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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 7:50 am | Partly Cloudy 44º


Captain’s Log: Tips for Capturing High-Quality Outdoor Photos, Cover Shots

A feller sent me a fishing photo for a publication I write fishing reports for. It was a photo of a fisherman standing at the edge of a river, smiling and holding a big steelhead. The scenery was nice and the fish was big, but that’s where the good parts of the photo ended.

I shrugged and forwarded it to the editor, whose job it is to choose which pictures to include in the publication. A few minutes later, the feller sent me another message wanting me to ask the editor if his photo can be the cover shot. I grimaced but dutifully forwarded the message to the editor, who I was beginning to feel sorry for.

The editor sent me a note back saying that the fish was washed out with no color to it, the fisherman’s face had shadows across it and the light was from a bad angle, but the scenery behind him was great. Besides, it was just a simplistic grab-and-grin shot with no character whatsoever.

Grinning sardonically, I replied to the editor, “Yup, and if you don’t use this guy’s mediocre shot on the cover, you’ll be the bad guy. That’s why you get paid the big bucks and have the mahogany corner office. You DO get the big bucks and have the mahogany corner office … right?!  He wrote back, “LOL … I’m working on my sofa at home and I can see a pine tree out the window. Does that count?”

OK. Let’s talk about what kind of picture gets selected for publication. And let’s talk about what kind of photo makes the cover. Publications absolutely love to get good photos. Mostly they get junk, sadly. A publication-worthy photo must first be technically good, with helpful lighting, no shadows across the subject and adjustments set just right so that colors are vivid. Beyond the technical side, a publication-quality photo must help the reader understand what a special story the adventure was.

Now to cover shots. Of the thousands of photos I’ve had published over the years, there have been only a small handful of cover shots. I use a professional camera and I know what I need to capture. But cover shots are where everything planned and unplanned come together perfectly. It is a rare and blessed event that usually includes something almost magical that couldn’t be seen or even expected through the lens.

It may even be possible to take a cover shot with modern cell phones, though the chances are lower than a flat tire. But to make it happen, get back to the basics of good photography and snap enough photos (dozens, at least) that the magic things have a fair chance of creeping in. I’m talking about something like a humpback whale breaching unexpectedly in the background or a hawk swooping in on a ground squirrel. And you can pretty much forget about selfies with the cell phone or iPad. Chances of a selfie cover shot are probably one in a million. They are mostly for social media, where quality is not the important thing.

But the most important advice of all, no matter what device you use, is to align everything you can and then keep snapping lots of photos. Upload them to a device with a larger screen and then delete all but the one single best one. When you look at your photos, be critical and recognize what is mediocre about them — and please don’t put some poor editor in a tough situation.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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