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How would you like to shoot better pics right now? Well, there are a couple of things that you can do that will make a difference to your photographs, and they do not involve laying out huge wads of cash or buying new equipment:

Get the composition “right” in camera, not on the computer later. It’s super easy to shoot away, thinking “oh, I’ll just fix it when I get back to my computer”, but this really is not the way to create beautiful images.

There are a few basic composition “rules” that can enhance your pictures and they usually work but not always, so if you don't like the effect, then for heaven's sake go with what you do like and break the rules!

The first rule (and read the paragraph above again) is that there should be some point of interest in the picture that attracts attention. In a scenic photograph it may be a lone tree, a person standing on a rock or some distant animal - something to catch your eye. There could also be more than one point of interest and in many cases it is preferable to have multiple points as it can make the photograph more “interesting” by giving it added depth. The placement of these points is very important and varying amounts of emphasis can be given to each point, depending where it is placed in the image area.

Sometimes one needs to go to extremes and I deliberately positioned the giraffes and acacia at the bottom right to add focal points to this pic of Kilimanjaro and Mount Mawenzi.

Sometimes one needs to go to extremes and I deliberately positioned the giraffes and acacia at the bottom right to add focal points to this pic of Kilimanjaro and Mount Mawenzi.

If you divide the viewfinder of your camera up into vertical and horizontal thirds, the points where the two vertical lines and the two horizontal lines cross are very strong positions. These are ideal for the point or points of interest, while the lines themselves are useful guides for things like horizons. It is all too easy to just pop something into the centre of a frame and then crop the image “right” in post. Well, all you are doing is throwing away pixels and we’ve covered this in a previous edition of Kruger Magazine. You may find that the placement of the subject in even more extreme positions, like in the outer columns, also works well - if you have a great sky, for example, it may be worth putting the horizon right down at the bottom of the frame.

In most cases when photographing subjects that have fronts and backs, like people, animals, cars and so on, it is often more pleasing to position them so that they have space to move into. Placement on the other extreme, so that they are facing the edge of the frame. is rarely attractive but can be used to good effect when you are attempting to bring some tension into the image.

The placement of points of interest is of even greater importance when a wide angle lens is used. Wide-angle lenses tend to add a sense of space to a photograph, as the transition between close and far objects is greatly accentuated. This is why so many subjects seem to be small spots in the middle of the picture when cameras with wide-angle lenses are used. The answer to this is to get closer (of course this is not always possible) or to put some strong foreground element into the picture that will take the viewer's eye to the subject.

The Rule of thirds - one of the most important composition “rules”. While placing your subjects on the horizontal lines, vertical lines and intersection points will often get you a great looking image, it doesn’t always work. In these situations do something that does - use your imagination.

The Rule of thirds - one of the most important composition “rules”. While placing your subjects on the horizontal lines, vertical lines and intersection points will often get you a great looking image, it doesn’t always work. In these situations do something that does - use your imagination.

When composing a picture try to look at the image in the viewfinder as though you were looking into a slide viewer or perhaps at a photograph rather than at the real live scene before you. So often one is unhappy with the pics when looking at them on your computer and you see all sorts of unwanted items in the image. The eye and brain are wonderful editors, and while looking at a scene, will edit out all sorts of things, like telephone poles, bits of rubbish and so on. When looking at a picture on the other hand none of this “in brain” editing takes place and all the blotches on the landscape are there in full view. Altering the way you look into the viewfinder will change this. Look at the picture in there and not at the scene in front of you. Look for things that seem out of place. Check the corners and sides of the frame. Are any important bits cut off! Have the points of interest been placed where you want them? Take it slowly. Look. plan. Think!

Photographs must be sharp. Well, not always. They must be sharp if you are trying to shoot a sharp image - using blur and out of focus creatively is a different thing entirely, but if you are shooting a portrait of an animal, for example, and it’s supposed to be crisp and clear, then crisp and clear it must be.

Notice the placement of this juvenile jacana and the water lilies within the frame. The eye of the bird is on the top third and the lilies on the bottom third. The whole grouping is positioned to the bottom right, allowing space in front of the objects.

Notice the placement of this juvenile jacana and the water lilies within the frame. The eye of the bird is on the top third and the lilies on the bottom third. The whole grouping is positioned to the bottom right, allowing space in front of the objects.

Figure out what your primary point of interest is going to be and then focus accurately on that. For live subjects this is usually the eyes but if you are photographing scenery or something else then it will most often be the point or points of interest - a tree, a rock or whatever it is that you are photographing. The viewer's eyes need to rest somewhere…

Then there is camera movement. This is the biggie! The bottom line here is that in order to take photographs with no blur in them the camera (and the subject for that matter) needs to be perfectly still at the point the shutter is released. The rule for hand holding cameras is that the shutter speed should not be slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens. Now all this means is that if you are using a 300mm lens then the shutter speed set on the camera should not be less than 1/300 of a second. On most cameras one would therefore set 1/500 of a second. By the same token if the focal length of the lens attached to the camera is 100mm then we would be looking at nothing slower that 1/100 of a second and the closest faster speed than this would be 1/125. But one still has to be careful to keep the camera steady. Keep you arms tucked in against your sides, get comfortable (those elaborate, “professional” looking poses don’t work anyway), relax and squeeeeeze that shutter release button. DON’T push it – squeeze it.

There are two focal points in this image - the table and chairs, and the sun. Notice how your eyes move from one to the other across the diagonal and, importantly, into and out of the image. This is because we are looking at a distant object (the sun) and a close one (the table and chairs).

There are two focal points in this image - the table and chairs, and the sun. Notice how your eyes move from one to the other across the diagonal and, importantly, into and out of the image. This is because we are looking at a distant object (the sun) and a close one (the table and chairs).

Most modern cameras have some sort of image stabilisation so the above limits can be “pushed” a little but not more than one or two stops.

Tripods can be a great help when you are trying to keep the camera steady (and there can be no substitute in many instances) but sometimes they are just not practical. One of the most simple, cheap (yes cheap) and effective of all supports is the humble beanbag. All you do is place it on the windowsill of the car, for example, and rest the camera on it. I’ve found that one about 250mm square, made from good quality T-shirt material is a good size. For those that travel by air, a zip along one of the edges means that you don’t have to carry around 2kg of beans with you - when you get to your destination it can be filled with a suitable filling. Wild birdseed is about the best filling, rice is not bad and lentils are also pretty good. For lightness (the hikers out there) sunflower seed works reasonably well.

Be sure to check out our other Photo Tips and tutorials.

As always, if you have any questions or suggestions for future articles, do drop me a mail. Hook up with us on Instagram (@RogerdelaHarpe) and Facebook ( Roger and Pat de la Harpe Photography).

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