Photo Tip: Five for Five

How many times have you taken what you were sure was the perfect shot, only to be disappointed when reviewing your work later on the computer? There's the trashcan you didn't notice in the corner; the stranger's elbow jutting out behind your subject. And why did that tourist have to step into the frame? These image-wrecking situations are easily avoided - if you notice them before you press the shutter button.

It's easy to be so preoccupied with capturing an interesting subject set in a stunning locale that you ignore small but distracting details like the out of focus pole jutting out from the bottom of the frame.

Photography is unique among most crafts in that more experienced practitioners often work a lot slower than those picking up a camera for the first time. Watch most any novice photographer as they approach a subject, hold the camera to eye level, take the picture and then move onto the next shot. A more seasoned shooter in the same situation puts a premium on trying different vantage points, re-adjusting camera settings, changing lenses, you name it.

And they are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the scene via the viewfinder or on the LCD display. Does this process take more time? Certainly. But it's borne of an attention to detail that eliminates unwelcome surprises later on in the image review stage.

Before photographing this plaza, I took the time to ensure that the logo was centered, the horizon level, and that there were no pedestrians entering the frame.

In this article, I want to share with you an exercise that will slow you down, train your eye to better evaluate compositional elements and increase your ratio of keepers to rejects. I call it the Five for Five technique. The next time you go out to shoot, make yourself a promise. Once you pull the camera up to your eye, spend five full seconds looking carefully through the viewfinder or LCD screen before you press the shutter. Pay particular attention to each corner of the frame, looking for any elements in the scene that detract from your desired composition. If you find anything objectionable, adjust the camera position to remove it from view and then spend another five seconds repeating this process.

Moving closer to your primary subject for a tighter shot is an obvious way to create a different composition.

Once you take the photograph, don't pack up just yet. Compose and shoot four additional images of the same subject. Get down on your knees and shoot from below. Shoot from a side angle. Get closer. Try horizontal and vertical shots. The idea is to come away with five images captured from different perspectives and angles. And remember, before each press of the shutter you are still examining the viewfinder or LCD screen for five seconds.

Switching to a vertical format opens
up a wide range of compositional
alternatives. Here, I positioned the
camera so that the steps mimicked
the butterfly shape of the logo...
 ...while here I shot at an acute angle
with the camera just inches from
the wall.
 Getting down on one knee provides a vantage point distinctly different from that of a standing position.

From one location, I've captured five separate and distinct photographs. If you're used to shooting quickly and covering a lot of ground, this exrecise is going to be a drastically different way of working. But I guarantee that while you may come home with fewer images, your reward will be more thoughtful compositions and a  greater variety of images.

Amadou Diallo is a technical writer at dpreview, photographer and author of books on digital image editing and travel photography. His fine art work can be seen at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 111
By Rambazamba (Sep 10, 2011)

Thank you Amadou for this interesting article.
I have created a flickr group called "Five for Five technique" so that folk can share their results.

Amadou Diallo
By Amadou Diallo (Sep 10, 2011)

That's awesome. I'll be sure to keep on eye on submissions.

Air Show
By Air Show (Oct 27, 2012)

When I take a picture, I try to do all that, but before I press the trigger I ask myself: "Why am I taking this picture ?"
You'll be surprised to know how many times I did not find an answer to that !… Re-composing or changing my point of view usually ends with a much better picture than I first thought :)

Irakly Shanidze
By Irakly Shanidze (Sep 10, 2011)

The tips are certainly valuable. However, the author's position is somewhat single-sided: elimination is not the only way of dealing with distractions. It is effective, but inevitably leads to "pictures of dead cities". Elements that the author assumes to be offensive for the composition are, in fact, effects of normal life. When one takes them out of the frame, picture becomes barren. Sometimes it can be necessary, most of the time lifelessness is not what you want.

An alternative approach requires more skill, but leads to better results. Instead of taking a trashcan out of the frame, make it work for the image. Do not be afraid of using people (or parts of people) as compositional elements. Try it, and you will be surprised how live your pictures will look.

