Thursday, July 14, 2011

Capture the scenes of summer

When my children were little and the number of blank pages in my family album outnumbered the photo montages, my camera was the first thing packed for summer excursions, along with the diapers, suntan lotion and bug spray. 

It was not instinct. My father was a professional photographer so my brothers and I grew accustomed to seeing a camera pointed in our direction. He was always reminding us, too, of the importance in capturing life's candid moments which might not seem important at the time, but would become so later. Events like your first haircut, learning how to ride a bike, or the last time your father was well enough to go fishing. 

I'm glad I followed suit. Now I have a wonderful collection of images chronicling our summer adventures and, thanks to a few tips from my dad, some were worthy of framing. 

I think anyone can take a great photo provided they know a few of the basic tips. Here are a couple that my dad shared with me, as well as a few recommended by 20-year National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson:

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Cropping is crucial. Don't be afraid to crop the subject. If your toddler has been eating chocolate ice cream and it's all over her face that's what you should see in the frame, her face and the chocolate. Forget the kitchen cupboards or the cat sitting on the counter (unless it appears ready to pounce on the chocolate). What's true for people is true of animals or buildings. Sometimes a full frame is necessary, as with scenery, but other times, just frame what's important.

The example, at right, is a good example. The man with the oar is the subject of the photo, therefore the center of the shot. However, there's enough of the canoe shown to explain what he was doing.

Look for unique opportunities. Richardson said reflections, such as those pictured above, can add visual drama to pictures and turn an ordinary water scene into something interesting. If that's what you want, venture out early in the morning and before the wind kicks up as reflection shots require calm waters. Also remember that the closer you are to the ground and the surface of the water, the more reflections you'll get. "Even a small puddle of water can produce large reflections if you are right down to the surface," said Richardson.

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Be creative by adding details and unique perspectives. Pictures get dull quickly when they are all shot from the same distance and viewpoint, said Richardson. If you're shooting a mountain, have someone stand in the foreground. Or shoot a scene and include details like a road sign or even a piece of the scenery such as a leaf or bucket of sand. It will reveal telling aspects of a place and enhance your photo story.

Watch for shadows. My dad took a picture of my brother working on his bicycle. It would have been a simple shot -- had it not been for the shadows on the sidewalk, which made it appear as though the bicycle was watching him work. It doesn't happen every day, but when it does, wow. Tip: you'll need to get up higher to see the shadows well.

Don't go overboard. "Clutter kills too many pictures," said Richardson. "Simplicity is powerful." That usually requires you to clean up the background, leaving out extraneous, unnecessary details like cars or unidentified people. Watch your framing carefully, and especially watch the edges of the frame, Richard added. 

Finally, be bold. Richardson said trying different viewpoints is always a good idea, but too often we don't go far enough. "Going clear around to the backside of the action can make images that offer a fresh perspective. Too often we follow old habits and shoot everything from the front," he said.

For great examples, visit http://www.nationalgeographic.com/

You can't turn back the clock. But you can wind it up again -- Bonnie Prudden, American rock climber.

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