Top 10 Photo Tips


© Richard Cox

Ever want to get excellent pictures. Well here are ten essential tips you need to make it all happen. This is the top ten tips suggested by most of the professional photographers. With these tips you too can be a better photographer. Get out there! Here are some quick tips to get you started:

1. Change your position

Many casual photographers simply take the picture from where they stand. This is not always the best angle for the picture. Try to move about the subject in order to get a different perspective. Imagine that you are an electron spinning around the nucleus of an atom — change not only your angle, but your distance from the subject. You cannot be sure that you’ve got the best possible shot until you’ve considered all the options!

2.Get in close

All too often, the photographer stands too far from the subject when they shoot, and the resulting picture makes the viewer feel detached from the subject. Close in on the action, including just enough relevant subject mater to communicate the event. For example if the subject is blowing out candles on a birthday cake, frame the picture to include only the subject and the cake. It is best to capture human or animal subjects when they are look at the camera.

3. Have your subject take up the whole picture frame

Before making the exposure, make sure the subject fills the frame, without being cut off in ways that are unintentional.

4. Compose some of your photos vertically

Camera designs and TV and movie screens predispose us to product horizontal images. Many photographic subjects are better captured in a portrait (vertical) orientation. Remember to take pictures of your subject in both orientations, the one that you prefer may surprise you.

5. Use a flash

What many people don’t know is that a flash on a sunny day can be very effective. Harsh shadows create uncomplimentary photos and a flash fills in the shadows, creating a pleasant photo. Remember, your flash will carry no more than about 30 feet, so do not expect it to help you with subjects that are too far away.

6. Use a tripod

Read our detailed tripod article on this subject.

7. Take plenty of pictures

The more time and effort it takes to prepare and get to a photo location, the less you should worry about “wasting” film (okay, this article was re-posted form back in the film days). When conditions are perfect, be prepared to derive full benefit from your good fortune.

8. Carry camera with you wherever you go

You never know when an opportunity will reveal itself to you. Have a camera with you and ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. You may have very little time to setup the shot.

9. Plan

Try to determine beforehand what you will be photographing, and try to plan how you will be photographing this subject or event. Do research on what you would like to photograph and where you need to be positioned to capture it. Consider event agendas and think about scenes that you’d like to capture. See our article on Planning a Picture for information about finding the best natural light conditions.

10 Enjoy

That’s what it’s all about!

Planning a Photograph


© Richard Cox

Great light is essential to capturing a shot that is outstanding among other well composed and executed photographs. Once in a while you may get lucky, but learning to plan your photography will really improve your results.

For example, I was lookin for “a portrait of a tree”, when he stumbled upon this tree in a park on the bank of Lake Massabesic in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was a cloudy day, so he took a quick shot to document the place and to plan how to best capture this tree on film. The composition is good, but the photograph is dull and uninteresting.

Further inspection of the area revealed that this park is well traveled, and grass was patchy. Since the shot was was facing east, this eliminated a sunset shot where the tree would be illuminated by the setting sun.


© Richard Cox

I determined that a sunrise shot would be best where the tree was silhouetted against an array of pre-dawn colors. He watched for a weather report for a clear morning sunrise and returned for the shot.

I has recently developed a more “scientific” technique for planning a shot. This technique considers the precise angle of the sun at sunrise or sunset in order to predict the best time to return to capture the subject lit the way you want.

These instructions tell you how to determine when the sun will be low in the sky and the direction of light with respect to your subject. Ideally, you would take your photo during the magic hour — either a half hour before and after sunrise or sunset, but which? The answer depends on the direction in which your subject is facing and the angle of light that you seek. Further, The angle of the sun at a given location will change throughout the year.

Here are the steps to determine which days of the year will best meet your lighting specifications:

Use a compass to determine your subject’s direction

  • Align the colored end of the needle with “N”
  • Find the direction on the dial that points to your subject and note its location in degrees (usually written around the outside edge of the dial)
  • Make a note of the location.
  • For our tree example, we will assume that the compass shows its direction as 75 degrees.
  • Note that unless you have a compass that automatically adjusts for “True North”, this location is expressed in terms of “Magnetic North”.


