Avoiding Composition Mistakes

Quick tips

The best way to approach how you compose your shots is to think about what you’re trying to communicate to people about the scene or subject you’re shooting. Don’t just take a ‘record’ of whatever is in front of you, think about what’s the most interesting part of the scene to focus on, zooming in or out if necessary. A classic compositional mistake, when taking portraits, is to try and get the whole scene and the person in shot. The result is a terrible ‘tourist’ photo that leaves the person too small and insignificant in the frame.

Better to take a wide shot of the scene, and then a tighter shot focusing on your subject. Also use depth of field to convey what’s important to show – or a shallow depth of field to blur parts of the scene, such as the background behind subjects, to keep the focus on them.

Zoomed out

  • With the subject plonked in the centre of the frame and with no clear focal point, the eye is left to wander around the frame

Zoomed in

  • A longer focal length of 200mm decreases the angle of view, so there are fewer distractions in the surrounding scene
  • Longer focal lengths also further decrease DoF to completely blur backgrounds, making your subject stand out
  • Placing your subject off-centre creates an artistic balance to the shot

Vertical / portrait format

  • Place the horizon either a third of the way up or a third of the way down the frame for a dynamic composition
  • Use leading lines whether natural or man-made to draw the eye in and towards your focal point

Horizontal / landscape format

  • Remember to create a relationship between foreground elements and focal points further away on the horizon
  • Getting down low will help prevent too much empty middle ground spoiling your shot

Final tip
Shoot in Live View and use the grid display so you can quickly apply the ‘rule of thirds’ over your scene or subject to improve your compositions.

Image from slrphotographyguide.com

The Rule of Thirds

shot taken using the rule of thirds

The Rule of Thirds is probably one of the most important aspects in photography and is essential in taking a good photo. The rule of thirds is a “rule of thumb” or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as designs, films, paintings, and photographs. The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.Try to avoid simply placing your subject slap-bang in the middle of your frame. By placing the focal point of your scene off-center, along imaginary lines roughly one-third and two-thirds into the frame, you’ll create a much more balanced and pleasing composition.

Too central

  • Placing horizons in the middle of your frame will create an unbalanced and boring image
  • As it stands, the sky and sea have equal weighting in the shot

Better balance

  • By moving the horizon down so it is not  dead center creates a more dynamic composition
  • Don’t be afraid to include more sky than land (or water) in your shot – particularly if the sky looks colorful

Final tip
Every keen amateur should own a decent tripod as it lets you have more control over depth of field and shutter speed, and will help ensure consistent results.

Shooting modes for the DSLRS

Shooting with a DSLR

The best place to start is with shooting modes.  The shooting modes will most likely be found on a dial labelled with ‘auto, Av, Tv, P, M’ and maybe more.  Selecting a shooting mode will determine how your camera behaves when you press the shutter, for example, when ‘auto’ is selected, the camera will determine everything to do with the exposure, including the aperture and shutter speed.  The other modes, ‘Av, Tv, P, M’, are there to give you control:

 Shooting modes

  • aperture priority
  • shutter priority
  • program
  • manual

Aperture Priority (Av or A)
Aperture priority can be thought of as a ‘semi-automatic’ shooting mode.  When this is selected, you as the photographer set the aperture and the camera will automatically select the shutter speed.

Shutter Priority (Tv or S)
Similarly to aperture priority, this is another ‘semi-automatic’ shooting mode, though in this instance, you as the photographer set the shutter speed and the camera will take care of the aperture.

Program (P)
In program mode, you are able to set either the aperture or shutter speed, and the camera will maintain the correct exposure by adjusting the other one accordingly, i.e. as you change the aperture, the shutter speed will automatically change, and vice versa.

Manual (M)
Manual mode is exactly what it sounds like, you are given full control over the exposure determination, setting both the aperture and shutter speed yourself.  There will be an exposure indicator either within the viewfinder or on the screen that will tell you how under/over exposed the image will be, however, you are left to change the shutter speed and aperture yourself to ensure you achieve the correct exposure.

Image from en.wikipedia.org

DLSRs Settings

Fixing the settings

You take great shots with that Auto setting that you’re in but now you feel like you want more, so you start tinkering with the dials and buttons in your camera. Let’s talk about the settings you will probably get to know.


