Ten Tips for Winning Photos


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The early morning light shimmered through the mist, creating a magical scene in which the black gelding took center stage. Stacey ran back to the house, grabbed her camera and, in one click captured this incredible memory forever. Have you ever wanted to enter a photo contest or just take great pictures of your horse, only to realize the only button on your camera you really know how to operate is the shutter release? You don’t need to be a professional or own expensive, complicated equipment to take great pictures. With the following basic tips and some practice, you’ll soon be taking prize-winning photos.

1. Make the subject obvious
Subject selection is very important in photography. Just knowing your subject is not enough; you must capture it so it’s obvious to the viewer. No one else will recognize your horse in a herd of other horses standing in a distant pasture.

Your eye and brain focus on your subject to make the visual, but conveying that to others takes practice. As you take photos and view the results, note the difference between what you saw and what your photos actually emphasize.

2. Stand out with great composition
Composition is arranging the whole picture artistically so it’s pleasing to the eye. Think of elements like contrast, repetition, balance, cohesion, and climax.

• Can you place your white horse in front of a red barn, instead of a dull brown building? That’s contrast.
• Does your pasture have beautiful trees that would add a picturesque background? Trees add texture and color; a line of trees fading into the distance provides repetition.
• Balance means the photo is pleasing to the eye and fills the frame without seeming lopsided.
Cohesion dictates that everything in the photo is necessary and relates to what you want to say. For example, do you need a shot of the entire horse or is a head shot enough to capture his crooked ears and happy expression?
• Depicting a great climax can bring excitement and energy to the photo. Think of your horse in a mid-air jump, or your daughter’s joyful tears at an award ceremony.

3. Carefully place your subject
Placement of the subject greatly affects overall impact. The “rule of thirds” is invaluable here. Divide your viewing area into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and place the main subject at one of the intersections. This is a simple way for novice photographers to quickly improve their shots.

4. Keep the background simple
Background objects can either enhance or detract attention from the subject. What else do you see in the immediate area besides your subject? Is there garbage on the ground? Should the horse trailer be in sight? What else might take away from your shot?

Decide whether the problem can be removed. If not, can you move around to obtain the desired picture? This extra effort can make a world of difference.

5. Add interest with angles
Half the fun of photography is just mixing it up a bit. Experiment shooting from different angles to create the result you desire.

• Vertical lines usually represent strength, purpose, balance, and support. If the subject is taller than it is wide, consider vertical orientation.
• Horizontal lines are restful and passive.
• Diagonal emphasis creates movement even if the subject is standing still.

6. Use a unique point of view
Unusual is good. Move above, below or upside down as you explore various views of your subject. Be creative and use important elements in the background to illustrate or add humor to your story.

Want to depict something larger than life? Lie on the ground and shoot up to make the subject seem huge.

What elements in the picture help tell the story? Is there a funny sign in the background? Are you photographing an important event, and could some background decorations be included to enhance the shot?

7. Use light to set the mood
Light conveys mood, so use shadows and reflections to emphasize the subject. If you need more light, add it with fill flash or artificial lighting.

Maximize the use of natural light whenever possible. Professional photographers consider early morning and late afternoon magical times to obtain great shots. High noon on a sunny day is the worst as it creates harsh shadows and glare, washing out colors and details. Some people think overcast days aren’t good for photography, but colors will actually look more saturated, plus you don’t get those distracting shadows.

8. Use these easy techniques to shoot like a pro
Once you understand the basics of setting up a good shot, you’re ready to try some techniques used by the professionals.

Filters attach to the lens of your camera and create professional quality light and color balance. The most common filters handle basic light adjustments, such as cutting UV rays to eliminate haze and enhance color, or polarizing to eliminate reflections on water and deepen sky color.
Panning conveys motion. Try following a galloping horse with the camera; the photo shows movement by keeping the horse in focus and blurring the background.
Frame still subjects to create interest. Use trees, windows, and other objects to form a natural frame for your subject.
Zoom in on the subject to simplify and eliminate distractions.
• Eye reflections challenge all animal photographers. To help reduce this, point the light source at a wall or ceiling to “bounce” it, or shoot from various angles. You can also fix the eye problem with computer photo software.

9. Get a release if entering a contest
Most contests require a release when people and private property appear in photos, especially if the winning entries are published. When you photograph property, people, or animals that are not yours, ask permission and respect cultural traditions and beliefs. A handwritten statement, signed and dated, is usually sufficient for amateur contests.

10. Never edit an original
Last but not least, never edit original photos or digital files. Save originals and make a copy to resize or edit. Most publications and contests require the large original size at 300 dpi (dots per inch). Next time the morning light is perfect and your equine partner willing, grab your camera and start shooting. Who knows, you could be the next photo contest winner!

Digital photo trivia: “Dpi” stands for dots per inch and is a measure of picture and printing resolution. For example, 300 dpi means there are 300 dots per lineal inch. When you select an output of 200 dots per inch, or lower, the dots become larger.

Tech tips Optical zoom is actual enlargement, as though you’re looking through a magnifying glass. Digital zoom is the equivalent of cropping a photo inside the camera before you shoot the photo. Just keep in mind that photos taken using the digital zoom produce a reduced file size, which limits later enlargement. Black and white digital work is best done in color and converted to grayscale. You get better detail and nice crisp black and white photos.

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