They're the most stunning examples of photography you'll ever see. When you flip through the pages of Time Magazine and National Geographic, you are confronted with the best of the best. How do these photographers do it? Are they simply lucky, do they have the right social connections, or is it much more than that? In this edition of "How Do They Do That?" we look into what it takes to become an award winning photographer whose images grace the pages of Time.
While many people think that you have to be well known in the photography community to get an image into Time magazine or to win an award, the truth is that these amazing photos can come from anywhere. Most photography contests are judged on an objective basis, taking a few of the following characteristics into mind. Award winning photos excel in every one of these areas, but even using just a few of these characteristics, your photos will vastly improve.
Impact - The Lasting Impression Of An Image
Some photos just make you stop and say WOW. Images with captivating subjects, captured just at the right moment, tend to have the most lasting impact on us. This is oftentimes not the kind of thing you can create in a lab. It has to happen on its own.
Usually, the photos that make it into Time magazine have a greater impact on us because they can be associated with an important current event. Photographer Charles H. Porter IV won a Pulitzer Prize with his photo of a fireman holding a small child after the Oklahoma City bombing. The emotion in the image was so raw, so uncut, that the photographer knew he had something the second he tool the photo.
Creativity - Pushing The Boundaries Of Photography
Are you doing what everyone else is doing? While it is difficult for anyone to push the boundaries of photography itself without accidentally slipping into the realm of the bizarre and avant garde, there are ways to express your own creative style.
Try using different angles to start. Get down low or shoot from high up. Use a telephoto lens to capture images from afar. Anything you can do to get out of the standard mindset is a step in the right direction. Think about different themes and get to know what others are experimenting with. If you use their work as a springboard for your own creativity, you won’t have to start from nowhere.
Technical Excellence - The Sharpness, Color, And Cleanliness Of The Image
The folks at Time magazine aren’t the only ones who will want to use your image. If you win an award, people are going to want to make some very big prints. That’s why your image needs to have the best possible print quality. Is your image sharp? Does it have just the right levels of brightness and darkness? Do you have any spots from dust sitting on your image sensor?
These little things add up, and before you know it, your photos have too many imperfections to win an award. Unfortunately this will mean you'll need a top notch camera too. While it's possible to get away with a blurry or grainy photo when the impact is there (or of a one-off event like the firefighter photo above), that won't normally fly.
Whenever you shoot landscapes, use a higher aperture number to get the maximum sharpness. Always focus on the subject before you press the shutter button. Many professional photographers also spend a lot of time in Photoshop adjusting light levels, correcting errors with the clone stamp, correcting color, and sharpening.
Most of what you see in magazines didn’t come straight from the camera. It is the tail end of a very long and laborious editing process. To see some of the steps, check out my free Image Editing Secrets course.
Composition - How Visually Interesting Is Your Photo?
Where you place your subjects, what you decide include or exclude, all of these things matter. When you organize everything in your photo in a visually appealing way, it helps to draw attention to your subjects while giving them a greater impact. Photographers who have a very keen sense of composition are the ones winning awards.
To prepare for your winning shot, think about where you are placing your subjects in your photos and how you are creating space for the eye to move through it. A boat, for example, shouldn’t be placed in the middle of the frame. It should occupy one of the corners so your viewers can imagine where it is going.
Composition is all about excluding distracting visual elements. Does your friend have a lightpole sticking out of her head? If so, chances are your viewers are paying more attention to the lightpole than they are to your friend. Award-winning photographers understand the importance of isolating their subjects and getting rid of the distractions. They often go to extreme lengths to do so.
There is so much to say about what kinds of photos make it into Time magazine. I only got to cover the first 4 of 12 criteria in the list from the Professional Photographers of America (PPA). Watch out for Part 2 in a few weeks when I'll continue the series.
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