Here, from years ago, is an assignment for you:

Put your 50mm f/1.8 lens on your camera and, using just available light, go shoot twelve things in your living room that show its character. Or shoot lots, but pick the best twelve.

Then put these together in a 3×4 arrangement, like this (yes that was my living room at the time):

Living Room Miniatures

This assignment forces you to look properly. What is it that shows the character? What makes for a simple shot? It also forces you to use the right techniques for simplifying and filling the frame. And you get to practice low-light shooting, selective focus, and so on.

But most of all, you get to think about subjects. Initially you’ll struggle to find ten – then suddenly 100 pictures will suggest themselves.

Show me your results!

Some composition techniques

This morning, I ran an outdoors workshop in Toronto, for US-based Digital Photo Academy. And I took some snaps, although I was not there to shoot.  (I think I was there to melt: it was 30ºC and 95% Relative Humidity).

So anyway: let’s look at a few of the compositional principles I used.



What was it that struck me in the image above?? The perfect symmetry. Flat water, clear reflections. And white sky (and hence water). Learn to spot reflections–just in case. This is a case where you do put things in the middle, rather than using the Rule of Thirds.

Sightsseing in motion

Sightseeing in motion.

Above: Motion. I “panned” with the bus, i.e. I moved my lens with the bus, at 1/30 second. That way, the passengers are sharp, while the background is streaked in the direction I moved my lens (left-right).

Next, this photo of a certain well-known tower:

Coilour coordination

Colour coordination

…which is a good example of framing. I am using the buildings and the tree to frame the CN tower. So it’ll go to prison for a murder it didn’t commi…. oh never mind.

Next, some words.

Culture, and progressive values

Culture, and progressive values.

People in front of signs are interesting when the words mean something. Culture. And is that two men pushing the baby–stroller? Questions are good. rather than spoon-feeding your audience, make them work out what’s happening, You can spoon-feed babies, instead.

Now to bigger matters:

"Exit Stage Left"

“Exit Stage Left”. Waterfront

Great stage, especially when seen through a 16m lens (on a full frame camera). Sharpness, symmetry, and the Maple Leaf flag.

CN Tower

CN Tower.

In that picture, we see a blurred CN tower—but only blurred a little. The framing tree is sharp. And above all else, we see… simplicity. A golden rule of good photography:simplify, simplify, simplify, simplify, and simplify.

The same applies to this:

Master of its domain

Master of its domain!

And I presume you see the Rule of Thirds being applied there too. As well as in this picture:

Fun and joy

Fun and joy.

And that picture is, of course, all about the Right Moment. And about another rule: “If It Smiles, Shoot It”. 


People and their devices..

People and their devices.

A snap of a person wrapped up in her iPhone.

Short Final

Porter on (Very) Short Final.

An airplane photo. Because why not.

And then, back to progressiveness:

A progressive city

A progressive city, eh.

Toronto really is a very progressive city. (Though now, with a career politician at the helm, I wonder).

What I need not wonder about was today’s weather.  30ºC, and 95% Relative Humidity, interspersed with frequent heavy downpours, and air that looked like it was trying to start to rotate. Those clouds looked dangerous:

Dark skies

Dark Skies. Incipient Rotation.

What was I using there? Clear subject, simplicity, Rule of Thirds.

Do some of your own now. And think, consciously, about the principles and techniques you can use. Your pictures will be better for it. Take one of my courses if you need to learn. The good news, “it’s all just technique” and “it’s all simple to learn”.

Have fun!

Take a look at my e-books:

Why go pro?

This is why. Just one example, a builder selling a wonderful, large, home in a prestigious Toronto neighborhood. So we’re talking millions. And in selling that, visual imaging is everything.

So this is what a non pro produces:


And this is what I made of that on a few seconds:


Colour, geometry, sharpness, all much better.

Details matter, and quality matters, and when you are a pro you take great care to get all the details right, both when shooting and afterward.

And I would have used a tilt-shift lens to get it straight without having to edit.

Just saying.

Crop thoughts.

Cropping your photos is important. Of course you are doing that while shooting, but you often do it while post-editing, as well. Remember a few things.

  1. There is a “feels best–orientation” for many photos.
  2. Simplify.
  3. Simplify
  4. Simplify.

Look at this:


It is clear that a horizontal layout suits this best. It’s all about those four equal sized horizontal layers. Yes, I was lucky. And see how simple I kept it. The one bird. That’s the only item other than those layers. Every item you crop out makes your photo simpler.

And this:


Also good and simple. But it occurs to me that this would also make a good magazine cover if cropped vertically, thus:

20160802-MW5D9519-1024 copy

Often, the only way to know is: try. So in Lightroom, experiment with closer crops and with altering orientation.

Have fun!



Get Michael’s e-books on and become the pro you always wanted to be,

Ducks? Or weird lobsters?

Often, we are inspired by shapes. Sometimes, shapes are odd. Like here: I am struck by the thought that these ducks could be some kind of lobster seen from above.


Can you also see how I use negative space, and how I use the rule of thirds?

Those are just some of the things you think about when composing a photo. I am writing an eighth book which will talk about compositional aspects of photography. Stay tuned! And meanwhile check my seven other books at