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|| News Item: Posted 2004-02-17

What's the secret handshake?
Becoming a member only requires good images. Handshake optional.

By Brad Mangin,

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

If your backgrounds are ugly and the light is bad like in the image above, go upstairs and shoot overhead to clean up your backgrounds and get better light.
So, you've been checking out for a while, and you've saved up your $25, and you are ready to take the photo world by storm by becoming a member. Excellent plan!

Maybe you've even been rehearsing the lines of your first post to the message board. Or you've got some items ready to list in the classifieds. Or maybe you just can't wait to get your hands on the database of internships.

There's just one little thing you should know first.

Not everyone is accepted as a member to In fact, we have to turn away more people than we accept.

Each membership application is reviewed before it is activated, and many applications don't get approved the first time through.

We've compiled a list (below) of the most common reasons why applicants are not accepted. From the quality of the images you submit, to the completeness of your member page – we're looking at a lot of things that you may not consider important.

So, in the interest of "full disclosure", here's what we are looking for:

Clean Backgrounds
Please pay attention to your backgrounds. Be aware of the cars, chain-linked fences, distracting advertisements, really awful bright white blobs, cheering parents, hot dog vendors, lighting fixtures, stray dogs, piles of uncollected trash, etc.

If you are at an event, actually take the time to look at the background through your lens – if it is filled with clutter, do something about it.

Move around. Find another shooting location that will give you a cleaner background. Try and shoot backlit so your background becomes the backlit trees – which will go dark-green or black.

If there is not a good background available from any position, try looking for an up position to shoot from. Shooting from overhead is cool because the ground becomes your background - that can mean a solid brown background (infield dirt in baseball) or a solid green background in football or baseball.

Also - the longer the lens you use the cleaner your backgrounds will be. Shooting baseball or football with a 70-200 zoom at f/11 will most likely result in really cluttered, very sharp and detailed awful backgrounds because there is too much depth of field.

Shooting with a 400mm or 600mm lens wide open (at f/2.8 or 4) will really help to clean up your backgrounds by throwing them drastically out of focus (which is a good thing) - thus making your main subject pop out and make the picture more pleasing to look at and easier to read.

Cropping Effectively
Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Remember to crop your images for impact. This picture was shot too loose with a 70-200 zoom, but it's sharp so I was able to crop into the subject to make a better picture.
Crop your images as tight as possible. This helps to simplify the image and help the reader understand the real point of the image. Crop in as tight as you can without cutting off any limbs, if possible.

If your image is already very tight try and make sure you are not cutting off any arms or legs at the joints - this makes for an awkward crop and makes the picture hard to look at.

Do not have pictures with too many athletes in them - unless the image is a cool and moody scene-setter. Use a longer lens to get closer to the action- this will make your images much better.

Remember – it is essential that your images be simple and clutter-free. Use cropping to help keep things simple and clean. That guy standing in the background, eating a tray of nachos – you might want to crop him out.

Focus, Focus, Focus
Your images need to be tack-sharp. There is no such thing as "kinda sharp" or "pretty sharp" or "almost in focus". It's either IN or it's OUT.

No one wants to see an image that is not in focus. If it isn't sharp don't show it. Pretty simple rule.

With today's autofocus cameras it is much easier to make sharp pictures than it used to be. Editors will not accept images that are not sharp, so you should definitely not include any out of focus images on your member page. Please make sure your images are in focus.

Also, please don't think that an out of focus image can be "saved" back in the computer later. Although use of the "Unsharp Mask" tool is important, and gentle use of it can help your images, it still can't "save" an out of focus image. Extreme overuse of it will only make it look like you're trying to save an out of focus image.

High Image Quality
Make sure your images are properly toned and processed.

Make sure your monitor is calibrated and not too light/too dark. I used to have a monitor that was dark but I didn't know it. All of my images looked good on my screen but when other people saw them on their computers there was no black at all - thus the images looked absolutely terrible - all washed out and flat.

