You’ve got kids running around the house…or at the park…or having fun with friends.
You’ve got a really nice camera.
You’ve got ZERO awesome photos of your kids having fun and living their everyday lives
If that’s the case, then this class is FOR YOU!
Family Photos are perhaps the most cherished items to remember all the little moments that mean so much. It’s the moments between professional portrait sessions, weddings, and class photos. Everyday photos capture the moments that you want to look back upon and smile, laugh, cry, and reminisce over.
This class will help you to learn how to take photos that show those emotions in an artistic and meaningful way. This class is not about taking formal portraits, it’s about learning how to photograph your family as you go about your life!
The goal is simple:
Walk away from this class with a greater confidence in your abilities and knowledge about photography. So much confidence in fact that you’ll learn to STOP WORRYING about your camera settings and start having fun while you take photos of your family!
What you’ll learn:
How to address your frustrations with taking photos
How to use available light to take more natural photos
How photo composition affects your photos
And, of course, some technical stuff! (aperture, shutter speed, depth-of-field, camera settings, etc)
What you’ll do:
Participate in a live photoshoot where you will be coached to improve your photos on-the-spot. Take photos, ask questions and learn how to take a simple moment in the park and create meaningful, memorable, and artistic photos.
Review your own photos in a classroom setting to see how they can be improved.
Learn a bunch of tips, tricks, and rules-of-thumb to keep in mind for the future
Following up on the previous two posts, I wanted to quickly provide more info on some common camera settings that can go a long way towards better photos. I’ll stay away from too many details since there’s a lot already on the web, but these simple tips should be easy enough to keep in mind when out and about. By the way, you might want to read up on the previous two posts about selecting a camera and what to focus on for better vacation photos.
Regardless of the camera my friends have, here are the typical things I hear:
The camera doesn’t take photos fast enough! The dog/kid/alien visitor have already gotten away before I can take a picture!
The flash photos just suck!
Half-press to be ready
For the first point, most point-and-shoots will take longer to get focused and ready to actually take a photo. Big SLRs are faster at this, but it still may not be fast enough if you’re not prepared. Regardless of the camera you’ve got, there’s a trick to lessen the impact. Basically, you want to half-press your shutter button. This will force the camera to get focused and get its settings all sorted out. You’ll hear the camera doing its thing and it may even beep once it’s ready. Once done make sure you keep the button half-pressed and then WAIT. Wait for the perfect moment. If you want your kid looking at the camera, wait for the camera to do its thing, then call your child and as soon as they look, press the shutter the whole way. There will still likely be a small lag, but it’s a LOT less than if you go from unprepared camera to full click.
Like I mentioned in the last post, this requires you to be in the moment. Getting a fun, interesting photo typically means more than just quickly turning on your camera and yelling, “Wait! Let me take a picture! Hold On! Hold On! Okay smile!” Hang out with your kid, your dog, your little green friend. If you’re mentally prepared, you’ll know when to get your camera prepared with the half-pressed shutter, and you’ll end up with a higher rate of cool photos.
This is covered in much more detail all over the web and in books, but to recap…the basic variables in a photograph are:
The shutter speed – how long the camera actually exposes the photo (typically measured in fractions of a second like 1/60th)
The aperture – the amount of light the camera lets in while exposing (a smaller f-stop number actually means more light is being let into the camera so f/2.8 means more like than f/4…I won’t get into the ratios, because it can be confusing)
The ISO – how sensitive the camera is while exposing (based on the film world, typically noted as 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc; the higher the number, the more sensitive)
Rather than explain how to set each one, I’m going to propose something which may surprise you: Use your camera’s creative modes like Portrait, Landscape, Sports, etc. As weird as it sounds, I think it’s actually a great way to learn. As I mentioned two posts ago, camera companies spend a lot of time and effort making their cameras “smart” and so I think it’s a good idea to take them up on the help they’ve built into the camera. Don’t ALWAYS rely on it, but it’s a great starting point. So here’s what you should do if you want to learn what each of the basic settings does:
Take a photo in Portrait mode
Take the same photo in Landscape mode, Party mode, Sports, mode, etc
Compare the photos and compare the settings – you’ll notice something like this:
Portrait mode has a small f-stop number; there might be flash, there might not be
Landscape mode has a high f-stop number; there’s no flash
Sports mode has a quick shutter setting; there’s no flash
Party/Night mode has a long shutter setting and probably a small f-stop number; there’s flash
Basically, I’m asking you to see the patterns and keep them in mind for when you feel confident enough to move away from the creative modes
When taking photos of kids running & playing or (non sleeping) dogs, try settings similar to Sports mode – fast shutter speed (like 1/100 or less) This will help stop the action.
