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Picture-taking Tips | giggle blogs | giggle Blogs

picture-taking tips

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.

June 1, 2010

Let Them Rock Their Tutu’s!

My studios are all just finishing up on a month long fundraising event for St. Jude Children’s Medical Research Hospital.  We encouraged ballerinas big and small to come rock their tutus for our cameras, and boy did they!  100 percent of the session fees from the shoots went directly to St Jude. We photographed nearly 150 tiny dancers!

What female doesn’t love a tutu?  This was such an amazing event for everyone because something magical happens when a girl gets in her tutu.  The little girls whirled, swirled and twirled their shoots away, producing gorgeous images of giggles and big fun.  The larger lesson in all of this is to allow kids to wear something for photos that they feel fabulous in, and you are guaranteed to get some beautiful shots.  We are proud to say we also raised a ton of money for one of the best charities on earth!!

I have no girls, but my good friend Runa reports that her daughter begged to sleep in her tutu, despite the fact that the tulle was really itchy! Runa really drew the line at the bathtub.

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!

May 6, 2010

More on Furry Friends

If you are taking your dog to a professional studio for shots with your kids, or if you are taking them somewhere else which is unfamiliar to them, be sure to give the dog plenty of time to walk around and sniff everything (this goes for the children too!!). Have your dog relieve himself before taking him inside a studio though, as even the best trained animal may be nervous and just decide your photographer’s desk is the perfect place to empty the tank.  Very embarrassing!  Nervous dogs tend to act very uncharacteristically in new environments.

After your dog and children have had plenty of time to roam around, they should be much more relaxed and ready to “cooperate” in the photo shoot.  Leave a good 15 to 30 minutes for this warm up phase.  As previously suggested, be sure you take or have taken any individual photos of your child first, before introducing the dog to the scene.  This will even give the dog that much more time to start feeling at home.

When you have positioned your dog and your child where you want them, you’ll have to entertain both to assure that they will stay where you want them.  You may have noticed that when you make certain noises, your dog tilts his head in a really adorable way.  Some dogs do this in response to high pitched squeaking noises and some do it in response to blowing raspberries.  Try all kinds of crazy noises until you get the response you desire from your dog.  Chances are, your child will find your antics very funny also, setting up the perfect expressions from both your dog and child!

March 8, 2010

The Perfect Part

handsNot all shots are created equally in baby parts collages.  In order to take artful shots, you really need to think about what part will be in the shot.

For me, first on the “must have list” is a picture of the baby’s entire face.  In a grouping of nine, I always like this shot in the middle.  Next you need chubby little hands, hopefully in a lighting scenario that clearly shows off their indented knuckles.  I try to get a shot of one hand by itself and also a shot of both hands together.  A shot of the baby’s feet, generally together, is also a must.  I like to shoot the front and backs of their feet.  Never again will the skin on the bottoms of their feet be so perfect!  I try to capture their feet as they naturally place them instead of trying to hold them in a particular position that isn’t natural for the baby.  These forced shots tend to look…well…forced.

I always try to get a shot of the baby’s cheek and eyelashes looking down, and a shot of the baby’s sparkling eyes looking up out of the photograph.  A shot of their pudgy little derriere and tummy complete with belly button are also musts.  Completing the must haves are a picture of that yummy little spot right behind their ear that is so fun to nuzzle. This shot will often include wispy hair curling at the nape of their neck and their perfect little shell of an ear.

I use white sheeting as the backdrop for all of these shots.  I just lay it on the ground near a window and plunk the baby right on top of it.  A reflector will help fill in any shadow areas that get too dark.

Next week….what to look for when composing your baby parts shots.

February 16, 2010

Try Parts and Pieces!

babypartOne of the things I am best known for in my industry is my “baby parts” collages.  I conceived of these when my third child was born over 14 years ago.  As I sat in the chair in his bedroom, rocking him to sleep one afternoon, I marveled at the sweetness of his little body…..tiny, perfectly formed ears, chubby little hands with dimpled knuckles, soft, sweet whispers of hair curling around the nape of his neck, the swell of his tubby little belly.  I knew that I would soon forget how all those sweet little parts looked, as my son grew up like my sons before him.  In an instant, those sweet little toes turn into the battle-scarred toes of a busy, athletic teen.  I knew that I needed to somehow capture those features before it was too late.

Baby parts were born the next day when I followed my then crawling son all over the house, with a close focus (“macro”) lens, trying to pull a tight focus on one part at a time.  If you have ever worked with macro lenses, you know that this is no small feat (no pun intended!).  Macro lenses are built for focusing on still life objects like flowers, and to be used with tripods.  Babies are anything but still life!  Tripods and babies simply do not mix!

In order to quickly adapt to changing light conditions, I used 3200 speed film for its ability to take good pictures in low light situations.  This film turned out to be the perfect film for “baby parts” as it produces  dreamy, ethereal, grainy images.  The images look like pencil sketches when enlarged into prints.  The macro lens and the 3200 speed film are what we use to this day in our studios to produce our signature look.  This is nearly impossible to reproduce with digital cameras.  More on how to produce these images next week!