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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Snap decisions
The winning entry in this year's BBC News website photo competition is a startling image of the aurora borealis that any keen photographer would be thrilled to have taken. But how did winner Max Pickering and some of the other finalists get their pictures?


If there's one lesson to be learned from Max Pickering's winning picture, it is that persistence pays off. The picture was taken by Max earlier this year, while on holiday in Lapland - his seventh visit to within the Arctic Circle.

"I go primarily for the photography," says Max, of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. "It's pretty much become an annual holiday because of the aurora, which is at its best around the spring and autumn equinox."

The winning picture was taken on the last night of his week-long visit and owes much to his careful planning.

"In the evening at about 9pm I'd go out to a location and set up the cameras and plant myself there for several hours, just trying to stay warm."

Temperatures at the time were averaging -25C, he says.

With light levels so low, long exposures of 20-30 seconds were required for each shot. But so as not to miss a shot if one camera was in the middle of an exposure, Max took three cameras - all digital SLRs (single lens reflexes) - which snapped in rotation.

Max's mantra

The winning image was taken with a specialist ultra-wide angle lens (an expensive piece of equipment) to capture that broad sweep of sky.

Max Pickering
You don't need expensive equipment to take good pictures. It's in the eye
Max Pickering

So what are his tips for anyone who might hope to take a picture to rival this winning image? Some pricey kit, perhaps?

"For me photography is 75% anticipation. I'm always looking for a shot that's about to happen, but staying open minded enough to switch at the last minute. You don't need expensive equipment to take good pictures. It's in the eye," says Max, who, since taking the picture, has gone professional.

"This picture is a good example - getting everything ready to be in the right place, at the right time; setting stuff up so you can operate it with boxing gloves on and then just being ready to get the shot."

Did he use any post production to boost the colour?

"Absolutely not. The aurora is amazing. I took it to be printed up and they said they couldn't - the printer couldn't render that amount of green."


No relation to Max, Bronwen Pickering snapped the group of Geishas while on holiday this year in Kyoto, Japan.

"I turned a corner and suddenly there they were. I just lifted my camera and took a picture," says Bronwen, of Chiswick, London.

"Kyoto is famous for its Geishas and I'd wanted to get a picture of them, but they can be hard to find. I thought this was a really lovely photo because one is serious and demure in a Japanese way, and the other two are laughing.

But there's more to this chance shot than just luck. Bronwen, 34, says she is "always thinking about photos".

Bronwen Pickering
By taking lots of pictures of each subject, you can learn from them
Bronwen Pickering
People are her chief theme; architecture too. She tends to snap without asking permission because "if you interrupt someone you lose that spontaneity. Generally people are ok".

Does she have advice for other amateurs? "An interesting subject matter is really important and to think about taking it from a different angle than you might look at it normally. And, by taking lots of pictures of each subject, you can learn from them."


Early mornings are one of photography's down sides - a time when the light is softer and more ambient. So while other tourists in the ancient Nepalese city of Bhaktapur were probably just waking up, Vicki was up and about with her camera.

Her picture, winner in the "uniform" category of the competition, was taken during her holiday there in the late 1990s. The city is a "photographer's delight, with its temples, palaces, monuments, pagodas and people," she says.

But the shot in question is testament to the habit of looking for the unexpected - in this case, a side street "where people actually lived or passed through".

Vicki Johnston
Having done so well, I think I need to re-consider my priorities
Vicki Johnston
"I was looking up at the ancient buildings and architecture, how the light was playing, when the kids caught my eye. I just snapped one off and this is the result," says Vicki Johnston, who took the shot using a Pentax film camera, on an automatic setting.

"I didn't even know the little one at the back had her hand in the back pack or that she only had one sock, till after I had it printed."

Originally from Scotland, but now working in Bermuda, Vicki's photography has been superseded by the demands of being a single mother. But having done so well in the competition, "I think I need to re-consider my priorities," she says.

Next week, the three remaining category winners talk about their photos.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Superb! I'm so glad max won the competition. When I saw his aurora photo a few months back, I immediately made it my desktop on my PC, I love that picture, so 'atmospheric'!
Chris Davies, Melbourne, Australia

The aurora borealis was great. I couldn't help but to save the image in my hard disk. Congratulations to Mr. Pickering! But if he had used film, he would have had no problem with the greens... Everyday I mourn the passing of film and the new reign of digital! Anyway... marvelous photo!
Mario, Sao Paulo, Brazil

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