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How to take winning photos

As we celebrate the winners of the annual Probus National Photographic Competition in this issue, we thought we’d ask professional photographer and photo comp judge, Samara Clifford, how to take photos that win prizes.

Good photography is about light, framing and having a good feel for our equipment, be it a high-end camera or smartphone.

Has there been a time in history when we’ve taken more photos? The answer is no. With the explosive popularity of photo sharing sites like Instagram, everybody seems to be a photographer these days, but there are still a few golden rules that hold true.

One great thing about new technology like smartphones is that the art of photography has been democratised. You no longer need really expensive equipment to take a good photo. But no matter how good the cameras in phones become, there will always be a human element to taking photos. You need to have a good eye.

We asked professional photographer Samara Clifford from Samara Clifford Photography (samaracliffordphoto.com) for her tips on taking great shots:

Know your equipment

“Whether it’s an iPhone or a DSLR, play with every setting, knob and dial to understand what they do,” Samara says. “If you don’t know - google it! There’s a YouTube video for everything.”

Samara admits learning to use a DSLR camera (a camera whose settings you can control) takes longer as you need to understand how to use aperture and shutter speed, but that even a smartphone can take some time as they now have a number of different settings. The Portrait mode on the latest iPhone is a great setting for up-close portraits, as well as taking the obligatory (these days) photos of food. But the more you know about your camera, the better your shots will be.

Samara also advises to always be ready: “Keep your equipment clean and ready to go, make sure all your batteries are charged, memory cards are empty, and lenses are clean.”

Look at everything in the frame

“This means everything,” Samara says. “Whether it be exit signs or rubbish bins in the background – don’t just look at Little Johnny’s face! This is probably one of the biggest mistakes people make. They are so busy adoring their subject that they fail to see a really distracting object in the background.”

If there’s something that’s taking away from your subject then you need to move yourself, your subject or the distraction.

When it comes to framing, there’s also the “rule of thirds”, a simple technique for getting interesting shots. This involves dividing your frame up with two horizontal and two vertical lines; then, you align your subject with where the lines meet so your main element is slightly off-centre. It’s not a strict rule, but it can be a good place to start.

Where’s the light?

“Photography is all about the light,” Samara says. “Identify where the light is. If you can’t figure it out, look at the shadows and then head in the opposite direction – you’ll find the light. Then you can move around in the light to find what looks best. Don’t just have your subjects squinting into the sun when a simple turn can fix this.”

Taking photos is fun, and if you take some simple advice, you could be at the next Probus Photo Competition winner’s dinner.