When taking kids or pets not running around like crazy (like maybe sleeping or relaxing), try settings similar to Portrait mode – small aperture number (like f/3.5 or less if your camera allows it) This will let you take advantage of all the light in the room resulting in a more natural photo without having to use flash.
When taking photos of an indoor party, try something like Party/Night mode – slow shutter speed (like 1/50) with flash on. If your flash can be turned to the ceiling, then do it! This will light up the background without overexposing your friends faces.
I haven’t mentioned ISO above because I see it as a secondary adjustment that can get things just right, but only if you need it. Generally, keep your ISO at 400…it’s a good place to start with anything. If you follow the above guidelines but all your photos are too dark, then try raising your ISO (640, 800, etc). If the photos are too bright, then lower the ISO (200, 100, etc). Keep in mind that the higher your ISO, the grainier your photos will be. This may or may not matter to you, but it’s worth a try.
Now, your specific camera may not be able to do all these settings, but all of the cameras I mentioned two posts ago can do it. Yeah, an SLR gives you a lot more flexibility with this stuff, but you don’t NEED an SLR. I know I’m pounding your head with this over and over, but the most important thing is to actually spend time taking your photos! The tips above are great starting points, but they’re not much use if you only pick up your camera the moment something interesting happens – by the time you turn on your camera, recall which settings you want to use, and finally press your shutter, the moment has already passed!
So grab your camera today, tomorrow, this weekend, whenever you have time…and have fun!
[UPDATE: On Twitter, Ben Cardy (@benbacardi) asked why I recommend ISO 400 as a good starting point. Fact is, the lower the ISO, the less grain you'll get, but with the SLR I use (Canon 5D Mark II), I find 400 to be most useful and provides a good balance so I don't have to keep flipping the ISO settings when taking photos around the house & around town. However, your starting point may well be lower. Ben has a Canon 350D (Canon Rebel XT) and finds ISO 200 to be the best balance between grain and usefulness. So give the setting a whirl and find what works best for you.]
In my previous post, I talked about getting a new camera before your summer vacation. I generally don’t think you should get a new camera just because your old one is…well…old. However, I hope it helped summarize the key points to keep in mind when shopping for your new toy. So let’s move on to the actual photos!
I don’t know about you, but before a vacation, I know I’m guilty of thinking I’m going to take the most amazing & artistic photos. Something I can put as my computer desktop wallpaper and maybe even enlarge and frame on my living room wall. For a travel photographer, this may well be pretty common, but as an average person, I think it’s an unrealistic goal. That’s not to say you won’t be able to take amazing photos, but the idea that you’re going to be the next great travel photographer in your spare time is something you should just admit is not going to happen.
So how do you take better vacation photos? Well, in a few short bullets, here are the things you should keep in mind:
Focus on what you love
Have your camera ready at all times
Photograph in the moment
Notice that I’m not talking about your camera or its setting at all in this post. I may post about that in the future, but I fundamentally believe that the key to great photos is not the camera or the settings.
Focus on what you love!
I can’t tell you what to take pictures of while on vacation since I don’t know what you’re into. Me? Well, I love taking photos of people so when on holiday I focus my photography mainly on my family with a few other things thrown in there. I want to remember my daughter’s reaction upon seeing flamingos at the bird park; my daughter will only be this age once. The flamingoes (or their descendents) will be around forever. Here’s some photos of my daughter enjoying herself during a trip to Singapore:
But you may love photos of architecture or subways or sunsets or flowers. So think about what you really love and concentrate on photographing that while on vacation. I can’t give you tips for every situation you might be in, but here’s a good site to start with for reference: Digital Photography School.
The point is that you shouldn’t plan on taking photos of anything and everything. If you do that, then your mental focus is just lost and you’ll likely end up with a jumble of photos that really aren’t very memorable. If you can’t decide on just one thing, that’s okay, but narrow it down so you can really concentrate. Chances are you’ll end up with a really nice set of photos that you can actually present to family & friends. Doesn’t a wall full of Parisian architecture photos sound more interesting than blurry photos of the Mona Lisa behind bullet proof glass? Thought so.
There are also some things I choose to totally stay away from. I personally avoid taking photos of “the sites”, landscapes, and zoo animals. Why? Well, for a variety of reasons:
When it comes to “the sites” and landscapes, I’m just really not good at that type of photography and more than likely, you aren’t either. You know what? Take a couple of photos of the sites, but other than that, do yourself a favor by just buying postcards of the sites. Mail them to yourself while on vacation and you’ll have nice souvenir to put on your fridge at home. For landscapes, there’s a huge level of skill & planning required there. While I’m certainly working on that skillset, I definitely don’t do it while I’m on vacation. The two times I’ve done that was while I was visiting Kerala in India and while visiting the Grand Canyon. That’s it. No more getting up at the crack of dawn for amazing sunrise photos or enjoying a sunset through a viewfinder.
