Taking Better Photographs

What better way to capture a moment than a snapshot or two (or ten)?

Family gatherings, children playing, reunions, graduations, vacations, weddings, hanging out with friends, special occasions and even Rotary meetings and projects can be immortalized and provide lasting memories through photographs.

Now, think about this, would you rather have clear, sharp photographs to commemorate your child's first piano recital, or a set of grainy, blurry shots where you're not even sure that the child is yours? You've all seen the second type on social networks, and will have realized that they don't quite look the same as the ones in magazines.

"Big expensive cameras", I hear you muttering, and while that's mostly true for the magazine shots, there are some simple ways you can improve your photographs to make them sharper and more eye-catching, whether you're using your camera phone or a simple "point and shoot" camera. As a motivator, believe it or not, an expensive DSLR camera can produce terrible photographs if you don't know what you're doing.

For example, this photo was taken with a very expensive camera, by someone who didn't know what I'm about to tell you.

You certainly don't want to be taking photos like this.


  1. Read the manual – at least the part where they tell you which buttons do what.  If you’re baffled by the manual, go on YouTube and look for videos for your model of camera.  You need to know the basic settings of your camera, just like you need to know how to turn on your TV and change channels.
  2. Hold your camera properly – camera shake causes blurry images.  Take a breath, tuck your elbows close to your body and exhale slowly while gently pressing the button to take the picture.  Maintain good posture and use two hands to hold the camera steady. Don’t move until you hear the click to confirm the shot.
  3. Check the light – if it is too dark, the camera sensor won’t be getting enough light to give you a good photo, and any tiny movement will cause major blurriness.
  4. Get in closer – if you’re too far away from your subject you won’t get a good shot. Even if you use your camera flash, it only goes about ten feet.
  5. Find the subject of your photo – focus on it by gently depressing the shutter button half way to lock in the focus.  Hold it like that while composing your photo and then gently press it all the way down to take the photo.  I keep saying “gently” because jerky actions make for blurry pictures.
  6. Keep the camera level – unless of course you are aiming for a slanted photo.  Slanted horizons make horrible landscapes.
  7. Check the background – that lovely photo of the bride isn’t that great if she has a tree sticking out of her head or two garbage cans to her right side. Beware of photobombs.

(Left photo: Google | Right photo: Huffington Post)


Definition - What does Photobomb mean?

A photobomb occurs when a third party interferes with a photo in a way that shifts the focus from the original subject(s) to the photobomber. Photobombing can be as simple as jumping into the frame as the picture is taken, or may involve an elaborate setup with costumes and props. These actions are referred to as a photobomb because they usually ruin the photo in the eyes of the intended subjects.

After you learn how to hold your camera properly, focus on your subject and check for photobombs, the next most important aspect of eye-catching photos is COMPOSITION.

The first rule of composition is the Rule of Thirds.

Imagine a grid laid out on top of your image, dividing your photo in thirds horizontally and vertically. Position important objects at the intersections of the lines.


Photo source: Photography Mad


Avoid Centering the Subject
Do not center the subject in the frame. Instead position the subject in the top third or lower third section of the frame, or the left or right third section of the frame.

Boring composition


Better composition
(Photo source: Alibony.com)

An even better composition may have been with the butterfly placed at the lower left third position, so that it is entering the photograph instead of leaving it.

Leave "Lead Room" so that it appears that your subject has someplace to go.


How to Compose Your Photo Using the Rule of Thirds: 8:02 min:


For this presentation, we are going to look very quickly at some tips for improving the following types of photos:

  1. Portraits
  2. Landscapes
  3. Food

We picked these three because these are the types of photos we see most often on social media.



The first rule of portraits is to focus on the eyes. If the person's eyes are not in focus, the whole shot looks wonky.

Secondly, particularly when taking photos of children, get down to their height before taking the shot. With adults, try not to shoot from below the subject's eye level, as this leads to double chins and up-nostril views.

With groups, try to get them organized so that you can see all the faces, and see if you get all of them to look in your direction. (NB – with large groups this can be very difficult).

Don't just take a random photo of a group of people – try to catch them while they are focused on an activity and grouped together for a well composed shot.

Get creative – ask them to jump in the air at your count.

Of course, all the rules of composition apply.






How NOT to take portraits:

Photo source: Sevenfoldmedia.com

Other important rules are shown in this video:

Digital Photography 1 on 1, Episode 72, Composing Portraits: 8:09 min:



One trick with landscape photography is to get the right light, as landscapes (and everything else) look best during the "golden hours" – the first and last hours of sunlight during the day.

Of course you aren't limited to these times, but photos get a certain kick during the golden or magic hours.


Along with the ever-present "Rule of Thirds" you should also make sure that you have a foreground element to your landscape compositions. That is, if there is a rock, or shrub or other point of interest in the lower third of the photo, it gives a better perspective to the shot.

You will have seen landscape photographs of mountains or a sunset, but with nothing of interest in the foreground or middle ground. Find an interesting group of rocks or flowers or some other object on the ground near you and recompose to include that in your photograph. A few steps to the left or right can also change the composition dramatically. Don't be content with what you see in front of you. Move around a little to find a better composition.


Framing can also be a useful visual tool to improving your photographs, so look for natural or man-made arches or tree branches, or anything else that you can use as a "frame" for your photo.


Leading lines are used to draw the viewer's eye through a photograph. They are intentional or unintentional, natural lines created in the space of the photograph and are used to create a visual narrative in the composition. Leading lines are also used to draw your eye to a focal point in the shot that you would like to highlight.


Don't forget reflections – reflections of clouds on water, buildings on calm lakes, reflections in puddles can make for visually stunning images. You just have to keep an eye out for them.




Make sure that the parts of the plate or dish without food on it are clean. Dirty dishes detract from the food.

Focus on one section of the dish and make it your subject.  Choose a perfect food specimen as your main attraction.

Go close so that the subject is in focus while the background is blurry.

Don’t limit yourself to one angle. Try using three approaches to photographing food: from above, from the side, and from an angle. Most food items look good shot at an angle, but dishes like pizza look great from above because they are flat. Tall dishes (sandwiches, ice cream, beverages) look best from the side because you want to see the height and layers.


Obviously, this presentation only deals with some very basic ways you can improve your photographs. If you are interested in specific subjects like low light photography, fireworks, event photography and others, please let us know for future programs.

Looking forward to lots of great photographs of Rotary events with your Buddy Clubs, your best vacation or travel shots, and more.

(Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by Amanda Richards)

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