Thursday, December 9, 2010

Photography Tips and Rules

First, thanks everyone who submitted questions! I will do my best to answer all of the questions in a way that makes sense to those that just pick up a camera and push the button, but I will also throw in a few more advanced tips, I will just try and write about them in terms that makes sense to everyone.

So let's get going:

MiMi asked: "What kind of camera do you have and would a dork like me be able to run it? What's a good camera for someone like me who wants nicer shots?"
And to go along with this question Mary asked: "What is your recommendation for a camera for a mom who likes taking pictures, wants them to be good quality images, but doesn't want to spend a fortune on a high end camera (yet).

A: MiMi- You are not a dork, I love ya girl! But well.. no you probably wouldn't be able to use the camera I have.. yet. My primary camera is a Canon 5D full frame camera. This is a pro camera that has one automatic setting and then it is all manual; so if you don't know how to shoot in manual this is not the camera for you. It doesn't even have a built in flash... and it is big. But I do so so love it.

If you want more than a point and shoot and want an SLR (i.e. the cameras that you can change the lenses on) then any of the Canon Rebel's are great cameras (Disclaimer: I am a Canon girl- there are a great Nikon cameras too I just don't use them so don't feel like I could advise on those--but I hear great things about the Nikon D3100 as an entry SLR) I used to use a Canon Rebel G Xti. They don't make this exact model anymore, but I LOVED this camera. It lets you shoot everything in automatic and once you start getting comfortable and learn some things, you can switch over to manual mode. This is the camera I used when I first started my photography business. When I first got my Rebel I was floored at the differences in quality compared to my point and shoot.

A great easy Point and Shoot is the Canon A3100 IS, priced around $130.

CM asked: "Do you have them say, "Cheese" or something else? I can never get my kids smiles to look right."

A: Yes and mostly No. In the age of digital where you can snap at will, most kids are used to cameras. So the camera comes out and out comes the "cheese"-that smile we all loath. So I rarely ask them to say cheese. When I am out on a shoot, I sometimes will say "look and smile" but most people know they should do that with a camera. With little kids, I mostly talk with them, I will tell funny jokes, I will ask them to tell me a story, and I will tell them to not smile-this often works great.
I am telling "funny" jokes

If they are getting into that "I'm smiling for the camera look", I will say-now everyone show me the silliest face you can make, now your angry face, now your sad face, and now a smile. By the time you get around to a smile they are usually pretty lose and you will get a real smile. If the smiles start fading, change the pose, have them move around try something different.

And remember, you don't have to have a smile in every picture. Often some of the best most real pictures are ones where people aren't smiling.
You don't always want smiles

Mintifresh asked:
So do you have an actual studio with lights and all at your house or what?

A: I am a natural light photographer-i.e. I rarely use a flash- I do a lot of on location shoots, but I do have an impromptu studio in my home for a few kids at a time. It is my dinning room. It has a really large North facing window that lets in great light. I do use a reflector to bounce up light onto faces if there is not enough light.

I have a back drop stand and several backdrops. But here is a secret-my backdrops are fleece blankets I bought at Big Lots, or big pieces of fabric (love the crushed velvet as it doesn't wrinkle) I got at Joann's. I bought of bag of clamps that I simply clamp the fabric onto my poles. Before I had my stand I used to use a clothes rack to hang my blankets and fabric.

Blueviolet asked: "I have a point and shoot. How can I get that little focus square to focus on what I want it to focus on? It seems to be random and it makes me nuts! "

A: I actually asked Blueviolet what type of camera she has, she has a Kodak M580. I did a little research, and the focusing-especially if you are trying to take a picture of something small or up close often can be a problem with that camera--so you might just have to step back a bit for it to focus. I found this out on a great camera review site Digital Camera HQ.

