By Jessy Yancey
Ever wonder what it takes to be a photo contest winner? Ready to fire up your digital flash and head off in search of the prize-winning photo?
Well, hang on just a minute. Last year’s Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation Photo Contest was another record-breaking year, with more than 1,500 submissions received – so you’ve got to admit that winning is not going to be a piece of cake. That’s why we thought we’d offer some inside advice from our panel of experts, all editors with Home & Farm’s publisher, Journal Communications.
As past judges, they’re aware of the talents of the Farm Bureau members – they’ve seen everything from good to bad, from brilliant to boring. Whether or not you plan to enter the contest – which kicks off with this issue and continues through Aug. 1 – our panel offers some professional perspectives on how to make your bad photos better and your good photos great.
1. You don’t need a professional camera.
First, it’s not necessary to buy an extravagant, expensive camera. Journal Creative Director Keith Harris says the difference is dwindling between professional cameras and ones mass-marketed for personal use.
2. Take lots of shots.
Harris does recommend a digital camera as opposed to one that uses film. “You’re not limited to only 36 shots anymore,” Harris says. “With digital cameras, you can take hundreds.”
“Don’t be afraid to take a lot of shots,” agrees Greg Emens, Journal’s chief photographer. “You don’t have to worry about developing film.”
3. Use your computer.
Harris says that most computers come with simple cropping and color editing tools that can be helpful when trying to find that perfect shot. Test out techniques that add a little something to your photo without dissuading too far from the original image.
4. Find a unique subject.
Of course, not everything can be done with a click of your mouse; often, it requires thoughtful planning dependent on what and where your subjects are.
Mark Forester, vice-president of visual content, says the photos that appeal to him are the unexpected, not the clichéd.
“Even if you’re staging the photo, don’t always have the subject looking directly into the camera,” he says.
5. Composition is key.
Utilizing the rule of thirds can also make a difference in setting your photo apart from the rest.
“Don’t put your subject in the center of the composition,” Forester says. “That’s the most boring composition you can do.”
Emens agrees, noting the importance of framing your subject to the left or the right.
He also says that a busy background can distract the viewer from your subject.
“Make sure your background is simple and uncluttered,” Emens says, “setting your subject apart rather than taking over the photo.”
“Especially with landscapes, a good photograph is luck,” Forester adds. “But you can create luck by trying, by devoting time.”
He recommends using natural elements to help tie everything together: “Frame the landscape shot under a tree branch rather than just a wide open shot.”
6. Lighting can make or break a picture.
Emens adds that a common misconception in photography is turning off the flash when it’s sunny.
“Using a flash outside actually helps,” Emens says. “It cuts down on harsh shadows appearing on your subjects’ faces.”
Lighting, whether natural or artificial, can make or break a good picture.
“All photography is the study of light,” says Forester, quoting famed 20th-century photographer Ansel Adams. “Pay attention to light and how it changes, not only over the course of the day but also over the course of the year.”
He says lighting is usually better in the early morning and early evening, not during the middle of the day.
“Sometimes there’s just a short window of time to take the photo,” Harris adds.
7. Practice, practice, practice. Did we mention practice?
Like any other hobby or art form, practice makes perfect.
“Take a lot of pictures,” Harris says. “That’s the best way to get a good shot.”