by Harry Flashman
Developing the photographic eye
Photographers develop their skills. The
photographic eye is not something you are born
with. However, that skill can be learned, and
there is no age limit either. In fact, it is
probably easier to acquire the photographic eye
as you get older, as you will generally have
more time to devote to learning.
As one gets older, physical activity is
important - just getting out of the house or
condo is an enjoyment in itself. This is where
photography is so good. Give yourself a small
photo project and out you go and illustrate it.
You are exercising your photographic eye, as
well as your legs!
Photography is also an ideal pastime for our
seniors, because it is something that can be
picked up and put down at will, it is not too
physically demanding, and modern cameras can
assist in the areas where age has taken some
toll. And the end result is something that can
give you great joy, be that award winning
sunsets or just pictures of the grandchildren.
I will start this article assuming that the
reader is a very rank amateur. Probably someone
just contemplating photography. To play golf you
need golf clubs. To play photography you need a
camera. What one should you get? Get one with
autofocus (AF). There are many reasons for this,
but since sharp focus is necessary for a good
final print, let today’s camera do it for you,
as sharpness in vision is something that can
become very problematical as you get older.
Provided you can point the camera in the right
direction, the camera will do the rest.
Most AF ones are a little more expensive, and
work by moving the lens in and out
electronically to focus on the subject in the
middle of the viewfinder, just as if you were
doing it yourself. They do this quickly and
accurately and will usually give an audible
‘beep’, or a green light in the viewfinder to
let you know the focus has been set. Do not be
afraid to try the new advanced cameras, they
make life easier, so just use them to your
A digital camera does away with film and any of
the problems associated with it. Nothing could
be simpler or more fool proof. And one of the
best things about digital photography is the
ability to immediately see if the shot is what
you want. Trying to shoot from different angles
and perspectives is also exercising the
Zoom lenses also save you having to go the
distance. Is it just too much of a hassle these
days to walk up to distant objects to get
close-up details? Then a zoom lens will do it
for you. With a zoom lens it is no problem at
all to get a close-up, a wide angle and a
distant shot from the same camera position.
Maybe an autofocus digital compact camera with
an inbuilt zoom lens is just the camera for you.
Just push a button to make the zoom bring the
subject closer or farther away. However, until
you are proficient with the camera and how the
different focal lengths affect the final shot,
practicing your eye with the ‘standard’ 50 mm
lens is good practice.
Today’s camera manufacturers have taken the
fears out of flash too. Most new cameras have
their own in-built flash which comes on when the
light levels are too low, will set their own
flash power and give you perfectly lit indoor
night shots every time. You don’t have to put
the camera down when the sun goes down!
So there you have it. There are cameras
available now which can get you into
photography! If you want to develop the
‘photographic eye’, then today’s cameras will
help you. All you have to do is get the
equipment to let you use and enjoy taking
pictures. Look for suitable AF digital compacts
with built in zoom, anti-shake technology and
Pricewise you are looking at spending something
around B. 10,000. There are plenty of choices in
the marketplace. Something from the major brands
such as Nikon, Canon, Olympus. A hint to the
family around birthday should suffice.
Composition, cropping and the hero
If you want to put some interest in your photos, you have a few items to
consider. As well as complying with all the ‘rules’ of photography, your
photograph should identify a “hero”. Record shots of grandma outside Lotus
will never make hero status for anybody!
All good photographs follow the rules of good composition.
Photo this week by Larry Dale Gordon.
The best known one of these is the Rule of Thirds, which by following, I
guarantee will improve your final photographs. Mind you, this rule does
expect that you have moved close enough to your subject, to fill the frame!
Tiny people against vast expanses of background cannot be saved by any rule,
other than the one that goes “Walk several meters closer!”
But for those of you who are not aware of the Rule of Thirds, here it is.
Position the subject of the photo (that’s the hero) at the intersection of
one third from the top or bottom of the viewfinder and one third in from the
right or left side of the viewfinder.
By just placing your subject off-center immediately drags your shot out of
the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats called this the “Rule of Thirds”, but
even just try putting the subjects off-center. While still on the Rule of
Thirds, don’t have the horizon slap bang in the center of the picture
either. Put it one third from the top or one third from the bottom. As a
rough rule of thumb, if the sky is interesting put more of it in the
picture, but if it is featureless blue or grey include less of it. Simple!
With some cameras where you can make a grid pattern on the viewing screen
from the menu, such as on the DMC FZ series Lumix, it makes it even easier
to position the subject. With the vertical lines, you will soon see if you
have the subject vertical, and for horizontal subjects incorporating the
horizon, you can also make sure it is level. With other cameras, you can
actually draw the two vertical and two horizontal lines on the viewing
screen with felt tip pen. It does improve the final shots, believe me. And
what is more, this composition is something you can do in the camera as you
take the shot. It does mean that you look critically through the viewfinder
and position the subject correctly.
Now, that is not the only item you should think about with your photographs,
though it is obviously a good start! The next item is cropping, where you
get rid of non-important items from the final photo, by literally slicing
them away. These are items which do not add anything to the photograph you
have in your mind’s eye. This can be extraneous details, such as a rubbish
bin, which never does anything for landscapes. Or it may be that the hero is
too small - because you didn’t walk several meters closer!
You can do this with post-production ‘edit suites’ or even a good Photoshop
style program, where you actually do just the same as we used to with two
L-shaped pieces of card, but with electronics. Call up your print on the
computer screen and with the cropping tools you can move them around until
you feel you have the correct (most pleasing) crop. The problem comes that
after doing this, you may find (usually find) that the crop is not quite
what you wanted, so you might have to call up the image and go through it
all again. The secret is to always work on a copy, so you have the original
safely tucked away in your photo folders. With judicious cropping you can
also move the hero inside the frame to get closer to the rule of thirds.
So this week the messages were simple. Remember to fill the frame to give
your photos more impact, so walk in closer. Remember to position the subject
at the intersection of thirds, and learn how to crop for dramatic effect.
That will improve your shots immeasurably.