How to Take a Winning Photo

Bob Speare has seen his fair share of photographs. Not only did he serve as the regional director for all our wildlife sanctuaries South of Boston, the Cape, and the Islands, he was also one of Mass Audubon's photography instructors—and a judge for our annual Photo Contest. When evaluating the contest entries, Speare looked for several qualities. 

To help you take a winning photograph, he shared some tricks of the trade.

Know What Your Camera Can Do

Landscape © Paul Mozell
© Paul Mozell

“Before you take a photo, first find out what your camera can do for you,” said Speare. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Depth of Field

The area in front of and behind a focal point that remains in focus. Landscapes require a longer depth of field while wildlife and plants benefit from a shorter one.

Sharp Focus

All the elements that are meant to be in focus are very crisp, with no hint of blurriness.

Balanced Colors

Time of day, overhead lighting, and the white balance function on your camera all play into how colors will appear in the finished product.

Good Exposure

Overexposed images are distracting and underexposed images lose details. Play with the exposure compensation on your camera to fine-tune the contrasts.

Focus on Creative Composition

Pileated woodpecker © Linda Cullivan
Pileated woodpecker © Linda Cullivan


Look carefully around all the boundaries of the frame before you take the photo. What’s in the picture? What’s not? What should be? Vary your positioning and perspective based on the answers to these questions.

Leading Lines

Identify directional elements that will drive the eye to the depth of the photo. Diagonal lines tend to be more interesting than vertical or horizontal.


Adding a frame helps tell the story by giving it a sense of place or time. It can also help create the perception of greater depth. Just be careful that your frame doesn’t compete for attention.

Rule of Thirds

To help you determine where the subject should be, divide the viewfinder/screen into a tic-tac-toe board. Items of visual interest should be placed along the vertical or horizontal lines, not in between.

Want to Learn More?

Learn more about how to capture the perfect shot in an upcoming photography class.


Already have a winner?

Enter the photo contest between June 1 and September 30!