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What Makes a Photograph Timeless?

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Taking a good photo is harder than you think. After all, there’s a reason your latest camera phone snap hasn’t landed in any museum yet. Take your camera off “Auto,” put away the fuzzy filters, and follow these instructions to take photos that turn heads.

Know the Rule of Thirds

If you want something to be the center of attention, don’t make it the center of your photo. The focal point should be a little off to the side. Imagine if your shot was divided by a 3x3 grid of squares (like a tic-tac-toe board). The centerpiece should be at an intersection, near a corner.

Use the Space

Moving the subject off-center can make your photo more interesting, but it can also leave awkward space on the opposite side. Good photos tend to balance the photo with a second, less eye-grabbing focal point on the opposite side.

Find a moment

Your photo will only look as good as the moment it captures. The best photos are rarely staged or posed.

Color is your friend—and your enemy

Don’t underestimate color. It can emphasize important details or highlight distracting objects in the background. Our eyes love contrast, and they’ll be drawn toward any surprising colors, for better or for worse. (That’s why so many wedding photos are made black and white. A monochrome color scheme helps you focus on the happy couple.)

Aim to frame

Look for natural borders that isolate the subject. A natural edge (like a ring of trees around a lake) will create symmetry and direct your viewer’s attention to the focal point. While you’re at it, keep fine details away from the corners. You don’t want anyone’s eyes to drift off the photo. You may also want to darken the corners a little—it’s an effect called “falloff.”

Quiet all that background noise

Purge your pics of any clutter. A busy background or foreground can distract your viewers from the subject and change the mood you’re going for. No matter how much editing you do later, if you don’t get it right while the camera is in hand, the photo won’t work.

Look for lines

For whatever reason, our eyes love lines. We look for them in every image. Find some!

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What Are the Best Places to See a Sunset?
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What makes sunsets so eye-catching? Air molecules! When the sun shines during the day, air molecules reflect waves of blue and violet light. Our eyes can’t process violet well, so the sky looks blue. Later when the sun sets, those sunbeams travel through more air molecules, which scatter those waves of blue and violet. They scatter so much that we can no longer see them, unveiling the other side of the color spectrum—yellows, oranges, and reds. The closer the sun gets to the horizon, the farther those sunbeams must travel, and the more colorful the sky becomes.

Now that the science is out of the way, here are some of the best places to watch the sun’s late-day lightshow.

Santorini, Greece

In the village of Oia, sugar-white homes capped with blue domes are carved into a cliff-side. Narrow cobblestone paths zigzag up to the town’s pinnacle, an old castle with a postcard view of the greatest sunset in Greece. From there, you can watch oranges and purples splash off the Aegean Sea, bathing Oia’s buildings in dazzling color.

Grand Canyon, USA

When the sun goes down, the Grand Canyon turns up the Technicolor. Light reflects off layers of geological strata, revealing every hue of red and orange imaginable. Views are amazing from both the canyon’s South and North Rim, although you’ll bump into fewer tourists on the north side. Still, if you’re stuck on the south side, Yavapai Point and Hopi Point are musts.

Isle of Skye, Scotland

The isle boasts the grandest mountains in all the UK. Stunning green landslips in the northernmost peninsula near the ocean make for a bewitching nighttime view.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Not only is the 12th-century complex of temples a cultural treasure, it’s also the centerpiece of Cambodia’s national flag. Watch the sunset from Phnom Bakheng Hill and the temples will sparkle.

Masai Mara National Reserve

Masai Mara is the sort of amazing place where lions bask under lone acacia trees. Zebras and wildebeest migrate across the plains. Silhouettes of giraffes tower in the sunset. Although no one is allowed inside the park at night, you’ll still be able to snap a few photos as the sun says goodnight.

Lofoten, Norway

The Norwegian archipelago may seem like a terrible spot to catch a sunset. From May to July, the sun doesn’t go down. In the winter, it never comes up. But the months in between are what make Lofoten dazzling. That’s when the sun dips below the horizon, but doesn’t sink far enough to darken the sky. The result? A hypnotizing, eight-hour lightshow.

The Maldives

Coconut trees. Aqua blue water. White sandy beaches. Bungalows. If that sounds like your kind of paradise, you’ll love the Maldives. The island chain in the Indian Ocean is home to spellbinding sunsets. The colors will make you feel like you’re honeymooning inside a Monet painting.

All images via Thinkstock.

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How Do Skyscrapers Keep Getting Taller?
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Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest skyscraper in the world, rising 2,717 feet. That’s twice as high as the Empire State Building. How can buildings stretch so high without toppling over?

Until the late 1800s, most urban buildings didn’t peak over 10 stories. Getting much taller was physically impossible with the available construction materials. The higher you build with brick and mortar, the thicker the lower walls have to be. The base of a 70-story brick building would have been so thick that there wouldn’t be any room for a lobby.

That all changed as modern steel became more common. Today, all skyscrapers have a skeleton—a steel frame of vertical steel columns and horizontal I-beams. This skeleton (called the superstructure) transfers all of the building’s weight to the vertical columns, which spread the weighty force of gravity down to the building’s foundation.

The foundation, or substructure, usually stretches down all the way to bedrock. Builders may dig a pit hundreds of feet down to solid rock, where a platform of concrete is laid. Holes called footings are drilled deep into the bedrock, and steel beams are secured inside those holes to anchor the building above.

Most skyscrapers may look square and boxy, but they’re actually circular tubes with cantilevered corners. Ever since the 1960s, skyscrapers over 40 stories have been built with a tubular frame—an engineering technique that saves money and frees up floor space because it requires fewer columns inside. (Chicago’s Willis Tower—formerly the Sears Tower—is actually a bundle of nine tubes.) In the middle of tower, a central concrete core contains elevator shafts, stairwells, and the building’s mechanical guts.

That concrete core is especially important on gusty days, allowing most tall buildings to safely sway like a tree in the breeze. Some buildings battle the wind with tuned mass dampers, oil hydraulic systems that hold a 300 to 400-ton concrete weight near the top floor. A computer system monitors the wind and moves the weight, shifting the building’s load from side to side.

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