Shropshire One-to-One Photography

It’s been a busy time with the Shropshire one-to-one photography courses this last few weeks, and I’ve certainly had to cover a wide range of interests and needs from the photographers

shropshire one-to-one photography courses
Landscape Photography in the Shropshire Hills. Brian Pierce on his one-to-one photography course. The weather closed in soon after this picture was taken – but not before we had managed to get some good photographs of this wonderful scenery

On my Shropshire One-to-One photography courses I seem to have entertained just about everyone. From keen landscape photographers to students who wanted to get to grips with the mysteries of Street Photography. There have even been several photographers who preferred not to go out taking pictures at all – what they really wanted was to sit and talk about camera techniques and how to get more from their camera gear.

That’s all fine with me. Here in beautiful Shropshire we can cater for all areas of good photography whether it’s in town or the spectacular Shropshire Hills.

indoor photography - Shopshire one-to-one photography
Checking his pictures in the Shrewsbury undoor Market Hall on a Shropshire one-to-one photography course – student Nigel Greenaway really got to grips with high ISOs and low light.




There’s not been much time to arrange and plan future Photography Workshops. Still, I do have two short and really interesting ones coming up in October – so please book early as I take only six photographers on each of these.

Wednesday 17th October
7.15pm – 9pm
6 photographers only

Saturday 20th October
10am – 12.30pm
6 photographers only

It will be great to welcome photographers of all abilities and experience on both of these Photography Workshops – they are intended to be instructive, enjoyable and fun.

Just contact Philip Dunn if you’d like to know more about any of the photography tuition he offers in Shropshire


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One-to-one photography course in Ludlow

One-to-one photography course in Ludlow

I had a most enjoyable one-to-one photography course in Ludlow the other day. But then, it’s always great to work with a real photography enthusiast who is keen and eager to learn.

one-to-one photography course in Ludlow - lady student on photo course
Amanda at work with her Canon 760D during her one-to-one photography course in Ludlow

My student for the day, Amanda, lives in Shropshire, so she did not have far to travel. She took up photography seriously just six months ago when she bought her Canon 760D and a couple of very nice Sigma lenses. I realised very quickly that Amanda is not a lady to do things by halves. She came with a very clear idea of what she wanted to achieve from her one-to-one photography course with me.

In Amanda’s case, this was to clarify a short-list of priorities that would help her every time she raised the camera to take a picture.

Achieving good photographs

Happily, Amanda has been achieving some very good photographs, but admitted she was getting confused by the overwhelming amount of information – much of it conflicting – that is available these days.

Amanda had decided to enrol on an online photography course for complete beginners, and this did help her a great deal. I took a quick look at some of the printed pages from her course, and have to say that I was impressed by its simplicity. The fact that the tutors assume absolutely no knowledge whatsoever is an excellent starting point for any beginner’s photography course. So, if you are looking for an online starter photography course, you might like to check out

However, as useful as online photography courses can be – when they are genuine – nothing can possibly beat personal tuition with a professional, and that’s why Amanda booked a one-to-one photography course in Ludlow with me.

Basic photo techniques

The weather the other day was not very helpful for photography, and light was in seriously short supply, but nevertheless, I was able to unravel several misconceptions that were causing confusion. For instance, I was able to clarify the ISO settings, and the use of Exposure Compensation when using Aperture Priority mode. We practised these basic photo techniques with a session of picture taking in Ludlow’s open market.

Former student’s photography exhibition

One happy incident occurred as I was explaining to Amanda how to find beautiful pockets of natural light in unlikely places while working outdoors even on dull days.

one-to-one photography course in Ludlow - pictures in the market
Dummie’s legs on a market stall. Photographed while working with my student on a one-to-one photography course in Ludlow. No reason why you can’t have a bit of fun while taking pictures

A lady stopped and asked us if we had seen the photography exhibition. She invited us into a tiny gallery with winding wooden stairs leading up to more galleries in the lofts. And whose work should be adorning the walls, but an old student of mine, Maria Falconer – who went on to become a Fellow of the RPS.

Maria came to me as a beginner some years ago when I ran one-to-one photography courses in Scotland – she was another lady who knew what she wanted to achieve – and went out and achieved it. So if you happen to be in Ludlow, pop in to The Photo Space in Quality Square to see Maria’s photographs.

