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The Top 10 Photo Techniques of 2011

Improve your photography skills with these ten essential photo tips from this year's Digital Focus.

Being a photographer is sort of like being in school--in a good way. There's always something new to learn. (Or if you prefer, you could just let your photo editor do most of the hard work for you.) As I write my very last Digital Focus of 2011, I thought it would be fun to take a look back and round up the ten most essential articles. If you're looking to brush up on some photography techniques over the holiday break, here are my recommendations.

1. Learn and Apply the Rules of Composition

It's true that rules are made to be broken, but you should really understand the basics before you start flouting convention. There are a few simple rules of photo composition that, when you can consistently apply them, will elevate your photos above "snapshot" status. Spend some time mastering tricks like the rule of thirds and the rule of diagonals by reading "The Rules of Photographic Composition."

2. Understand Megapixels, Megabytes, and DPI

Never again feel confused when someone asks for a photo "in 300 dpi" or be unsure if your picture is too big to email. Submit a photo to the Digital Focus Hot Pic of the Week contest with confidence. How? Read "Everything You Want to Know About Megapixels, Megabytes, and DPI," where I demystify all these terms.

3. Improve Exposure with Histograms

In the old days, the only way to improve the exposure of a photo was in a darkroom. Now, you can easily brighten and darken your photos until they look just right. Unfortunately, that's not as easy as it sounds. One easy way to improve your exposure is with the Histogram tool--get the scoop in "Improve the Exposure of Your Photos With Just a Few Clicks."

4. Master Hyperfocal Photography

It might sound intimidating, but hyperfocal photography is really just a technique for ensuring your entire image, from foreground to background, is in sharp focus. Not every photo benefits from this technique, since you often want to "focus" on a single subject (sorry, pun was sort of intended). But hyperfocal photos can look stunning. I explain how to use this technique in "Maximize Your Depth of Field With Hyperfocal Photography."

5. Add Some Bokeh to Your Photos

While we're talking about cool effects, how about taking a fresh look at your bokeh? No, it's not some sort of medical condition. Bokeh refers to the character of the blurry elements in your photos, generally most obvious in light sources and reflections that occur in the background of your photos. You can control many aspects of your bokeh with your choice of lens, and you can tweak bokeh with software as well. Check out "Making the Most of Your Photo's Bokeh."

6. Take Stunning Silhouettes

You generally don't want your subject to turn out dark and featureless, but occasionally that's exactly what you need to make a great photo. Of course, I'm referring to shooting silhouettes. Creating a good silhouette is generally little more than making sure the subject is adequately underexposed to strip out the color and detail. Learn all the details in "5 Tips for Shooting Dramatic Silhouettes."

7. Fix Unwanted Shadows

Of course, most times when you're taking photos you don't want the subject to look underexposed, and you don't want shadows creeping into your photos. There are some easy techniques to brighten those regions and add energy and detail back into your shot. You can read all about it in "Brighten Unwanted Shadows in Your Photos" and "More Image Editing Tricks for Brightening Shadows."

8. Take Portraits at Night

There are 24 hours in the day, but it seems that most cameras really only take good photos for less than half of that time. Want to take better people pictures after the sun goes down? There are a few ways to do that, like investing in a camera that is designed with night photography in mind, or trying a few easy tricks to improve your night photos with the camera you have. The details are in "Taking Good Portraits at Night."

9. Take Beautiful Slow-Shutter Photos of Water

I love capturing the essence of motion in my photos, and there are few better subjects for that sort of thing than water. It covers three quarters of the earth's surface, and it looks wonderful on film when you slow down the shutter. Check out "Taking Dreamy, Misty Ocean Photos at the Beach."

10. Create Dreamy Photos Wth Orton's Help

Finally, I wanted to remind you about a very pretty photo editing trick that you can perform with almost any photo editing program and learn in just minutes. Check out "Apply the Orton Effect for Glowing, Vibrant Photos" to learn how to stack two photos--one sharp, the other blurry--to get a gorgeous, ethereal photo that looks like a work of art.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Great Egret" by Volodymyr Staryy, Rockaway Park, New York

Volodymyr says that he took this picture at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, in Queens, New York. He used a Canon Power Shot S3 IS.

This week's runner-up: "A Very Different View" by Hasan Salmaan, Leicester, UK

Hasan says that he captured this "very different view of the Eiffel Tower" with his Canon 5D and a 70mm lens.

To see last month's winners, visit our November Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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