Last week, DigiKnow started a series on image making and covered frame orientation, rule of thirds, planning a photograph, image resolution and gave a number of helpful hints to help improve photo aesthetics.

This week, we aim to provide another two compositions to add to your toolkit and take you through using the Automatic Mode.

Where possible, we will state the differences for cameras versus smart phones.


Last week, we defined composition as how we arrange the subject within the frame (from our viewpoint) and in relation to other things within the frame.

The two compositions for this week are:

  • Filling the frame
  • Lead in (or leading) lines
Filling the frame

When novice photographers capture subjects, typically the subject is within the frame but possibly small and/or cluttered with other things in the frame, i.e., the subject does not stand out.

In the example below, the subject is the Lego person at the front. Albeit she is the largest subject in the frame, she doesn’t stand out by herself due to the other figures around her.

Credit: D Casement. Group of Lego people.

We need to ask how this can be improved so the subject stands out more and is unmistakably the subject. This is were filling the frame as a composition becomes useful.

When the camera is placed closer to the intended subject (or we zoom in), all the other distracting items are placed beyond the edge of the frame. They are no longer distractions as they can’t be seen.

Another bonus – the subject is larger and more detailed within the frame, easier to see. Win-win all round.

The image below shows the same subject with more detail and less distraction. Many of the other figures are beyond the image frame and those that are still within it are blurred.

Credit: D Casement. Group of Lego people.

Don’t forget to turn your camera/phone orientation to suit the size/shape of the subject. Moving on to the second composition this week.

Lead in (leading) lines

Think where you see lines in everyday life: architecture, roads, nature, etc. Then ask yourself how you can use these in your images to improve aesthetics.

Lead in/leading lines are useful to guide the viewer (people looking at your images) to your intended subject. Lines can be straight, curved, dotted, messy, broken, etc., as long as they lead the viewer to the intended subject.

Lead in lines leading nowhere in the scene are not as powerful.

Below, we can see dominant lines leading our view to the building in the distance (the intended subject).

Credit: Roman Fox. Example of lead in line composition to intended subject.
Credit: Roman Fox. Example of lead in line composition to intended subject.

Here is another example of a causeway being used as a lead in line.

Credit: D Casement. Sunrise at Islandhill, Comber.
Credit: D Casement. Sunrise at Islandhill, Comber.

Regardless of the compositions used, composition is the placement of the subject within the frame from your viewpoint. Thus far, settings have not been mentioned, these will have future blog posts to explain various settings and scenarios.

We now move on to the Automatic mode.

Automatic mode

Many people think the automatic mode does everything for us, that’s partly true. As image makers, we have a lot of input as well. It’s not ALL down to the camera/phone.

The first thing to think about is getting a sharp image. In camera, this involves pressing the shutter release button half-way and allowing the camera to automatically focus. When focus has been achieved, continue the shutter release press to capture the image.

Do not let go of the shutter release button when half-pressed or you will have to re-focus by half-pressing again.

For smart phone users, focus by tapping the area of the screen you intend to be sharp (i.e., the subject). Then capture the image with the phones capture button (beware: sometimes focus and image capture are the same screen press).

Once the image has been captured, play the image back and check for sharpness. This involves zooming in to the image. On Nikon cameras, there are magnification symbols with ‘+’ and ‘-‘ available to zoom in/out on the back and bottom left of the camera. On the back of Canon cameras, these two buttons are to the top right with magnification symbols.

Zoom in to see a smaller portion of the image and use the navigation buttons to move around the image to check for sharpness. When finished reviewing the image, press the magnification with the ‘-‘ to zoom out.

On smart phones, pinch zoom (i.e., put thumb and forefinger on the screen together and then move the two digits apart, the image will zoom in) to see a larger portion of the image. Then move your finger around the screen to pan around the image and check it for sharpness.

Human input in Automatic

As stated, we make some decisions when using the Automatic mode and the camera does some things for us.

We need to choose the subject and the composition. We need to consider the focus of the subject and our distance/viewpoint from the subject. It might be we need to move closer/further away or to the side of the subject before we capture it. This is to improve aesthetics.

The camera does not make these decisions, we do.

Camera input in Automatic

In Automatic mode, the camera reacts constantly to the light situation it is in. It measures the available light and calculates the correct exposure. It also measures the colour of the scene and balances it out.

When in brighter light conditions, the camera will freeze movement more and make things in the scene sharper (more crisp). In darker conditions, the camera will show movement in the scene and the results are likely to be blurred. In the latter instance, try using flash. In camera, flash will activate automatically if the camera deems it necessary.

In Summary

Remember, the camera/phone always reacts to the lighting condition it is under.

Automatic mode can be used if you have no technical ability. Composition is more important than settings, however, images captured using Automatic mode will have an average exposure/focus and can be considered an average shot. This is where composition can make it look more than average.

Images captured can be edited later, however, it’s better to get them as correct as possible at the point of shoot. Building on today’s topic, DigiKnow will look at another two compositions in next weeks blog along with Exposure Compensation and White Balance.

Join us next week for more on improving your image making.


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