The bottom line is that Google chooses what it thinks is best for search results.
If you don't want the paginated pages to be returned in search results, then
noindex is the right way, but it is not optimal regarding SEO, especially if you want to attract as much traffic as possible. Google does a good job at serving the best stuff at to the best people over time. One needs to be patient.
Setting a canonical link in your pagined pages will not help promote actual content. However, you could set some
rel="prev" pagination meta tags to help Google sort out your pagination pages from actual content.
If you actual content pages do not contain much information (i.e., they could be considered as thin content) then beef up those pages with specific content. If they contain a lot of image, use the
alt tag etc... Google will find about it and have more options to server them first to visitors.
For the records: Bybe says that putting canonical on actual content pages (even if there is no duplicate or near duplicate issue) will help in your case.