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It's a beautiful photograph, but do you know WHY it's beautiful?
Let's talk a little bit about pictures and why we love them.

Pictures can be beautiful. They can decorate a home or and office; be published in books, magazines and calendars; they can even win ribbons or prizes in contests. A breathtaking landscape can transport the viewer to another time and place, if only for a moment. A beautiful still life can capture a mood of serenity, warmth, even magic. A great portrait of a person can look into their soul, and let you share their smiles or tears. A great picture communicates. Think about it. There is a huge market out there for photographs because publishers know that the people who buy their materials will be drawn to good photographs that reach out to them. Visual communication is something that we're all born being able to relate to. The subjects out there to take pictures of are limitless. The only boundaries are within your mind.

But what makes a photograph successful? The answer is a fairly simple one, and you can improve your photography today by learning a few very basic rules.

One caveat, however. As the old saying goes, rules are meant to be broken. Some of my favorite photographs very purposely break a lot of the basic "rules" of photography. But to break the rules in a way that enhances a photograph and effectively turns it into a great photo, you first have to know the rules and have a reason for wanting to break them. So today we're going to talk about simple photographic rules that will make your pictures better.

Number one: Get in close. No, closer. Nope, still closer. There! You've got it!

The first, and most important, rule: Simplify. The more you simplify a photo, the more attention you draw to your subject. The more attention you draw to your subject, the more successful you are in communicating your message to the viewer. There are roughly a million and two ways to do this, so I'll keep it simple and stick to my favorite technique here, and that's to get in as close as possible, thereby eliminating anything in the background that may detract from your subject.

Over the years I've belonged to a number of photography websites where people post photos and then others can critique them. I can't count the times on these sites that I've looked at photographs of beautiful flowers. Haven't we all taken photographs of flowers? They're inherently beautiful, readily available and seem to just scream out to have their pictures taken.

Before you snap your next flower photo, though, do this: look up close at the flower. Really close - literally. Put your eye right down there and examine the petals, all of the delicate little parts in the center of the flower, any sort of unique characteristics the flower has. Ask yourself what it is about this specific flower that is crying out to have its picture taken. Is it that stack of today's mail sitting on the table behind the vase that's really attracting you to it? Maybe the wooden table, or that placemat that the mail is sitting on? The vase itself? How about the green stuff in the vase with the flower? Are any of those things what you really want to emphasize in this photograph? No! It's the blossom itself that wants to be the star.

So try this. Set your camera up on a tripod as close as you can get it to the flower, while still keeping the flower in focus. You may have to include some of the greenery in the photo, or perhaps even some of the vase or table. If so, for heaven's sake, get rid of the stack of mail. The people you show the picture to in the end will be looking at a rectangular-shaped print, and if what you want them to see is the flower, it should take up as much of that final rectangle - we'll refer to it as "the frame" - as you can possibly get in there.

Getting in close seems like sort of an obvious thing when you think about it, but I can't tell you how many background stack-of-mail type distractions I've seen in photographs, where the flower takes up maybe 1/10, (or less), of the final image and the rest is composed of distracting elements. One way to eliminate distractions is to simply move them out of the frame, but my favorite way is to just get closer and closer until there's nothing else in the viewfinder. That way you hit your viewer smack-directly in the face with your subject. This is referred to as "filling the frame". There's no question about what the photograph's subject is, and you've communicated with the person who sees the final image!

The bottom line is to focus the attention on your subject by really thinking about what you want to emphasize. Try it the next time you're taking pictures and see what you think. Here are a couple of examples I've found right here on iStock!

This is a classic beautiful rose shot. The frame is full of nothing but soft rose petals, with enough detail you feel you could reach out and touch them. The light hits the blossom just right, creating just enough shadow to make each petal stand out from the others, and you get lost in that beautiful swirl of pink. No distracting vase, table or pile of bills!

When I saw this image, I was so impressed that I nearly fell over. The beautiful tones and the simplicity really work well here. You'll notice how the photographer has gotten in really close - to the point of cropping off the man's chin and most of the top of his head. The focus is on that wonderful genuine smile, emphasized by the laugh lines at the eyes and a bit of a dimple on the subject's cheek - all bringing your attention right back to that fantastic smile.