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Surviving the Image Review - How to Get Your Best Shot


While reviewing images that have been submitted during our Crossroads workshops I have noticed some recurring issues. In general, the purpose and intent of the photos is clear – meaning you are doing a very good job of going after the needed shots. However, while it seems that everyone agrees on intent, there are some consistent reasons why some images get submitted and used, and other do not.  These are mostly little things, but they have a BIG impact on your photography. When we look back at the best images we sent on to our nonprofit partners these things stand out:

1. The focus is right on target.

This can be tricky if you are shooting handheld and using a more wide open f-stop that gives you less depth of field. If you are photographing animals be sure to focus on the eyes. If you are doing a landscape pull the focus closer to you to make sure the foreground is sharp.

2. The subject fills up the frame.

This often means the photographer took a couple of steps closer or switched to a longer lens but the impact of doing so is dramatic.

3.  All of the subject’s parts are in the frame.

Yes, you can get too close or zoom in too close. We regularly see feet nipped off or the ears and tails of animals uncomfortably cut by the frame. Always watch the edge of your frame to be sure the feet, ears, tails, hands are entirely included. Even if these parts are obscured by brush, for example, you still need “room” for those feet or tails or ears to exist. With human subjects crops should be deliberate, no amputated limbs, feet or fingers. Make crops deliberate.

4.  The background isn’t distracting!

This is something we all do- concentrate so much on the subject that we forget about very bright or very distracting backgrounds. But the background can kill an otherwise great photo. A “great shot” with a crummy background is a crummy shot!!! The remedy for bad or distracting backgrounds is usually a step to the left or the right but the trick is being aware and noticing it in the first place. Forget the subject for a moment, maybe squint your eyes a bit and look beyond the subject. This habit will save many an image from receiving the dreaded x of rejection!

5.  The subject isn’t dead center in the composition.

Dead center is the most deadly dull place to put your subject in a composition. If your subject can move, compose to give the subject space to move into. If you are at a total loss, use the old rule of thirds to place your subject in a dynamic position. Give the subject some space to look into, to move into – be it boat or bird – dead center is nowhere but dead center, and that is dull, dull, dull. Sure, there are times to purposefully break this rule  –  a fully symmetrical or circular flower for example, or you are being very artistic and creating dramatic tension. If you are on auto pilot – move off center. Nb, this technique requires you to move your auto-focus point as the subject moves. If you have questions about that, send me note and I will embarrass you publicly.

6.  The image is from a fresh or unexpected perspective.

One of the things about any group shoot is that people often end up in a cluster photographing the same thing from the same angle getting the same shot. If it is a great shot be sure to get it,  but if you can try moving away from the group to get a unique shot. When we were in Sitka at the raptor center, we got about 400 great snowy-owl shots all from just about the same spot. That was a great shot, however, there were also some other great shots in other directions.

7.  The photographer lingered at the location.

This is how a few pictures with really pretty light show up or of a subject that wasn’t present when the entire group is there. Lingering assures the photographer of getting images no one else will have and that is a very good thing.

8.  The photographer went in a different direction.

Everybody walking that direction? Turn around and go in a different direction.  You may not find anything but if you do no one else will have it. The gallery below has some examples of “successful” images from our last workshop. Because this is the time when many poor young souls head back to school, I thought it would be fun to see if you can link the tip to the photo.  There is a prize for the third person to answer them all correctly, or the second person to answer half of them correctly, or the first person to send a nice reply to this helpful post!


~ David

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