers never ceases to impress me. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has face recognition with a difference. The camera will remember up to six different faces and whenever any of these particular faces are present in the viewfinder the camera’s focus system locks on to them in preference to any other faces!!! And the best bit is the camera notices when you have photographed the same person several times and prompts you to register them. Registered faces, when recognised, have the focus and exposure optimised for them, over and above whatever else is in the frame.

The innovation and enterprise of camera software designers never ceases to impress me. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has face recognition with a difference. The camera will remember up to six different faces and whenever any of these particular faces are present in the viewfinder the camera’s focus system locks on to them in preference to any other faces!!! And the best bit is the camera notices when you have photographed the same person several times and prompts you to register them. Registered faces, when recognised, have the focus and exposure optimised for them, over and above whatever else is in the frame.

Movie mode, something of which I’m not a fan in still cameras, is a one button feature. One button starts the movie, press it again and it stops recording. Doesn’t matter what the other settings are. So in that sense it is truly useful and can capture easily those spontaneous moments. With the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 Movies can be recorded in HD (1280 x 720) and at smaller sizes too. HD is great if you want to watch it on your tv at home. The jpeg options are better for emailing and web use.

The monitor is 2.7″, clear and bright and the camera has a useful rechargeable Li-on battery and SD card housed under the same door in the bottom of the camera. Finally there is a tripod screw socket too for when your long exposures outfox the image stabilisation system.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is a camera you won’t be ashamed to be seen holding, and if you don’t want the hassle and expense of interchangeable lenses and a very heavy equipment bag to carry them all then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 should definitely be on your short list. Probably not worth upgrading if you already own the DMC-FZ28 but otherwise highly recommended. You really need to be considering DSLRs if you want to significantly improve on this camera. If you want a good quality camera for holidays, family moments, and the occasional Youtube video then this is worthy of serious consideration. For more serious photographers wanting to produce larger sized prints then I recommend that you look at entry level DSLRs.

  • Build quality 9/10
  • Features 9/10
  • Image Quality 9/10
  • Handling 7/10
  • Value for Money 8/10
  • Overall 8/10

Its Rivals.

Author: Michael Hadfield
email: Author

Popularity: 73% [?]

Three easy ways to improve your photographs

Monday, October 12th, 2009

I was out with a friend the other day when something happened that got me thinking about what experienced photographers do naturally and beginners frequently don’t know anything about. So I’ve decided to share three simple rules that shift photographs out of the snapshot arena.

My friend had a brand new compact camera and was happily enjoying taking pictures of all the plants and flowers in the garden we were visiting. There was a very attractive holly bush with berries that she found particularly photogenic.. I borrowed her camera took a shot and with a quick glance through the photos my friend had taken it was obvious that my shot was significantly better.

This puzzled me for a moment. I had a quick glance at the bush, selected my view and took the picture. My friend had taken considerable time carefully selecting viewpoints and making several exposures. She obviously wanted to know why mine was so much better.

So did I.

Looking through the shots it was clear that the main difference was not in the subject matter – leaves and berries. The main difference was in the arrangement of the leaves and berries in the frame. There is a technical term for this – Composition.

Composition is how the elements of a picture are arranged within the frame of the viewfinder – or nowadays the screen on the back of the digital camera. The aim is to create an image that pleases the eye.

People who have been photographers for a long time tend to do this automatically simply because they’ve taken thousands of photos and spent time looking at what makes the difference between a good one and a bad one.

I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t have to take thousands of photographs in order to improve your pictures. Here are three rules that will easily transform your photographs into images that please you and your friends when you share them. And that’s a huge part of taking photographs – sharing. Pictures need to be shared and enjoyed by many people.

This is a panorama of Hope Valley at Castleton in Derbyshire. The image consists of 8 separate photographs joined together.

This is a panorama of Hope Valley at Castleton in Derbyshire. The image consists of 8 separate photographs joined together.

Rule 1 The Rule of Thirds
If you can remember the name it is very easy to remember how to put it into practice. You mentally divide your viewing screen up by placing two, equally spaced, vertical lines and two equally spaced horizontal lines. This divides your view into thirds vertically and thirds horizontally.

These lines are where you place significant items of interest in your picture. So an horizon line would be placed one third from the top, or one third from the bottom (perhaps if you had a particularly interesting sky). The corner of a building, a person, or a lamppost would be placed one third of the way in from the edge of the frame. Other significant elements would be placed on the intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines. Fortunately some digital cameras, such as the Canon Powershot A650 IS Digital Compact Camera, have an option whereby you can overlay this grid onto the screen while you are composing your picture.

You’ll find that when you do this, your pictures start to take on a greater appeal and are more pleasing to the eye. A good way to prove this to yourself is to take a picture the way you always have done and then take another one, moving the horizon from the centre of the picture to one third down from the top. And then compare and see which one you prefer.

Snowdon, North Wales

Snowdon, North Wales

The wall is centred around a vertical, while the horizon is aligned with the top horizontal.

The wall is centred around a vertical, while the horizon is aligned with the top horizontal.

Rule 2. Use Diagonals.

Another simple device is to change your position so that you can have lines, like roads, rivers, or paths, moving diagonally across the frame from one of the lower corners towards the centre of the picture. This has the effect of leading the eye into the picture and keeping it there. This is visually pleasing and satisfies the ‘eye’.

The river provides a pleasing line for the eye to follow.

The river provides a pleasing line for the eye to follow.

The diagonal line of the canal leads the eye into the picture and on to the narrow boat in the distance. The red colour of the boat halts the eye.

The diagonal line of the canal leads the eye into the picture and on to the narrow boat in the distance. The red colour of the boat halts the eye.

Straight lines angled across the frame, rather than horizontally or vertically, create visual tension. This has the effect of making the picture more interesting, and more pleasing to view.

Here two crossing diagonals focus attention on the main point of interest.

Here two crossing diagonals focus attention on the main point of interest.

A much more pleasing arrangement than with the edges of the dish aligned with frame edges.

A much more pleasing arrangement than with the edges of the dish aligned with frame edges.

Rule 3. Compose with Colour.

The vast majority of pictures are taken in colour. Notice the effect of different colours. Cool colours like blues and greens recede. Bright colours like reds and yellows tend to dominate. So small patches of red or yellow can be used to balance much larger areas of cooler colours. The eye is drawn to these brighter colours so make sure there are no distracting reds or yellows to pull the eye away from your subject. Watch out for this especially if you are out in the countryside. Many waterproof jackets are made of bright materials and even if the person wearing them is a long way off – the eye is pulled straight to that patch of colour. Wait until they’ve walked out of frame. And you will have a better photograph.

Bridge with distracting red element

Bridge with distracting red element

Above, the red canoes distract the eye from the elegance of the bridge.
A slight shift of position and camera orientation has removed the distraction. An excess of featureless water has been cropped from the image below.

Composition improved and distraction removed.

Composition improved and distraction removed.

That’s three very easy tips to remember that will bring an immediate improvement to the quality of your photography.

Michael Hadfield

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