One last post before the door closes on 2012. Photo overload, part 2!
One last post before the door closes on 2012. Photo overload, part 2!
Who doesn’t love a little photo flashback at the end of the year? I can’t make myself pick just one, so instead I’ll try to get all three kids represented for each month. Here, in photo overload, the first six months of 2012:
Of all the goals I laid out for myself in January, the one I’ve stuck to the best so far is my Project 365. Nearly 100 days into the year, and I have at least one photo from every day. I didn’t set any other requirements for this project, other than taking at least one photo every single day. On the one hand, this has been made so much easier by the quality of the camera in my iPhone (as well as my addiction to Instagram). I always have my phone within reach, so I can snap away any time. On the other hand, it makes me lazy when it comes to carrying around my DSLR and taking higher-quality photos.
The other day, I decided to grab my “big” camera and have some fun with the kids. Who doesn’t love jumping on mom & dad’s bed?
This is the joy of digital photography. I snapped well over 100 photos in less than an hour. The majority of them are blurry, out of focus, or otherwise just no good. But who cares? Just keep snapping, ask the kids to do something silly, or stand over them and make faces. Eventually you’ll get a winner.
I have a thing about holiday cards. I want the photos to be just so. I think because I know I’m capable of taking pretty good pictures of my kids, I want to get REALLY GREAT ones for the holiday card. I also have this weird insistence that they be really current. I don’t like using pictures from our summer vacation, I want them to be as close to the actual holiday as possible. I don’t know why I’m so fixated on it, but there you have it.
So fixated, in fact, that I never even made or sent cards last year. I was pregnant, I was grumpy, I was tired, and it just never happened. I didn’t want that to be the case two years in a row.
I also harbor some guilt about the fact that I never sent a birth announcement for Ellie. Part of me thinks birth announcements are a little ridiculous in this day and age – as though ANYONE I would have sent the card to wasn’t aware of her existence within hours of her arrival. And yet, I had meant to… and then that didn’t happen, either.
So, here we are. Holiday card time. Photo pressure time. I wanted to try something at least a little bit fun and creative, even though M rolled his eyes at the idea, so I bought a couple of accessories at Target and set up my sheet-on-a-bench outdoor photo studio.
I didn’t hit on quite the same magic as the last time I tried it, but I think I got some card-worthy shots. I’ll post the card later, but for now, here’s a few that didn’t make the final cut.
I may have mentioned in passing that I did a photography class/workshop this summer. It was Laura’s idea, and something about it spoke to me and I decided to sign up. And you know what? I think you should, too.
The class was Superhero Photo, and it was led by Andrea Scher, the super dreamer behind Mondo Beyondo (which I haven’t done, but may…). I really loved it, and I credit the prompts and information from the class for some of the best shots I took this summer (you can see my photo set on Flickr, if you want all of my submissions). Some of them you’ve seen already, like the fourth-birthday shots I did of my big kids.
In this class, each week had a theme or topic, such as self-portraits or color. There were emails with ideas, challenges, and technical tips to help you get the shot you want. Each week included a “treasure hunt,” or a set of prompts for shots to take. The topics were great – specific enough to give you a focus for the week, but general enough to leave plenty of space for interpretation. And the pace felt just right. Sometimes I find the one-a-day-every-day style to be too overwhelming. This let you take the week (or the class as a whole) at your own pace.
But while I got some good technical information and ideas and stretched my skill level, the biggest part of this class was bringing joy into your photography, or actually taking time to document and recognize the joy in your life. Sound a little cheezy? Perhaps. But it was wonderful. I wasn’t trying to fight with my camera to get something perfect, I was having fun and taking chances and seeing opportunities right in front of me, and even seeking out scenes and making them happen instead of just waiting for inspiration to fall into my lap.
You don’t need a fancy camera or extensive knowledge of shutter speeds and lighting and lenses. You can do this with a point and shoot. Hell, you could probably do it with your iPhone. It’s not, exactly, about technical skills. It’s about experimenting and having fun and making more out of your shots. Wherever you are as a photographer, whether totally in the dark or fairly experienced, you will get something out of it.
