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How to Win the Adirondack Life Photo Contest

2012 contest winner, "Sunrise at Connery Pond," by Chris Tennant

A moody frosted field. An otherworldly underwater scene. A teenager’s self-portrait. The recent years’ grand-prize winners of Adirondack Life‘s annual photography contest are varied in both subject and style, but what they share is an eye for composition and color and the ability to show us a view of the Adirondacks we haven’t seen a thousand times before.

With this year’s contest¬†deadline looming in a few weeks, we asked art director Kelly Hofschneider, one of the judges (the editors, production coordinator Matt Paul and, some years, a guest judge are also in on the decision process), what it takes to make the cut.

1. Focus. This may seem obvious, but the first thing we look for is whether or not the subject is in focus. This does not mean the entire scene has to be in focus. In fact, selective focus can make an image more interesting. There are ways of sharpening in post processing, but be careful of overdoing it. If you begin to see a white halo or a rough, pixelated edge where light and dark areas meet, you’ve gone too far.
2.¬†Bring your tripod. If you’re shooting a landscape, especially in low light, you will need longer shutter speeds that will require the use of a tripod.
3. Exposure. Another critical area that is often overlooked is properly exposing a photograph so there are still details in the highlights and shadow areas. Try shooting at different exposures. If your camera has a histogram, learn how to use it.
4. Composition. Remember the rule of thirds. Do not center your point of interest in a composition. The visual tension created by moving the subject away from the center makes for a more dynamic composition.
5. Another tip that may seem obvious, but is often overlooked: when shooting a wide landscape, make sure your horizon line is level. Most tripods have an indicator telling you when you are properly aligned.
6. Shoot from unexpected angles. Shooting from high and low angles can add interest and drama.
7. Time of day can make a big difference, especially in landscape photography. Generally the early morning hours or, even better, the hour just before sunset (sometimes called the magic hour) is the best time to shoot outdoors because of the warm, indirect light. Sunlight in the middle of the day tends to be flat and too harsh.
8. Don’t be afraid of the fog and rain. Sometimes these conditions can make for the most interesting landscapes.
9. Include objects in the foreground for perspective. This is especially true when shooting a wide landscape. Having, say, a tree or rock in the foreground will give the viewer a sense of scale.
10. Don’t forget about people! The judges at Adirondack Life don’t just want to see landscapes. We also love seeing candid shots of people enjoying the park.

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