ISO is a measure of how sensitive the sensor of your camera is to light.

 Completion of the Exposure Triangle

It’s important to note that aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all part of the ‘exposure triangle’.  They all control either the amount of light entering the camera (aperture, shutter speed) or the amount of light required by the camera (ISO) for a given exposure.


When taking a photograph, using any form of automatic exposure calculation the camera always tries to calculate an ‘average’ exposure. Generally, there are three metering modes that you can choose from: Average, Center-weighted, and Spot metering.

Exposure compensation

Generally found on a small +/- button near the shutter, this is one of the most useful functions to learn how to use.  It allows you to either increase or decrease the cameras default meter reading to account for the actual brightness of a scene.


Regardless of what shooting mode you are using, or what ISO you define, the chances are there will be a subject of your image that you want to have in focus.  If that focus is not achieved, the image will not be what you wanted.

Autofocus modes
DSLRs come with a range of auto focus modes, however, for simplicity, the two that are most important to understand are AF-S and AF-C

AF-S – autofocus-single.  This is best used when taking photos of stationary subjects.

AF-C – autofocus-continuous.  This is best used when taking photos of action or moving subjects.


Image from digitalcameraworld.com

Digicam vs DLSR

Nowadays, one can quite confidently say that the Digital SLR cameras have won the competition in the camera market with their ever rising popularity coupled with new levels of affordability. There seems to be a notion that the SLR type of camera is the ultimate device necessary for taking good pictures – whether you’re on a vacation, having a party at your home or wish to take some family snapshots.

The truth is actually that many people which own a DLSR don’t actually use it properly, nor do they know how to. They set the camera to its automatic mode and simply point and shoot – which is really not worth the price one would have paid for such a camera. People seem to have almost forgotten about Digicams, however, they have quite a few features that should make the average consumer reconsider their camera choices.


The first is size. A digital camera will be able to easily fit into a bag, some even into the pocket of your pants. Whereas you’d have to lug around a bag filled with lenses and such for a SLR, one cannot deny the practicality of having a digicam. Next would be the issue of quality – there is a misconception that in order to take good pictures, you must have a SLR camera. False – a professional photographer might need the ridiculous amount of megapixels for their work, but for your day to day pictures and videos at home or on vacation, you will never need to change a lens or fiddle through complicated settings in order to get what you want.

Image by slashcam.com

Beyond Automatic Mode

One of the issues with digital cameras and their availability is actually that they are capable of far more than they are used for. Even older digital cameras are capable of great shots when set up in the right way for each situation, yet many owners are unaware of how to use them or what to use them for.

While the Automatic Mode is a powerful setting, it is not ideal for many situations. It is great for shooting pictures on the fly and in repetition, but often fails when lighting circumstances are not ideal.

Here is where one can really explore the limits of a digital camera. There are pre-set modes to choose from depending on the setting and location. Most cameras come with a mode for sports in particular, which will focus on quickly capturing a picture in an outdoor setting in order to avoid motion blurring or missing a crucial moment.

Another variety of modes is often aimed at time of day and setting. Indoor lighting is vastly different to outdoor lighting, and outdoor lighting changes depending on time of day. Indoors there is fluorescent and iridescent lighting, and so on. Some people find that pictures taken in certain lighting makes them look unflattering, and choosing the right mode on the camera can mitigate that effect by treating light differently.

Of course, many manufacturers make different modes for their digicams, but there should always be a manual one that you can modify to your heart’s content. Learning how to do so can really make a low-priced camera take amazing photos.

Image by uneedall.blogspot.com

Compact System Cameras

Somtimes, when torn between two options, one wishes that there was an alternative in the middle. In the case of digicams and SLR cameras, this is a common case – someone will love the compactness of a digicam, but miss the interchangeable lenses of the SLR. Or someone might love the zooming features on an SLR but hate the price point.

Compact camera taster

The Compact System type of camera attempts to take the best qualities of the large SLR cameras as well as the digicams and combine them into a perfect mix – and so far, it has done a fairly well job in doing this. In short, one could consider the Compact System Cameras as a lightweight version of a SLR camera, or an extreme heavyweight of a compact digicam. One of the main differences to the SLR cameras is that there is no internal mirror system, instead it is a more sophisticated version of the type of system found inside a digicam.