I got a lovely email from Amanda after our one-to-one photography course in Ludlow. She said:

“I just wanted to say a huge thank you for the one-to-one session in Ludlow today – I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve come away with some key elements to help move my photography to the next level which is exactly what I wanted.

I’m really looking forward to joining one of your group sessions soon and also booking another one-to-one in the near future.

Thanks once again.


You can join me for one-to-one photography tuition in Shropshire. We can tailor the day and tuition to suit your needs and experience.



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First Photography Workshops in Shrewsbury

A great start for the first Photography Workshops in Shrewsbury

What a great day we had for the first Photography Workshops in Shrewsbury. The sun shone for our Street Photography session, so there were lots of people about to photograph. Even the threatened rain failed to arrive for our Mixed Light Photography Workshop in the evening.

street photography workshops in Shrewsbury, photographer shows his oicture
The joys of Street Photography in Shrewsbury. My student Joe Banin shows his picture to his willing subject during our morning photography session


The people of Shrewsbury exceded all my expectations. Yes, I knew Shrewsbury was a friendly town, but this really has to be the most welcoming place in England. People were actually stopping us in the street and suggesting subjects for us to photograph.

first Photography Workshop in Shrewsbury
Starting with a blank canvas – a cartoonist gets to work during the Cartoon Festival in Shrewsbury. The atmosphere was great and pictures were everywhere. Perfect for my first Photography Workshop in Shrewsbury


Cartoons in the street

Our Street Photography Workshop coincided with a Cartoon Festival in the centre of town. Some of Britain’s most successful cartoonists were drawing live in the street – they made great subjects for the photographers. There was live music in The Square beside the old Market Hall, and one delightful elderly lady danced a little of Rock n’ Roll for the cameras. Altogether, the atmosphere was tremendous.

Photo friendly Shrewsbury

The friendliness followed us into the new Market Hall, where the traders and customers seemed to take real pleasure in being photographed and having a laugh with the photographers. We photographed people on the fruit stalls, in the book shop and on the music and the flower stalls. What a tremendous start to my new Photography Workshops in Shrewsbury.

Photographing hot dogs

When we moved on down through The Quarry to the banks of the River Severn, the laid-back attitude was just the same. We photographed families taking their children for a canoe ride, a couple feeding their dog ice cream, people crossing the beautiful Kingsland foot bridge.

first photography workshops in shrewsbury with Philip Dunn
There’s so much to photograph in Shrewsbury – and not just the beautiful old buildings. The people were extraordinarily welcoming to the photographers


photography workshops Shrewsbury with Philip Dunn - dog eats ice cream
Cool Shrewsbury… on a hot day, this hot dog cooled off with an ice cream by the banks of the River Severn.


Back in the evening for Mixed Light Photography

mixed light photography in Shrewsbury
Photographer hard at work in the dark – learning the tricks and techniques of mixed light photography in Shrewsbury


As you can see, first Photography Workshops in Shrewsbury were divided in two – Street Photography and Mixed Light. We went back to the Kingsland Bridge for the evening Mixed Light Photography Workshop. the deep blue, high temperature light in the sky made a wonderful contrast to the lights of the Boathouse pub which were reflected in the water of the River Severn.

Date for next  Street Photography Workshop in Shrewsbury – 30th June

rock 'n roll lady shrewsbury
Rock ‘n roll lady – she couldn’t help moving to the music when the photographers appeared in Shrewsbury. This has to be the most photo friendly town in England

Altogether a very rewarding and enjoyable day. So much so that I have now arranged another Street Photography Workshop in Shrewsbury for 30th June. I would like to have fixed another Mixed Light Photography Workshop on the same day, but by mid-summer, I thought that the sunset is so late that students coming by train may have difficulty getting home.

More Photography Workshops in Shropshire to come.

Find out more about Photography Courses and Workshops in Shropshire with Philip Dunn



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Night Photography in Shrewsbury

Night Photography Shrewsbury

I’ve been meaning to do some night photography in Shrewsbury for weeks, and last night I got my chance. I had nothing special in mind, just a gentle stroll around the town with my camera and tripod. My aim was to enjoy myself.

mixed light photograph of English  Bridge Shrewsbury. Philip Dunn
Mixed light photograph of the English Bridge in Shrewsbury.  A 5 second exposure has given a pleasant silky look to the flowing water of The River Severn

Which camera?

