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The anatomy of a great shot

The Baltimore Sun

When I returned from an overnight travel assignment to photograph the covered bridges of Lancaster County, Pa., Bob Hamilton, The Sun's director of photography, looked at the photos as I was editing them and said, "Amy, you had way too much fun on this assignment!" He was right. I was lucky to get paid to take photographs in the scenic Amish country, but all photography should be fun.

While digital equipment has taken much of the intimidation factor out of photography, good composition is still essential. Here are some tips to hone your skills:

Get closer: Before you click the photo, ask yourself if taking another step or two nearer to your subject might be an improvement. Are there distracting elements around the edges of your photo -- or worse, ones that appear to be growing out of your subject's head? Avoid the deadly composition of your family, from the waist up, at the center of the frame, next to the historic marker or landmark. Place your subject in the foreground, off center (remember, take a step closer) and far enough from the landmark to create a sense of depth. A wide-angle lens does this best.

Shooting subjects: For photos of people, a telephoto lens will enable a shy photographer to get candid shots, but don't use this as a crutch. Often you'll do better to approach the subject in a friendly way and ask permission to take a photo. This will get you close enough, with a normal or wide-angle lens, to get a more meaningful image that reflects your interaction with the subject.

Lighting: Soft, luminous early morning light can make for great photos. But take a break from photography at high noon on sunny days, when the light is harsh and unflattering. Try to be outdoors later in the day, when the warm color of the afternoon light and setting sun will wash every scene in an inviting glow.

Extras: Be sure to have spare batteries and memory cards. Cameras are useless when that battery dies. There's nothing worse than being on a three-hour boat ride with a dead camera.

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