Better Photo Tips – Keep it Simple

One day you spot an interesting small stone wall. Just past that you notice a pretty young girl playing in a field of flowers. Behind that you notice an old weathered barn with an old tractor sitting in front. “Ah”, you say to yourself, “the perfect photo”. But is it really? No. It may be the perfect series of photos, but that’s a different story.

This picture would fail as a great shot; A) because it is far too complex a composition, and B) the camera has no way to effectively focus your attention on four different subjects on four different planes at the same time. Let’s break this down to the more realistic shots.

Photo #1 – – – You get down low enough that you see the stone wall in the foreground with the classic barn and tractor in the background. Using selective focus, the wall is sharp and the barn and tractor are a soft hazy pastel type background. 

Photo #2 – – – You lean over the fence, zoom in on the young girl with the field of flowers as the background. Using selective focus, you make the girl in sharp focus and the flowers around her gradually get softer and softer. Your camera is at enough of an angle that your do NOT include the barn and tractor in this image.

Photo #3 – – – Getting the owners permission first, you climb over the fence. You compliment the little girl on the pretty flowers; then you shoot past her using the flowers as the foreground and the barn as the background. You may again want to get down low so that the flowers become more dominant. Using selective focus, you focus on the flowers about one third of the way into the field, making them sharp and still having the rest of the field and the barn in soft focus.

Photo #4 – – – Since you already have the owners permission, you walk around the field until you get close enough to the barn and tractor. This time you decide to get down really low (you are laying on your stomach). You fill 2/3rds of the frame with the tractor. Using selective focus, you make the tractor in sharp focus and the barn is now soft focus.

These are the basic shots I would shoot in this situation. Now admittedly there are other possible combinations. You could; (for example) put the tractor in the lower 1/3rd of the frame, then focus on the barn and deliberately make the tractor itself go soft focus. This way the tractor is framing the rest of the shot. To be honest there are dozens of possibilities, but each of those still boils down to one main subject and one supporting background (or foreground).

Yes, the camera can technically take a shot with everything in it. But the human mind is only going to focus on one story, or one set of foreground/background images at a time. Your job is not to capture the universe of possibilities all at one time and confuse your viewer. Your job is to point out the individual miracles within the universe so that your viewer can appreciate them more than they ever have before.

The most powerful images in history are those that are simple and direct. They tell a story. The viewer should immediately be drawn to your image and feel an emotional impact. This can not happen if he or she has to visually sort through all the clutter you left in the image. If you want to be award winning, if you want to get published, if you want to sell your work . . . keep it simple.

Prize Winning Photos Made Easy

Photographers seeking to create prize winning photographs, or those looking to get paid the big bucks for their photos, would do well to heed the words of the wise old success author, Wallace Wattles. In his famous 1910 book, “The Science of Getting Rich”. Wattles observed that in every endeavor folks don’t succeed by doing certain things, but rather they succeed by doing things in a certain way.

He says folks don’t get rich because they do some certain, secret, specific things. Folks get rich in every field imaginable. But the ones who do best, excel because they do what they do in a certain way. Great photography is no different. Art is no different. In every different style there are prize winning works.

So, in photography, what is that “certain way” that lets some people create prize winning photographs again and again? How are they doing things in a certain way that different from the all the rest.

There are 4 critical factors that go into creating great photos. I call them the 3C’s +1.

Composition – great photography mirrors great art. If you want to be a great photographer, make it a habit to study great art. How the image is put together. The placement of objects and lines. The angles. Too many things, too few. All play a critical part in the final outcome. Remember this phrase and you’ll improve your photographs dramatically, “That one thing I do”. Each photo should be dramatizing one thing, making one thing stand out. Making one story easily understood.

Color – bright, vibrant colors. Particularly reds, blues, and oranges, carry significant weight in the judging of your photos. These colors attract the eye much more than soft pastels or dull, drab tones. The use of complementary colors will always allow your photos to command attention. Get yourself a color wheel and keep it in your camera bag or near your computer for post processing. With programs like Photoshop, it’s easy to create the colors you need, even if you didn’t capture them in camera.

Clarity – clarity has two parts. Focus is critical. Nobody want to look at a blurry subject. If your subject has eyes it’s absolutely critical that they must be in sharp focus. Sure you can blur the background or surrounding areas but your subject must be in focus. Soft focus is OK if that is the style of your work, but camera shake or other obvious signs of uncontrolled motion are a no-no. The second part of clarity was mentioned before in Composition. Clarity of purpose. You must instantly and clearly answer the viewers question, “What do you want me to see here?”