I took my trusty little Fuji X-Pro 1 rangefinder camera and my folding Gitzo Traveller tripod. Not forgetting an old-fashioned cable release. That’s because, sensibly, the shutter button on the X-Pro 1 has a real screw fitting on top. So no remotes needing batteries, no electronics to fiddle with, or wires to get tangled. Just a proper, basic 9 inch cable release with a button press.

night photography in Shrewsbury - bowling match by flood light, Philip Dunn
Almost dark, but the crown green bowlers bowl on under flood lights in Shrewsbury. ISO 5000 was needed to ensure a usable shutter speed – but it was not quite fast enough to stop the moving bowl

Which Lens?

My lens of choice on the X-Pro 1 is an 18-55mm f2.8 Fujinon – beautiful quality and simple to use.

From the high ground near Shrewsbury Cathedral, I saw that the Old Shrewsbury Crown Green Bowling Club greens were in full use as the light faded. Flood lights were coming on and there was obviously a competition in full swing. As always with the people in Shrewsbury, the club was very welcoming and enjoyed the idea of me taking some photographs.

night photography in Shrewsbury. Welsh Bridge, Philip Dunn
Night Photography in Shrewsbury – now it is almost completely dark and the blue has gone from the sky above Welsh Bridge. This needed an exposure of 10 seconds

ISO and exposure

I upped the speed to ISO 5000 and opened the aperture to around f/3.5 for the shots of the bowlers. This gave me a workable shutter speed of around 1/125th sec. Still not fast enough to freeze those bowls, though.

Next I moved on take a mixed light picture looking across the River Severn towards the English Bridge. The biggest hazard here was constantly having to say hello to the lines of joggers who used the riverside path for their training. The Shropshire Shufflers came by with their coach. What a jolly, polite group they are. You don’t often see joggers with smiles on their faces – the Shufflers are an exception.

Night Photography

night photography in Shrewsbury cobble stones. Philip Dunn
Shiny cobble stones and black and white buildings help to create atmosphere in this picture taken during my session of Night Photography in Shrewsbury

I moved on the the Welsh Bridge at the other side of Shrewsbury. By now Mixed Light photography was turning rapidly into Night Photography in Shrewsbury. The sky had lost its glorious blue and was almost black. However, I decided to take a picture anyway.

Hand held

A brief stop in a cobbled side alley produced a another picture. No tripod, just that ISO 5000 again and an aperture of f/5 gave me a shutter speed of 1/8th sec. This was hand held therefore I rested the camera against a wall. I’m getting lazy.

Altogether a pleasant hour taking pictures and meeting people. No award-winning photographs, but I can definitely recommend a session of Night Photography in Shrewsbury.


You can join Philip Dunn on a Photography Workshop or a one-to-one Photography Course

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Press Photography Career

Press photography career

There can be no doubt that pictures can our change lives. One photograph in particular certainly had a profound effect on me and my press photographer career. When I first saw this picture, by Fleet Street photographer Ron Burton, it cemented my determination to work one day for a national daily newspaper. I was going to go to Fleet Street myself.

press photography career - Red Arrows by Ron Burton
Ron Burton’s classic press photograph of the Red Arrows. This picture had a profound influence of my press photography career. Ron was a staffman on the old Sun at the time. You can see this and more of Ron’s great photographs at Life Behind the Lens


World’s first modern-day selfie?

Ron’s great image also just happened to be one of the world’s first selfies.

When I looked at a newspaper, it was rarely the newspaper articles themselves that captured my imagination. More interesting to me was how they had been photographed. Also the fact that a photographer was actually present at major news events. Here, in Ron Burton’s picture was the proof. Here was the face of the photographer himself – right at the centre of the action, flying with the Red Arrows. I certainly wanted a slice of that action in my press photography career. Inspired by this idea, I went from local newspapers to become the youngest photographer ever to be invited to join The Daily Express way back in 1973.

Golden Age of Fleet Street

Ron Burton was one of the ‘old school’ of press photographers; a gentleman and a professional through and through. He came from an ordinary working class background and rose, during the Golden Age of Fleet Street, to the very top of his chosen profession. Ron’s meticulous planning of every assignment and his daredevil courage in his pursuit of the picture was well known among his colleagues.

Ron’s photograph of the Red Arrows actually took six weeks to plan. He somehow managed to persuade the Red Arrows to fly in a ‘stepped-up’ formation so that he could get a better photograph – a dangerous manoeuvre because it is difficult for the pilots to get a clear view of each other.

