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Digital Photo Tips: Make Pictures Pop

What makes a photo stand out? Surprise – it’s not always the subject itself. After all, there are plenty of moments when the most ordinary thing, provided it’s photographed in a creative way, can make you sit up and say “wow!” The key difference here: Technique. Looking to step yours up a notch? Here are ten tips guaranteed to help anyone sharpen their focus, so to speak, and produce more eye-catching snapshots as a result.

Dial in more color – Turn up the saturation level to make colors pop. Unless your camera is automatic everything, you’ll be able to increase it in steps (-3 to +3 for example), or pick a descriptive color setting like “vivid.” Why would you do this? The camera’s factory setting for color is usually set to “normal,” which is fine only if all you want are unremarkable, everyday photos. The trick with boosting saturation is to walk the thin line between lively and garish.

Bump up contrast – Pick a setting that increases lighting contrast. Again, depending on your camera, it could be a control that you can adjust manually, or a preset labelled “hard” or “high contrast” or something similar. The “normal” factory setting often makes photos look flat and dull. Conversely, high contrast images — those whose tones are primarily very dark or very light — can have a strong impact.

Lose the auto white balance – Use a preset white balance (daylight, cloudy, etc.) or set it manually if you camera has that option. Auto white balance will be close, but can err by making photos too blue, too red, too magenta or too green. Featured hues will appear livelier when a more accurate white balance setting is employed.

Emphasize main subjects – The main subject is where you want the viewer’s eyes to go, first and often. That might mean making it the biggest thing in the frame, but there are other techniques you can use to make images stand out as well, like employing contrasting colors or sizes and placement of the subject. A small figure at the end of a three meter diving platform isn’t the biggest element, but in an effective photo, that’s what everyone stares at.

See shapes and patterns – Look beyond what your subjects are literally (i.e. trees, people, mountains, etc.) and see them as general patterns and shapes (rectangles, circles, triangles, whatever) instead. Making an effective composition is partly about arranging the shapes and patterns in a pleasing and balanced way.

Know the Rule of Thirds – But don’t be a slave to it. The Rule of Thirds is an aid to composition. Imagine two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines dividing your image frame into nine segments. If you align parts of your scene to one of the horizontal or vertical lines or place your subject at one of the four points where the lines intersect, you are applying the rule of thirds. Applying this “rule” doesn’t guarantee a great photo, but it does provide you with a proven starting point.

Try a different point of view – Bird’s eye views and worm’s eye views can startle because we’re shown something from a completely different perspective. For example: If you take a shot of the parking lot or playground from the upper floors of a high-rise (bird’s eye view) you’ll reveal something quite different than if you photographed the same thing at street level. Likewise, putting your camera at ground level and pointing it up towards a subject can give a fresh look to a standard scene.

Get up-close and personal – Macro shots reveal interesting detail in every subject. Technically, macro used to mean magnification of images to life size, but these days, the term is used to indicate close-up photography in general. Even a setting such as one-quarter life size can start to show the grain of whatever you photograph. This being the case, macro photography is really good at revealing hidden textures and patterns in everyday objects.

Lose the color – Even in this ultra-modern, high-tech day and age, black-and-white images can be a real showstopper. By eliminating color, you effectively distil the essence of your photo to the basic interactions of light, shadow, shape and texture. Replace black with another single color like brown or blue, and you add another dimension to monochrome as well. The best part: Many cameras have settings that allow you to save your photos as black-and-white or sepia-toned images. Alternatively, you can always take your color photos and convert them to monochrome in an image editor on your PC.

Take a chance – When in doubt, take the picture anyway. Don’t second-guess your creative impulse. Making your photos pop is really about constantly challenging your imagination. Digital media has made snapping photos essentially a free activity. You can afford to make lots of mistakes, so go ahead. Discovering what doesn’t work will ultimately bring you closer to what does.

View our samples on the next page.

Sample 1
It’s easy to see a building as a geometric shape, but don’t forget to look at the negative space too. Here, the space between the towers forms an arrow, reinforcing the message of “up.” Both contrast and saturation are boosted in this image.

Sample 2
Everyone knows what a palm tree looks like. By moving close to the trunk and looking up, I saw something different — spokes forming a circle. The saturation on this photo was also given a boost. The top of the trunk ends close to the lower horizontal line on a rule of thirds grid.

Sample 3
This abstract image was created by pointing the camera straight down from the balcony of a 22nd floor apartment to the walkway below. I couldn’t figure out why this image held me, but then I realized it was smiling back at me — notice the face made by the figures on the path
(eyes) and stairwell (mouth).

Sample 4
I crouched down low at one of the corners of the Eiffel Tower and shot up with a wide angle lens. Converting it to monochrome accentuates the geometric forms. I wanted the viewer to react with “That’s the Eiffel Tower!?” and have another look, instead of “That’s the Eiffel Tower — yawn.”