And the Plus One – you must present something different. We’re all bored, seeking some new thrill. We’re tired of seeing the same old things.We crave a new perspective. One of my simple flower shots just took top prize in a contest. Search “flower photographs” on Google and you’ll see millions of photos. What makes one flower stand out among the rest? The 3C’s + 1. My flower won because it contained the 3C’s above plus it offered a new perspective. The flower, one simple yellow Daffodil shot against a sky blue background, won because it had that +1 feature. It was shot from the unusual perspective of a bug on the ground. It was shot looking up while nearly every other average flower is shot from a “people perspective”. That is, looking down. If your viewer can say, “Wow! I never saw that before”, you’ve got a good chance to take the prize or earn big money from your photos too.

But you don’t have to be too creative or spend a fortune on props to offer something different. Now, with digital props and digital backgrounds, you can quickly and easily add tremendous value and eye appeal to your photos.

A few minutes with Photoshop and these professional, pre-shot digital props and backgrounds can quickly take your average photograph and make it a prize winner. If you’re a portrait photographer or wish to be, these backgrounds can let you make a lot more money with less effort by offering your clients fresh new scenes without the cost, hassle, or responsibilities of owning a fancy photography studio.

Digital backgrounds are a great way to take the prize.

Following the 3C’s + 1 is the “certain way” to start creating your own prize winning photos today.

How To Take Spectacular Tulip Photos

Tulips are only in bloom a few weeks out of the year, so if you love photographing them as much as I do, you have to hit the tulip beds running – or at least with a plan.

Like roses, no two tulips are alike. But the fun part is, unlike roses, every type of tulip is different. From their size, to their shape, to their texture, you could easily be taking a photo of a beautiful petite little flower, without realizing that it’s actually a type of tulip.

I love taking pictures of tulips, because I love the challenge of capturing the reason that particular flower grabbed my attention.

Was it the color that drew me over? A whole bed of multicolored beauties waving in the wind? Maybe it’s a unique type of tulip I’ve never seen before. Or it could be the texture. Some varieties like parrot tulips have veins and patterns that look more like a cabbages than flowers and are just begging to be captured.

Then there are the personalities of the flowers – one tulip standing head and shoulders above the rest. A yellow tulip in a bed of purple, or a gathering of one kind of flowers centered directly inside another.

Taking a moment to figure out what intrigues me about the flower, helps me capture its beauty. Once you find a gorgeous bunch of blooms, don’t just start clicking away. Take a few moments to examine them, helps you find the story in the petals.

In fact I never look through the viewfinder without thinking about the story I want to tell. First I decide which tulip will be the star of my story. Do I want to capture the pink tulip bending its head down over the one standing beside it? I move around a bit to frame my story. One inch to the left including a lush green bush makes the flower look like it’s in a forest. It’s a totally different story if I move an inch to the right, revealing nothing but soil or an interesting fence, or part of a sidewalk.

Then I consider the light. Red, yellow and orange tulips love the light. Try to get full sun behind them and they’ll take on an ethereal glow that makes them look more like lollipops than flowers. The darker colors like deep purple or black are very difficult to capture. If you can move to a place where the sun is in front of the flower and illuminates it, that will help separate the flower from its background. Or another trick is to photograph darker blooms early in the day when they’re still covered in dew. That gives them a 3-D effect that also helps define the edges of the flower and its stem.

Another tip is to put your camera on the macro/flower setting if you have one, to help you capture photos up close. There’s no need to use a flash under most lighting conditions. And then, simply click away until the shots you get are the same ones that captured your heart.

Which leads me to my most important tip. When in doubt, take the picture! Don’t decide not to photograph a tulip because it’s completely open or beginning to droop. Half of the charm of photographing tulips are the “faces” that start to appear inside the flower once it’s open. Try photographing an open tulip from every angle and I guarantee when you upload the photos to your computer or pick them up at the drugstore (if you still use 35mm), you’ll be amazed at the beauty you’ve captured.

And never, ever wait to take a photo that you want to take, for the next day. Tulips don’t last long and more than once we’ve gone back, even a few hours later, to find the flower bent over, or worse, completely gone. Take the photo now, even if the conditions are not ideal, and then come back again if you can, to get an even better shot. If you can that’s great – you’ll have two prize-winning shots. But if you can’t, you’ll still have at least one version of the photo you wanted.

Photographing tulips takes a little practice and a lot of patience. But after a few times out in the field, we’re sure you’ll agree that the results you’ll achieve are absolutely worth it.