British Press Photographer of the Year

The picture was part of Ron Burton’s portfolio that won him the coveted British Press Photographer of The Year Award in 1965. An award Ron was to win three times. I met Ron at one of these award ceremonies on one of the occasions I won the News and the Feature Sections. I’m proud to say that we became friends. I remember his pleasure when I told him just how much his picture had influenced by press photography career.

Read more about Fleet Street photographer Ron Burton

Sadly, Ron Burton is no longer with us, but many of his iconic newspaper photographs can be seen – and bought – on the website Life Behind the Lens website, which celebrates his press photography career.

Join Philip Dunn for a photography workshop in Shropshire


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Street Photography Techniques

Street Photography techniques

Let’s take a look at two very different Street Photography techniques needed for capturing great photographs in the street. One of these methods involves a degree of premeditation and planning. The other technique puts to use the most basic requirements for any street photographer – awareness and quick responses.

Both the photographs below were taken in Venice during one of the photography holidays I organised there until quite recently. Each situation required a very different approach in photo technique.

I reckon Venice is among the best places in the world for a photographer to find out if he, or she, really has an aptitude for street photography. Come on – if you don’t enjoy capturing pictures in Venice then maybe you’d be better looking at landscape or some other branch of photography.

Spotting that picture possibility

Street Photography Techniques in Venice - Naval officer in cape, Riva, Ca Di Dio, Venice, Italy
Naval officer in cape, Riva, Ca Di Dio, Venice – photograph by Philip Dunn


To illustrate the first of our two Street Photography techniques here’s a picture taken near the Arsenale – the historic naval dockyards of Venice. The whole place is still in use and it is common to see naval officers in their stylish Italian Navy uniforms coming and going along the quays beneath some splendid buildings.

I had spotted the likelihood of a picture using this particular building as a background some days before this photograph was taken. Fine, but a good background needs a good subject in the foreground. The naval officers were an obvious choice.

Planning the picture ‘trap’

The first decision with a premeditated picture like this is to decide the best time to capture it. In this case, morning was no use because the light was behind the building. As I wanted to emphasise the colour of the building, I knew it was best to be in position in the early evening. That was when the sun would be on the wall. Also, this has had the added bonus of casting a shadow from an ornate street lamp (out of shot) onto the wall to add an interesting detail.

The next step was to wait for the key subject. This proved less easy that I expected, and it took two evening visits before a suitable one made an appearance.

Then the important thing was the timing of the picture itself. When photographing people walking it is essential, in most cases, to ensure that the subject’s legs are seen to be striding out. This is easy enough, but it does take a little practise. It is just too easy to make a walking person look as if they are stood on one leg. Therefore, do not press the shutter out of sync with the person’s strides.

The alert street photographer always wins

street photography Venice Rio della Pietra. Woman on balcony above canal
Venice – Rio della Pietra. San Giorgio Maggiore in distance. A woman on her balcony. Photograph by Philip Dunn


My second photograph of Venice was the result of an immediate response to something that happened without the slightest warning. This photograph is a good example of the need for a street photographer to be alert and aware of what is happening around him.

Like any photographer in Venice I am captivated by the views down the canals between the old decaying palaces. I was looking down this canal with my camera around my neck but not held in my hands.
Then the window on my left was opened suddenly and the woman stepped out onto the tiny balcony. She banged those trainers together just twice to remove the dirt off them. Within seconds she had disappeared back inside the house.

It was time enough to raise my camera and get just one shot.

Camera at the ready – always

Had my camera been over my shoulder – or, even worse, in my camera bag – I would not have caught this picture. Therefore, a picture that illustrates that Venice is not just a showcase of old, damp palaces, but a place where ordinary people actually live, would have been missed.

Two tips for better street photography techniques

  • Plan ahead, and consider picture possibilities based on a background – then wait for the subject.
  • Always have you camera readily to hand and be aware of what is happening around you.

We may not have so many canals or palaces, but nevertheless, I can demonstrate both these techniques when you join me on a Street Photography Workshop or one of my 121 photography courses in Shropshire.

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Street Photography – myth and fact

Street Photography – myth and fact

How do we unravel all this Street Photography myth and fact? Well, for a start, my personal definition of Street Photography is a very loose one. Beach, market place, pub, back yard, farmyard or open street, it’s all the same to me. The fact is that If I can find visually interesting people to photograph, I’m quite content.

