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Getting the most from your photos

Here is where you'll find helpful tips and techniques for improving your photographs, from both a technical and an artistic perspective. Our judges will be contributing to this page, sharing their knowledge about composition, photographic techniques, digital camera technology, post processing and more.

Table of Contents

ArticleWhere do I start? by Sarah Hansegard
Learning about photography with useful references

ArticleBouncing the Flash by Mark Van Orden
Bouncing a flash to soften and illuminate your subject

ArticleRules of Composition by Mark Van Orden
Composing with "rule of thirds" and other tips

ArticleBasic Color Correction by Mark Van Orden
White balance and correcting color errors

ArticleThe Power of Post Processing by Mark Van Orden
Using Post Processing to enhance photos

ArticleConcentrate on “Seeing” by Sarah Hansegard
Learning to artfully compose your photos

ArticleGlossary: Exposure by PixArtWeb
Learn about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO 

Concentrate on "Seeing"
by Sarah Hansegard

So much hype is put into having the right camera equipment. How many mega pixels are in your camera? What kind of film do you shoot with? Many people think that spending more money on the expensive camera is going to give them the perfect shots. Wrong.

I started with a Canon AE-1. That camera came out around 1980. It was in great working order, I had a couple of extra lenses, and oh yeah…my uncle bought it for me at a pawn shop.

Look at the great photographers from the past: Ansel Adams, Edward Weston… These individuals did incredible images, taken with cameras much more archaic than the ones we hold today. Think about this statement! If this is true, why aren’t each of us taking pictures as good as or better than these icons? There’s a simple answer to this, we aren’t really “seeing” what we are photographing.

I’d like to believe that every image coming out of my camera is a great shot. I know this is not the case. The images that I feel have the greatest potential, however, are the ones where I have truly concentrated on the subject, and understood its surroundings. Remember how I wrote about taking that extra few seconds to prepare the shot? There’s more as a photographer that you can do.

Spend time in the surroundings you wish to photograph.
Go there, with or without your camera, and take note of the objects that stand out to you. What is your eye drawn to? Is it a wisp of a fern frond in the sunshine? A particular corner of a garden you admire?

Then plan, in your mind’s eye, how you are going to photograph the subject.
Will it look better as a vertical or horizontal shot? Would it look more appealing from a different angle? Maybe you need to crouch low on the ground and get a shot of your subject looking up.
Maybe this particular location feels expansive and large to you.

How are you going to make that feeling come through the lens?
I see many opportunities in my own work, photos that have been taken of a very interesting subject, from a very uninteresting perspective. I can see why I wanted to photograph this subject, but the execution was poor. I went out; I centered the image, focused it a little, and took the shot.
Is this enough?

I still take many shots today, get them back from development, and wonder what the heck I was thinking when I shot it. The angle is all wrong, the perspective sucks, and I realize that I probably won’t have that chance to go back and shoot it all over again. I was in a different state, or even another region of the country.
What do I do? Learn from my mistakes and move on. Take note of what I missed, and remember that the next time I go out to shoot.

Think of the opening of your lens as a blank canvas.

There are basic principles of design that can be translated into your photography. These principles can be used to emphasize the feeling and/or the subject you’re focused on:

Off center composition: Usually captures an undersized object within a greater area of space. With this technique you usually see a smaller, detailed subject, leaving the rest of the frame free of substance. This is a great way to suggest a feeling of isolation.

Amplified perspective: This technique exaggerates the spatial quality of the subject, where the perspective becomes the focal point of the composition. Shooting a tree from the very base of the trunk, straight up to the top would be an example of that.

Asymmetrical balance: Balance achieved by objects that are of dissimilar size/proportion. (This is also referred to as an informal balance.) This is achieved by visually balancing two different sized objects by their placement in the composition. The technique achieves a more natural look.

Leading Lines: A framing technique that implies a recession of space; an imaginary line that leads the viewer’s eye through the image. (Like the S curve of a stream or a winding road)

* If there's one thing I learned in my fine art classes, it is to create something with visual interest that will capture your viewer's attention (and hold it). A dead center composition is rarely captivating; you want keep your viewers eye wandering through the image, noticing new details in different areas.

Here are some examples of these techniques:

Pansy: notice the isolation of the flower in relation to the rest of the frame

Tree: example of amplified perspective

Hydrangea: notice how the shadowing of the foliage on the upper left
balances the form of the hydrangea flower on the bottom right

Winding Path
Winding path: note the curve of the path as it leads the viewer's eye

Sarah Hansegard


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