5 feet.

Uncle Fred takes every picture from exactly 5 feet above the ground.

Don’t! Look for unusual viewpoints. Up, sideways, or like here, down:

Skateboarder on wet sidewalk

Skateboarder on wet sidewalk

And unusual viewpoints can include diagonals:

Dark Diagonal Church

Dark Diagonal Church

Or they can mean “table-top level”:

Reflection, photo by Michael Willems


So avoid shooting everything with the straight and narrow Uncle Fed horizontal viewpoints!

And, um… recognise the Rule of Thirds in there, anyone?


You all know the rule of thirds. Yes?

Instead of putting your subject dead in the middle (Uncle Fred does this), you put it a third of the way from the right, the left, the top of the bottom. Or where those lines intersect. Like this:

Rule of Thirds, by Michael Willems

Rule of Thirds, model Lindsay Biernat by Michael Willems

Uncle Fred would have put the model in the centre, but we find images more pleasing when we use off-centre composition like this.


As you read this, I am in Arizona.

Here is a snap from my trip last December to Sedona:

What you can see in a simple snap like this is that:

  • It is well exposed. Check your histogram if you are not sure.
  • It is sharp (even though it was hand held while I was, um, driving)
  • The sky is deep blue – perhaps aided by a polarizing filter?
  • I used a wide angle lens. This leads to dynamic and three-dimensional images, and it is easy to focus a wide angle lens and to keep the images sharp at lower shutter speeds.
  • The composition is off-centre: using the “rule of thirds”. Remember Uncle Fred, who puts every subject dead centre in every picture: leading to boring, wrong-looking composition more often than not.

A few simple guidelines can lead to better pictures. More of which soon, if I get a chance to take any!


One question you need to ask yourself is “how do I draw attention to my subject”.

One way to do that is to use colour, like in this image:

Red and green are opposing colours and add interest, but it is of course the yellow flower that draws our eye immediately. And notice how it is in the “rule of thirds” position?

Here’s another example. Can you see both the similarities and the differences?

So as a photographer, it helps if you can keep an eye open to colours.

A rose by any other name

I took this “grab-shot” at the Kodiak Gallery the other day with a Canon 7D and 50mm f/1.4 lens:

Canon 7D, 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.4, 1/250th sec, 800 ISO

This shows that with the right lens, you do not need flash. You also do not need a macro lens every time. You can use what you have, if you keep your eyes open.

Also note:

  • The secondary subject blurred in the background
  • I used exposure compensation (+) to ensure the white background showed as white, not gray
  • I am not afraid to go to 800 ISO or beyond to get the right fast shutter speed.
  • I am using off-centre composition, rather than Uncle Fred’s “subject in the middle”

Simple. Just keep your eyes open.


When composing a picture, our proverbial Uncle Fred puts every subject in every picture smack bang in the middle.

Sometimes that works. But usually it leads to an unbalanced composition.

Like a scale with a pivot, I like to think as pictures needing the weight balanced. That leads more to this kind of thing (last week in Sedona, AZ):

The “Rule of Thirds” is one example of such a balanced layout. If you do not know this “rule” (which of course is only a guideline) then please look it up now. Or just click here. And you will conclude that of course I am using that rule in the photo above. I am also using colour contrasts and converging lines.

And all that in one hand from the steering seat of a Dodge Ram. You see, the point is that this is not a conscious decision. Good composition becomes second nature, an automatic reflex. With practice.

Here is another sample:

Another important thing is that any activity, motion, pointers, etc point into the middle. Not usually out of the frame.

Have fun shooting!