Improve your photography

Type of post: Teaching Resource
Sub-type: No sub-type
Posted By: Hemant Kogekar
Status: Current
Date Posted: Sun, 1 Aug 2010

The following represents a collection of views and opinions expressed by various visiting speakers and judges at Club Meetings. They are presented as a guide only, to give you better insight into what makes a successful image/photograph. However, you have to be careful not to take shots just to please judges or to score points for competition, otherwise in a few years time you will have hundreds of images that you will toss in the bin and wonder why you bothered. Take images that you like, and that mean something to you or capture a mood or feeling. Use your photography to express yourself and it will be of lasting benefit.

A Few Basics

  • Get in closer. This is one of the most widely quoted sayings and probably the one which will give you the greatest returns. Move in close or use a telephoto lens to isolate your subject. Make it stand out from its surroundings and have impact.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid unnecessary clutter and distractions around your subject.
  • Watch the horizon in landscapes. Is it level? If it isn’t then crop the picture to make it so. Does the horizon divide the picture in half? If so, then you probably need to decide whether the sky or the foreground is more important and crop away the unimportant area. Some images work well with symmetry about the horizon, but most will look much better with either the sky or the foreground being dominant.
  • A Polarising Filter can greatly enhance colour (ie saturation) and detail (by reducing glare/reflections).
  • As a rule, eye contact and people facing/walking towards the photographer add more to the photo.

Watch the background

  • When you are composing your image look at the background before pressing the shutter release.
  • Avoid brightly coloured objects behind your subject (even if you can throw them out of focus).
  • Beware of the sky in black and white shots. Using an orange or red filter for black and white photography can help enhance the sky. In general, if the sky is not “doing anything”, leave it out.

To overcome distractions, consider the following:

  • Change the angle/point of view
  • Move the subject (forward, left or right)
  • Open the lens by lowering the f-stop number, this will soften the background by reducing your depth of field
  • Change the lens to a telephoto or macro to reduce your depth of field
  • Using a faster lens (at maximum aperture) also reduces your depth of field

For optimum presentation:

  • Select a mounting board which colour complements the photo
  • Fix the photo to the mounting board a little above centre
  • Alternative formats (eg square, panorama) can be eye catching. Additionally, they can be useful in cropping out unwanted material eg, why.
  • Odd numbered objects (eg 1,3,5) are preferred to even numbered objects as the arrangement is more pleasing to the eye
  • Keep an eye out for unwanted “rubbish”, especially white rubbish, as it tends to draw you eye away from the subject
  • Many advocate the “rule of thirds”. This is a well-established artistic rule of placing the subject on the intersection of imaginary lines drawn to divide the image into thirds in both the horizontal and vertical directions. A simple illustration is to draw a noughts and crosses board. The subject(s) should appear on any one of the four intersecting lines. Our brains seem to find images constructed in this way quite pleasing. There is also the “Golden Rule” where a single subject is placed off centre by one eighth of the image width.


Generally speaking, landscapes should:

  • Be pin sharp from front to rear (ie. Maximum depth of field by using an aperture such as f16 – f22.
  • Have a strong base/foreground interest.
  • Have a level horizon.


  • Bracket” (ie. Make several exposures at different apertures) to ensure at least one correct exposure.
  • Expose for the highlights. Meter on the brightest part of the image that you want detail of.
  • Check the histogram if using a digital camera.

Photography should be less about composition and more about:

  • Communication

  • Light
  • Feeling or mood

Be Different:

  • Ask yourself "Does what I am about to take have a strong creative or visual impact?" If not, then maybe you should look at it a bit more to find a different angle or view, or even find something more interesting!
  • While it is generally true that light conditions are best at dawn and sunset, don’t overlook other opportunities. Eg. Reflections in the rain, fill-in flash, colour filters, light overcast (shadow-free) conditions, infrared film or strongly polarised images in the midday sun.
  • Try a different point of view (elevation). Instead of photographing at eye height, look at things fro, say, a bird’s point of view or an ant’s point of view. Photographing upwards at close range can give the subject a sense of power.
  • Turn reflections upside down and even crop away most of the non-reflected image leaving only the reflection.
  • Break any rules that you have just learnt! It is important to know the rules, but it is just as important to know when to break them.

Technical Stuff:

  • Where quality is important, avoid selection of minimum or maximum apertures unless you have a very good quality lens. Image detail, especially on the edges of the image, “drops off” at the extremes of aperture. Maximum detail for most lens is around f8-f11. Having said that, don’t be afraid to use the extremes, especially the maximum aperture (f2, f2.8) as they usually produce the most striking images.
  • Wherever possible, use a tripod. If you don’t own one, then ask around in the club to find a good brand/model and get one as soon as possible. Where it is not practical to use a tripod, select a shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake. A good rule of thumb in 35mm photography is that the shutter speed of a hand held camera should not be less than a speed which is the inverse of the focal length of the lens, expressed in seconds.For example.
    50mm lens: 1/50sec 120mm lens: 1/120sec 200mm lens: 1/200sec
    Note: One of the greatest, often overlooked attributes of a tripod is that it slows you down, thus providing more time for you to think about the important things like subject, exposure, composition, horizon, depth of field etc.
  • Converging Verticals. This is an ever-present problem. Unless they can be overcome or minimised without distraction (by, for example, changing to vertical format, raising/lowering the camera position, or moving back), then go the other way: - accentuate the converging verticals so that they become a feature. Move in closer or use a wide-angle lens and tilt the camera.

This section was originally compiled and written by Richard Brady and Brian Crowley and has been updated.