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

The image on the left would have been real nice- IF IT WAS SHARP! Alas- I messed up. Version on the right is oversharpened in Photoshop to try and save it. Don't do this as it does not work.
Also make sure your images don't have any weird color casts. You don't want all your pictures to have a nasty cyan or magenta cast. Your images should contain whites, blacks, and a wide range of colors in between. The images you show in your member page should also look similar in terms of color balance and sharpness.

Why? Because picture editors are looking at more that just your image. They're looking at how you tone, if you're able to detect major color shifts, and if you're skilled in the use of an image editing program. When your images are all over the spectrum (some are flat, some are contrasty, some have a green cast, some have a blue cast) they will be less likely to give you an assignment because they'll feel unsure of what you're going to end up sending them in the end. Will it have a color cast? Will it be flat?

Showing that you have a set of standards for yourself, and that you're predictable and you are in complete control of your camera/scanner/computer, and that you pay attention to details, and that all of your images have a similar "look" to them will result in you getting more assignments from more picture editors.

Excellent Image Selection and Editing
Universal Photo Fact #1: Photographers are their own worst editors.

You may have included some images that aren't as good as you think they are. It may be a painful process, but we, an outside party looking at your images, may feel that you should edit out or replace something.

That image of yours that you've fallen in love with because it was "really hard to get" or that you "went through a lot to get it" may not register with everyone else. Although it may be an accomplishment on your end to have pulled off this image, it may not belong in a collection of your life's best work.

A good rule of thumb is to look at some of the other members and get a good feel for the general level of quality of the images on the site, and work to match and/or exceed that level. Sometimes it's as simple as cropping better.

If you've submitted pictures of a sporting event taken from the stands with your 50mm lens, we're officially telling you now: This will not help you.

Pictures shot from the stands with an underpowered lens are obvious, and not the kind of images that are considered "professionally acceptable". That means we'll think twice about activating your membership to this site if we see these kinds of images in your gallery. A word of advice: Don't include pictures shot from the stands in your member gallery.

Who Are You?
Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Toning your images correctly is very important. You don't want the pictures in your finished gallery to be: (from top) too cyan, too magenta or too yellow. You want your image to look like the version on the bottom.
There is a little space on each member page for a little message from you. This is meant to be the place where you tell everyone a little something about you. Maybe it's what kinds of assignments you like to shoot, or how long you've been in the biz, or what you're looking to get out of your membership.

The point is, people who come to this site want to know something about you. Providing a little background gives people an idea of who you are and what you're all about – and this is important. If you're a student looking to learn something, SAY THAT. In most cases, people will excuse your less-than-Pulitzer images because you're a student.

Just don't leave this area blank. If you do, it will count against you in several ways – including us activating your membership.

Can You Write?
Spelling errors. No captions. No image titles. Grammar problems. All of these things are not good, and won't help you.

Captions are important, so include them with each image. Don't assume that everyone knows what's going on in an image, even if you think it's blatantly obvious.

Once again, editors want to know that gathering complete and accurate caption information is part of your routine – and something they can depend on. Including caption information with every image says good things about your work habits.

Spelling and grammar errors tell an editor that they're going to have some extra work on their hands if they hire you. Checking your work for errors, and then fixing them, takes time – and editors don't have any time to spare.

Are You A "One-Hit-Wonder?"
We won't activate a membership if you only submit one image. In most cases, we won't activate any membership unless they have at LEAST five images.

Having too few images in your gallery says "I don't have much to show," and makes it appear that you haven't been shooting very long, you lack experience, and that you don't have very many good images.

Our advice: Fill up your member gallery with TEN of the best images you've got. Show some variety, not just images of batters swinging, and not just images of people doing a "slam-dunk" at a basketball game.

Mix it up, and show that you're thinking during an assignment. Show that you're looking for the best picture – wherever it may be, and that you are creative.

OK, I am impressed. You read this entire thing. Congrats for getting all the way to the bottom.

Now that you've got all this information fresh in your mind, gather together your 10 best images, have a few other people check them out to make sure everything is as cool as you think it is, run your captions through spell checker, and show us what you're made of.

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Sing, sing a song. Make it simple ::..