What is common to my street photography is a lack of pre-arrangement. So it follows that in almost all cases, I
have never met my subjects previously. Therefore, each photograph is a result of a chance encounter with a
complete stranger. My aim has always been to make the best pictures out of each and every encounter.

Street Photography myth and fact. Young girls on scooters in a Venice street at dusk. Behind the girls is a vegetable stall lit by light bulbs. The street goes away into the distance towards the Grand Canal
Pure Street Photography – there was no contact with the subjects in this Venice street. If the children knew I was there, they ignored me – I was just another tourist with a camera. The success of this type of photograph depends entirely on the photographer’s positioning, framing and timing. Well, I suppose a choice of subject matters quite a bit, too


Potential for pictures

Having met these strangers, and probably having taken a picture of them without them knowing, I have
sometimes made my presence known to them. This might have been for one of several reasons: perhaps they
spotted me photographing them, and so I felt it best to explain what I was doing. Perhaps it was because I realised
the potential of more pictures that could only be obtained with the subject’s co-operation. Maybe they had such
an interesting face that I wanted them to pose for a portrait.

Powerful black and white street photography portrait of an old Venetian lady with lined face
I had photographed this old lady sat at a vaporetto station in Venice. She did not know I was there. But I could see the potential for a powerful portrait of a lady with such a wonderful face. So I spoke to here and asked her to look at the camera. This was the result.



What I would say to anyone who believes that the best street photographers are able to go around in a blessed state of isolation, somehow melting into the background like a ghost and never getting involved with the people
they photograph? Never speaking. Hardly ever communicating, and never making his or her presence known.

Useable photographs

I’d say don’t believe a word of it. It’s a myth, make-believe, a nonsense. That’s because real world just is not like that.

The professional photographers who pretend to live this pretence don’t last long because they don’t produce
many usable photographs. Therefore they don’t make a living.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Street Photography myth and fact really comes to the fore when we mention great names like Henri Cartier-Bresson. In the past I’ve expressed my admiration for the great Henri Cartier-Bresson. Let’s face it, so many of his pictures are just
superb; right up there among the very best. Captured moments revealing a whole array of natural human

But do I belief all the hype that surrounded this great photographer? That he had the uncanny ability to wander
about like a shadow, infallibly pressing his shutter button at the ‘decisive moment’, as if by magic. Never
missing that magic moment? No, of course not. Nor do I believe he never asked a subject to ‘just do that one
more time’.

Passengers on Vaporetto, Venice. A man, heavily wrapped against the cold, snoozes in his seat
No contact whatsoever was made with this snoozing passenger on a Venice vaporetto. None was needed. The result is an entirely candid shot of a moment in Venetian life. Photograph by Philip Dunn


Be a realistic photographer

If you start off in Street Photography with this unrealistic ideal in mind, you are doomed to be disappointed. My hero Henri Cartier-Bresson would have done what was necessary to get the picture needed.

There will be times when you miss that magic ‘decisive moment’ – or perhaps the decisive moment you are waiting for
eludes you and just doesn’t happen. That might be the time to ask your subject to ‘just do that one more time’. Much depends how hungry you are to capture good pictures. It’s amazing just how hunger can concentrate the mind of a freelance photographer.

Street Photography myth and fact – focus on the real world

So, don’t get too bogged down with all this Street Photography myth and fact – get out there and do your thing, take the pictures you want to take in the way you want to take them. Above all, enjoy taking pictures of people in the street while being a realistic Street Photographer.

Learn more about the art of taking great pictures in the street – join a Photography Workshop with Philip Dunn

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Good Picture Composition – improve your image framing

Good Picture Composition – improve your image framing

If you want to improve your image framing there are some very simple steps you can take. The first step is to bear in mind that even small adjustments in the positioning of your camera can have a dramatic effect on the framing of your photographs.

Camera angle and position

The slightest re-positioning of your camera, up, down, to the left or right, forward or back can improve instantly your image framing. Consequently, it can make a tremendous difference to good picture composition and the atmosphere of the picture.

