In our last column, we discussed several smartphone camera app features that provide the user with a variety of options. Today we are going to share some hints we’ve learned over the years for composing wonderful images.

First, we suggest you turn on your grid. The grid is a set of four intersecting lines that make your camera app screen look like a blank tic tac toe game. The grid helps you determine where to place the main item of interest in your picture. Never fear, the lines do not show up in your picture when you text, email, or print it.

Turning on the grid is an option. On an iPhone, you would go to Settings and then scroll down to Camera. Androids have their camera settings right in the app.

Once you have turned your grid on, following the Rule of Thirds is fairly easy. The Rule of Thirds suggests that you do not place the main object of your image smack dab in the middle of the frame, but rather to the left or right. The upper left or right-hand intersections of the grid lines are often the best guides to placing the main object of interest in the image. For example, if you are taking a picture of a bright red cardinal at your bird feeder, use the grid to help create a memorable image with the bird and feeder in the upper left cross-hairs of the grid. In fact, professional wildlife photographers often suggest that the focus should be on the eyes of the subject. Therefore, place the grid intersection right on the eye of the cardinal.

Using the burst feature of your camera app (hold down the shutter to take multiple images) when taking pictures of wildlife is great fun. You can delete the poor images and keep the one stunning image you capture.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken so experiment with the placement of your main subject. The beauty of digital photography is that you can play around and then easily delete the images you do not like.

Another rule to consider is the Rule of Odds. Many professional photographers keep this concept in mind when photographing a still life or groups of people. Evidently, an odd number draws the eye in and keeps it focused on the objects to find a pattern. Naturally, there are times to ignore this rule such as photographing couples. It makes no sense to add a third person.

During the holiday season, there will be opportunities for still life photography — decorated mantles, groups of packages, snow-draped trees, and holiday culinary delights. If possible, take time to think about the Rule of Odds as you decide what to include in your picture’s composition.

Look carefully at a picture of a landscape. Chances are the artist or photographer has used Leading Lines to draw you into the picture. The leading line might be a row of trees, a river or a path, or perhaps a curving wall or a tunnel.

No doubt you will be outside this holiday season and see a scene that you want to capture. Perhaps it will be the sparkly holiday lights in downtown Bath, Brunswick, or Freeport or the Popham shoreline dusted with fresh snow. As you compose your picture, look for a leading line that will draw your viewer into the scene—a line of ever-shrinking street lights marching down the street or a row of seaside cottages perched at the edge of a beach.

Everyone takes pictures of loved ones during the holidays. Sometimes it’s a portrait with the subject looking directly into the camera lens. But often, we are trying to capture a moment that signifies joy, love, and/or excitement. We want the picture to tell a story. A strategy for “capturing a moment” is to have the subject’s gaze looking away from the camera.

For example, I have a picture of my family on a whale watch where everyone is listening intently to the guide and not looking at the camera. Every time I look at this photo, I am immediately transported back to a fabulous vacation in the San Juan Islands with family I don’t see very often. It evokes a happy memory and tells a story. Isn’t that what you want from your holiday pictures? This year, don’t say “Look here at the camera,” instead, be stealthy and snap the picture when your subjects are engaged in an activity.

So often we just take pictures from the perspective of our eye level. This holiday season, try different perspectives: above your head, waist level, and from close to the ground. You will see entirely different images!

“But I won’t be able to easily reach the shutter in these seemingly awkward positions.” Absolutely right. However, there is a solution to that problem. Did you know you can trip the shutter with the volume buttons on your smartphone? Try it. Hold your phone with the camera app open at waist level and press the up volume button. You should hear a click and have a new picture in your Photos or Gallery app. In addition, plug your earbuds into your phone and use the volume button on the cord to snap a picture. These options for setting off the shutter allow for creative picture taking.

Another creative approach to holiday photography is using reflections. Pools or puddles of water, mirrors, and windows are all ways to look at a scene differently. The result is the original subject plus a reflection of it.

Try this: After the next rain, go out and look for a puddle that has a pretty reflection in it. Holding your phone horizontally with the volume button on top, scrooch down as low as you can so the phone is at a right angle to the puddle with the screen pointing away from you. Snap a picture. Hopefully, you will get an interesting image. Or, holding your phone vertically, set it at the right angle next to a window or mirror that is reflecting an interesting scene. Again, you want the volume buttons on the side you can easily reach so you can release the shutter.

To be honest, this technique can be tricky and you will probably end up with a few duds of pictures. Trash them. However, if you are willing to stick with this approach and practice, you will eventually find yourself creating some lovely images.

One last strategy to try is what we call “fill the frame.” It is especially effective with flowers and plants but could work with other things. Basically, instead of taking a picture of an entire flower or object, you fill the frame with a smaller portion of it. Poinsettias will soon be gracing homes. Fill the frame with one blossom. And…remember the Rule of Thirds—use the grid lines in the upper left-hand side to focus on the yellow center of the flower, and you will have a stunning image.

As we advised in our last column, it makes sense to practice with your camera app’s features ahead of any special events where you will be taking pictures. The same is true with composition strategies. We almost always have our phones with us which means we have a camera with us. Practice everywhere—the grocery store, on your daily walk, or while finishing fall cleanup in your garden. Subjects for cool pictures abound. But, most of all, have fun with your photography!

BoomerTECH Adventures ( provides expert guidance and resources to help Boomers and older adults develop competence and confidence using their Apple devices. Boomers themselves, BoomerTECH Adventures rely on their skills as educators to create experiences that meet individual needs through videos, Zoom presentations, tech tips, and timely blog posts.   

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