By potpotdada (Sep 10, 2011)

thank you for sharing your tip...together with the author's, it adds to my ever growing knowledge of photography! :)

By hqphoto (Sep 12, 2011)

I don't think the author means for you to remove all that is life. I believe that it is more of a case of you knowing what you want to shoot, and to capture. By knowing that, you can then remove the distractions or wait for the right addition.

By increments (Sep 10, 2011)

Nice examples there of using the location. I liked the acute angle shot.
Agree with Tiffles about the keeper rate, but the absolute number of keepers may well rise.

By SimonV (Sep 10, 2011)

Great tips! Two of the most useful I've read in a long while!

By Tiffles (Sep 10, 2011)

First of all I think this series is a very good idea!

But the keeper rate will not automatically be higher - it will be one fifth of before in the worst case since you are coming home with up to 5 times as many images! :)

Thomas Traub
By Thomas Traub (Sep 10, 2011)

Many thanks for any kind of these articles.

I love it if we talk about photographing, of making photos (remember, the photos arme made in our mind with our cams), not only about technique of cams and lenses .....

1 upvote
Thomas Traub
By Thomas Traub (Sep 10, 2011)

The dis/advantage of the current high-tech-cams is, that everything works very very quickly and we are used to do things as fast as possible.
What's good one the one side (e.g. when making sport-shots or shots of animals and children) is bad if we use this technique for making Fast-food-Pics.

We should use the time, that is saved by the wonderful technique, to use it for composing the picture.

By rambarra (Sep 10, 2011)

those pics actually suck in my opinion and for sure are not keepers

By JakeB (Sep 10, 2011)

They're just EXAMPLES of the approach.

Imagine it's the Taj Mahal, only with none of the distracting elements most noobs don't seem to notice before pressing the shutter.

1 upvote
By ipribadi (Sep 10, 2011)

Another thing I've learned shooting using the LCD screen is to turn off all those overlay display icons.
I realized tho I knew the framed shot was the entire LCD screen view, my shots ended up being not tight enough and occasionally slightly not centered.
Those overlayed icons were impairing my composition judgement!
Of course PP crop fixes this, but I'd rather make every pixel count.

By wuzzittoya (Sep 10, 2011)

I actually realized that since getting a DSLR my picture quality (I guess I should say #of good images per "trip) has gone DOWN. When I shot SLR every image counted because film was expensive, processing was expensive... with digital you kind of have to worry about shutter clicks - only 150,000 in my current camera, and maybe storage space, but even storage space is getting really inexpensive.

Part of it is just the convenience, at least it felt that way until I started shooting bigger events, capturing "EVERY possible moment" and coming away with 500+ images to go through, and finding ones where it was ME that was the problem - I was rushing.

Though you can't use this approach when you're dealing with wildlife, children, early/late light, there are a lot of times when it CAN be used, and maybe it could be that slowing down, even in the times when I don't think there's time, can still have benefit. :)

1 upvote
By CarlPH (Sep 10, 2011)

Only goes to show that good articles need not be long..good job

Jim Lowell
By Jim Lowell (Sep 10, 2011)

Good post. Many don't really look before shooting these digital days because digital is cheap and cameras are so advanced. Each pic is not an actual cost like film used to be, so we would be more careful then. I came from film, so I automatically "look" a little longer by habit today, but shooting RAW and using PSHOP later has made me I admit lazier today. I'll clone out that annoying post now. Composing the scene is still important.

By JackRoch (Sep 10, 2011)

All of the above plus one more thing made me lazy - that dratted kit zoom! Gone back to using just a 50mm plus 28mm equiv. just as I used to use with my Pentax MX - when I took my best photos. Just a personal preference but it suits my subjects/pics.

inevitable crafts studio
By inevitable crafts studio (Sep 10, 2011)

thats so true!!
i came from film too and used nothing but a manual 24mm for my first 17 years. never owned a zoom to date.

also if someone wants to make a photo tutorial series and "shoot primes" istn the first advice, somethings wrong ^^

By Klay (Sep 10, 2011)

I really like these tips articles. Us amateur photographers often don't have lots of time to take a studied approach to learning and improving. Kids to school, off to work etc... A tip like this on a Friday will be tried out on the weekend.