Taken on the same camera, the two photographs on this page are pretty simple. With no cropping, both are of exactly the same scene. Not only that, but they have been taken within seconds of each other. The difference is that I have adjusted  the shooting angle very slightly for the second picture.

improve your image framing, good composition
Picture A
A pleasant enough scene. However, by making just a small adjustment of camera angle we can begin improving the composition a great deal. Let’s start by hiding that light-toned sky, and the ugly telegraph pole can go as well. See the photograph B below

Better Composition

However, the overall effect in the second picture B is much more pleasing. This is partially because in the second picture the change of angle has the added bonus of hiding the ugly telegraph pole beside the bridge seen in A.

improve your image framing, good picture composition
Picture B
Notice that by raising the camera position a little and pointing the lens angle down slightly, the telegraph pole has gone, and so has that distracting sky

Create an illusion of depth

As a result, and simply by raising the camera level a couple of inches. a much stronger illusion of depth is created. The foreground leaves at the top are now lower in the frame resulting in these dark leaves partially covering and breaking up the outline of the top of the bridge. In fact, the leaves are now being used as a device to create a separate layer.

Even the outline of the dark leaves in the foreground is looking more substantial.

There was no need to overdo this adjustment in camera position. However, the angle and position of the camera has been altered just enough. Notice that it is now hiding completely that intrusive telegraph pole. Plus – it has broken up that straight outline of the top of the bridge.

Cut out the sky

Also, this slightly higher shooting angle of our second picture B now looks downwards a little. Hence it has the advantage of cutting out the light-tones sky altogether. Plus, the sky is now less distracting and the composition of the picture takes on a more intimate feel. Added to this, the eye is now kept within the composition and is not tempted to wander off into the empty sky.

So, if you really want to improve your image framing, remember that small adjustment in the camera angle and position can make a big difference in the improvement of your composition.

Read more about Good Composition

You will learn much more about how to improve your composition on a photography workshop with Philip Dunn.

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Good Picture Composition


How to achieve good picture composition – the first thing to realise is that good picture composition does not have to be confined to landscape photography. All pictures, whether they are photographs of people in the street, animals, portraits or still-life, will have the power to attract your viewer’s eye – and hold it within the picture – if the composition is based on sound principles.

So how do you improve picture composition?

Answers vary according to the subject. For this reason, hard rules, despite what some photographers and many artists might tell you, don’t work all the time for every subject. You can, in fact, sometimes even make up your own rules as you go along.

I have used here, quite deliberately, only black-and-white images. That’s because pictures in monochrome are much simpler to explain in terms of good picture composition. As soon as you introduce colour, a whole new set of variables are involved. For instance, areas, or even small details, of different colours can be used to balance or imbalance an entire composition. More about that in a future article. For now let’s keep it simple and stick to B/W..

The key to good pictures composition – the magic No. 3

The key to good picture composition is the overriding importance of attracting, and holding, the viewer’s eye within your picture. The pictures below conform to no absolute rules that I know of except that the human eye nearly always responds favourably to the magic number 3.

There is an obvious triangle of leading lines in the first picture A – and triangles (that magic number 3) can be highly effective and pleasing.


good picture composition
Where does your eye go when you first look at this picture? There is a clear triangle within this composition


This is a very simple triangular composition and I’m prepared to bet that when you first looked at this photograph your eye went directly to the area that contains the faces of the man and the dog, and quite rightly so. There are two reasons for this.

You are human and have a natural desire to find out what other people look like.
Your eye was guided there because that area of the image is contained by three leading lines created by lighter tones of the grass, the stick and the dog’s head.

Notice those leading lines and how they lead your eye to the most important elements of the picture


The whole image is ‘capped’ by the dark area of the skyline and dark clouds. Therefore your eye should certainly head up there to gather information, but it is naturally drawn back to the lighter area in and around our triangle.


good composition
A more complex but still triangular composition


The composition of picture B is far more complex. There are many compositional elements, three eyelines and several triangles; one of these is more dominant than the others.

I suppose if you are a vintage car enthusiast you may look at the car first. Most people will look first at the man cooking breakfast in the middle of the composition. The eye will probably move up to the face of the man in the tent because it is pulled by curiosity and the diagonal slope of the tent roof.

The eye goes round and round a good composition

Chances are that the eye will then go to the man with the dog, then to the car, where the headlight on the left acts like a full-stop. From there the eye moves back into the tent gathering information about the interior floor before starting its tour once again. Each time the eye goes around the composition it gains more information.

By the way, this pictures was taken for The Sunday Times at the gloriously-named Sandy Balls Campsite, in Dorset, It was printed very big without any cropping.

better composition
The same picture with the obvious leading lines highlighted in yellow


Three things to remember about good composition

  • Three is the magic number
  • Eye lines – that means the direction in which a subject is looking – can become leading lines
  • Lighter areas attract the eye like a moth to light

Good picture composition awareness

When this article first appeared I was asked by a well-known artist painter – ‘just how aware is a photographer of all the rules of composition when actually taking a picture?’ A painter, after all, has time to consider and plan the composition even before paint touches canvas. Often a photographer has little or no time to plan, and must capture the image as it presents itself.

