Ken’s Tips On Your Pics: How we read photos

Andy has sent me two pics, one of his boys and one of his daughter. I am going to look at the one of his sons and pick out the visual clues that help us ‘read’ a photograph. The mind picks up on these clues, often subconsciously, and helps us create a story that makes some sense of what we are looking at.

This is a tightly composed shot of two boys playing at the beach. I assumed before Andy told me that the boys were brothers due to them wearing almost identical swimwear, in fact due to their similarity in size they could be twins. We know they are at the beach and not a swimming pool due to the strong sunlight and the sand in the hair and on the back of the boy on the left. They are both well tanned so they have either been on holiday for a while or live in a sunny clime. One boy is splashing the other who is covering his eyes to protect them or maybe he already has salt water in his eyes.

Andy's boys

Andy's boys

The photograph clearly shows us these things but it also has an emotional feel to it. This may be a fun game between brothers but seems to be at the point where the tears or recriminations start. We don’t see either of the boys faces and can’t see if they are laughing or not. This creates a sense of mystery and doubt.

Most family pictures are taken when everyone is having a good time and often the photographer has stopped the activity that is happening so that everyone can smile at the camera. This photograph shows brothers in the act of growing, playing games that help them mark out their boundaries in later life and is an excellent record of family life. The tight cropping and the lack of anything in the picture that distracts from what is happening means that there is nothing that I can say that would improve this photograph. A very successful shot Andy, thanks for sending it in.

Andy’s other pic of his daughter, although powerful, doesn’t work quite so well. Again this is tightly composed and a very nice shot but I find the difference in lighting on the eyes means that too much attention is given to the one eye. The angle also means that the left cheek looks slightly unnatural and gets a bit mixed up with background. I think this would have worked better if Andy had moved around to his right a little, got more of the left eye and less of the background. The shot is slightly underexposed and I tried lightening it to see if that would bring out the dark eye a bit more but that only showed up the confusion of the cheek with the background and the fact that the left eye is out of focus. This is harsh criticism for what is a very good picture but Andy is obviously a very good amateur photographer and has asked for tips on how to improve. Hope this helps Andy.

And's daughter

Andy's daughter

If you would like to improve your family photographs, no matter what standard you are starting from, then please send them to me at or post them straight onto my Facebook Page.

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