Mike Valeriani

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How to Take Good Pictures

"The Secret of Taking Good Pictures"


Mike Valeriani example of how to take good picturesHow to take good pictures? Many people ask me this question all the time and my answers are always the same, regardless of the continuous technological developments.

Photography is a well recognised form of art and it must be treated as such. You will not take good pictures simply because you have an expensive camera with all the latest features. Images must be “composed” first and captured after. You must look at a scene and decide what you want your future photograph to say.

John Szarkowski once said that "the basic material of photographs is not intrinsically beautiful. It's not like ivory or tapestry or bronze or oil on canvas. You're not supposed to look at the thing, you’re supposed to look through it; it's a window". Now, think about this and start creating an image in your head of what you want. This is the very first step in learning how to take good pictures.


Photography has a lot to do with design and composition and these elements are something that people not only often ignore, but even when they are aware of the clear benefits they bring to an image, they prefer to concentrate on something else.


Mike Valeriani example of how to take good picturesThe Rule of Thirds:

Divide your image into nine parts and make sure to position your subject or relevant objects along these lines, or at the points where they intercept. The image will be visually much more interesting than if the subject was in the center. See the photograph of the seagull flying away. This can also be achieved in portraiture, as you can see below.

The Balance of Elements:

So we agree that the subject should not be at the center of an image. This doesn’t always mean you should leave all the rest of the image empty. Carefully filling empty spaces is as important as positioning the subject. In the second example you can see how I gently balanced the street lamp with the mountains on the right.

Also remember that in art each case requires an individual assessment and that you cannot apply a rule to all cases.



Mike Valeriani example of how to take good picturesLines:

Lines are an extremely important design element in the composition of an image, especially imaginary lines.

These are lines that are not actually there, but your eye will inevitably follow their path, like the lines created by the direction in which the subjects look.

Frame Your Image:

Not the frame you silly! I mean create a frame with objects in the photo itself, such as tree branches, arches, windows, etc.

The photo of the San Francisco cable car below in the center, is a perfect example: the front window creates a perfect frame that will make a more focussed images that naturally leads the eye to concentrate on the main point of interest. As you will notice, I shot this image also using the Rule of Thirds.



Mike Valeriani example of how to take good pictures

Repetition of Design Elements:

The repetition of design elements produces a magnet effect on any image. It is inexplicably interesting to the human eye, as if it was searching to an end or a solution to an apparent abnormality to reality. The scene of the arches shot in Algeria, represent an average building, so what makes it interesting? Our eye sees at 180ยบ therefore it sees the “whole picture”. In taking away the unnecessary by cropping the image to the essence of it, you enhance the effect of the design element repetition, obtaining something that attracts the eye.


A Journey Through the Image:

Mike Valeriani example of how to take good picturesWhen nicely balanced, design elements can take you hand in hand to a journey through the image. This produces an interesting photograph that people will want to look at.

These are often unconscious reactions to your visual experience, but that will influence your brain to liking a particular image, even though you can’t explain the reason why.

Let’s take as an example the image on the left: your eye is caught by the words on the corner of the bus on the left, which include an exclamation mark – usually a item that attracts the eye in western cultures. Your eye is then pulled to the bus in front, in an natural eagerness of the human being to find out what’s ahead. Then you are taken back to the bus on the right, because (in western cultures) we are used to examine things from left to right and from top to bottom – same as out writing. Then your eye is caught by the standing conductor, who is looking to the lower right, taking your eye outside the image. There is a journey through this image, which is definitely more interesting than just a plain image that doesn’t lead you anywhere.


Mike Valeriani example of how to take good pictures





Another example of lines leading outside of an image and making you wonder what's there at the meeting point.




Mike Valeriani example of how to take good pictures


Mike Valeriani example of how to take good pictures


The Fibonacci Theory:

The Fibonacci spiral has well proven through the centuries to be a great design solution for pretty much anything, spanning from the design of homes, to the creation of sculptures and ultimately of images. The theory was first published in the book Liber Abaci by the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa (later known by his nickname Fibonacci) in the 13th century . The image on the left is a splendid example.



Mike Valeriani example of how to take good pictures


Unexpected details are good eye catching elements for any image, like the bride’s hand on the left image. The right image shows that a good Rule of Thirds can also be used in portraiture, along with imaginary lines.

For more information see How to Take Good Pictures from my other web site. Also check out the Photographer's Gallery for inspiration. It is London's largest Gallery dedicated to Photography.





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