As for zoo animals…well, do you really want to be carrying a gigantic lens all day then stand by the lion exhibit until you get a big yawn or growl? All the while complaining that you don’t have enough zoom on your camera? Seriously…enjoy the day with your kids…watch them get excited about the animals and leave the “wild animal” photography to the pros…who actually do it in the wild and not behind zoo exhibits. Then, when you get home turn on Animal Planet or crack open National Geographic.
One last note on this to help you “discover what you love”…unless you’re going to the uncharted jungles of the inner Amazon, chances are, other people have photographed the same spots that you’ll be visiting. So have a look around at what other people have photographed. And I’m not just talking about pro-level desktop wallpaper examples. I’m talking about checking with your friends or searching on flickr.com. You don’t need to copy those photos, but I bet you they’ll give you some ideas. Take this a step further and check travel guides like Lonely Planet for specific things that might interest you and then search for specific photos online. Again, the idea is to get your creative juices flowing and find ways to incorporate interesting activities on your vacation with photos capturing the fun & relaxation.
Have Your Camera Ready at All Times
How are you going to take memorable photos unless you have your camera ready to take photos? That means out of the bag, lens cap off, ready to take a photo. You don’t have to be like paparazzi and take photos of every second of your trip, but keep that shiny toy with you and think about what you can photograph. Hanging out poolside? Well, take photos of your umbrella topped drinks, your kids in their floaties, or whatever catches your fancy. Going parasailing? Take that camera up with you and take pictures showing what it’s like to be up in the air like that! Walking the street of Paris? Take a picture of that street vendor, or the line outside the Musee D’Orsay, or reflections off the pyramid at the Louvre.
My point is that there’s ALWAYS something to photograph. And to be honest, the most interesting stuff happens between the times when you have your family or friends stand in front of a site and smile for the camera. So keep your camera around your neck. Better yet, keep it in your hand and remember to focus on what you love.
Here’s a few photos we took while at Newport Beach. My wife and took turns playing with our daughter, but also just let her have fun in the sand. In the meantime, we had the camera sitting on top of the bag, turned on and ready to go. The photos are nothing totally special, but they help us remember why we went to Newport: to enjoy our time off with each other.
Photograph in the Moment
I know that sounds really cheesy, but let’s think this through…when you have your camera ready, you should be ready too and in a reasonable spot. Those beach photos with our daughter? For the most part, we were sitting in the sand with her, not standing up. That allows us to take photos in the moment…as participants, not just observers. Don’t wait to take photos only when everyone’s smiling and looking at the camera. Sure, it’s nice to get some of those, but take lots of photos in between. It’s the fun things in between that you’ll probably remember anyways. So why not have some photos to help you recall things?
I’m going to refer you now to something that’s totally scripted and not specific about vacations, but it’s still totally relevant to my point. If you’ve seen the show “Modern Family”, you may have already seen this. Here’s a snippet..skip to 15:51 in the video if it doesn’t do so automatically (bear with the ads, sorry, it’s the only way to embed this video):
In this recent episode, the mom of the family is trying to plan the perfect family portrait. It’s taken months to get the scheduling right, get the right clothes, etc, etc. And then everything starts to fall apart. The stairs aren’t perfect so she tries to fix them for the photo. When that fails, she wants to use the backyard, but the sprinklers turn on. Etc. etc. In the end, the family portrait that they love is one where everyone has mud all over them, but they’re happy. They’re in the moment. Yes, it’s cheesy and totally scripted, but I’ve got photos with the same essence. And you should too!
Check this photo of my mother with my daughter. Like any grandmother, she wants to have a nice dressed up photo with her granddaughter. While getting ready for the photo, something made both of them laugh. It’s far from the perfect photo, but I actually like it a lot more than the photo I eventually took where they were both looking at the photo and smiling. This one is in the moment and reminds me how much my mother loves being with her granddaughter…and vice versa.
So I leave you with you these reminders when taking vacation photos:
Focus on what you love
Be in the moment.
If you keep just those three things in mind while on vacation, I think you’ll be much more happy with the photos you take. They may not all be perfect, but they’ll be memorable, personal, and real.
No, I’m not the one who needs a new camera. However, with summer holidays fast approaching, I have friends and family who come to me for advice on the best gear to get before they head out for their vacations. It’s no surprise that people wonder which camera will be best for whatever situation comes along. Whether it be a smiling child, roaring lion, or creepy alien visitor. There must be a camera for every scenario, right?
