Composition is subjective but some rules have stood the test of time. The goal is to make images interesting, easy to view and understand.

Rule of Thirds

Divide the scene into thirds vertically and horizontally. Where they intersect near the edges is considered the ideal area to place your subject.


It is best not to place the horizon in the middle. Use the rule of thirds above. Ensure your horizons are level.

Not in the centre

Don't place subjects right in the middle of frame. Use the rule of thirds.

Move in closer

Fill the frame with the subject.


Consider the angle you are photographing from. Often photographing lower or from higher can make more dramatic pictures. Eye-level photos do work well with small children.


Often images made with wide-angle lenses have empty foregrounds. Make sure you have something relevant in the foreground, perhaps even the subject itself.



Is a small, variable opening in the lens measured in f/stops. A large aperture lets a lot of light in and is often referred to as ?fast?. A fast f/stop generally isolates the subject by making the foreground and background blur.

A small aperture lets less light in and is called ?slow?. A small f/stop can keep more of the image in focus and appear sharper.


Stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera.

Fast lens

Is one with a large aperture and is more expensive (e.g. 24-70mm F2.8 on DSLR compared with a slow, less expensive lens such as 18-70mm F3.5-4.5). Fast lenses make it possible to blur a background and foreground; use flash at greater distances; use available light instead of flash without camera shake or tripod.

Fill flash

Is using electronic flash to reduce contrast. The light of the flash brightens shadows.

Focal length

Designates whether a lens setting is wide-angle, telephoto, or normal. A normal focal length produces images with a perspective similar to the human eye. On a typical DSLR a normal lens would be 35mm.

Lens flare

Makes the picture look washed out. It occurs when a light source like the sun shines directly into the front of the lens. Sometimes it reflects inside the lens causing hexagonal patterns on the image.

Using the correct lens hood helps to prevent lens flare. A telephoto lens can have a deep lens hood that is very effective. A wide-angle lens requires a shallow lens hood otherwise it will appear in the picture causing vignetting (darkening of the corners).


Is a white surface that bounces light onto the subject, typically a portrait. It can be a 1m professional, collapsible, round reflector for $50 or you can use items such as a piece of white cardboard, a whiteboard or a white tablecloth.


Stands for telephoto or long lens setting that magnifies the image, e.g. 135mm on DSLR.


Stands for wide-angle lens setting that records more of the subject without the photographer moving back e.g. 18mm on DSLR.

Zoom lens

Is one with many focal lengths (e.g. 18-70mm on DSLR). It can be a wide-angle zoom (e.g. 10-22mm on DSLR); wide to telephoto zoom (e.g. 18-200mm); or telephoto zoom (e.g. 70-300mm).


Available light

Is any existing light e.g. daylight; overhead lights; stage lights etc.

Artificial light

Is what the photographer introduces, typically on-camera flash.

Fluorescent and/or energy-saving lights

Cast a green tinge.

Standard light globes

Cast a warm, yellow tinge.


Is neutral and has no colour cast.


  • Don't mix lighting types (natural and artificial) because digital cameras cannot correct for that mix.
  • Digital cameras automatically detect the colour and type of light source and set the white balance.
  • Avoid taking photos outside at midday when the sun is at its highest point. This will cast shadows.
  • Set your camera for the highest resolution or highest quality.

Your camera

Before you start it's really important to read the instruction manual that came with your camera as not all camera toggles and controls appear in exactly the same place.

Digital camera labelled with its parts. Digital camera labelled with its parts.
Image: Anatomy of a digital camera.
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