A secret to try and get a good focus is something that most cameras can do. When you are trying to focus, push the button halfway down. The camera should focus on most likely what is in the middle of the frame. When you see that your object is in focus then push the rest of the way. You can also shoot people to the side of the frame this way too. Point the camera at the person, push the button halfway down and while still holding the button halfway move the camera so they are on the side of the screen and then push. The person should still be in focus but then will be off to the side instead of the center of the picture, just something fun to mix it up.
Push the shutter halfway to focus then move the camera to layout you want

*Oh and one more quick tip-if you are shooting a picture of one person close up, you want to aim or focus on in the inner corner of their eye-doesn't matter which eye just pick one.

Stormie asked: "I don't have a high tech camera at all, so I don't have much control over it. But my question is how to eliminate background clutter. My house is so busy and I love taking shots of Miyah playing and doing her thing but my house isn't always the cleanest. What can I do to get my pictures less cluttered and busy in the background?"

A: The first thing you have to remember is why you are taking pictures. Are you taking pictures for that big gallery wrap to hang on your wall or are you trying to capture memories? Hopefully both. Most of the time it is just the quick snap shots to capture those memories and what is happening day to day, so then the mess doesn't really matter as it is life. But it is definitely worth taking time to get or take the formal shots a couple of times a year also.

But, during the everyday there are some things you can do. After reading Stormie's question, I just grabbed my camera and started taking pictures of Lucas playing, mess and all.
Then I got in close, I blurred the background, I took the picture from up above him and different angles. Sure you don't want every picture to be of just their hands or from up above, but if you have a several pictures you can use them to tell a story.

CM asked: "How can I get good pics with my DSLR without using a harsh flash? I turn on all the lights in the living room, and yet without a flash, the pics are blurry? I up the ISO, but that doesn't seem to help."

A: Okay here is where I will try not to lose all of you. First the easy answer, if you have a DSLR a great investment is one of those big flashes that you can attach. Are you thinking I am not answering your question at all at this point?

A great thing about the detachable flashes is that you can angle the flashes. If you are needing to use a flash and are indoors the angle of the flash can make all of the difference. Let me use my snowman friend to demonstrate.
The first picture is with the flash aiming right at the end snowman-look at the shadow on the left. In the second picture it is angled at about 45 degrees up, and the third pointing straight up to the ceiling. The extra flash and lights helps speed up my camera so I can get a non blurry picture with less light but by aiming it up and bouncing the light I end up with no shadow. You can also get a soft diffuse box for over your lens, like the one shown above. There are all different types, the one I have is one of the cheapest you can get.

And now a little lesson (which also answers one of Mandi's questions) where I will try to use as few technical terms as possible. To be able to take good pictures you need a good triangle.
To get good pictures you need to have the right balance of ISO, shutter speed and aperture. If one changes, it will affect the others.

ISO-do you remember film? You could buy it at 100, 200, 400, 800, etc. If you wanted to take pictures with low light you would buy the 800 film. So the less light you have the higher ISO you want. But as you get high ISO you also get more noise or grain in the picture. So low ISOs are good.

Shutter Speed-Shutter speeds are in fractions, I hate fractions. 1/25, 1/100, 1/500 numbers like this. The smaller the fraction (1/500 is smaller than 1/25) the faster the shutter will be-the shutter will close and open really fast and freeze motion). A good rule of thumb for people sitting mostly still (so when I did my kids photo shoot) you want at least 1/100 to not get motion blur in a picture. If kids are running around-you obviously need faster than this.

Aperture- This is the one that can get confusing if you use terms correctly-so to the other photographers out there excuse me for a minute I am going to simplify this. The aperture will be shown in f-stops f1.8, f3.5, f7,0, etc. If you have an f number around 1.8 or any low numbers, it will make those really blurry backgrounds people like in pictures. Most point and shoot cameras, and even the lens that comes with most DSLR's only goes as low as 3.5, this will not make the majorly blurry background. When I am shooting one person, I often shoot anywhere between f1.8 and f2.8. If I am shooting a big group of people that are standing different distances from me I want one of those high f numbers. I won't go into the science of it, but let's just say if you have a low f number, f 1.8 for example, then you can get a faster shutter speed with less light.