The cliche is that the best camera is the one you have with you. And I’ll add something extra to that: The best camera is the one you have with you AND know how to use. And let’s not forget the best photos aren’t taken magically…they’re taken when you actually USE your camera! So I’m going to break this down into two posts. I’ll tackle the equipment part of the puzzle right now. In the next post, I’ll tackle what I believe is the more important part: Learning to take family/vacation photos without worrying about your camera (or should I say, without obsessing about your camera?!)
The reality is that most “cheap” $200 point-and-shoot cameras can take great photos. The flip side of that is that really expensive cameras can take really bad photos too, especially if you don’t take the time to learn how best to use the features! And let’s face it, most people just want the most gadgetry for their money. The problem with this thinking is that the most feature-laden, high tech camera may not be the right one for you.
So here are some questions to ask yourself:
What type of photos do you want to take? And I don’t mean things you might conceive of photographing in some ideal world like a wild man-eating tiger in the swamps of India. Seriously, what do you want to take photos of in the next 3, 6, 9 months? Your kids? Your vacation? Nights out with friends?
Do you know how to use most of the settings on your current camera? If you don’t know how to make the most of your current toy, you should know that it can probably do a lot more than you think it can.
To be totally frank, simply getting a new camera definitely will NOT improve your photography if you can’t talk to the above questions. I can’t answer the above questions for you, so think it through. I’ve actually written a bit about this before on a digital photography wiki so have a look at an extended discussion about this matter here: Starting Out
In the meantime, let me jump forward to a summary of what you should realistically consider.
Don’t Buy an SLR unless you really love to learn & tinker…and lug weight around!
If you just want to pick up a camera and take decent photos, then an SLR is most probably not for you. And to be honest, no matter what my friends and family may tell me about how they want to take awesome pictures most people I’ve heard from really just want to turn the camera on and click away. It really is as simple as that. So why make things hard on yourself and buy a more expensive camera that requires more thought than you want to put in? Don’t get me wrong, if you want to spend time figuring things out, it’s really not that difficult to learn some important things quickly (and my next post will get to some key tips), but please, don’t kid yourself into thinking that spending $600 or more is going to be the motivation you need to start learning. Remember…that’s what you said the LAST time you got a nice camera
By the way, if you’ve thought things through seriously and really want to get an SLR but have more questions, please, leave a comment below and I’m more than happy to answer your questions!
All-In-One Consumer Cameras are probably the best value for your money
I’m always surprised at how well today’s mid-range “all in one’s” perform. They’re not too big, not too expensive, and you don’t need to keep spending more money on lenses, flashes, and other accessories like you might need to with SLRs. This class of camera provides manual settings, better quality of lens, and more responsiveness than pocket digi-cams without having to lug around a camera bag with lots of heavy lenses or having to fiddle with accessories. Plus, most of them do pretty good video too. So you can knock off a lot of needs in a single device:
Easy to take on vacation
Nice zoom range to take photos at the zoo, on a cruise, at the beach, or indoors
Pretty quick shutter release to snap a photo before your kid runs away
A good range of manual settings to let you learn and try new things
Pretty smart “creative” settings which will do a good job with specific photo situations when you’re not sure what (semi)manual settings to use.
Here are some examples of the type of camera I’m talking about:
True consumer all-in-ones where you don’t need to buy anything else:
Other mid-size cameras which may require you to spend more on accessories, but are a step up from the previous three. These may seem more expensive than SLR kits at Costco, but they’re actually great value because of the quality of lenses, sensors, and features you get:
This is just a short list of cameras which I think are good options. I don’t have them personally, but I’ve fiddled with similar cameras and I think they meet more of my friends’ needs than they realize. Seriously, get over the need to brag about how much you spent on your camera or how big your lens is and start to think about how much fun and how useful these smaller cameras are going to be!
As you make your decision about which camera to buy, make sure and try them out in person. While you may order from Amazon.com, I think it’s a good idea to drop by Best Buy or a local camera store to check these cameras out. The specs may look great on a webpage, but the menu system or ergonomics of that camera may not be so hot once you hold it in your hands. So save yourself the trouble of a return and try things out in person.
Now…about those creative settings…a lot of pro’s abhor the idea of creative settings like “Portrait”, “Landscape”, “Night”, and the like. But you know what? I think they’re actually pretty useful especially when you know what they do. The reality is, camera manufacturers have put a lot of time & effort into the brains of these cameras. So why not use the smarts of the camera?! Even before you buy your next camera, take your current camera and switch it out of the “green box” mode and onto those creative settings. I’ll get more into camera settings & actually taking family photos in the next post. In the meantime, keep these things in mind:
Your next camera should be one that you will realistically carry with you
You should be honest with yourself (and your wallet) about what you want to photograph and how much time you’re going to spend learning the craft of photography
You should try all the settings on your camera, whether it’s new or old
More to come in the next couple of days! Please leave me any more detailed questions or comments you have below. Thanks!