Friday, August 08, 2014
Shoot like a pro: 5 common photo mistakes to avoid

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.

5. Watermarks

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!

August 8, 2014
Click to view katie's profile

We're going to miss you, Talia! Thanks for the excellent tips.

August 8, 2014
Click to view k3vsDad's profile

Thanks for the great tips. Best of luck in your career as you move onward and upward.

August 11, 2014
Click to view TheWXwarrior's profile

Not a bad set of photography key points. Remember this is geared toward iReports. That is a citizen grade reporting that is now fairly competitive. There is a whole lot more to learn and apply to your images to truly become a photojournalist. In fact, one of the few times in the artistic world I say a college education (note, not saying a full degree) is a damn good idea.


This is also on the media/journalism side where authenticity is a major component. If you like high contrast shots and other more "processed" images, that starts to move toward the fine arts side. I am moving that direction myself as a photographer/videographer of severe weather. 


And of course, always remember, beyond anything: CONTENT IS KING!

August 11, 2014
Click to view zdan's profile

Thanks for the feedback and your perspective, @TheWXwarrior. Content is king!

August 11, 2014
Click to view BQueen1's profile

Thanks for the tips, Talia, and I'm sorry to hear you are leaving, but good luck on your journey and someday we ay meet again...

August 12, 2014
Click to view JackFreer's profile

Excellent suggestions Talia, thank you!

August 12, 2014
Click to view ChrisMorrow's profile

Talia, good luck on your next adventure!

August 15, 2014
Click to view M2014's profile

now i know thnx Talia


September 3, 2014
Click to view amg032's profile



September 9, 2014
Click to view DianJandrell's profile

Thanks, it is useful indeed. I do beleive even if you have got not a pro camera you still can take beautiful pictures - and such suggestions will be of help!

September 12, 2014
Click to view Justinguru's profile

Thanks Talia for helpful share!

September 21, 2014
Click to view Bzaman's profile

Thank you for your vital information.

October 1, 2014
Click to view nyakachunga's profile

Learning something great

October 12, 2014
Click to view triptoindia's profile

great tips for amateur photography. for reporting, a pic has to be worth many words..!!

November 22, 2014
Click to view hasan1234's profile

nice tips.. thank you for this post

April 9, 2015
Click to view ireportagent's profile

Thank you for great info :)

October 12, 2015
Click to view estelle4's profile

Great tips for everyone who has a thing for digital storytelling for the web and amateur photography

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