So to get back to the question-if you are not wanting to use a flash you need to get your shutter speed fast enough. You can do this by bumping up the ISO and/or making the f stop number lower. Put you camera in automatic and zoom in and out- when you zoom in a lot you will see that f number go up. So if you want a low f number with a zoom lens you can't be zoomed in as much. Instead just get a little closer.

An awesome awesome lens that is great for less light and has that low f number is the nifty-fifty. This is a prime 50 mm lens, meaning it doesn't zoom in and out-so you have to move. But if you get the 50 mm 1.8-it has that low f number that is great for those blurry backgrounds and it only costs around $100! (Just make sure you are looking at the 50 1.8 and not the 50 mm 1.4-the 1.4 runs about $400)

So if your pictures are blurry most likely your shutter speed is not fast enough.

Oswald Cuties asked: "I need help with creative back-drops. It's hard to take my kids "on location" but the trees and fence in our backyard are getting old!"

A: If you are looking for more of a studio look, blankets hanging on chairs, on the back of the couch can be a great simple backdrop. Just drive around town, look at different parks, look for bricks on buildings or arches, look for factory buildings that are awesome colors.. any of these places can make great backgrounds. Or just use one of those low f numbers and you won't even be able to tell what the background is.

Phew-you still with me? There were a few other questions but I think I will save those for another day. I hope this helps and it wasn't too confusing.

Mostly get out and shoot, Christmas morning is not a good time to experiment though as you will be sad if you miss those shots. But up until Christmas, grab a child, heck grab a stuffed animal and experiment with different locations, settings and stops.

Have you written your Jan-March recap??
Tomorrow is the day to link up!!! So excited.


  1. I can't believe how helpful this was! Even though I don't have a fancy schmancy camera, there are still a lot of pointers I can use.

    Love the idea of using blankets and fabric for backdrops!

  2. You have a 5D? I am so jealous. I am shooting with an entry level Sony....wishing I could upgrade :) Great post!

  3. That was awesome! I have this nice Pentax SLR but when I went digital I just got a point and shoot just for capturing moments at this point. I can't believe how much difference there is even though the Pentax is film and my point and shoot is digital! I hate my new camera!! I could make almost anything look good with my old camera and I didn't totally know how to use it! Someday I will upgrade!

  4. I'm bookmarking this post to come back for reference.
    And guess what? That's the camera I have!!!! :) The Canon AS1300!

  5. I have to be honest, I didn't read it all. Really, I was just interested in the cheese smile thing. It's amazing to me that the people that come to our school for school pictures and still ask every kid to say cheese as they come through the line. And then I get a bunch of pictures back from parents with a note that says, "tell them not to do a cheesy smile this time."

  6. I just recently bought some vinyl at the fabric store to use as a back drop too. It's a warm brown color and looks a lot like leather!

    I enjoyed reading this. I think I've forgotten some stuff in the last little while . . .

  7. I am going to read this again...and probably again. Lots of great tips in here. I need to come over to your house with my camera for a hands on lesson...after Christmas. ;)

  8. Wow, what great tips! Thanks so much for answering my two. I never thought of the "show me your silly face, ect" and the detachable flash...I never thought of that either!

    Now I'm going back and reading ALL of your tips! Thanks :-)

  9. This is so incredibly wonderful and helpful and great. And you totally sound like a pro...which you are!! Great job .. I'm bookmarking this page.

  10. Awesome post!! Lots of great info even for "dorks" like me and Mimi. Thank you so much for taking the time to share tips.

  11. fantastic tips! thanks for all this great information!


  12. Thanks Emmy! That really had A LOT of great information. I really want that 50mm lens. Do you know who sells it?

  13. The 50 mm lens is one of my favorites...

  14. You have three precious children. I have been so out of touch I didn't know about your newest baby boy. Your parents told me about your blog. It is very interestring. I miss our family website it was fun keeping in touch. Glad all is well with you and Eric and your beautiful family. Love ya