Better photography (part 1)
(I had to split this into two parts because I hit the 10,000 character post limit. Best to limit responses to this first part to avoid a jumble.)
A stated goal of the Hiking Project is to "provide guidebook quality" descriptions. How well is that guideline working for user contributed photos? Color photographs are expensive to print but very cheap to serve online. Moreover, even the black and white photography in many guidebooks is mediocre. So by this standard, we are doing okay.
But we could be doing much better. We have a lot of crappy photos and we have grade inflation in the reviewing process. The user interface does well to indicate a meaning for each number of stars: 1 = lousy, 2 = okay, 3 = good, 4 = great, 5 = awesome. Based on these definitions, I think photos are being rated half a star too high on average.
It is unrealistic in a crowd sourced project to expect a lot of great and awesome photos. After all professional photographers need to earn a living. So the goal should be to raise the standard at the low end, giving advice to users about how to produce good, i.e. 3-star, photos and to discourage the submission of significantly flawed photos. Great photos are often the result of a fortuitous location, lucky lighting, the right perspective and framing, good equipment, and sensible post-processing. Good photographers have learned how to be in the right place at the right time, know their equipment and so on, but this takes experience. By contrast, crappy photos are usually poor because they violate basic "rules" of photography that are easy to learn. Below I present some advice based on common problems that I see with photos on this site. It's all the sort of stuff one could learn from an introductory book on photography, e.g. one by John Hedgecoe. (I only consider myself to be a serious amateur "competent" photographer.)
♦ Blurry + washed out colors + saturated ("burnt") sky
♦ Nothing in focus
♦ Burned out sky
♦ Horizon not leveled
(continued in part 2)