If necessary, adjust your location for “True North”

  • This requires that you obtain the “declination” value for the area in which your subject resides
  • Click here to calculate declination. Enter a zipcode and then press “Compute!”. The declination is the first value in the table, marked with a “D”
  • Declination varies by date, which is why printed maps may show different values than you obtain with the online calculator.
  • A negative declination indicates that magnetic north is west of true north, positive values are east
  • To align your compass, you need to add the opposite of the declination value to your compass reading. Using our example in Manchester, NH, we get a declination of -15, so we add 15 to 75 and are now using 90 degrees (East) as our location.

Select the angle for the sun.

Do you want back lighting (like our tree at sunrise), direct lighting, or some angle in between?

  • Find the location where you would like the sun
  • For backlighting, its compass position will be the same as your subject (75 degrees in our example)
  • For direct lighting, add 180 degrees to the adjusted position of your subject (if the result is not between 0 and 360, then subtract 180 degrees). In the tree example, the result is 270 degrees (90 + 180)

Check sunrise/sunset forecasts

  • Be sure that the data includes the angle of rise and set with respect to “True North” (Azimuth)
  • Click here for data for the New England area. (Please send us links to data you find for other areas)
  • Check the sunrise and sunset Azimuth data for each month until you find the values that are near 90 degrees (for backlight) and 270 degrees (for direct light). Using the Manchester data, we learn that sunrise or sunset on September 24, 2003, will be “perfect” for our subject. For backlight, we would plan to arrive for sunrise (6:35 AM), or we would choose sunset (6:40 PM) for direct light.

Avoid getting too controlled by the science

  • Days immediately before and after the target will also work well
  • Check weather reports (The boating forecasts are useful for photographers) and other factors (like your personal schedule!) to refine your plan.
  • Consider tide information if your subject is at the seashore

The perfect light is very fleeting

Be sure to arrive well in advance of the “magic time” in order to be set up and ready to shoot.



Maine Fingers Photo Trip

My friend Michael and I went on a weekend trip to the Maine Fingers, a coastal section between Brunswick and Rockland where finger-like peninsulas beg for photographic exploration. The area is rich with landscapes, geology, architecture, and culture. The locals definitely have the advantage here, but for those who love exploration, this place is for you.

From Brunswick to Rockland the coast changes abruptly, and a network of long narrow peninsulas and islands make up an estuary coast. Although heavily populated and overgrown with trees, this section of Maine has huge potential for those photographers willing to make the effort to explore the area and hunt down the imagery in the thousands of inlets, islands, peninsulas, ponds, lakes, and coves that make up this unique ocean front.

Most main roads in this area run north/south down the center of the finger with not much to see. A heavy cover of trees on both sides creates a tunnel-like experience. At the end, everything opens up to reveal gems of photographing possibilities. Another big advantage to the north/south orientation is that you will have plenty of opportunities for both sunrise and sunset photography.

There are five main sections for exploration; each should take a good part of a day. I would plan my explorations for the middle part of the day, giving myself time to get back to the optimal “Magic Hour” spots for sunset and plan an early wakeup for sunrise photography.

  • Brunswick
  • Bath
  • Wiscasset
  • Damariscotta
  • Waldoboro
  • Thomaston

Our weekend trip allowed time for exploration of only the first three sections. We were able to make a quick trip through the Damariscotta area to Pemaquid Point to photograph Pemaquid Light.

As you follow our route through the fingers remember that nothing is a pure destination. We are simply providing a route that will get you close to many of the wonderful locations in this region of Maine. If you stop only at the places we identify, you are definitely missing many beautiful locations. You should take your time and explore any of the side-roads or towns/villages that interest you. Discover your own secret locations (there are certainly plenty of places to explore) and take photographs that are uniquely you.


