Capture or Create an Exception

Capture or Create an Exception


There’s always one, isn’t there? The one who can’t stand still, who is just bursting with energy and fun – that’s the one that makes an image stand out. I’ve got lots of photos of four girls standing in a row in the sea, but it’s the one who broke away that makes this image so much more captivating! There’s movement, there’s a break in the normal line, there’s a sense of fun – all of these make for an engaging image. Holiday and day trip photos can end up as the same boring poses in different places. It’s worth thinking about how you can capture or create an exception to the boring pose.

One helpful tactic is to keep on shooting even after the posers think you’ve stopped. The moment you stop shooting everyone will relax just a bit (we are all just a little bit self conscious when we think we’re being photographed). Sometimes it’s as simple as saying ‘Thanks!’ and then clicking again. Don’t forget when you do this to leave a little bit more space around your composition to allow for that movement. You don’t want to catch only half the action!

If you don’t have that sort of spontaneity in your group then ask someone, or everyone to jump or wave, or even to disperse in different directions. Again, plan for where in the frame that movement will fill. Waving arms needs more space above the figures – both for the arms and for the usual negative space. If the group are dispersing, zoom out a little to get a sense of space as well as movement.

Don’t forget that you will still need to work on the rule of thirds and other compositional techniques for the background as well as the subject. Keep the horizon on the bottom third for a sense of space and allow the figures to break the horizon for added drama.

Photographing Moving Objects

Ferry Nice

Photographing moving objects takes a little bit of forethought, just because of the movement. If we’re not planning ahead then the object can be gone before we get it! Here are a few tips:

  1. If it’s something regular that moves along a known path, plan for where along that path you wish to capture it. In the case of the ferry above I knew roughly where the ferry would be as I had watched it over a period of days.
  2. Think of where the object will be in relation to static objects. In this case I was waiting for the ferry to come in front of the setting sun, in the middle of the lough to give me a strong contrast. Be aware that background objects may clash with what you are trying to shoot, so look for a less cluttered backdrop.
  3. If the object is moving fast you will need to pan – that is, follow the motion of the object from further away, keep moving as it gets to the position that you want to capture, click the shutter but keep on moving. This gives the best chance of keeping the object sharp. If you have a tripod then you can use this to help keep the camera steady while panning.
  4. Leave space in your composition to move into. If we have planned the shot, then it’s easy to shoot a little bit early. Visually and image is more pleasing if the movement is towards the centre of the image rather than out of the image. Our eyes tend to follow the path of movement, so, if the object is close to the edge of the image in the direction that it’s moving then our eyes will be drawn towards the edge and out of the picture.
  5. Remember also the rule of thirds and try to place the motion along one of these lines to give a strong sense of movement.

If you manage to do all of this, and are fortunate to get just the right light, then you will come up with a striking image!

Do a Lowry – How to add Interest to an Image

Add interest to a photo

What do you include in your photo and what do you want to keep out? Usually we see other people as a distraction, something that interrupts our photography. At other times we can feel embarrassed about photographing complete strangers. One solution is to include figures, but only at a distance.

At a distance

When you include distant figures you are adding interest to your image without  that interest dominating the composition. The distant figures add a sense of scale and perspective; they add context to the landscape; they add interest because we’re always interested in people. At a distance it’s less intimidating to photograph people, for both the photographer and the subject. Please do remember to be discreet, and don’t photograph anyone, no matter how distant ,in a situation that you would be uncomfortable having yourself captured.

Layers and a cherry

In this image the landscape is built up with layers: first the pebble beach, then the sea, then the pier, then the sky. the small figures are like the cherry on top of a cake – a little bit of decoration to enhance the main item. So, make the figures loom small in the scale of the image to make the best of the technique. Ideally you shouldn’t be able to distinguish faces – this gives the same effect as Lowry produced in his paintings: perspective and scale without personality.

