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Winter wonderland is a great place to point your camera for starters. (Steve Maanum / For the Enterprise)

From Backyards to Backwoods: Ready, aim, shoot! 2010 challenge begins

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Here it is, the 2010 Nature Photography Challenge. We've worked out the details so it's time to get your cameras out of storage and put them to use. Subjects can include backyard birds and other wildlife species, trees and other plants, scenery and landscapes, and connecting people to nature - focusing on kids doing things in their natural world or adults and kids coming together for some nature study or activity.

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Let's show off winter in the Park Rapids area. Many of us moved to this region of the state because of its natural beauty. We sometimes take it for granted so this photo challenge can serve as a reminder to all of us who are living here and it can be an invitation to anyone contemplating a visit or a move. We'd like to see participation from a cross-section of our residents ­- from kids to adults and from novice to professional.

The photos will be displayed on the Enterprise Web site's wildlife gallery. If the response is overwhelming, we may have to sort through and have each photographer choose his/her best photos from each category for publication.

Here are some basic photographic tips to consider.

-If you are using the autofocus mode on your camera, remember to press your shutter release button half way down, allowing the lens to focus on your subject and consider using a tripod for a steadier shot.

-Watch the lighting. Early and late in the day are preferred times for nature photographers because the light is softer. Mid-day sun can be harsh, with glare and shadows. Cloudy days actually provide even lighting and a flash can be used to brighten your subject, if needed. The light can be your friend or enemy. Learn how to use it. A common rule to follow is having the sun behind you, but a side-lit subject or even a back lit subject can give dramatic results.

-Know your subject. That helps you plan for when and where to take your photo.

-Shoot at eye level. That might mean going high or going low. Don't be afraid to get on your knees or stomach for that ground level shot.

-Fill the frame. If your subject only takes up a small portion of your viewfinder, it's only going to take up a small portion of the frame, too. The shape and size of your subject will direct you toward shooting in a horizontal or vertical format.

-Watch for foreground and background clutter. It can definitely compete with or distract from your intended subject.

-Finally, try to capture that special moment. A close-up shot of a blue jay at the feeder can be fine, but the shot of him just as he's landing or taking off can be more dramatic. Challenge yourself to show action in some of your shots. Interaction between two animals or between an animal and a human can be an award-winning photo.

-Remember to always put safety first - yours, as well as your photo subject's. Good luck!

Photos can be e-mailed to sdmaanum@unitelc.com or to sarahs@parkrapidsenterprise.com.

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