Brunswick is located on the coast of Maine approximately 25 miles northeast of Portland, Maine’s largest city. Brunswick is the home of a naval air station, Brunswick Community College and Bowdoin College. The area is rich with history. The town ‘mall’ is another point of interest to many. It is a park-like area that runs along the middle of the street. In the winter the town maintains an ice skating area about the size of a small pond. The Bowden Collage campus is a good spot for fall color photography.

From Brunswick head south on rout 123 down Harpswell Neck to Potts Harbor where you will find a number of photographic opportunities. On the east side you will find Basin Cove, Peter Cove, and Basin Cove Falls. On the west side you will find Stover cove, and South Harpswell.

Head back up route 123 to Mountain Rd and then follow route 24 south to Long Cove, Reed Cove, and Lowell Cove . Continuing south you will cross over the unique Cribstone Bridge connecting Orrs and Bailey Islands. It is the only bridge of its kind built of granite blocks crisscrossed on the ledges. This allows the tide to flow freely through the bridge.

On the southern-most point on Route 24, you will find Bailey Island Mackerel Cove and Jaquish Gut.

Continue on route 24 past Mountain road and turn right onto Cundys Harbor Road and down to Hen Cove and Cundys Harbor. You are actually on Sebascodegan Island, which offers several great places for exploration. When finished here, continue north on route 24 to route 1 east to Bath.


Bath has been a shipbuilding center since colonial times, and is located upriver on the Kennebec River. It is rich with a seafaring history. Bath was listed as one of the “Best Small Cities in America” and was deemed a “Distinctive Destination” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. At one point there were over 200 shipbuilding firms in the area that has launched over 5,000 vessels. Bath is still the birthplace to many of United States Navy destroyers.

Head south from Bath on route 209 to Drummore Bay. Continue south on 209 and take a right onto Basin Road, where you will find many places to explore around the Basin. Back on 209 head south and explore the various vistas on routes 217 and 216.

Head North on 209 and take a right to continue south on 209 to Popham Beach State Park. There you will find Fort Baldwin and Fort Popham. Fort Baldwin is the older of the two and offers fewer photographic opportunities. Nearby Fort Popham, offers great architecture shots of its fort and stonework. Also in this area is the Popham Colony Site (1607), which is the first attempted English settlement on the northeast coast. Despite its failure, colonists produced the first ship built in the new world, the Virginia (1608).

Heading back up to Bath, you can now travel down Route 127 and onto Arrowsic and Georgetown Islands. There you will find Five Islands, Reid State Park, and Half Mile Beach.

The Town of Wiscasset is the Gateway to Mid-coast Maine. It’s a place where a rich maritime history and a bright technological future converge in “Maine’s Prettiest Village.”

From Wiscasset take route 1 south and then a left onto route 144 which will take you to Westport Island; where you will find Greenleaf Cove, Jewett Cove and many other places to explore on the southern tip and eastern side of the island.

After exploring Westport Island, head back to Wiscasset and south on route 27 where you are sure to find many photographs. We spent most of our time on in the coves on West Southport and Linekin Neck. The more tourist-oriented Boothbay Harbor does offer some photographic potential.


Damariscotta is an old Abenaki word for “river of many fishes”. Known for its spectacular natural landscapes.

From Damariscotta head south on 130/129 and then continue on 129 to South Bristol. As always on the way you will find many places to explore. There are some interesting places at Christmas Cove.

Once finished with South Bristol, head north on 129 until the road joins with route130. Head south on route 130 to New Harbor and Pemaquid point. Along the way you will find, on the west side of New Harbor, the Colonial Pemaquid Restoration. This is the site of an archaeological dig that has uncovered foundations of 16th and 17th-century settlements. Just south of there you will find Fort William Henry.

At the southern most point you will find the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse and the Fishermen’s Museum. This lighthouse is probably the most photographed lighthouse in the area. Most photographs are taken from the east side where one can catch the lighthouse reflections in the many pools of water left behind from high tide.

From Pemaquid Point head north on route 32, making a stop at Round Pond (actually an inlet) and another at Greenland Cove. On Keene Neck you will find the Hockomok Nature Trails.

Continue north on 32 and then south on 120 to the town of Friendship and Hatchet Cove. From there continue on 97 north to Thomaston.


