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August 17, 2010

Golden Light

Shooting into the sunlight (backlighting) is one of the trickier things in photography. As mentioned in my last post, it is really challenging to expose the skin tones of your subject properly when there is bright sunlight in the background.  If you rely solely on your camera’s in-camera light meter, no matter how sophisticated your camera is, you will end up with a photo were the skin tones are underexposed, resulting in a silhouette.  

If you have an interchangeable lens camera, you can generally change your in-camera meter to spot metering or center weighted metering to get a better automatic exposure, but this won’t do the entire trick. Along with that, you can very successfully use your exposure compensation button (usually a little (+/-) labeled button on the top of an interchangeable lens camera) to add more light to your subject.  As you do this, however, your background will become overexposed as the skin tone becomes more properly exposed.  There is really very little you can do to avoid that. The beauty of digital photography is that you can totally play with your exposure compensation button to keep changing the amount of light added until you see a proper skin tone appear on your camera monitor.

Another thing you can do to add more light to your subject’s face is to use a reflector.  You can buy a reflector at any specialty camera store or you can even use a large piece of white cardboard.  Reflectors are enormously valuable for bouncing light back into the face of your subject.  You may not have to overexpose the background quite as much if you have a reflector to help you with the task of providing more light to the face.

Backlighting can also result in too much direct sunlight entering your lens which often causes the image to appear hazy, smoky and out of focus.  It can also be really cool if you can actually see rays of sunlight and sunspots in your image without terribly overexposing the skin tones of your subject.  It is a fine line between ruining your image and making it awesome. To avoid the hazy images, I just try to change the angle of the camera slightly so that it is to one side or the other of the direct sun rays.  You can actually see through the viewfinder, and then on the monitor, whether your angling has worked!  Again, the beauty of digital is that you don’t have to wait to get the film back to discover whether you have been successful!

July 28, 2010

Shooting Light and Airy

One of the most basic “tricks” to shooting light and airy outdoor photos is to shoot on sunny days at the time of day when the light is soft and diffuse, yet bright.  I have written about this before.  Shoot 2-3 hours after sunrise or sunset.  Morning light seems bluer and late afternoon light seems more yellow.  My preference is always that golden yellow light of late afternoon, early evening.

You can shoot out in the open, such as in an open field, but be aware that, unless it is quite early or late, you may have contrasty images and shadows.  To soften the light in that circumstance, you can purchase a diffusion screen, or just have someone hold up a bed sheet.  The diffusion will take away harsh shadows, but will leave most of the light to work with.  If you shoot in a shady area, you will have beautiful light, but you may have to shoot with a wide open aperture in order to have a sharp photograph if the light is getting low.  The photograph of the baby was taken in the shade of a house.

Sunshine coming from behind your subject can be a gorgeous look.  It is really hard to achieve this look with a point and shoot camera, however.  Most often, your camera will be exposing mostly for the bright sky and will underexpose your subject, leading to a silhouette.  If you expose for the skin, the sky will be way overexposed.  The answer?  Expose for skin and let the background do what it is going to do.  Some areas of overexposure in the background lend to the dreamy, airy feel of the photo. Shoot in aperture priority and use your exposure compensation button to achieve the right exposure on the skin.

For those who are interested in what I do in the studio, check out this new movie short which will show you a typical studio shoot.  Yes, that is me doing the photos!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYP-OyDuVvI

July 20, 2010

Montana Magic

Wow, what a fun week I just had “working” in Montana.  A few months ago, I decided that a midsummer photography retreat in Montana was just the thing to get me thinking about new creative techniques to incorporate into my outdoor, digital photography.  The retreat was being held by Aussie Barb Uil of Jinky Art Photography. www.jinkyart.com/au.  Her work is really intriguing and unique as it succeeds in putting a modern, hip edge on the highly stylized and prop laden (think sepia toned images of little boys decked out in tuxedos, babies in antique prams and little girls with fairy wings) images popularized in the 1980’s and 90’s. Barb’s work is very light and airy and definitely a wonderful and unique take on that genre.

 Anyway, I had a blast hanging out with other photographers and indulging my insatiable desire for continued learning and creating.  It is great to take a break from the real world for a few days and just indulge my own creativity. In the next few blog posts, I will attempt to pass on some of the basics necessary to achieve this look.

June 27, 2010

Seize the Moment!

There is nothing I love more than a good Midwestern thunderstorm.  This may be genetic, because my 3 year old loves them too.  When he grows up, maybe we can be a mother/son team of tornado chasers!

The perfect storm came up this Sunday morning.  Both of us watched in awe from the safety of the garage.  Our new little Yorkie puppy, turns out, is also fond of a good storm.  After the lightning had passed, when just a gentle rain persisted, the puppy and my boy (still in his jammies) had a blast running around in the rain drops, splashing in all the brand new puddles.  It was about ten minutes of pure, unbridled joy!