The next class starts in a few weeks. Click on this link to register, and yes, I get a small kickback if you do. Which is bonus and all, but even if I didn’t, I would still tell you to do it. I am literally laminating the treasure hunt prompts with contact paper and putting them in a bowl for whenever I need a bit of inspiration.
Thanks to all for the kind birthday wishes yesterday, and the compliments on the photos. I can’t lie, I was intensely proud of how those turned out.
I knew I wanted to take some good pictures of the big kids yesterday, it being their birthday and all. I am taking an online photography workshop this summer, and last week’s challenge/prompt/tutorial was about taking portraits. That’s what informed and inspired yesterday’s photos, so I thought I’d share how it’s done. (This will be totally beginner for the uber-photogs among you, so please feel free to ignore.)
The first secret in any photography is light. Natural light is always best, but not to much. What you really want is open shade (see here and here for more on open shade) or an overcast day. Mid-day full sun is not your friend, and neither is your flash. Yesterday, we got home from lunch and it was a bright-but-cloudy day. I knew it was the right time for some outdoor photos. Some people have lots of windows in their house that face just the right direction to get this kind of light inside their houses. My 1920s-era Colonial? Not so much.
Sometimes you don’t want the trees (or your garage, or your messy living room) to be in the background of your photo. You just want a portrait, plain and simple, kind of like they do at those photo studios. The secret is a spare sheet.
I don’t have a clothesline and couldn’t think of a quick and easy way to hang it up, so I draped it over the back of a bench and had the kids sit on it (the fact that it was a fitted sheet helped it stay up). When I wanted some standing shots, I hung it over an upturned folding table.
If you have a DSLR, put your camera on Aperture-Priority mode and dial it down so the aperture is almost as low a number as you can get (the highest number is usually around 22, the lowest might be 4.5, 2.2, or even lower – most lenses will take the best picture one or two stops higher than the lowest possible number – see here for more on what an aperture is). Just set that number, and your camera will figure out the rest for you.
If you have a point-and-shoot camera, it may have Aperture Priority mode. Otherwise, see if it has a Portrait mode, or even Close-Up mode.
The combination of the solid white background (or, frankly, you could probably have fun with other colors) and low aperture should make it so your subject’s face is nice and crisp, but the background is just a blur of white. You can hardly even notice how wrinkled the sheet was.
After that, just take pictures. LOTS of pictures. Snap snap snap away, as fast as your camera will let you. I showed seven pictures yesterday, but I took well over 100 in a scant 20 minutes. And even then, I feel like I got INCREDIBLY lucky. The more you take, the better your chances.
I also happened to have kids who were in fairly cooperative moods (minus Ellie, who was not nearly so interested), and I asked one to stand behind me or next to me and make silly faces while I took pictures of the other. If the kids aren’t having it, there’s only so much you can do. Yesterday, they thought it was fun.
For example, here’s one out-take from yesterday. The sheet looks weird, Daniel was bored, Becca’s eyes were rolling into the back of her head, and Ellie was ALL DONE.
However, one shot before that was the magic shot I’ve been hoping I’d get for the last three months.
A little bit of editing with Pioneer Woman Actions (free! easy!) in Photoshop Elements (way less expensive than “real” Photoshop!), and it literally got my heart racing. I knew it was the one. And today, it became the first photo of mine that I have ever ordered on a 16×20″ canvas.
I definitely don’t get that lucky every day. If I tried to do another portrait session like this tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t get the same kind of results. Even the professionals will only get a few keepers out of a ton of shots, so why should we mortals expect any better? But once you know a few tricks, you just keep on trying. And every so often, you will get THE shot. And it will make your day.
I’m going to get a little photo-geeky on you today. I’m far from a professional, but I’d like to think my photography has improved over the last few years, and I’d like to share a reason or two why that is, and tell you about something cool I bought that made a big difference.
