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Editor’s note: This blog post was written by Talia Day, CNN iReport’s summer 2014 intern. Day, who curated our Travel Photo of the Day gallery throughout her internship, shared some of her top photography tips with the iReport community.
You don't need an expensive camera or years of training to capture a stunning image. The best photos require a good eye for visual storytelling and the patience to wait for the right moment.
If you are like many CNN iReporters, your overall aim is to get your photos, videos and stories on CNN. That tiny red icon isn't simply for show, it means your content meets CNN’s standards – and that’s something to be proud of!
To help you make the cut, we've written a list of five common problems that may prevent your images from being verified by CNN, as well as some general photography tips.
1. Over or underexposed images
Even a well-composed image can be ruined if it's improperly exposed. Exposure refers to the amount of light your camera uses to render an image.
If the camera's sensor is exposed to too much light, an image will be overexposed. That means your photo will appear too bright and lose some detail.
To avoid this pitfall, don't face the sun while you're shooting and, if you can, avoid shooting against bright backgrounds.
If the sensor isn't exposed to enough light, an image will be underexposed. Similar to an overexposed photo, important detail will be lost. This time, though, your image will appear too dark.
To save yourself the headache, make sure that you are in a well-lit area and utilize your camera’s flash component in low-light situations.
The easiest way to avoid both scenarios is to make sure you are shooting in the best possible light with the best possible camera settings. For more advanced users, check your f-stop, ISO and shutter speed to adjust for each lighting condition.
2. Bad composition
A poorly composed photo can leave the viewer uninterested and sometimes confused. Having a subject that’s too far away or cropping the photo too much can hurt the photo’s composition.
When the subject is too far away, the audience can get distracted by having too many objects to focus on. There’s no clear focal point of the image.
Often times we may resort to cropping an image to get closer. This quick fix can severely affect the quality of your photo by cutting down its resolution or leaving out important details, like the surrounding location.
The best way to zoom in is with your feet – get close to the subject! If you have the resources, invest in a telephoto or zoom lens that allows you to get closer without leaving your position. Also, remember that photos and videos with horizontal or landscape orientations are used more frequently by CNN and have a higher chance of being featured.
3. Overediting and compositing
With the advent of software like Adobe Photoshop, photographers have been given a new range of tools to enhance and correct their photos. Because we’re looking for newsworthy images, we encourage photos that are as true to real life as possible. Here are some examples of overediting:
Too much saturation
We all love colorful photos, but oversaturation distorts reality and therefore alters an image beyond the truth. If skin tones appear to be orange in hue or certain colors are hard to look at, you’ve done too much.
Too much contrast
When an image is slightly overexposed, it is natural to want to add in more contrast, but too much contrast can distort the image and affect its color and brightness. A photo that has been overedited may have colors that appear to be vibrating or a halo effect where shadows and highlights meet.
Removing or adding details to a photo that were not originally there is a form of compositing. We generally discourage images that are composites. The rare exception is some astrophotography, which we’re careful to tell viewers how the composite was created.
If you do make edits, please keep them to these basic changes: simple color correction, slight adjustments in brightness/contrast, minimal changes to exposure and some cropping.
4. Blurriness and low resolution
If your image is verified by CNN, it could be used both on-air and online. Please upload images at the highest resolution possible so they appear clear and crisp.
Images uploaded to CNN iReport should always be in focus. Checking your focus in camera and avoiding abrupt movement while shooting can ensure you capture a clear image. Even smartphones have auto-focus features that you can use – just tap and hold the part of the image you want to focus on.
In the age of the Internet, many photographers feel they should take special measures to protect their work. One way to ensure that you are credited is watermarking; this process involves superimposing text over a photograph as an identifier.
Watermarks are great tools when posting your images online, but can become more of an obstruction if done improperly.
A bad watermark is fairly large, created using an odd font/color and placed on top of relevant subjects in a photo.
The iReport team will always credit your images, whether online or on TV, so watermarking your image is not necessary.
If you are interested in having your work verified by CNN, it is best to upload images without a watermark. If you do watermark an image, be prepared to send us the original file so we can verify it.
By following the photography tips above and making sure your photos match our ethical standards, you’re one step closer to having your images verified by CNN. Our storytelling is only as good as the content you send. Go forth and capture the world!
Notice anything different on CNN iReport?
Today, we changed the banner on unapproved photos and videos from "Not Vetted By CNN" to "Not Verified By CNN." We decided to make the switch because the term "vetted" isn't as widely understood and recognized as "verified," especially as our community is located worldwide. While our verification process hasn't changed, we hope that the shift in language will help to clarify what's cleared by CNN and what isn't.
We receive hundreds of iReports a day, and only a fraction of those are cleared and approved for CNN's non-user-generated networks and platforms, after a CNN producer fact-checks and verifies the details of a story. When a story is approved, the "Not Verified for CNN" bar disappears and is replaced by a red "CNN iReport" bug that lets the community know a story has been cleared. Our producers also give iReport stories extra context, by adding producer notes with further details and/or additional quotes from the iReporter.
Sometimes people post deliberately untrue stories on iReport – about celebrity deaths or giant asteroids, for example. Hoaxes are one of the risks of user-generated content and we take them very seriously. In addition to changing the "Not Verified" banner, we're constantly looking for ways to improve our internal tools and workflows to better identify false content that may go viral. And as always, we encourage our users to flag any content they deem inappropriate.
Thankfully, the deliberately false stories are few and far between. The most powerful stories, of course, are the true ones – like Joe O'Neill's touching video of a centenarian's 80th college reunion; Raymond Angeles' colorful portraits of Berlin Fashion Week protesters; and Palestinian-American Naim Naif's heartbreaking account of what it's like to watch the ongoing Gaza conflict from afar. These are the stories worth sharing with the world.
We're so thankful for all of you who are part of the iReport community, and look forward to telling more amazing stories together. If you have other suggestions on how to improve the iReport experience, please let us know in the comments below.