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Award winning Pulitzer prize shots from the last 30 years (opens in new window)more great digital photography tips
The Pulitzer prize is probably the most coveted award in photo journalism. Whether conscious of the fact or not, we are probably all familiar with some of the iconic award winning images from the last 100 years. But actually all winners of the prize have one thing in common.... they all followed the first of our top ten tips to capture the perfect image...
(We have included a link at the bottom of the page, to a gallery of the Pulitzer prize winning photos from the last 30 years)
I have lost count of the number of "top ten photography tips" articles I have read over the years. Normally they focus on (sic) the photography techniques that deal with exposure control, shutter speed and depth of field etc .. or classic composition "rules" such as the "golden ratio" or rule of thirds. Of course all of these things are important and we WILL be covering them in detail elswhere in this site. But for now, (albeit a little bit tongue in cheek) after an arduous 5 minute brainstorming session over a coffee and a donut in the digital photography bureau's canteen we bring you the DPB's very own top ten photo tips.
So, did you figure out that winning tip that all those pulitzer prize photographers followed..
Have a camera with you!
Yes, possibly the most important and oft overlooked tip in all of photography. A photograph isn't a photograph until it exisits!
Ask yourself these two simple questions,
1) Do you carry a camera with you at all times?
2) Looking back, can you recall any instances where you spotted a great opportunity for a unique, funny or once in a lifetime photo opportunity .... but didnt have a camera to hand.
We can ALL answer "no" to the first and "yes" to the second. Its true that sometimes great photography requires planning, sophisticated equipment and advanced knowledge and technique, but sometimes the capturing of a great photo - perhaps the one that ultimately you will be most proud of, maybe even the one that wins you the Pulitzer prize.. will simply be the one where YOU were the person that had a camera ready and went CLICK..
So continuing the theme of being as prepared as the best boy scout, we bring you tips 2 to 9.
Don't be a camera snob!
What is a camera snob? and does this describe you? (I shamefully confess to being one in the past, but after years of group therapy at camera snobs anonymous I think I am finally cured).
Camera snobs tend to consider themselves "enthusiastic amateurs" (but never a PROFESSIONAL .. a true professional would NEVER fall into the camera snob trap). Camera snobs typically use a digital slr and the more expensive the model, the more snobby they tend to be. Being the proud owner of such advanced.. and here is the main point BULKY EXPENSIVE equipment, there are occasions where they simply just dont want (or its impractical) to have the burden and risk of lugging all that heavy, costly equipment about... fair enough... but do camera snobs throw their old trusty 6mp compact camera in their pocket/purse instead...uh uh no way.. THEIR photography skills have far surpassed what can be accomplished with a cheap basic old compact .. they wouldn't be seen dead using one of those!
OK OK, I think we have made the point (its basically the same one as tip 1). Carry a camera with you.. ANY camera! If its inconvenient, impractical or risky to carry your top dollar kit with you .. fine! leave it at home but do take your old compact, camera phone or other image capturing machine with you.. after all, that Pulitzer prize event may just happen tonight....
Clean your lens (well, ideally your skylight filter) at the END of your photo shooting session BEFORE packing your equipment away!
"At the END of the session" I hear you cry "but surely I should clean the lens BEFORE taking photos?" Well yes of course you should. But actually this tip is telling you to do just that... unless of course your lens will mysteriously get dusty/ dirty/ covered in salt spray/ grimy finger prints/ chocolate (yes chocolate, hey! what can I tell you, I have a sweet tooth) when safely sleeping under its lens cap in its expensive camera bag.. Again the point is to be READY. You never know when that moment is going to be before your eyes (or better still, viewfinder) and I promise you this - when you do whip your camera out to capture that award winning shot... it would be a shame if your $3000 top notch state of the art kit, rewards you with a soft murky image because in the heat of the moment you hadn't had time or remembered to give that lens a wipe! (I've been there, done that ... not going there again!)
Get your shots out of the camera and into your computer.
Download your photos to your computer (or portable storage device) and make back-up copies as soon and as regularly as possible. Missing that prize winning shot because your memory card which holds 1500 shots happened to be on number 1499 just two shots before the magic once in a lifetime moment came.. is no joke! Nor is it particularly funny if you capture the shot but then lose it forever because your memory card gets corrupted, your camera gets stolen, or you inadvertently hit the "delete all" instead of "delete selected photos" function.
Its also a good idea to carry empty and formatted spare memory cards with you. (Go on, these days they aren't expensive. Remember the good old days where a roll of film holding a measly 36 frames cost an arm and two legs?)
Recharge your camera's battery at the END of your session .. or earliest convenient moment. Invest in a spare battery and remember to regularly swap and keep them fully charged. Remember if a camera runs out of juice just before you get THAT shot, you may just as well be carrying around a slab of heavy black plastic and glass!
