Photography 101: Taking prize-winning photos

Firefighters from USACE partner agencies ignite the ecological burn at Fisher Butte near Fern Ridge Dam. (2014 Portland District Photo Contest, Rhiannon Thomas, Willamette Valley Project)

Firefighters from USACE partner agencies ignite the ecological burn at Fisher Butte near Fern Ridge Dam. (2014 Portland District Photo Contest, Rhiannon Thomas, Willamette Valley Project)

Always set your cameras (or SmartPhones) to ‘fine quality’ which guarantees a printable photo for publications. If you’re taking 2 to 3 MB images, you’re probably meeting the minimum standard.

Cody Fulkerson, 23, of Springfield, Oregon wakeboarding for the first time at Dorena Reservoir on July 12, 2014. (2014 Portland District Photo Contest, Kyra Fulkerson, Willamette Valley Project)

Cody Fulkerson, 23, of Springfield, Oregon wakeboarding for the first time at Dorena Reservoir on July 12, 2014. (2014 Portland District Photo Contest, Kyra Fulkerson, Willamette Valley Project)

News value – Great photos should attract the reader’s attention (interest), carry your message (inform), provoke thought or an emotional response (provoke) and just be visually pleasing (entertaining). If it carries more than one of those elements, chances are you have a prize-winning photo!

Be sure to capture the people, action and mood in your photos.

Plan ahead. Plan your photo shoot in advance. Who’s going to be doing what, where and when? Where do you need to be to shoot it? Eye level is often not the best position from which to shoot a photo. Stand on a chair or squat down. And above all, don’t be afraid to move to where you need to be in order to get your photo! You want to capture faces not backsides!

Watch the background! When framing the subject, pay attention to surrounding objects. There is nothing more disconcerting than finding a tree branch you didn’t notice growing out of someone’s head.

Shoot lots of action and angles. Fill the frame fully with your subject and move around to shoot a variety of angles (kneel down, hold the camera high, move in close and be sure to capture hands and eyes. Place people’s heads near the top of the frame rather than dead center.

The best photos contain only one center of interest. Anticipate action and be patient in waiting for it to happen.

Fishing is equal parts sport and an excuse for Alan Stokke and Brian Roche, Engineering and Construction Division, to get out on the water at Portland District’s Cottage Grove Reservoir. (2014 Portland District Photo Contest, Jessica Stokke, Operations Division)

Fishing is equal parts sport and an excuse for Alan Stokke and Brian Roche, Engineering and Construction Division, to get out on the water at Portland District’s Cottage Grove Reservoir. (2014 Portland District Photo Contest, Jessica Stokke, Operations Division)

Apply the ‘Rule of Thirds.” To do that, visually divide the frame into thirds, vertically and horizontally. Locate your dominate element at one of the intersecting lines. This suggests direction and movement within a photo.

Photograph your subject at varying distances. A ‘long’ shot provides context, showing the environment and introducing your subject. A ‘medium’ shot identifies the subject and action. A close-up shows the face and action and an extreme close-up details a unique or interesting aspect of the subject or action.

Move the horizon line. When taking outdoor photographs, many place the horizon dead center—the worst possible place. Move it down to focus on the sky or up to focus on the land.

You be the judge! Do your photos comply with the Corps of Engineers’ safety, security and other policies that prohibit the portrayal of endorsements or unflattering or illegal behaviors? Are your photos accurate and aesthetic? Are they proper and not embarrassing to anyone or any organization?

Get written parental permission if your photos include close-up images of individuals under 18.

Above all … take lots and lots of photos!

To see all of the contest photos, visit Portland District’s flickr page.