The largest puddle was at the bottom of our driveway on the quiet road we live on.  It was a dirty puddle and it took all I had to let the moment live on, especially when he sat in the middle of it and dipped his hair into it. 

Never far from my camera, I shot some amazing images.  It was fairly dark outside, so I had to choose an ISO of 800, just to get a shutter speed that would stop some of the action.  I shot at the most open f-stop the zoom lens would allow, which in this case was about a 4.8.  In aperature priority, the shutter speed ranged from an unacceptable 1/40th of a second, to a barely acceptable 1/100th of a second.  Some of the resulting images were still a bit blurry, but I still captured the pure delight of the moment.  It seems to me that my film camera requires only 1/60th to keep most shots sharp, but this is not true with my digital camera which seems to need   1/100th of a second or faster.

Keep that camera handy and learn to change your settings quickly so you can take advantage of those completely unexpected moments which capture so much of the wonder of childhood!

June 17, 2010

Angle for the Best Shot

Camera angles can make or break your photos.  Shooting down on a sitting child can enhance the feeling of smallness, vulnerability and innocence.  Shooting up on a child can make them seem stronger and more powerful.  Sometimes the juxtaposition of seeing a small child towering over the camera in a power position can be quite comical.  For kicks, try both approaches and see how different the feeling in the photos can be.

A camera angle that is almost never successful is to have a child seated facing you with his feet toward the camera.  I call these shots “big footed baby” shots.  The perspective in the shots is distorted as the child’s feet appear huge in relation to the rest of the body.  I’ll never forget one of my very first professional shoots, when the newly walking toddler finally stopped running around and sat down for photographs in my studio, feet toward the camera.  I was so delighted that he was finally taking a break from all that running that I began to snap away.  Each expression was cuter than the last.  I was so focused on his face, I did not notice the perspective issues.  When the film came back, I was horrified to see his feet were hugely disproportional to his body size and, to top it all, they were dirty from all of that running around on the bare floors of the rented studio space!  The things I asked my printer to do to “fix” those shots!  In this digital age, it is a lot easier to clean up dirty feet (I still don’t recommend dirty feet, however), but it is virtually impossible with film.

May 19, 2010

Mug Shots

My lovely subject enjoying the stage!

Wow, I just finished with a tough shoot!   The little girl was adorable, and boy did she know it!  She was a blast to play with and was really into the shoot, it is just that she was the classic “mugger.”  Her gorgeous little face was completely natural and gorgeous…. that is, until I pulled the camera up to my face to prepare to take a shot.  Looking through the lens, her natural expression was replaced at light speed by mugging.  You know what I mean.  A big cheesy grin, bugged out eyes and the classic tongue protruding from her mouth.

Somewhere around the age of 5, children become fully aware of what you are doing when you hold a camera to your face.  They get it.  Prior to that time, the concept was forming, but they don’t really understand what is going on.  They just enjoy the attention and the interaction. At younger ages they also don’t fully appreciate how gorgeous and adorable they are.  Somewhere around 5, they start to understand it … and really start to work it.  They appreciate the power they have over you and are inclined to take full advantage of it.

There are lots of ways to combat this as a photographer.  With some really smart kids, it may take you an entire bag of tricks to find one that works, if only for a moment.  First of all, NEVER tell them to smile.  Simply interact with them and find a topic that makes them smile naturally.  Start guessing their favorite food, being sure to work in something like “worms” which will always get a grimace, followed by a giggle.  Get them to tell you about their best friend at school or what their dad does that makes them laugh.  Ask them who is the silliest person they know.  The idea is to distract them from their purpose at the moment, which is to mug as much as possible for the camera.

Asking them to do “tricks” like jumping, standing on one foot or throwing a ball often serves your purpose very well.  Somehow getting a child to concentrate on a physical task, takes their focus off the camera, if even for a second.  Just don’t miss your second!

April 27, 2010

More Puppy Love

Before I had kids, my Airedale Terrier “Butch” was officially my “kid”.  He traveled on vacation with my husband and me, had a spot on our bed, and ate better than most humans.  When our first child was born an interesting thing happened.  He became a dog again.  Despite his new status as a dog, we still adored him and it was important for us to capture the two of them in portraits.

Photographing dogs or cats with kids is very tricky business.  This is especially true when the child is younger than 5.  Babies are especially tough to photograph with animals after they start walking around 1 and before they can follow simple instructions around 2-21/2.  With young children, you simply must have another adult who can help you, or leave this job to professionals who know and love animals and kids.

