Bringing a 12 year old up to speed

The eyes have it - remember the Rule of Thirds.
The eyes have it – remember the Rule of Thirds.

My 12 year old daughter had expressed an interest in photography. Her only prior forays into the realms of Daguerre were taking ‘selfies’ with her phone camera. So when she said she was interested in doing more I encouraged her.

We found an old camera at home, which had been abandoned a Samsung ST70, a compact with a mini-zoom and several modes inbuilt.

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We spent one afternoon with her trying to take shots that were pleasing to her, and the first basic mistakes soon became obvious. Composition and softness of the final image were what we had to get over first.


All good photographs follow the rules of good composition. The best known one of these is the Rule of Thirds, which by following it, made sure she improved her 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!” Teaching her to walk closer, or even by simply using the zoom finally got the message across.

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! If you also start looking critically at movies, you will see the Rule of Thirds being used with close ups.

The other problem with the ‘softness’ we found by using the internal zoom when looking at the shot on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. If it did not hold its sharpness to X 4 magnification, then it was deemed ‘soft’. There were several reasons, despite the image stabilization features in the camera. One was the photographer (the daughter) waving the index finger in the air to attract the attention of the subject. All of the image was soft caused by camera movement. Another reason for overall softness was the photographer not waiting till the camera indicated that the AutoFocus was set before depressing the shutter button. The other was the background sharp and the subject soft, where the focusing was done on the background resulting in a soft foreground.

From that simple beginning, we moved to post production editing, with simple cropping, getting 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 dog relieving himself against a tree, which never does anything for landscapes. Or it may be that the hero is too small – because she didn’t walk several meters closer (or use the zoom)!

You can do all this with post-production ‘edit suites’ or even a good Photoshop style program, with electronic crop lines. 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. However, 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 the first lesson was to remember to fill the frame to give your photos more impact. Remember to position the subject at the intersection of thirds, and learn how to crop for dramatic effect. That will improve her shots immeasurably.