ACC Competition and General Photography Tips

Here's some tips for entering competitions (or just taking photos). They are arranged in no particular order. If you've got more we can add, please contact the webmaster.

For competitions

  • The first rule of photography is to know the rules of what makes a good photograph. The second rule is that you can break the first rule.
  • Pay attention to what judges say in competitions. Notice what they like and don't like.
  • Judges see the same photo again and again. Be original and they may reward you for this. You could hedge your bets with one creative and one original image.

Taking photographs

  • While expensive cameras are nice, the most important bit is the brain behind the camera. Modern cameras are amazingly clever and you can take great photos even with your phone.
  • Where possible, use a tripod when taking photographs. In crowded areas, a monopod can also help with stability.
  • When using a tripod, turn off lens stabilisation. If time, turn everything to manual, slow down and think.
  • Take and edit photographs in RAW format. Use Adobe colour space for maximum colour capture.
  • Keep your horizon level. Use a clip-on spirit level.
  • Be intentional about tilt in verticals, eg. to emphasise height.
  • Do as much as you can in-camera, minimising the need to tweak things (like horizontal) during editing.
  • Avoid all-white 'burned out' sections, even in small areas. Set up you camera (if you can) to highlight burn-out.
  • Under-expose photos to avoid burn-out.
  • It is surprising what detail may still be found in the shadows.
  • Over-expose to capture noise-free shadow detail.
  • Take +/-2 exposure bracketed photos to allow for increasing the dynamic range during editing.
  • Use zoom-in live view (if you can) with manual focus to get the exact focus you want.
  • Stop down the lens, closing the iris, (if you can) so you can better see what will really be in focus and not.

Composing images

  • Beware of distractions in the background, including any light areas that may catch the eye.
  • Pay attention to what is in focus and what is not. Beware of focus going off at extremities of main subject.
  • Ensure eyes are pin sharp. Make sure they can be seen unless deliberately hiding them.
  • Consider removing other distractions, from litter to dangling wires. Photoshop cloning is surprisingly easy.
  • How are you capturing and using light and shade?
  • What is the tonal range of your images? Are they flat and lifeless or deep and striking?
  • Look at the histogram. Does it cover most of the range from dark to light?
  • Avoid putting things in the middle, including horizons.
  • Put subjects on the intersection of 'thirds' lines. Or be brave and use the 'Golden Ratio'. Or even push things to the corners.
  • When a person looks at your photo, where will their eye go first? Then where will it go?
  • The eye is attracted by red and light items, also by people, text and big things such as large blocks of colour.
  • The eye will follow lines. It will stop if a line crosses its path.
  • We look where people are looking, so put a space in front of them for our eyes to traverse.
  • We predict where moving objects will go, so put space in front of them so we can see what will happen next.
  • What story does your photograph tell? Is it interesting?
  • What are the major objects in your image? How do they relate to one another?
  • The mind likes photos that are relaxing. It also likes interesting photos.
  • An odd number of items is often better than an even number. Threes are often best.
  • Desaturate images, viewing them in black and white. What do you see differently. Would a monochrome be a better option?
  • Basic shapes are easy on the eye. What forms triangles, circles, squares, etc. in your photographs?
  • When we see texture, we imagine feeling it. Texture can give depth and complexity to an image.
  • What can be removed from your image? What is essential, non-essential, obstructive or distractive?

Editing images

  • Take time to learn how to use photo editing software. There are tons of tutorials online, including on Youtube.
  • Photoshop is expensive but very commonly used. Elements is its simpler, much cheaper sibling. Many photographers just use Lightroom. Paintshop Pro is cheap and very similar to Photoshop.
  • Edit with the RAW editor before switching to the full editor.
  • Learn to use smart selection, layers and blending.
  • Check digital images very carefully, with the 'eye of the judge' before you print them. Then look at them again in print form.
  • Consider adding a two pixel white border to projected images (some judges like them).
  • Check that there is detail in both the shadows and highlights.
  • Many judges like a border around digital images. Usually white, 2 pixels.
  • Perhaps the most commented-on item by judges is cropping, where they often suggest an even tighter crop. Look for the better picture within your picture.
  • Here are a whole set of links to useful articles, web pages, etc.

And generally learning

  • Take time to closely examine images wherever you find them, in magazines, posters, exhibitions, online, etc.
  • When viewing images, look for the intent of the photographer. What caught their eye? What are they trying to show you?

    Night/star photography

    • Photographing sky, manual focus on 'infinity' mark. Beware that focus ring will go past this point (so don't just turn it to the end-stop).
    • ISO400 to go faster and keep noise down. May be ok higher with full frame.
    • For no star movement you need to be quick so use higher ISO, eg. 3200.
    • Tungsten white balance.
    • Star trails: 30 secs/image, 1.5 hrs for circle effect.
    • Tape over viewfinder to block light leaking from back.
    • Use software from startrails.de (PC), Stacker (Photoshop script) or StarStax (PC, Linux or Mac).
    • If lit building, put in as first or last frame.
    • Good places locally: Tretower (get Polaris over tower), Llantony Priory.
    • You might get lines cutting across. These are jet trails or shooting stars.

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