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How to Take Better Photos: Tips and Examples-Page 2

Composing Your Photo

Some people, particularly 2 dimensional artists, have an instant knack for creating good composition but anyone can learn to create interesting pictures.

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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005

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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005

When you look through the viewfinder or at the digital screen, pay attention to, not only what your center of attention is, but also have a look at how the objects at the edges of the picture may be cut. The hard lines created by the objects framing the shot definitely frame your picture.

Start by isolating the most important element in the scene. If it is a landscape, look for what you want to be the center of attention. This is not necessarily in the center of the frame, but where your eye goes first. Other elements in the frame should support the idea that the center of attention possesses—be it harmony or contrast. This is what creates a good photograph.

To do this, learn to look through your viewfinder or onto your screen objectively as the camera does. When we look at a scene with our own eyes, we tend to focus on what is important to us and our brain filters out the clutter or what is not important to us. The camera, on the other hand, sees what is really there—the good and the bad, the pretty and the ugly. When composing a photo, try to eliminate irrelevant or confusing items that detract from the message of the photo.

To have an image with a clear focus is vitally important. Whether you're taking snap-shots of natural rock formations for a documentary or you're photographing tech for an Iphone 4 review. To ensure that your focus is aptly presented, you can't just rely on post-production - ensuring that the framing and other aspects of your photograph are well thought-out to begin with will save you a lot of time later.

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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005
When taking a photograph of still water, it is essential that you hold the camera so that the level of the water is perfectly horizontal. Nothing looks worse than a lake or ocean background on a slant and pouring off the picture. You can use a computer and photo editing software to rotate and crop your photo later, but you may lose parts of the composition that you didn’t want to.

Lighting in Composition

Lighting is one of the main ingredients of a successful photograph. Usually, but not always, the more light, the better. One of the great breakthroughs of digital photography is its ability to take pleasing photos in low light without a flash. As long as the composition does not include a direct bright light source, or too much contrast, the digital camera can use its brain to see and save a ‘brightened up’ record of a low light scene.

You would think that it would go without saying, but always be mindful of the position of the sun for outside shots. For a maximum lit-up subject, take the photo with the sun over your shoulder. If you take a photo aimed into the sun, generally your colors will appear washed out or worse.

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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005

This photograph is an extreme example of having the sunlight behind the subject instead of shining ON the subjects.

When taking an indoor photo, for even lighting, try to avoid including any direct source of light. If you do, your camera’s electric eye will sense the source of light and make decisions based on that bright light and the rest of your scene will be too dark. This is why, when photographing small bathrooms for my friends beach rental condo website, I often do so with the over-mirror lights turned off. Otherwise I have a photo of 5 round extremely bright white balls in a dark setting.

Some digital cameras have a tendency to add a lot of graininess, often called ‘noise’ to low light photos. If you think you will be taking many indoor photos in public buildings that do not allow a flash or where a flash is not practical, be sure to read the low light reviews of any camera you are considering purchasing. Some are much better than others at indoor, non-flash photos.

hp707.jpg (4392 bytes)I bought a HP Pocket sized digital camera specifically for a trip to Europe because I knew that I would be taking pictures of mosaics in churches that do not allow flashes. It did an excellent job for a pocket sized point and shoot camera. The HP R717 Digital Camera is very similar, newer and more pixels. Same wonderful camera, more zoom, 5 X real (optical) zoom--more $$-HP R817 Digital Camera. HP knows it has a good thing, and the adaptive lighting feature is great.

You can see a ton of my photos taken with this camera at

More popular digital cameras from Amazon--they have good prices !


Photos Taken in Direct Sun

A problem with taking photos in bright sun is that the shadows cast dark, hard edged areas that can be very unflattering to the subject. If the direct sun is diffused, as when a soft cloud floats by, the shadows soften and become lighter and there will generally be overall better color balance in your photo. In bright sun there are a couple of things you can do to help get a better photo.

The first thing you should learn to do is to be able to control the flash. You can tell your camera to do a fill-in flash to bring some light to the dark shadow areas. In the Auto mode, the electric eye and brain in the camera are going to tell it that there is plenty of light and no flash is needed. So what you are doing is overriding that thinking and telling it to flash anyway. You need to know how to do this anyway, as this is just the reverse of taking low light interior photos without a flash. Get out your manual, look up the parts on controlling the flash. The symbol for a forced flash is usually the normal lightening bolt flash sign without the A beside it. The symbol for no-flash is usually the Ghostbuster circle over the flash symbol.

You can greatly improve your direct sun photos of people by using a fill-in flash on their faces if they are wearing hats or visors and the subjects are between 8 and about 15 ft away. If the subjects are further than that, there is not much point in using the flash and closer will just give them white-ish ghostly faces.

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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005
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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005

The photo on the left was taken in available light with no fill-in flash. Because of the ample light coming through the windows, in AUTO setting, the camera didn't think it needed a flash. By forcing it to flash, and also changing my angle slightly so less window light entered the lens, a better picture resulted. And, yes we do have alligators in Alabama !

Some digital cameras have a setting especially for the beach. Look in your manual to see what special setting you have. The new cameras make it easy to switch from one setting to another in an instant. On mine the symbol is a palm tree on a hump of sand and it is right on a dial on the top of the camera.

Low Light Photos

Often you lose the charm or atmosphere of a scene when you photograph with a flash indoors. Many historical locations will allow only non-flash photographs to be taken such as Gaudi’s home in Barcelona, Sacre Coeur Cathedral in Paris, and churches with frescos in Italy. In these situations you will get the best picture if you can rest your camera on or against a stable object such as a nearby handrail, bar or table. That little bit of additional stability can make a lot of difference for a sharper image since the lens is going to be open for a longer time to allow more reflected light to enter the camera that if you were using a flash. If you just hold the camera in your hand, it is next to impossible not to have some movement. Live music on stages is another time where using a flash is totally to the determent of the photo.

You can buy tiny, light weight pocket sized folding camera tripods that allow you to adjust the camera’s angle, etc….but the average traveler isn’t usually going to bother with that. At an indoor concert, if you are sitting a long way off and try to take a photo of the stage area and your camera uses the flash, all you are doing is lighting up the heads of the people in front of you since the flash only travels out 15 to 20 ft max with enough intensity to do any good, and because the flash is on, the camera is only opening the lens for a very short time, so very little of the stages’ light enters. A much better choice is to manually turn the flash off and steady the camera for a no-flash photo at a concert or indoor live music if you are far off.

If you plan to travel and indoor low light photos are important to you, read the reviews at places like and Amazon to see what others have to say about any camera model’s low light capabilities. It can vary a lot.


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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005

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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005

Both of these photos were taken in places that were so large that a flash would not have done any good had it even been allowed. I took both with just the available light , then used my photo editing program to lighten them up some after I returned from my trip to Rome. Both photos were taken with a little bitty pocket sized camera from HP. I  just did some research before I left for a small camera that did well in low light. Get the similar HP R717 Digital Camera. Same wonderful camera, more zoom, 5 X real (optical) zoom--HP R817 Digital Camera  

The photo under this text is a hallway in the Rome Underground System called The Metro. There was no sunlight at all, just artificial lighting. Again, it was taken with a digital camera and I lightened it up after I got home.

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Copyright Lundy Wilder 2005

Page 2......................Continue on to more photography tips...

Back to Page 1 How to Take Better Photos Continue....Page 3


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