Don’t forget to isolate

Having told you to include images, remember that there’s still a case for simplification and isolation. Try to frame your shot so that there’s a distinct group that you can use, rather than the foreground being filled with figures. Too many will distract, a few isolated figures will enhance the composition.

Try it for youself

The next time you are shooting a beachscape or landscape, keep the shot wide, but include some figures in the composition to add that little bit of extra interest.

Create an abstract image

Abstract Seasca[e


In a previous post I suggested that you reduce the content of your photographs to produce a more striking image. It’s well worth trying to reduce the entire image to something even more abstract.

In the photo above I’ve removed every object except the sea and sky. I’ve done this by zooming in on the horizon at sunset, hiding all extraneous objects by zooming past them. This lack of focal point makes it work really well as a background image – wallpaper for your computer or abstract wall art. Try it out for yourself and see how you get on…

How to photograph pets

Photographing Pets

If you own a pet it’s certain that you will want to photograph them. Pets are part of the family and have to be captured as such. Most folks just point and click around the house and garden, but here are a couple of tips to help you to get the best out of taking a photograph of your pet.

Eye Level

For most of us our pets are much smaller than we are. Even the bigger dogs are still much shorter than us! As a result most of our snap shots are taken looking down on the poor pet. The most effective change in composition is to get your camera at eye level with your preferred pet. You will see your pets in a whole new light once you make this simple change. If you can’t get down to their level then place them on top of something to lift them up. The pet photograph above was taken with the dog sitting on top of a flat concrete wall, just a couple of feet off the ground, but enough to make it simple to get down to his level.

Simplify the background

The second simple tip for how to photograph pets is to simplify the background. Most of our pets are furry or feathered, and this blends them into most backgrounds. If you’ve ever tried to take a photograph of your pet dog or cat in the back garden you will know what I mean – our pets tend to blend in to the grass and bushes so that it’s difficult to distinguish the pet. Helpfully, if you have done anything to lift your pet up to your eye level you will more than likely have simplified the background too. In the case of the photo above I have placed the pet in front of a simple sky, with nothing but clouds behind his head. This makes the fur stand out more and clearly defines our pet pooch against the background. Look out for clear backgrounds and simple shapes that will let the detail of your pet stand out – avoid, bushes, brick walls and the usual paraphernalia that clutter the image.

If you can keep these two tips in mind you will instantly transform your pet photos.

Effective composition: Reduce, reduce, reduce

Effective Composition

Composition is a very subjective thing in some ways, but in other ways there are some straightforward rules that will give you a head start. I’ve already explained some basics, such as the Rule of Thirds. This is another helpful principle to guide your composition.

Effective Composition: Reduce, reduce, reduce

Very often it is what you exclude from your composition that makes for a great image, not what you put in. The cliché picture is that of a family portrait with a ‘tree growing out of someone’s head’! It reminds us that we usually fail to ‘see’ anything in the viewfinder except the subject that we want to photograph. The more we concentrate on the subject, the less we see of the environment that the subject is in.

Remove clutter

Did you notice that piece of rubbish on the ground behind your subject? It will be instantly obvious when you look at the photo later! What about that passer by with the bright red coat? You can see a spot of red in the background of a photograph even when you barely notice it in the viewfinder! Wait for vehicles, people and pets to pass by unless you want to include them in the image. Feel free to tidy up around your subject. And keep an eye out for litter bins to exclude them from your shots too, they’re useful, but not often pretty!

Use a shallow depth of field

One useful tip is to use a shallow depth of field so that as much of the image as possible is out of focus, apart from the subject itself.

Look for a blank canvas

Day to day living is full of clutter: people and things that surround us. In order to make something stand out the simple solution is to place your subject against a blank canvas. One of the features of our local beach is that it is featureless! This makes finding a subject a problem, but it makes for a wonderful blank canvas. In the image above I deliberately shot out to sea with nothing but the solitary foreground object in view. The subject isn’t particularly interesting, but because there is nothing else for the eye to focus on it is drawn to the single object. The result is a striking but simple composition: simple colour scheme, simple lines, and a solitary subject.