Recently witnessing my own 3 year old with our new puppy, it is clear that very young children don’t have a clue how to handle animals and allowing them to handle them for a photo shoot or otherwise, can be risky to both the animal and the child.  It is imperative that another adult be there to nip any potential problems in the bud before they happen.  When you are behind a camera, you can’t respond quickly to a situation that is unfolding.  Children can be scratched or bitten by a frightened animal, who is understandably sensing danger and wants to bolt.  Children often respond to the wriggling by gripping the animal too tightly, or hitting them.  Not exactly the snuggly, endearing portrait you were after!  The best solution to this problem is to have another adult supervise the “shoot,” making sure that the child and the animal are protected.  Heck, you might need two “assistants;” one to position the scrambling child and another to position the scrambling animal! Sometimes, it takes a village, but the results can be amazing memories.

April 3, 2010

Cry Baby

In 2006,  LA fine art photographer, Jill Greenberg had an exhibition of photographs capturing howling toddlers, called “End Times”.  The same day the exhibit went up, the controversy erupted.  There is something about a crying child that stirs intense adult emotion, and some weren’t comfortable with her perceived “exploitation.”  Apparently, she gave each toddler a lollipop, and, to elicit the tears, promptly took it away. As protectors of our children, we try so hard to make our children happy.  Alas, as we all well know, nothing will prevent our kids from being unhappy from time to time.

Having 4 sons, I realize that tears are  a normal and frequent part of growing up and indeed, part of life.  While I would never purposely try to make a child cry in my studio (my goal is for kids to have a blast in their studio sessions!), I definitely try to capture tears when they happen spontaneously.   These are always precious shots and parents end up loving them.  Above, you will see a studio shot of mine of a baby on a dark background.  This little gal had had enough!

The other shot below is one of my favorites of my then 11 month old Kellen.  It is just a Polaroid taken by an employee of one of those mall haricut places, but it makes my heart swell when I come across it, stapled to a “Certificate of Babies First Haircut” and a little baggie containing a few of his golden curls.  He was 11 months old and he howled through his entire haircut.  The other patrons were thrilled when we finally left.  He just looked so darling in his stroller with his new big boy haircut, his perky red balloon (cropped out of this photo for space reasons) and that expression of utter misery!  It is definitely one of my cherished memories and I am so glad that I have this Polaroid to keep me from forgetting.  Just one of those everyday moments that pass by with lightening speed.

We are all so trained that only the “perfect” moments are worthy of remembering in pictures.  That training is what leads most of us to have collections of sacharin, made for film moments which end up not reflecting real life.  Make a promise to yourself to create photos with more real life in them.

March 27, 2010

Composing Your Baby Part Shots

Baby parts shots are clearly not traditional photography.  In order to be successful as art, they must be composed in an artful manner.  Simply shooting a picture of your baby’s hand, without much thought as to the art in the photo will result in a photo that looks like a paw.  You have to carefully select what will appear in the photo and what will not, the scale of the part in the photo and the angle at which you approach the part.  There should be a lot of interesting shapes and geometry in the photo.

I like to zoom in tight on each part, but not so tight as to cause the viewer of the photo to have a hard time identifying what the part is.  For instance, zooming in tight on a belly button, without providing the viewer the benefit of seeing the side of the baby’s tummy will likely be unrecognizable as a belly button and certainly won’t have the requisite art qualities to make a great photo.  You might love the little birthmark on your child’s lower back, but shooting that without any visual reference as to where that is on the child, will not make a nice picture.  By choosing a good angle, and some other feature like the derriere, you may just provide the point of reference the photo needs.

You need to look at each part in relation to what is around it and make your composition decision.  Photographing a baby’s ear might be greatly enhanced approaching the ear more from the back of the child where you might also be able to include the nape of the child’s neck and the curve of their cheek, not to mention some awesome shadow areas.

I like to have parts like the feet and hands and bum coming out from the corners of the photograph as opposed to the sides.  I think this enhances the art in the final piece.  Also, a looking up shot of just the baby’s face, peering out from the corner of the photograph lends some really nice geometry to the piece.

Capturing tummies without privates on a baby that is sitting up can be a challenge.  For this, you must get down as low to the ground as you can and shoot from a very low angle, straight on.  If your baby is young enough, you can get the tummy more easily on the baby lying down.  Older babies generally will not lay there long enough to get this shot.  If the baby is lying down, be sure to use some sort of reflector to help light the tummy relatively evenly.

January 24, 2010

Baby Photographer Tristan Davison

Hey Everyone! Look who is coming to giggle for a Photo Extravaganza….. Tristan Davison will be here on February 11, 2010 from 11-4.  Bring your children to have a free photo shoot of approximately 50 to 75 photos that Tristan will upload to his site for viewing.  Check out his work and then come on down and join us for all the fun in capturing awesome shots of your little one.  Photos will be available for purchase from Tristan’s website.  Don’t miss out on this fabulous opportunity!  Reservations are not necessary but you are welcome to RSVP me at Joani@giggle.com