Photo Tip: Steps to Perfecting The Photo You See

Posted Jan. 9th, 2012 by Daniel J. Cox

Last night, when we arrived in Nairobi, my wife Tanya and I followed our yearly tradition by stopping by the lounge for a nightcap at the Norfolk Hotel. The Norfolk is part of the Fairmont Hotel chain and it’s one of our favorite places to wind down throughout the world. We always come to Kenya at least two days early to make sure we  have time to acclimate, get rid of the jet lag and enjoy this amazing facility that Hemingway used as a launching pad into the African bush many, many years ago.

As I sat in the comfortable couch sipping my first Tuskar of the trip, the warm lights and the beautiful old world furniture stirred my creative visions.  I just so happened to have my trusty little Lumix GX1 sitting on the table beside me that gave me the option to capture what I was seeing. In this post I’m going to present the images I saw as they first began to develop. There will only be three or four pictures but I want to show you how first saw a potential image and how I eventually added or subtracted visual elements, camera settings etc. to make an picture that I really liked in the end.

This first image was what I initially saw, it was the inspiration to grab the GX1, turn the camera on and take a look at the back LCD. What I sometimes first react to isn’t always as interesting when I review it through the lens of a camera, so I sometimes check myself before working to make it right. After taking a look I new it was a go, it just needed a little something to make it come alive.

Image #1-This was the initial scene. I loved the lamp in the left, the warm inviting light, the framing of the drapes along the window and the reflections on the table. It just needed something to give it life ISO 200, Program Mode Metering on Pattern Shutter Speed 1.3 sec at f/3.5

It needed a subject and I just happened to have a very lovely candidate sitting next to me sipping her wine. My request often starts of with something to the effect of, “Hey Honey, would you mind helping me a minute. It will just take a second.” As usual, she’s always a great sport when it comes to photography and so I directed her to go on the other side of the glass and position herself so she was looking up at the interesting images on the wall.

When she first got into place I began taking pictures. It was dark and I was shooting as a relatively slow ISO of 200. At ISO 200 I had to support the camera by placing it on the table, the lens propped at an angle with the bar menu. The camera was selecting a Shuter Speed of 1.3 seconds even though the lens was wide open at f/3.5.

Image #2-This is the first image I shot using having Tanya step in giving it a human element. I originally had her stand further back but in the next two images I had her move forward to be more prominent. ISO 200, Program Mode, Metering on Pattern, Shutter Speed of 1.3 sec. at F/3.5 

The next image I had her move closer to the window so she becomes more prominent and easier to see. In each of these images you will notice I’m trying my best to put her in a location where she was placed into one of the square windows. In the third image, where she has moved closer yet, it was difficult to fit her nicely into the window frame due to the low angle of the camera being supported on the table. At this perspective one of the wooden window deciders was placed just below her neck which created an unpleasing connection in the image.

This image had the wooden deviders from the window passing through her face which obviously not very pleasing. This angle was necessary due to having to support the camera on the table to steady it for the 1.3 second exposure. ISO 200, Program Mode, Metering on Pattern, Shutter Speed 1.3 sec at f/3.5

I finally liked the position Tanya was in and all the elements had come together with one exception. Since I had to keep the camera at such a low angle, to make sure it was supported for the long exposure, the low view created a perspective where the wood slat from the widow was creating a problem cutting her off at the neck. Frustrated I thought, “Ok how am I go gin to fix this?” I picked the camera up and changed the ISO to 1200. With 1200 ISO I was able to get a shutter speed that was fast enough to hand hold the camera. Luckily the 14-42mm lens has Image Stabilization built in to it. With image stabilization and an ISO of 1200 I was able to get a shutter speed of 1/5 of a second, just barely fast enough to hand hold the camera. With the faster shutter speed I held the camera about a foot above the table which allowed me to move Tanya’s face, above the wood slat, into a better position which allowed me to capture this final picture below.

I finally am able to get Tanya in an acceptable position by increasing the ISO to 1200 which allowed me to pick the camera up off the table and hand hold it at 1/5 of a second shutter speed. ISO 1200, Program Mode, Metering on Pattern, Shutter Speed 1.5 sec at f/3.5

I hope this encourages you to take your camera with you and look for pictures in places you might not always think they will appear. Additionally, with this example I’m hopeful you realize that photos don’t always just happen, they sometimes have to be massaged in to presenting themselves. This photo is what I consider an illustration rather than a true journalistic moment. For my editorial stories I wouldn’t have had Tanya move in to the location. I would have just had to  accept the fact that the image I was hoping for wasn’t going to happen. Let me know if you have any questions.


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There are 9 comments on this post…
  1. vanessenOn Jan. 11th, 2012

    Hello, can you specify please the camera settings you used for these pictures.Thanks

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Jan. 11th, 2012


      Sorry I didn’t add this information. I’ll add that to the caption area so you can take a look. Thanks for your interest.

  2. BonnieOn Jan. 11th, 2012

    Well, maybe it could be your charm afterall. Have a fun time.

  3. BonnieOn Jan. 10th, 2012

    If it had been lower, I might have thought it was a reflection of a big, new diamond ring.

    I thought you knew by now that I don’t read directions, or things real technical. That is why I keep taking these trips, get first hand instructions. And you thought it was because of your charm I bet!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Jan. 10th, 2012

      We always love having you along Bonnie. Looking forward to seeing you our next adventure.

  4. BonnieOn Jan. 10th, 2012

    Hey Dan, why don’t you hug a tiger and give Tanya some practice with the camera??? I’ve been watching Big Cat Diary in the morning and thinking of you guys over there. What is the white spot down by Tanya’s hip in the last picture? A reflection of the flash?
    Have fun,
    TanDanFan #2

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Jan. 10th, 2012


      Your idea of me hugging a Tiger confirms my suspicions that your Red Hair is getting the best of you. My sister Teresa has red hair so I know how to handle your kind. I have to admit it would make for some good pictures and something you might even be able to get published on the cover of the National Inquirer. Better yet, it would most certainly make the Darwin Awards and rightfully so. All in all it was a nice try but remember, I’ve told you before, I have four sisters and I’m used to trickery. I’ll see you soon enough and you best be watching.

      PS. I did not use flash. Two demerits for not reading the blog thoroughly. That was a reflection from one of the lights above Tanya shining off the table in front of me.

  5. Leon SorianoOn Jan. 9th, 2012

    What a splendid tip. Often, what you see through the lens is not what inspired you to take the photo. Your detailed explanation of how you can turn it into a lovely picture is simple, to the point and very useful….Just great stuff.
    Maybe I’ll ask Tanya to hug a tiger for a special photo op, when we’re in India.
    Have fun

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Jan. 9th, 2012


      Glad to see you enjoyed the tip. As for Tanya hugging Tigers, I’ll have to override you on that issue. What would you and I do without such a talented travel organizer. Neither you or I would be traveling to such splendid places without Tanya. I’m terrible at planning trips.

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