At the END of your photo session .. reset any non standard functions that you have been using and put the mode selector dial onto FULL AUTO.
Again, its all about being ready at a moments notice. If you do have to fire off a quick shot the moment your camera is out of the bag and fired up with its clean lens, charged battery and empty memory card.... you probably (not definitely, but in more cases than not) stand a better chance of capturing a half decent (ie prize winning) shot in this mode, than some obscure manual mode with widest aperture , longest shutter speed , ISO 50 and 3 stops exposure compensation that you were last using (for what exactly were you using these settings one wonders?)
Know your camera.
Answer this question honestly How well do you know YOUR camera? choose from the following answers,
a) I vaguely know where the power switch and shutter thingy are.
b) I know it quite well actually - What's that ... the instruction manual? well, no haven't ACTUALLY read the instruction manual.. after all its 264 pages long and full of stuff I dont understand and will never use.
c) I know it back to front, inside out and upside down. I can select any one or any combination of its 50 primary settings whilst blindfolded and holding it behind my back.
d) I HAVE read the instructions, and I do know where to access the functions, but I am still not entirely sure what each of them do.
OK, so modern cameras are technical complicated pieces of equipment.. on the upside this means that they are designed to help you get good photos by doing a lot of the tricky stuff like calculating optimum aperture, iso, and shutter speed to return a good exposure! But all those additional programmable user features are there for a reason too.. and sometimes (not always) taking control of the cameras settings is what is needed to turn a good shot in to that prize winner.
Developing this intimate knowledge of your camera and appyling it succesfully comes in two parts
a) UNDERSTAND basic photography concepts and how various camera functions can be used to achieve certain results.
b) Learn how to access and control these functions on your own equipment, so you can deploy them quickly and acurately (preferably without having to consult the instruction manual.. (which by the way, as a little "tip on the side" its good to carry in your camera bag)
You will attain these two things firstly by research or study .. Read a book, take a photography course or consult on-line advice such as this (in fairness that's exaclty what you ARE doing right now! so congratulations you have made a good start). The second thing is practice, practice, practice, using your camera. The two greatest aspects of digital photogrpahy are that it is a) possible to take lots of photos cheaply and b) to view the results of a given set of settings immediately on-camera.. So dont wait until the moment you need to get a good shot to discover you are unsure of how to lock the focus, or bracket the exposure or change the drive mode to burst, or set the flash exposure compensation etc etc .. just go out pick a subject and photograph it.. try using different settings, find out how to access them and see what effect .. both positve and negative that they have on the resulting image.
Use your feet as well as your head.
Use your head to think a little about the shot you want to achieve.. (assuming you have time ) first take a breath and stop to consider how you WANT the end result to appear.. then apply your photography knowledge as best you can to make judgments about the kind of settings you might need ... depth of field, shutter speed, focus system and drive mode etc etc and then and only then begin to adjust your camera settings accordingly .. take test images, review the results and if necessary make adjustments and take more shots.
So that's your head.. what about your feet! Well, basically move them. Unless you are on the edge of a cliff, or shooting wild tigers in Kenya, dont be frightened to get closer to your subject... just because your camera has 30x optical zoom... doesn't mean you HAVE to walk backwards 50 paces just to use it! Invariably (not always) its better to get closer to your subject ( if you can do so without making it run away or eat you) Also move sideways, climb up and clamber down... put the camera down to floor level or raise it high above your head ... experiment with how and from where you are composing your shot... you'll be amazed just how many different ways you can capture the same subject just by using your feet!
Sometimes a little bit of planning goes a long way to helping you capture the shot you want. Think in advance about what you want to achieve.. those prize winning shots arent ALWAYS the result of opportunity throwing itself in front of you.. Think about what time of day best suits your subject.. maybe sunrise, maybe early evening.. when will it be least crowded, from where will you get the best vantage point, what weather conditons best suit? Consider what equipment will you need (eg tripod etc) Just a little bit of forethought can make a huge difference to achieving the desired final result.
Our last and final tip and along with tip 1, possibly the most important....
Dont forget that its not only the subject in your viewfinder who should "smile please" ... Enjoy your hobby and try not to get frustrated if you dont manage to get that Pulitzer prize winning shot everytime you take the camera out of the bag. If you aren't satisfied with the results try and assess them to work out what spoils them or could have made them better.. maybe a different composition or perhaps different depth of field or lighting?
And If you're out shooting family and friends at a wedding or party, or on holiday at some exotic location or watching your favorite sport... take a moment to be there WITHOUT being behind the lens as well...it can be all too easy to capture the memories photographically but somehow feel when you look back at the photos that you missed out on the experience itself!
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Award winning Pulitzer prize shots from the last 30 years (opens in new window)
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