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Backyard gallery: CU site gives readers a way to showcase what is important to them

September 2, 2009 - Art Smith
The News and Sentinel recently relaunched CU, our popular online photo-sharing site. I like to tell people it is the largest collection of photos of the people, places and things of the Mid-Ohio Valley. The site now has more than 97,000 photos, so in all likelihood, it is.

When people cover events for the newspaper they normally upload the photos from the activity to CU. People are free to browse the photos and even order prints if they wish.

Readers can also take an active role on the site. The process to upload photos is simple. Hundreds of readers have taken advantage of the site to upload photos and share them with their friends and strangers alike. So far the public has uploaded more than 30,000 photos to the site.

For the last eight years I have managed the Web site for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel, including the CU site. Before the sites came along I worked for years as a photographer for The Marietta Times. When the CU sites came along I found them particularly interesting because it merged two things that I have always been interested in — photography and the Web.

The popularity of digital photography has made it easier, and a lot cheaper than it once was to capture the perfect moment. I once ran through 100 to 200 rolls of film per month as a photojournalist.

Today this would fit on just a few inexpensive and reusable memory cards. Today I rarely take a news photo. I do take a lot of pictures. Our family trips and activities are very well documented. Some of these photos end up on CU.

Good photography does not require exotic locations or even fancy cameras. Most of photos I take now are taken with a low end Nikon camera body with lens made long before digital cameras were invented. The $200 digital cameras sold today produce photos that are as high of quality as cameras that cost thousands just a few years ago.

Good photography does require a few key things, though. I have put some of my own photos on this page to help illustrate some points. No exotic locations here. Every one of the photos was shot in or very near, my Waterford area yard.


When I was a photographer people would often ask me what the best camera was to use. Today, I answer that by telling them the best camera to have is the one that you will have available when a picture presents  itself. For many today this might be a cell phone, for others a small auto focus camera that fits in a pocket. The most important thing about good photography is simply having a camera available.

Great timing means capturing a photo at just the right moment. Here’s a little secret. Capturing the right moment generally required the professional 20 to 30 shots, followed by some editing. Don’t be afraid to take a lot of photos. One is likely to be sharper, better framed, more exciting than the other 29. The bug feeding at the flower on this page took several dozen attempts to capture just right.

Good lighting means quality, not quantity. The middle of the day, when the sun is at its brightest, is the worst time of day to take photos. Early morning is a great time, as is the time about an hour before dusk. The sun is diffused more when it is low in the sky, which helps to provide more pleasing tones in photos.


There are, of course, different types of contrasts; colors can contrast with one another, as can textures. Good lighting can improve the contrast in many photos when it casts tiny shadows across objects.

People normally take photos from whatever height their eyes are at when they stand up. Get down really low and shoot up, or get up high and shoot down, it will help give you an interesting angle and in most cases simplify the backgrounds. Get close to show the detail of something, back up to show the local environment. Remember, your goal is to tell a story with your photos, not to simply record life from your folding chair.

The best photos of people are candid ones where the people are virtually unaware they are being photographed. The best way to get people comfortable is to take the posed ones first and then just continue to take photos. Your subjects will soon ignore you and your photos will show the slice of life that you intended. Using the telephoto function of your camera can help, since it can increase the distance between you and your subject. Remember to have fun taking pictures and to try new things. Thanks to digital photography you can always delete your failures. Thanks to CU you can always share your successes with friends, family and local Internet community.


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Remember when photographing wildlife to try to isolate the animal or bird as much as possible. Since most birds and animals have natural camouflage, it is a good idea to try to contrast them against a sky or other area.


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