Of course, while the CSCs combines quite a few of the positive aspects of either world, it does come with a variety of drawbacks. Most manufactures wish to retain the SLR quality of interchangeable lenses. This means, however, that choice and availability suffer until the CSC market becomes large enough to warrant third parties to make new lenses. Another drawback is that while it is compact, it is still nowhere near as portable as a digicam – a CSC won’t fit into your pockets, mainly because of the presence of a lens – but for some, this is the perfect mix between SLR and digicam.

Image by which.co.uk


The Power of a Tripod

We’ve all been there – it’s Christmas Day, presents are about to be opened and you want to take a family photo. However, since it’s just your family that’s there, this would mean one person has to not be included in the photo as they have to take it – which is really unfortunate.

A rather simple solution to this is to invest in a tripod. Almost every decent digital camera nowadays will have a timer feature. All that needs to be done is to set it up, set a 10 second timer while the camera is mounted onto a tripod, and leave it to take the picture while you situate yourself with the family. There are also fairly cheap remotes available for cameras that allow you to snap a picture on command, eliminating the necessity for a timer.

Tripods are rather affordable nowadays, and can be bought for fairly cheap at most stores that also stock cameras and related equipment. Of course, there are more uses for a tripod than just the occasional family photo during a celebration.

Tripods can allow you to get creative. Many tripods are foldable and resizable, meaning you don’t always have to set up the full thing – meaning you can play with new angles and different types of shots and spice up your home photos and videos. Another use for a tripod is to create time lapse videos. For these kinds of videos, the camera must stay still for the duration of the lapse, making a tripod a perfect tool for it.

Image by metafilter.com

Canon ELPH 330

Canon is probably the most commonly recognized name in the camera and lens industry. Not only are they known for making very powerful and professional level dSLR cameras, they’re also known as the best in making entry-level, point-and-shoot type of cameras, and the ELPH 330 is among them.

The ELPH 330 is perfect for a variety of people and situations. There are very little frills and the like, with Canon on focusing on impeccable performance and perfecting the basics. This camera would be ideal for travel, especially if you’re not a photographer who sets out to capture the most perfect or picturesque landscape shots. In addition to that, the camera is very compact and can easily be operated with just one hand and will fit into any bag or even the pockets in your pants.


The photographic features of the camera are nothing to scoff at either. Despite its low price point and size, it is well capable of shooting videos in full HD 1080p quality. It is rare that people still buy standalone handicams anymore, making this a great alternative for both video and photo when on a trip with the family. Even when at home it can be used as a substitute for a video camera, ready to shoot in a matter of seconds.

A nice feature here is the inbuilt wifi connectivity, allowing for the seamless transfer of pictures from camera to computer in a matter of moments without even having to remove the storage SD card.

Image by steves-digicams.com



The Issue of Megapixels

Megapixel. It is a term consumers immediately associate with cameras, rightfully so. However, one of the trends that has developed in recent times is that a camera’s measure of megapixels is indicative of its quality of performance. This is far from the truth however, and a misconception that can lead people to buy the wrong cameras and potentially regret their decisions down the road.

When experts speak of digital SLR cameras, one might notice that megapixels are almost never mentioned. Given that megapixel standards range in the double figures for even phones nowadays, this is really not all that surprising – even mobile phones have lenses in the 13 to 20 megapixel range – which is actually more than quite a few digicams have on them.

The term megapixel merely means “1000 pixels.” In relation to digicams, it indicates the maximum resolution a picture can be taken at. If a camera has 8 megapixels, that means the highest resolution of the image will be 8 megapixels. The likelihood of anyone ever actually printing or viewing an image of that size is unlikely, and those that do would probably use professional grade equipment instead.

What really makes a camera good is its post-processing software. Once the lens captures the picture, is up to the camera’s software to process it. If the manufacturer’s software is not up to par, neither will the pictures. In conclusion, what really matters is not the amount of megapixels, but what the camera is capable of outside of resolution.

Image by spotcoolstuff.com