Saturday, December 17, 2011

Festive Season Tips

It's amazing how many of us photographers are reduced to taking snapshots on Christmas morning. For some reason we're not in photographer mode, so when we review or get our pictures back from the lab we're less than thrilled. So here are some simple tips for Christmas and New Years that will help beginners and the more advanced enjoy the holidays a little more.
1. Get Down!
How many times have you seen Christmas photos where you get a great view of the top of the kid's heads or their faces are frozen into fake smiles? How do you get candid professional looking photos?
First set your camera to its widest aperture (smallest f-number) or choose portrait mode if you're shooting in one of your camera's auto modes. When the kids start tearing into the presents get down on the floor so you're on their level. Now you can capture the looks on their faces as they open their presents - and those looks are priceless!
Catch them now. They grow up way too fast.
2. Use a little fill flash
Very few homes are so brightly lit that you'll get great detail on your kid's faces as they're tearing into those presents. A little flash will go a long way toward filling in the shadows so you can see detail in their faces.
The pro tip here is that if you have flash exposure compensation as one of your camera (or flash) options you can get more natural skin tones by dialling down the flash by one stop ( -1 flash exposure).
3. Stay quiet!
As a parent it's easy to fall into the trap of yelling at your kids to "look here!"
After they look up and get a face full of flash a couple of times you'll start getting photos of scowls instead of smiles. If they're not looking directly into the camera the flash won't be blinding and the kids will learn to ignore their parents with their camera - and you'll get better shots as a result.
Remember Christmas is about the kids not the camera. Capture the moment quietly and let the kids take centre stage - after all it's their day.
4. Red eye reduction
It sounds simple but you'll need to remember to turn on red-eye reduction so your kids and pets don't look like aliens.
5. Choose a faster ISO setting
Many digital camera owners forget that they can change the ISO setting on their cameras. Choosing a faster (numerically higher) ISO setting means faster shutter speeds and fewer blurry images. That means that there will be a lot more images that will be suitable for your desk and for grandma's fridge!

6. Digital shooters, choose the right White Balance
White balance is a term that scares a lot of new digital camera owners. And most will want to leave their digital cameras on auto white balance. But in most digital cameras, especially the point and shoot cameras, auto white balance won't always correctly balance indoor lighting.
Pull out the manual and change the white balance setting to incandescent or indoor lighting. It's usually represented by a little light bulb symbol. Now the skin tones on those smiling little faces will look natural and you'll look like the great photographer that we know you are!
7. Get the kids involved
Get the kids to take some pictures of you and of each other. This works especially well with digital cameras. You might be surprised at what they come up with. Kids literally have a different perspective on the world and their images may surprise you.
This works especially well with digital cameras where they can see the results of their efforts immediately.
8. Hook your digital camera to the TV
Want to capture the moment for when Mum-Pop and Gran-Grandad arrive?
Get all those great shots of the kids and then hook the video connection on your digital camera to your TV (or VCR/DVD player). Now when the grandparents arrive you can put the camera in play mode and let it cycle through the images from the morning's festivities. This is a lot faster than getting prints made and waiting until New Year’s Eve to share them.
9. Batteries
Make sure you have fresh batteries for your camera. If you have a separate flash unit make sure you have fresh batteries for it as well. If you're using a digital camera with rechargeable batteries make sure you put it on charge the night before Christmas.
10. Do a Pre-event Check
When you're putting the toys together the night before pull out your camera and get it ready to go. Add fresh batteries, make sure red-eye reduction is turned on, and all the camera's settings are what they should be. Do it the night before when things are quiet and it's a lot less likely that you'll forget something or accidentally choose the wrong settings.
11. Watch for the Quiet Moments
The kids will have their motors running on high for most of the day. Later on when their bellies are full and they're winding down you'll find some great moments hiding in the quiet times.

Have a Safe & Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Set yourelf an assignment

I have been  asked how I learned photography. I thought back to try to find the answer and struggled at first.
I used to subscribe to some photography magazines, read and bought some photography books and guess I learned some basics from them but it was just theory and knowledge – that didn’t directly translate into improvement.
The reality is that it was by using my camera where I learned the most. The times when my photography really improved  were those times that I put time aside to actually discover how to photograph something, setting myself up for  an assignment (of sorts).
One main example was:

The Friends Wedding

I remember the dreaded day that a friend of my wife asked me to shoot her wedding as the ‘main photographer’. She had no money for a Pro and despite my insisting that I wasn’t up to it she talked me into it. The next 2 weeks were an intense time of learning and practicing.
Knowing that I would be responsible for the friend’s wedding photos galvanised me to learn as much as I could (reading, talking to Pros etc)
The day itself actually went really well – so well that it encouraged we to learn even more.
While I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to book yourself as a main photographer for friends (or strangers) weddings – I do think that the principle of setting yourself an assignment and focusing upon a particular event to photograph is something that can lead to big improvements in your photography.

Other examples (most of them less pressurised) come to mind:

 Photograph a road trip –driving around a region a few hours from where I live purely doing photography. I’d not done much landscape work before and it forced me to explore a new style of photography.

    Attending a sporting venue taking action shots, I learned heaps that day!

 Photo walks – I semi-regularly set aside a few hours to take a photo walk in a different part of my area. This is a little different to just going for a walk and taking your camera – the idea is to capture a feeling of the street/suburb etc rather than just get some exercise, use your camera if you see something interesting.

 Festivals/Parades – a number of times I’ve set myself the ‘assignment’ to go and cover a festival or parade of some kind. I imagine that I’m covering the event for a news outlet and go with a photo journalistic goal of capturing the event the way a press photographer would.
  Booking a portrait session with a friend. 

  Concerts, ask if you can obtain  a pass to cover the event. The intent is to practice that type of photography.

  Zoo trips, once or twice I’ve set aside an afternoon to visit the local zoo.
 The aim, practising my wildlife photography (even if the wildlife was in captivity).

 The list could go on. The key is to set aside time to practice a particular type of photography. Again  it’s not about just having your camera with you in case something happens to use it – rather these are more intentional ‘assignments’ that you set yourself, with the intent of improving your photography.
I challenge you to set yourself a photographic assignment in the next week. Choose what you’ll do – lock it in right now! In the lead up to it do some research and preparation on the techniques that you might want to practice and then go for it.
When you’re finished, spend some time analysing your results and try to work out how you think you can improve.
As always practice and enjoy your photography.