Thanks for the reminder to slow down. I like the idea of naming a pic before you press the shutter.

Cheers - Kevin

Andreas M
By Andreas M (Sep 10, 2011)

Good advice. A minor quibble: while the accompanying plaza pix do illustrate your point, none of them is particularly striking or interesting. Why use dull pix to illustrate your point?

By danielsonkin (Sep 10, 2011)

Last year I took a one day photo workshop in Hope Valley, near Lake Tahoe. The instructor suggested that we use a tripod, and that will slow us down considerably; which was the case. He also recommended this technique of shooting from various angles the same scene. Then we went from there to shooting the same scenes at different f-stops. The most valuable thing I learned was the idea of slowing down and taking time to look at the scene both through the vf and away from the camera. In the days of film, when every shot was money out of my pocket, I remember being much more thoughtful about the process. But since the advent of digital, I have lost something of that thoughtfulness. It's ironic, because with digital you can shoot a hundred different shots of one scene and it doesn't cost you anything, except disk space.

By pcalkins43 (Sep 10, 2011)

Wonderful. Can't wait to utilize the five for five the next time out, and to increase the number of keepers!

By gnohz (Sep 10, 2011)

Thanks for sharing the article! :)

By canondigi (Sep 10, 2011)

Good reminder to take your time. Thanks for the article!!

By BoyOhBoy (Sep 9, 2011)

Works only for certain types of photography. The 5 second "rule" is a good one to consider... and break, particularly if you have a fast moving light, as is the case with most transition weather. The time to apply this "rule" is while picking out locations in broad daylight.

Another way to slow yourself down, suggested by Thom Hogan, is to name all your shots BEFORE pressing the shutter. This forces you to examine what is important, and subsequently guide you in the choice of composition.

1 upvote
By potpotdada (Sep 10, 2011)

liked the tip "naming the shot"... thanks for sharing

By ChrisKramer1 (Sep 9, 2011)

You need to take people into the equation. On a recent business trip to Italy, the famous landmarks were literally buried under tourists wherever I went. I had a couple of hours free before the flight left and I got up at seven just to see what the city looked like without tourists. With people around, there is just too little time and space to get the perfect shot.

Another thing is lens distortion. Even with a perfectly framed shot, distorted lines of buildings and can be ruinous.

But a good article all the same. I find these features really useful.

By markkthemk2 (Sep 10, 2011)

the next time you want to take a picture of a building or something you know won't move you may want to try:
- lowest ISO
- small lens aperture (f11 or so - before diffraction)
- very sturdy tripod
- quality very dark ND filter(s)
- very long shutter time (eg 2 min(?) or more)
- a stopwatch/timer
- remote shutter

the idea is that the tourists will move too fast to be captured due to the long shutter while the ND filter(s) allow the picture to be properly exposed. this won't work if the tourists stand in front of your camera for a long time while you're exposing.

you'll have to experiment a bit with shutter time. most cameras doesn't allow shutter speeds higher than 30s so you'll have to use bulb mode to go beyond that. thats where the stopwatch/timer comes in handy ;)

my $0.02 :)

1 upvote
Bob Meyer
By Bob Meyer (Sep 9, 2011)

One of the best things I learned in my first photo class (back around 1970!) was to spend as much time looking at the edges of the frame as at the subject.

1 upvote
By potpotdada (Sep 10, 2011)

thanks for the tip "spending time at the edges of the frame..."

wedding photographer charlotte


From my point of view photography is fun,I like photography and capture wedding photographs.It is very necessary to consider few things when capture photos....Take photo from every angle, Try from horizental and vertical angle etc......

Thank you

Philippe R
By Philippe R (Sep 1, 2011)

Perfect ! 5 seconds are necessary to a good observation of the scene to be captured. Varying view angles is the key to constructive photography.
Good advice !!! ;-)

By Ethics (Sep 1, 2011)

Seattle SLU area!

Total comments: 111