If you can’t avoid it, make the most of it


One of the more frustrating aspects of photographing wildlife at a zoo or a safari park is the intrusion of cages, fences and other paraphernalia. Of course, these things are there to keep us safe, but from a photographer’s point of view they distract from the image. What to do when you can’t avoid the fencing? Make the most of it!

In the case of these tigers at Knowsley Safari Park the fence completely surrounded the enclosure – there was no way to get a shot of the tigers without getting the fence too. The only solution was to shoot through the fence. I took a lot of shots with the tigers at various distances from the fence, but found that this shot had just enough fence to blend with the tiger stripes. It’s obvious that the tiger is not in the wild, but the context of the fence doesn’t distract as it’s sufficiently out of focus.

It’s not as striking as a true wild life portrait, but it does accurately portray the location and the animal.

Photographing Cars

Minimal Car Photo

The biggest problem with photographing cars and other vehicles when out and about is the amount of distracting clutter that takes attention away from the subject. I spotted the car above in a car park in the centre of town, with cars, street lamps, bollards and other clutter all around it. I started photographing this iconic car from several yards away, but even keeping a low point of view was leaving me with lots of distraction in the background.

The only solution was to move in even closer! I decided to make the most of the swooping lines of this TVR by getting up close and personal with the bonnet. Shooting from directly in front, and very close allowed me to cut out all the clutter. Photographing from a very low point of view meant that the background was only sky.

Here are some of the lessons to learn:

1. Start shooting early, but review the images in the viewfinder for clutter and distractions. It’s very easy to miss the lamppost in the corner of your eye when you are taking a shot. Review and recompose.

2. Get up close and personal to exclude as much of the background as possible.

3. Try and ‘see’ the abstrat shapes that compose the car, and make the most of them.

4. Take the low point of view with cars – they always look more dramatic from down low.

5. Open up the aperture as much as possible so that the background is out of focus.

You may not be able to move that car that you want to photograph, but remember that you have control over your position and camera settings. Use the concepts above to help you make the most of what you see when you are out and about day trip photographing. Feel free to link to your own car shots in the comments.

Don’t forget to Look Up

Don't forget to Look Up


It’s very easy when you’re out and about with a camera to just look where you’re going: straight in front, head height. The simplest way to improve your photography is to look in a different direction. This bridge looks great from a distance, with the entire structure in view, but, walk underneath and look up and you will get an entirely different perspective. Try the same in cities, where all the buildings are tall, look up in woodlands to see the light through the treetops. Wherever you are, make a point of looking up, looking out, finding that different perspective for a great shot!

Taking great photos: Negative Space

Ice Cream Van


Great photos can hinge on the simplest detail, and very often the great photographers understand this intuitively. For the rest of us we have to think about it!

Fighting our natural instincts

Our natural inclination when we take camera in hand is to point it directly at what we want to photograph. It’s natural because that’s how we look at things – directly. But what works perfectly for seeing doesn’t work so well for framing a photograph. In real life we can move our heads and our eyes and tend to see more than what we focus on. When we take a photograph we have to take account of all of this peripheral sight within a single shot.

Learning to Frame like a Pro

The one composition technique that will help you to photograph like a professional is to deliberately move away from that natural instinct to ‘point and click’. Let’s just take that phrase one step further: ‘point, move, click’ – do that and you will instantly add drama and dynamism to your images.

Why it works

One of the most basic design techniques is called negative space. This is space within a design – whether it’s a graphic design, a book, a poster or a photographic image that in one sense contains nothing. It allows the eye some rest. In photographic terms, when we look at a finished photograph our eyes naturally scan the entire image. We tend to move from obvious elements (foreground objects, or people or buildings in the distance) towards the distance and the empty. If we don’t leave an empty space in the photograph then our eyes tend to keep hunting for that space. If we place the subject in the middle of the frame then our eyes try to look past the subject – at little bit like someone standing in front of the TV.

So, next time you take camera in hand, remember: point, move, click…