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Sunset on Georgian Bay, 2010.

Tim Fraser/Tim Fraser

Like most hard-working people, I enjoy taking a vacation from my profession. But when that profession happens to be photography, it can be hard to get away from it all. Especially when other vacationers press me for photo advice. It happens. A lot. At the cottage. At the beach...

I could get surly about it. Instead, over the next eight weeks, I'm offering up basic tips on everything from capturing sunsets to taking pictures under water. But I'll warn you now: While the odd time a good photo is simply taken, any number of my professional colleagues will tell you that great photographs are earned. It takes work.

That said, photography, at its very essence, is a spirit of visual adventure. The tips I'm offering up this summer aren't rules or formula or gospel. I hope they will lead to a better picture for your album, or, at the very least, allow me to vacation in peace.

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Sunrise, sunset

When it comes to the rising or setting sun, I have little to no interest in getting the sun itself in my picture. Here's why: The sun can be a jerk to photograph, putting flares of light in your picture where you don't want them. It also creates a lot of contrast: This can work when there's a good foreground you want silhouetted, but for the most part, as far as a digital camera sees it, the sun tends to turn everything but itself black.

It's counterintuitive to take a sunset shot without the sun. But have you ever heard of the magic hour? It's what we photo nerds call that time at which the sun is invisible below the horizon, yet punches out some of the prettiest light cascading across the morning or night sky. In the magic hour, the light becomes softer, clouds pick up the spectrum of warm colours from bending rays, and neither you nor your camera have to squint so much to pick up details within the rest of your composition. In the magic hour, the sun is still there doing its thing, kicking out light, only it's not dominating your picture. It's bringing everything else in your frame to life in a brilliant way.

If you're trying to show someone with the sunset and you want to see who it is, remember to use flash as whoever you're shooting is going to be heavily backlit. And if you're intent on getting the sun in your picture, aim for a hazy or partly cloudy day – both can do a lot to diffuse and reduce the sun's intensity. Try zooming in on the sun with your camera instead of shooting at a wider angle. If the sun is what you want, take yourself as close as you can go. Just remember to think three dimensionally, and to look for an interesting foreground to bring new life to that sunrise or sunset. Good luck!

Send your sunrise/sunset photos to The Globe and Mail Camera Club (find out how at tgam.ca/photo-desk). Our favourite will be published next Friday (preference will be given to photos taken during the week of the call-out) on the Pictures and Prophecies page in Globe Life.

Next week's column: Landscapes.

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