Good Photos Are Not Accidents

By Leann Walker

Volunteering at the Putnam County Fair this year, for the photography contest, helped me realize the passion our community has for photography. It was easy to see an emotional connection each individual had with their photos. An emotional connection to photographs can blind our eyes to technical issues, compositional issues, and missing subjects or storylines. I would like to discuss a snapshot versus a photograph, photographs telling stories, and some free software to help turn snapshots into photographs while correcting some technical issues.

Those of us who have a reasonable fondness for photography don’t hope to roll out of bed each day and take crappy photos. Unfortunately, unless some simple guidelines are followed the images may be disappointing, resulting in a collection of snapshots. Snapshots have no clear subject to draw nor storyline, while photographs draw the viewers’ eyes to a certain area of the image. Keep in mind, the photograph should not be too dark or too light, should not be blurry, and no body parts should be cut off unnaturally. For more information about technical aspects of photography check out, “20 Photography Tips for Beginners”.

Sound complicated? It’s not difficult once you slow down and think about setting up your photo, which takes practice. Since cameras lack the capability to see as we do, using photo editing software can improve many issues. There are many free editing programs online for every device. Why use software? Cropping an image makes sure the subject stands out. Lightening photos that are too dark, and darkening photos that are too light is critical, while sharpening tools help improve a blurry image. Examples of free programs are Adobe Photoshop Express, GIMP, and FOTOR. The vast majority of photographers edit their photos by sharpening, cropping, and color adjusting.

Photographs are what people see and feel, and inspire conversations. Know what you want to photograph and what story you want to tell with an image, but don’t limit yourself; tell the stories you want to tell. When telling your story, fill the entire image area, empty space is incredibly distracting; cropping can be especially helpful to rid empty space. Before taking a photograph, look at the scene; then decide the subject/story. Check for street signs, trees or poles appearing to grow from the subject; if present, position your camera to avoid this distraction.

In image 1, the slanted couch in the background takes the eyes away from the subject baby Axton Julian. His feet are cut off. The viewers are overwhelmed by so many distractions in the background.

While image 2 has all of baby Axton’s feet showing, there are even more distractions present in the background, minimizing the subject, while the couch is horribly slanted.

In image 3, all the distractions are removed. The background is darkened. The couch is straightened. The baby is the center of attention. His inquisitive, playful eyes are bright and sharp. The viewers are not confused as to what they are looking at.


As you take photographs, please refer to this information to improve your photography. These simple rules, take time to perfect; but don’t stop practicing. For more tips and techniques, many online resources will take you through free courses such as “Basics of Photography: The Complete Guide” at


The Cookeville Camera Club holds photography contests several times per year. Enter your photos into the photography contests of the club and get feedback from seasoned photographers like Leann Walker. Readers are referred to for information about contests.