In my introductory article on “Take Great Pictures” my three main points concerned light, composition and experimenting – take lots of images, and select the best. On a recent trip to Budapest and Venice I also became aware, yet again, of remembering to enjoy that which is beyond the camera. It’s what helps me see the bigger picture and take better pictures.

In the castle district of Budapest within the Fisherman’s Bastion high above the Danube, an American couple asked me to take their photograph against the backdrop of the river. I was handed an iPhone and presented with a double dilemma: the image on the screen was a fixed square format and the shot required me to shoot into the sun, contre jour.

“Do you know that this is set on taking square format photographs?”, I said.

“It’s always been like that”, came the reply.

“If you use the slide menu you can change it to a normal format”.

“Oh wow!” was the response.

“Would you like me to change it?”


Getting that great picture with a smartphone - Budapest

Getting that great picture with a smartphone – Budapest

If you are even slightly serious about taking better pictures with a smartphone or compact digital camera, spend some time learning the basics, and you will be rewarded with a great improvement in the photographs you take. The quickest way is to “Google It”; it’s a lot less frustrating and someone out there surely has the answer.

The second problem was to overcome the result I would give this couple if I just pointed and took the photo, as they would appear under-exposed (dark) with the background correctly exposed, so I pointed the camera towards the ground (changing the exposure). With the background washed out, the couple was correctly exposed, so I moved the iPhone up and quickly took the picture before the camera had time to adjust. I did this trick twice, explaining that I was a photographer. Their comment: “So we can expect great photographs then?”

“I hope so”, I replied, and disappeared into the crowd.

I checked the iPhone manual online but could not find how to adjust or control the exposure other than using automatic exposure. This is not unusual either for Apple or other products. A Google search produced the answer right away: had I tapped and kept my finger on the screen while pointing the camera towards the ground, it would have locked both the exposure and focus, and in this case worked for what I was trying to achieve.

Rialto Bridge Venice

Rialto Bridge Venice

Years ago, I published an article with accompanying images entitled “A Tourist In Paris”. It was the result of the accident in which Diana, Princess of Wales, died and a tragic new tourist spot, the replica of the Liberty Flame at Pont d’Alma, was added to the tourist trail. Over a three week period, I photographed tourists in Paris, and as an observer became fascinated and gained invaluable insight into the way people want to be photographed in front of whatever tourist attraction they are visiting.

I am still fascinated by this. In the two cities I just visited I could not help but be drawn into watching this same procedure, except now it seemed to be so difficult to get a picture, as so many others were jostling for the same position. How was I to get an image that said “Venice”? I asked one Gondolier who dismissed me with a shake of the head. I asked another and, with a nod, I had his reluctant permission. I am rightly proud of his sneering portrait!

“The Gondolier” Does this say Venice? For me it does!

“The Gondolier” Does this say Venice? Well just about!

In the crowded lanes and quaint bridges I spotted a young woman adjust a mask en dentelle. As we approached each other on a small bridge I pointed my camera and with accepted eye contact she said, “Uno minuti!” She gave me perhaps all of fifteen seconds, but I got my picture. Does it say Venice? I think so.

“Uno minuti”. Brief encounter

“Uno minuti”. Brief encounter

If you are visiting a popular tourist destination, look for detail, isolate a subject – and I can’t stress this enough: experiment, taking as many images as you can. Select the best, delete the rest. Take time to wander away from the crowds and you may surprise yourself. It’s all part of the bigger picture.

The waiting gondolier. A different kind of portrait – always experiment

The waiting gondolier. A different kind of portrait – always experiment

Part of the “Take Great Pictures” series – World Photo Adventure.

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