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Laurie Swope is a Boston-based editorial and commercial photographer who specializes in portraiture and feature photography. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Sunday Globe Magazine, Boston Common, the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more. See her work at www.laurieswope.com.

Jerry Monkman is a conservation, travel, and adventure photographer and filmmaker based in Portsmouth, NH. Known for his work in New England’s wild places, he has spent the last 20 years documenting the mountains, forests, and coastlines that define the region. For more tips from Jerry, check out his book, AMC Guide to Outdoor Digital Photography, and visit www.ecophotography.com.


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Taking a great photo doesn’t have to mean owning an expensive digital camera – any more than lugging around a pricey camera guarantees professional-quality shots. To help you snap flawless photos this summer, we asked two of our favorite photographers to weigh in with their top tricks of the trade.

CAPTURE THE LIGHT
LAURIE: The right light can make the most ordinary scene spectacular, and difficult light can make the most spectacular scene seem quite unremarkable. Most often, the best light occurs when the sun is lower in the sky, such as mornings and evenings. When the sun is lower, faces, objects, and scenes are lit at our own eye level, filling in the harsh shadows that occur when the sun is overhead. Also, the light is warmer in tone because it travelled through more atmosphere, which filters out the shorter wavelengths or bluer tones. But other times of the day can also produce spectacular and unusual light. Keep an eye out for fog or rain clouds that are about to part. My favorite light is the most fleeting. It occurs for just seconds at a time, when a cloud begins or ends its pass over the sun, and the soft edge of the cloud acts as a partial filter.

JERRY: If you’re out hiking in the woods, you’re going to just take a photo, of course. But if you want your photos to have a more sustaining quality, you’ll want to get out within 30 or 40 minutes of sunrise and sunset because the quality of light is more dramatic and beautiful. The landscape being lit by that warm-tone, low-angle light brings out texture and detail in the landscape. Shooting in the woods on a bright sunny day, for example, is often going to look terrible in a photo because a camera’s lens simply can’t process the contrast between the light and dark in the way that the human eye can. For woods and waterfalls, the middle of the day on a cloudy day is actually great because you’re dealing with less contrast.

TO FLASH OR NOT TO FLASH
JERRY: Whenever your main subject is in shadow and you have a lot of bright sunlit areas in other parts of the scene, using flash will add detail to those areas. Sometimes you might have the sunset in the background, and might need to lighten up your subject a bit to achieve the right balance (otherwise, you might have a lovely shot of the sunset, but your subject’s face is in shadow). So don’t be afraid to experiment with your flash settings, even outdoors.

LAURIE: I only use a flash in daylight if I am shooting an outdoor event in direct sun. If I have the freedom to move around looking for features, I will search for the right light, even if that means seeking out shade. If outside, trees are our best light filters for midday. Look for the subtle variations of light in shady areas. Different kinds of leaves and various densities of foliage filter the light differently. Often the best place for an outdoor portrait is at the brighter edge of a deeply shady spot.

COOL COMPOSITION
JERRY: We all start out thinking we want to have everything symmetrical — and that’s actually kind of boring. Instead strive for an asymmetrical balance. The easiest way to think about that is the rule of thirds — imagine a tic-tac-toe grid, and put your main subject at one of those intersections as opposed to right in the middle. For example, if you’re shooting with the horizon, try to put it in the top or bottom third, which will create more energy in the photo, and be more energetic and dynamic. On many digital cameras today, you can display a grid to help you line up your object based on this rule.

LAURIE: I shoot a lot of portraits and, I have to say, there really are no rules. Portraits vary as much as the people you are photographing. Relating to your subject is really the most important part. You have to let them be who they are. Sometimes that requires standing back, and sometimes it requires drawing out. If they are kids it often requires that you just let them play. You can have perfect light and the perfect composition, but when it comes to people, expression is key and if your subject isn’t comfortable you will not have a good picture.

SUNRISE, SUNSET
LAURIE: If you want to capture that sunrise or sunset, use your camera settings to meter on the sky. But the best pictures are behind you. My advice is to turn your back on the sunset and see how its warm glow is magically lighting up the people, objects, and scenes around you.

PARTING SHOTS
JERRY: When I was starting out, I was frequently told that you need to develop your own vision and style — but no one could ever explain how to do that. You can’t just set out and say I’m going to create my own style. You shoot as often as possible and find your passion. The more you shoot the more you’ll be led towards the things you’re interested in. You’ll get more photos you like — and your style will start to develop as a result.

LAURIE: The most important thing I learned in my early career as a newspaper photographer was that expectations are blinding. I used to hope for certain photos as I drove off on assignment, and, of course, looking for what is only in your head obscures your vision of what is truly there. Now I know how to lose the pre-conceptions and expectations and I’m able to see the world more clearly.

Published June 2013

Learn More

Our Experts

Laurie Swope is a Boston-based editorial and commercial photographer who specializes in portraiture and feature photography. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Sunday Globe Magazine, Boston Common, the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more. See her work at www.laurieswope.com.

Jerry Monkman is a conservation, travel, and adventure photographer and filmmaker based in Portsmouth, NH. Known for his work in New England’s wild places, he has spent the last 20 years documenting the mountains, forests, and coastlines that define the region. For more tips from Jerry, check out his book, AMC Guide to Outdoor Digital Photography, and visit www.ecophotography.com.


Get the scoop on our first-ever statewide photo contest.

Join Us
Donate