Thomaston is located on the banks of the inlet that drains the Saint George River. Its first European presence was a trading post in 1630 that remained continuously open despite Indian raids.

From Thomaston, head south on route 131 to St. George where you will find Fort St. Georges. After exploring the fort, head south to Cutler Cove. You my want to take the western shore back roads so that you can also explore the various inlets and coves such as Cutler Cove, Otis Cove, Turkey Cove and Deep Cove. Continue north on 131 to explore the eastern side of the peninsula.

Once back in St George, head north on Route 73 to Owls Head.

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Other Information

We stayed at the Shore Hills Campgrounds on the Cross River in Boothbay. This “Base Center of Operations” was where each our daily trips began and terminated.

For most of the trip, we relied on the Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx to guide our exploring. Although built for hiking, this GPS also allows one to download and overlay maps, of the area. The unit does provide turn-by-turn navigation, like many of the Car GPS units. We just wanted to see where roads lead, so we could strategically follow roads to potential photographic spots. We were also able to use the unit to quickly mark points of interest for return trips when the light is optimal for photography.

Our basic plan was to spend from 10am to 3pm scouting out locations for landscape photography. We carried the  Brunton Eclipse 8099 compass with us so that we could determine what time of day would be best for photography. At 3pm we would begin formulating a plan for locations to visit for sunset photography. After sunset, we would head back to camp, make dinner formulate a plan for sunrise photography.

Among all the landscapes, and a harbor scenes there are also are a number of quaint photographic compositions that can be found in and among community neighborhoods, For example I found a row of mail boxes on a back street that could be a spectacular photograph in the right light.

Many roads shown on maps turned out to be private ways, causing us to seek alternate routes.

How to Take HDR Photos with an iPhone


© Richard Cox

Learn how and when to use your iPhone camera’s built in HDR mode.  You don’t need to be an expert on High Dynamic Range photography to leverage this powerful feature to capture better photos. Your iPhone camera has a built-in HDR mode that will automatically produce HDR images.

Camera Settings

  • Select the “Settings” icon
  • Scroll to “Photos & Camera” on the Settings page
  • Enable the “HDR (HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE) option
  • Enable or disable the “Keep Normal Photo” option. If enabled, this will save both an HDR and a normal version of each photo. It is recommended that you enable this feature because HDR will not always produce a better photo.
  • Take photos. You will get HDR photos as long as you keep these settings.
  • Turn HDR on and off for individual photos by tapping “HDR On” or “HDR Off” on the top bar of the Camera app.

Try HDR in the following situations

  1. Closeups
  2. Outdoor shots. HDR will be particularly useful for portraits and scenes with strong lighting differences
  3. Scenes without moving subjects. HDR works by blending multiple images (normal, under-exposed, and over-exposed) so if the subject moves between these shots, the final HDR image will be blurry.
  4. Dimly lit scenes when you are not using flash. HDR is not available when using flash, so you will have to choose one or the other. HDR is the better choice when photographing a scene beyond the reach of your flash. You may also prefer result in cases where either approach would work. Try them both!

Related links

  • How to Create a High Dynamic Range Photograph

How to Photograph a Baby


© Richard Cox

Be Ready

  1. Have your camera ready at all times so that the child is comfortable with being photographed and you can capture spontaneous moments.
  2. React quickly to what the child is doing. It is unrealistic to expect very young children to sit still and pose.
  3. Identify times when the baby is at his or her happiest. These are the best times to capture a smile.

Capture the Image

  1. Get down to the baby’s level.
  2. Make the photo session fun for the baby to get the best expressions and most cooperation.
  3. Make sure that the eyes are in sharp focus.
  4. Keep the shot simple. Too many props or distracting clothing draw attention away from the baby.
  5. Try shooting the sleeping baby. These peaceful shots can be easier to take and capture the essence of the baby’s life as a newborn.
  6. Try macro shots of tiny body parts. Closeups of little hands and feet capture an important part of the baby’s story.