Let’s take the question a few steps further and ask how much can an understanding of the rules of good picture composition help a photographer capture a better picture – or, indeed, might an understanding of composition actually hinder or even inhibit a photographer?

You can learn about picture composition on a 121 course with Philip Dunn in Shropshire

My belief is that the more you know about good picture composition the easier things become and the more you can push back the boundaries of photography and express yourself.

I know my artist friend is very talented and successful – he can paint the most beautiful portraits that capture the very essence of his subject’s personality. But he can also paint landscapes, and boats, and houses – in fact, he can paint just about anything he wants to paint.

Why? Well, mostly because he is talented, but I suggest that part of that talent is borne of understanding and training. You see, he is a very fine draughtsman. He understands the rules and the basics of good composition.

It is the same in photography.

Pictures that can’t be cropped

When I was working for The Sunday Times, I was known on the Picture Desk as the photographer who took pictures that were difficult to crop. Now, shooting pictures that could not be cropped was fine for a newspaper like The Sunday Times – they really appreciated good photography and were prepared to use big pictures that included all the photographer intended to include in the composition – however, I do not recommend this strategy for most freelances trying to sell their pictures.

In truth, you can crop any picture – you simply cut a piece off the image. But not if you want to preserve the integrity of the whole composition, the subtle linking of one part of the composition to another, and the whole meaning and context of the image.

Good picture composition helps tell the story

I enjoy producing pictures in which every part of the composition is in some way linked visually; pictures that need all their elements to tell the whole story. I am fascinated with this concept.

The example here might help explain what I’m trying to say. It shows a street scene in Jaipur, India,

How the photograph was taken

The obvious potential of a picture with the cows in the foreground was spotted immediately. So, naturally, I positioned myself to include them in a fairly wide-angle photograph of the street – a very busy place with people moving around all the time.

I took a photograph (get one in the bag – the cows might move). Glancing behind me I saw the cycle rickshaw and lady with her three children coming towards me. So I turned back towards the cows and the street scene and waited for the people and the rickshaw to pass me knowing that they might create another interesting part of the whole composition as they moved into the picture.

good picture composition
A fraction of a second later everything came together – see the final picture below


As they got just in front of me I started taking pictures – this was a single shot film camera. The first shot was just a little too early and did not work. The second shot worked perfectly.

good picture composition
Everything came together at once. The people, the rickshaw, the cows, to create a circular composition that takes the eye on a ride around the picture


The point is – I knew absolutely that the composition was going to work a fraction of a second before I pressed the shutter. Everything came together: the rickshaw overtook the family and moved further into the picture while one of the children kept his eyes on me. At this precise moment the other rickshaw up the street pulled into the road to turn around. The composition was complete – the circle joined up. I pressed the button.

I also knew when I took the picture that the composition had a circular form in which the eye might move around the light area in the middle gathering information before heading round the picture again to see more.

In conclusion, there will usually be one decisive moment when everything comes together. It’s up to you to develop that sense of timing, and that will only come with practise.


  • Develop a ‘feel’ for the moment when all the elements of composition come together and gel. This takes practice.
  • Always be aware of subjects moving around you – and check behind to see what’s approaching.
  • Think ahead – anticipate the action.

This article, written and illustrated by Philip Dunn, first appeared in Amateur Photographer Magazine

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Street Photography 1


Could you master the art of street photography? Or are you self-conscious about pointing your camera at strangers? Nervous about carrying your gear around in public? Philip Dunn offers guidance on how to relax while taking pictures and build your confidence to become an effective street photographer.

street photography child with dog on slum doorstep
One of Philip Dunn’s earliest street photography images. A dirty, barefoot boy eats a biscuit while standing on the doorstep of his home with his mongrel dog. This picture was taken in the north of England in the 1970s with an Pentax camera – using film, of course. Photograph by Philip Dunn

The most easily accessible location for photography is right outside your own front door – in the street if you happen to live in town. Out there people are coming and going about there daily lives, and the houses, buildings and surroundings themselves can make really worthwhile subjects.  Why then do so many photographers get into a sweat at the very thought of taking pictures in the street?

