WHAT makes the difference between a nice photograph and a truly stunning one? A few simple tips can help transform the most ordinary of images into a work of art.
After Ilkley Camera Club’s recent competitions, president Peter Farmer, gave a few tips on how to take the best shots.
What makes a photo stand out?
The most important thing is an emotional connection with the viewer. In club member Neil Bland’s photo of the central pier at Blackpool you have a sunset and romance. It has wonderful mood lighting. Or you could photograph sweet animals. Everyone loves meerkats so Ken Phillip’s image of a Meerkat Sentry looking right at us is appealing. The monument in Laurie Tetley’s photo is impressive, but without the two people in the foreground we would not easily feel how huge the monument is.
Can getting the right exposure be tricky?
Most cameras have an automatic mode which takes away a lot of the guesswork. But it is often better to set manually the appropriate aperture (how big a hole the light goes through). David James’ picture of Patterdale in winter gets the snow looking white. But an automatic exposure would probably have been tricked by the brightness and rendered the snow as a mid-grey colour. Also scenes tend not to be of uniform brightness. Common problems are burnt out highlights or dark areas which have lost all detail. John Chamberlain in his picture of Bruges has coped well with a very bright sky and some quite dark areas in the buildings. My guess is he took his picture in a format called Camera RAW rather than as a JPEG. RAW retains much more information when the photo is taken.
When should we use flash?
Oddly flash is often of little use at night. Most integral flashes just are not powerful enough to light a dark scene. It is much better to put your camera on a tripod and use a slow shutter speed as Peter Wilson has done for his Harbour Lights shot. Flash can be useful to give a nice glint in the eye of a person or animal or to light up shaded things like the Engine captured by Richard Spurdens. But you may need to reduce the amount of flash so the image remains natural looking.
Tips on composing pictures.
There is a well-used ‘rule of thirds’ that says if you cannot find a good position for your subject put it a third of the way into the picture: from the left or right or from the top or bottom. Larry James has placed Blackpool tower near the top left third of his picture. Being off centre gives a dynamic feel. Also the steps act as lead in lines to draw the eye into the image. However, sometimes straight down the middle is the best way. Take Neil Bland’s picture of Lincoln Cathedral. A symmetrical picture reminds you how firm and strong the building is. It is also how most architects want you to view their buildings. Try to have something of interest in the foreground as well as the middle and background. Brian Goddard has achieved this in his Grand Canyon photo as the mule train in the foreground leads your eye further into the canyon. It also gives you that important emotional pull as you realise how steep the drop is.
Do buildings present any other problems?
One of the most common problems when photographing buildings is that you point the camera up. The result is the verticals in the picture appear to be converging as they rise up. Our eyes see the same effect but, because we feel ourselves looking up, our brain compensates. This does not work with a photo. You can sort out the convergence in software by using perspective tools that pull the uprights back into the vertical position. But you will need to stretch the picture upwards a bit or the building will look dumpy. If that is too fiddly, get as far away from the building as you can and try not to tilt the camera up too much. Or photograph from part way up another building. Of course sometimes a distorted image has a big impact. Larry James’ 360 degree picture of Armley Mills in Leeds won him first prize in our architecture and record competition.
Are black and white pictures still popular?
Hardly anyone uses cameras that only take in black and white but you can still convert your colour pictures into monochrome. Architectural scenes often look good in ‘mono’ as demonstrated by Ann Bland’s image of the Escalators at Leeds Station.
How easy is it to photograph wild-life?
It is notoriously difficult. People try to photograph birds but they are often a long way away and move very quickly. And a bird sitting on a branch is not going to win you prizes. Ideally it should be doing some characteristic behaviour, as with Keith Allen’s prize winning shots of a Northern Gannet nest building or his image of an Atlantic Puffin with catch.
Are landscapes easier?
Generally speaking they are, but a really good one requires outstanding skill. You need the right lighting and to wait for the right moment. Nick Hodgson won first prize in our Travel competition, sponsored by Ilkley business TravelWise, with his shot of the Fitzroy Massif in Patagonia.
Ilkley Camera Club has lectures, shows and competitions on Friday evenings. People can try three evenings free of charge. The club's public exhibition at Cliffe Castle Museum near Keighley starts on April 30. The club will also run workshops there on Saturdays.