If there’s one common thread that we have with submissions, it’s that the images are almost always poor quality — so much so that we can’t run the story, which is a bummer when there’s so much potential there. So let’s address these issues head on and give you some guidelines for what we’re looking for.
There’s so much to talk about when it comes to photography that we could fill up an entire issue; we’re not even going to touch on composition, framing or anything like that. But since we want to fix the common problems that we’re getting, let’s just point them out now and get it sorted the right way.
Choose Your Weapon
Put your phone away. No matter how many megapixels your new Nokia or iPhone tells you it has, most likely the shots you take will not be suitable for print (megapixels and their value is a whole other topic of discussion). Now this is changing all the time, but right now your camera phone is doing too much processing of the image for it to work on our end, which means that there are fuzzy lines, artifacts and the like. If it is a photo taken with a phone, it has to be in full light, no shadows and no flash — and even then, it might not be good enough.
You have lots of choices for cameras, including point-and-shoot models like you’d buy anywhere or a digital single lens reflex, also called a DSLR. Professionals often use a DSLR or a variant thereof because of the flexibility you get by being able to change lenses on the fly. However, you can use almost any camera as long as you’re able to adjust the settings and follow a few basic rules:
* Always shoot in the largest file size/format possible. Most cameras today have settings such as “JPEG Large” and the like. The bigger the better, that’s the rule.
* Keep the ISO low. We don’t have the space to get into what ISO is, but for our purposes, the higher the ISO, the grainier the image and the less suitable it is for print. Stick around 100 if possible.
* Use natural light whenever possible and avoid the flash. A well-lit image is better than one that’s harsh, as is often the case when using a flash.
* Focus. This one sounds easy, since a lot of cameras are autofocus nowadays, but seriously, focus on the subject of the picture. You’d be amazed at how many shots we get that we can’t use because everything is too fuzzy.
* Avoid flares. Unless you’re J.J. Abrams, you can’t really get away with a lot of lens flares and reflections. If you have a lot of chrome on your bike, consider shooting it in “open shade,” which means that it’s the middle of the day and there’s lots of light, but you’re in a shaded area, such as under a carport.
Get It To Us
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you can stuff 20 pictures in one email, none of them are big enough to work. We need high-resolution pictures, the biggest digital files that you can send us. The typical dimensions on one of our professional photos are 4592 x 3061, which is a fairly big shot. The general rule of thumb is that the bigger you can get it to us, the better off we are.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you can stuff 20 pictures in one email, none of them are big enough to work.
Of course, then there’s the “how,” because if it’s too big to email, how do you get it to us? Well, there are lots of online options, including our favorite, Dropbox. You can set up a free account at Dropbox.com, which will install a folder on your computer. Put the pictures in that folder, then share a link to that folder with us. If that doesn’t work, consider WeTransfer, or you can also establish an account on Flickr and send us a link there. If all that seems too complicated, just plop the images onto a USB key and send it in via snail mail.
Speaking of, if you’re using a film camera, you can either send us the images in slide format, via negative, or a print itself. Any of those options is fine.
Above All Else
Remember this: Generally, we do not return photos. We have thousands of photos that come our way. If you need the picture back, then we recommend that you get a duplicate and send that to us instead.
If you ever have any questions about your shots, either before or after you take them, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com and I’ll walk you through it. We have so many stories that we have to turn down because of poor image quality and it’s just a shame. Let’s fix it so that your next trip can be our next cover.
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