© Richard Cox


Process the Image

  1. Use PhotoShop or other editing software to take out distracting blotches or specs of food that don’t enhance the image.
  2. Try converting the image to black and white. This can soften the image and minimize blotches and other distractions.

How to photograph a dog


© Richard Cox


  1. Allow plenty of time for the dog to become comfortable with you.
  2. Instruct the dog owner to have the dog bathed and groomed prior to the photo shoot.
  3. Bring attention-grabbing toys to get the dog to focus on your camera when it is time to capture the photo. Surprising the pet will create an alert look that will last a few seconds. Toys that squeek are a good choice.
  4. Use treats sparingly to encourage the desired behaviors. A treat-focused dog may become unruly.
  5. Consider the use of props. Too many props can be a distraction in the composition and make it more difficult to capture the shot you want.
  6. Plan the shoot for when the dog is somewhat sleepy (either just waking or ready for a nap) when he is likely to be easier to keep still.

Photographing the dog

  1. Use natural light to avoid startling the dog with the flash of artificial lighting. Shoot one hour after sunrise or one hour before sunset to get the best available light conditions.
  2. Get down to the level of the dog to shoot at his eye level.
  3. Focus on the eyes to make sure that they are in sharp focus.
  4. Photograph the pet in positions and activities that are typical in order to capture the true character.
  5. For an alternate composition, try shooting down on the dog from a higher level, using a stairway or ladder.
  6. Try filling the frame with a portion of the pet (e.g. just the face) for a different view of the subject.

How to Create a High Dynamic Range Photograph

Learn to overcome the limits of your camera sensor’s dynamic range with HDR techniques

© Richard Cox

For any given exposure setting, your camera’s sensor is capable of capturing only a portion of the color and brightness information visible to the human eye. HDR techniques increase the amount of detail visible in a single image by merging the information gathered in multiple shots taken at different exposure settings. If your camera has a built-in HDR mode, it will typically merge two shots: one exposed for the highlights and the other exposed for the shadows. You can do HDR with any camera that allows you to change exposures and then use post processing software to merge the images. [Read more…]

How to Photograph Food

The Food

  1. Make food look shiny. Polish fruits and vegetables like apples, tomatoes, and peppers. Try coating them with a thin layer of Vaseline or spray with a mist of water. Using both techniques will cause the water to bead on the surface.
  2. Work with a food stylist or learn from their work. Study magazines and cookbooks to learn how to garnish and plate different types of food in the most appealing manner.
  3. Undercook food to preserve their color and texture in the photograph. Slow simmered stews may be more delicious, but they are generally not too photogenic. Barely cook the vegetables and just sear the meat.
  4. Mist the surface with hair spray to create the illusion of frost.
  5. Use a steamer or a microwaved sponge, tampon or cotton ball to create steam. The moisture from a steamer can be hard to control. With either method it will take practice to control the steam and time the shot for realistic results.
  6. Make it beautiful by employing non-edible arts and crafts techniques. Glue seeds and nuts onto the surface or paint in an attractive and realistic color. Note that in some types of product photography it is illegal to misrepresent the contents of the package with this type of trickery.

The Photography

  1. Use flash to augment available light. Bring light diffusers and reflectors to avoid hot spots on the subject.
  2. Mount the camera on a tripod and use a cable release or timed shot to minimize camera shake.
  3. Light hot food from the back or side and use a dark backdrop to make the steam show in the photograph.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings when working in busy kitchens. Stay out of the way as much as possible and always say “behind you” when passing behind a worker. Look for opportunities to capture some photojournalism shots of chefs in action.

How to Photograph Night Scenery


© Richard Cox

Capturing the beauty of night scenes is a challenging photographic problem due to the low levels of available light. With practice, you can master key camera settings and work out a formula that works well for your particular camera and lens combination.

[Read more…]

How to Create an Effective Digital Workflow

The primary goal of Digital Workflow is to maximize image quality and avoid data loss throughout the end-to-end process from camera settings to finished images. There are many tools and recommended techniques to assist you with your workflow. This tutorial will guide you through the issues to consider as you establish the system that best fits your requirements. [Read more…]