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Jim Richardson travels the world making photographs for the National Geographic Society. He has photographed a combined 45 stories for National Geographic magazine and for National Geographic Traveler, where he is a contributing editor. Richardson has been called "perhaps the most prolific photographer for one of the world's most prestigious magazines." Among his recognized areas of expertise are the British Isles and Celtic culture, as well as a range of scientific and conservation subjects such as grasslands and water. ABC News Nightline, The Martha Stewart Show, and CBS News Sunday Morning have featured his work. Time, LIFE, The New York Times, and other worldwide publications have relied on his photographs. Richardson has photographed several books and his audiovisual presentation based on his noted documentary photography projects about small-town life won the Crystal AMI Award for international excellence. Richardson teaches workshops and seminars in the US and abroad. He also accompanies small groups organized by National Geographic Expeditions. He is a seasoned public speaker, delivering insights about travel locations and environmental issues, as well as about making graphically compelling images that also convey information in a complex world. His work requires strategy and endurance, as well as a good eye and the right equipment. "Students and other photographers want to believe in the romance of the moment—that we just happened to get the picture, the idea of the once-in-a-lifetime shot," Richardson said. "If I do my job right, it's my job to go out every day and get once-in-a-lifetime shots." Jim lives in the small Kansas town of Lindsborg, where he owns a Main Street gallery and studio called Small World. His work is at www.jimrichardsonphotography.com, and his ideas about photographs can be found at www.jimrichardson.blogspot.com and on www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Richardson/1024136166.
'Twas a lovely day for watching life go by in Ireland. And I think I saw most of it as I sat there in Kilronan on the Aran Islands, waiting for this horse-drawn trap to come by. I waited and I waited and I waited some more. (Turns out it was their lunch break.) But finally I heard the familiar clip-clop coming and I was ready with my camera. In the end it paid off and I had my picture of the Celtic cross with Irish life all around. The photographic trick is to get everything all lined up and then be very patient and have faith that what you saw once will happen again.
Everything was perfect that morning off the coast of Ireland. The sea of pink blooming flowers on the rocky shore, the sea like glass, the National Geographic Explorer waiting patiently while we explored. Each of them would have made a nice picture. Together they told a story. And by getting down low, very close to the flowers I was able to get it all in one picture. The big bonus was the way combining a close foreground with distant objects gave a great sense of depth to the picture.
Adding color to a picture is a simple but valuable trick, even when you have a subject as wonderful as the Valhalla Ship's Figurehead Collection in the Scilly Isles. One such trick looks and sounds silly—until you try it. Here it is: frame your subject up with some leaves or flowers in the foreground, but get really, really close to them. The leaves adding this splash of green were no more that two inches in front of my lens. So poke around until you find just the right hole to look through and then play around until you get a pretty effect. It works. Honest!
Boring pictures often become interesting pictures when you start leaving stuff out. The official town crier of Dartmouth is actually a nice looking guy, but you'd never know it from my picture. I was more interested in making a picture that was all about the trappings of his position and duties, all the lace and brocade essential to proper decorum. Detail photographs let you mix things up once in a while, and that's often a welcome relief in the long parade of faces.
Picture frames aren't all made out of wood, you know. I'm speaking now of using one thing to frame another within a photograph. The nice benefit of doing this is the artistic way you draw attention to something further away by surrounding it with something up close. Almost anything can serve the purpose. In this case I was up on the Basilica in the Piazza San Marco in Venus when I noticed how using one horse's hoof to frame another horse was kind interesting.
Give yourself a gold star every time you find a pattern to photograph. Our eyes never seem to tire of tracing the lines and figuring out the rhythms of life revealed by patterns. I found these in an artwork made entirely out of seashells at the Tresco Abbey Gardens. And if the graceful, repetitive curves weren't interesting enough, then the iridescent colors just put it over the top.
Night shots are often as beautiful as they are mysterious, but I'll let you in on a secret. Most really good "night" shots aren't taken at night. They are actually taken a dusk, before it actually gets dark out. Sometime after sundown there comes a magic moment, when the castle lights have been turned on and the sky is shading towards a deep rich blue and the whole scene just seems to glow. So set up your tripod and wait out the perfectly balanced moment.
There comes a moment in any trip when one great castle or cathedral begins to look like another. That's when the best pictures come from going a little wild. Sitting outside the Papal palace in Avignon I was at one of those moments, when I noticed how, if I were patient enough, the pigeons would land in front of me. Framing up the palace in my viewfinder I waited and then let out one great shout. Pigeons flew everywhere and I had my picture.
Life is such a stream of people and places, moments and meaning. Our pictures get better when they capture that sense of serendipity combined with the precious and fleeting. So take a break and let some of your subjects look the other way. Let the picture be about their experience and what is happening to them. This lad in Wales is drinking in a world. Don't interrupt.
This is not what I expected to see from the deck of the National Geographic Explorer off the coast of Ireland. The Irish Coast Guard having a bit of practice landing crewmen on our deck. At those moments you don't have to be the greatest photographer in the world, but you do actually have to have a camera with you. The unexpected makes powerful pictures.
Wait It Out: Patience Pays
Foreground Plus Background Equals Depth
Add a Splash of Color
The Fun Is in the Details
Framing Adds Focus
Watch Out for Patterns
Wait Until Dark
Dare to Experiment
Not Everyone Has to Be Looking at the Camera
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The animals of planet Earth share our home and bring joy to our lives. Whether we see them in some remote vast wilderness, or snug asleep on our sofa at home, these creatures share our world and enrich us with their beauty, bravery—and sometimes with their antics. Pictures in this category should celebrate our partners in life.
From the grandeur of the cosmos down to the world within a drop of water, nature casts a spell on us with stunning landscapes, towering forests, graceful geology, and the never-ending wonder of how our planet is clothed in beauty. Pictures in this category can explore everything from insect life to landscapes and flowers. (But anything focusing on animals should be entered in that category.)
As citizens of the planet, we find a lot of ways of expressing who we are, what we like to eat, what calls for a celebration, what we wear, and how we look at life. We are rich in cultures. Photography can help us share that richness. Pictures in this category should focus on how people live and make their lives meaningful.
Travel photographs bring back our experiences as we travel the world (even if that exotic location is in our own backyard.) This category is about the joy and adventure of traveling and exploring. Pictures here should show the experiences of traveling and the unexpected joys of encountering the world and making new friends.
Weather constantly remakes our world into something we hadn't quite expected. Children delight to wake up to a world covered in snow, farmers give thanks for long-awaited rain, frost casts its magic on our windowpanes, and sultry afternoons make us drowsy. Pictures here should convey all the ways that weather keeps us guessing and delighted.
Energy makes action and action makes great pictures. The top of the leap, the speed of flight, the arc of the throw, the splash of the stream, and the blur of laughter—all make for great pictures of life as it happens. Pictures in this category can be crystal clear stop-action or dreamy blurs of motion-in-time. Either way the action and energy are fun to capture.