Because, understandably, they feel self-conscious and a bit nervous about pointing their cameras at perfect strangers. This is normal, and if you feel that way, you are not alone.

You probably also feel as if you are being intrusive. Well, in a way, you are and because this type of photography brings you into contact with total strangers. It does not suit everyone.



However, you don’t always have to tackle your subjects head-on. It is important to remember that you have a perfect right to take pictures in a public street and that there are many more subtle ways of capturing pictures of people than simply sticking a camera in their face.

It can help your street photography skills if you start by taking pictures at street events or parades, where everyone participating and watching will expect lots of photographs to be taken and will readily accept the presence of photographers. A good training ground can be a busy tourist town – again, people will be expecting photographers to take pictures. Aim for rear views of people to begin with so that they may not even know they have been photographed and will not question you. All this will help you build confidence.

street photography people
A man wearing overcoat and large hat walks through the snow covered street in Kirkcudbright with a small child. You can build your confidence by taking pictures of people from behind. Photograph by Philip Dunn



Eventually someone will turn around and see you taking their photograph. Rule Number One – press the button again, smile broadly and say something pleasant. Tell them what a great picture they have helped to create, how good they looked and how you could not resist taking it. Show them the picture on the preview screen if they are interested. Let’s face it, you would not have taken the person’s picture in the first place if you felt the subject looked at all threatening, so who knows, you may gain a friend, or a least a ‘tame’ subject who you may be able to ask to ‘do it again’.

This approach can lead to countless happy encounters with strangers and many great pictures. Most of all, don’t expect to be an expert overnight, it takes time to build technique and confidence – especially confidence.


All this will help you get started, your aim is to feel confident enough to take out you camera in almost any situation and take pictures.

Remember, good street photography is about much more than just taking pictures in the street, because anyone can do that. Your pictures must have meaning, relevance, context, focal points and sound composition that will attract and hold your viewer’s attention. Each picture must tell a story and have a sense of immediacy. Going out there, tilting your camera at an angle and convincing yourself that becasue you have recorded a ‘moment’ is not street photography.

You can learn from years of professional experience on one of Philip Dunn’s Photography Workshops


It seems like I’m always asked the following questions when I suggest we go out and take pictures of people in the street. Some photographers have to make a great effort to pluck up enough courage just to take the camera out of the bag. However, it does not take them long to see how much fun it is and how good the rapport can be with total strangers.

Will people object to being photographed?
Well, I suppose you can make a friend or a foe in 1/500sec, but mostly people will either ignore you altogether, or ask why you are taking their picture. A perfectly reasonable question that deserves an answer. The amateur photographer has got the ideal reply – “I’m just a keen photographer who enjoys photographing people, I hope you don’t mind.”

Will they become aggressive?
Very, very rarely. Common sense and basic street craft comes into play here and you will soon learn when it’s best not to point a camera. If someone tells you to ‘go away’, just smile and move on, don’t argue, there are plenty of other subjects to choose from.

Should you ask permission first?
I nearly always prefer to get something in the camera first and ask permission afterwards. Again, much depends on the circumstances, but remember, when someone says they don’t mind being photographed, you have a ‘tame’ subject and you should ask to take more pictures.

What should you do if they spot you taking their picture of them?
Press the shutter button again – that’s because the initial reaction to being photographed can create a very special photograph. Then smile broadly, hold both hands up and tell them what you are doing and why.


  • Use fast shutter speeds to freeze people’s movements. 1/250sec minimum if possible. This may require a faster ISO in poor light conditions.
  • Keep your camera set for instant use either with the correct exposure if you are using Manual mode, or use TV(shutter priority mode), or AV (aperture priority mode), whichever suits you best.
  • Keep your camera accessible – preferably around your neck and perhaps tucked into your jacket a little.
  • Patience is essential.
  • Observe and watch people closely.
  • Be aware of everything going on around you – that includes behind you.
  • Anticipate where people are likely to go – you will learn to predict their movements quite well with practise.
  • Find good viewpoints and wait for people to move into them.
  • Start with ‘back view’ shots of people… there’s less chance of you being spotted taking pictures.
  • Take lots of pictures because that ‘decisive moment’ can be elusive in the beginning.
  • Travel light – big, heavy camera bags are a nuisance and will attract attention.
  • Finally – keep your camera bag tightly zipped up when working in a crowded street. It would be a shame to lose equipment to light fingers while you are concentrating on taking pictures.
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