If you’re trying to take your basic photographs to the next level, one of the first things most people will tell you is to TURN OFF THE FLASH. Nothing says “point & shoot snapshot” like slightly washed out faces, red-eye, glare on shiny surfaces, and harsh shadows. Witness Exhibit A, this picture of almost-2-month-old Daniel. With the flash on, the white of the Boppy is overpowering, his cheeks are weirdly shiny, and there’s an annoying shadow behind his head. Some may say this is nitpicky. Perhaps. But if you want your shots to really look good, you’ve got to look at the details.
But, of course, leaving the flash off is easier said than done. Obviously, without the flash, you have less light in your pictures, leaving them underexposed (too dark). You can try to compensate, but even with a decent DSLR, there are plenty of trade-offs. Slow down the shutter speed and you’ll have a hard time holding the camera (or your wriggly subject) still enough to avoid blur. Turning up the ISO (“film” sensitivity) can help the camera capture what little light there is, but even a few bumps up on many cameras can make for an extra-grainy photo.
Still, we do it. We risk blurry, grainy, underexposed shots all the time. Such is the great hatred for the camera’s built-in flash. Witness exhibit B, taken 30 second after the other picture. The color/light is a little more natural and the shine and shadow are gone. But while I could remedy the fact that it was too dark with a simple editing tool in iPhoto, I can never fix the fact that it’s blurry (click on the photo to see it larger on Flickr if you don’t believe me). The shutter speed was so slow, there’s no way I could hold my hand steady enough.
In the meantime, I got a nicer lens, and tried to take as many of my photos in as much natural daylight as I possibly could. Lots of natural light goes a long, long way, even if you just leave your camera on Auto. Exhibit C: look who learned to take the monthly chair pictures first thing in the morning, right next to an open window!
But, unfortunately, much of life does not happen in great light. Sometimes you need a flash, and there’s no two ways about it. And back we go into snapshot territory, which is a really annoying place to be when you have a somewhat expensive, fancy-schmancy camera. Exhibit D: a year ago at the very-dark Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Oh sure, if you have a DSLR, you can invest in an external flash. The kind you can adjust and tilt to bounce off the ceiling so that the light that hits your subject is less direct, less harsh. But that little accessory will set you back a solid $200+, which is not a small commitment.
But friends, I am here to tell you there is a solution. Or, at least, a big-but-cheap step in the right direction for most DSLR cameras and probably some higher-end point & shoot cameras, too. It’s a flash diffuser, and it clips right onto the top of your camera, as long as it has a little connector on top for external flashes and accessories (like I said, all DSLR cameras should have this, and I think that some higher-end point & shoot ones do too, check your manual for something called a “hot shoe”). And I got mine from Amazon for a whopping $24.99. Exhibit E: me and my camera in the mirror, and no, the flash is not on in that picture.
It’s a pretty un-obtrusive attachment, not making the camera feel all that much larger than normal. It’s a simple little plastic thing that comes on and off with zero effort.
But in Hawaii, it enabled me to take pictures of the kids on the beach, with the sun rising behind them, without underexposing their faces or washing them out with a harsh flash. It adds the light you need, without the glare that you don’t. Exhibit F: it was still not very light outside. Rebecca’s face would have been washed out and there would have been an annoying glare on the water without my diffuser. Click the photo to see the larger version on Flickr and you can see that M and Rebecca’s faces actually have some light on them.
Hey, it’s not going to make every shot perfect. But for $25, it makes a big improvement, and allows you to take halfway decent shots when you otherwise might not have gotten anything at all. Today’s final Exhibit G: all four of us at a luau. It’s far from a perfect shot. But it was nighttime and there was only minimal light around us. With a normal on-camera flash, our faces would have been shiny and washed-out, and the background would have been almost completely black. There’s still a little shine and M’s hair blends into the background, but I’ll take it.
The external flash is still on my holiday wish list, but I love my little find in the meantime.
And no, I was not in any way asked to write about this product, nor did I get it for free, nor do I get any kickback if you buy one. I just like it, and thought you should know.
As I was composing a post for HDYDI last week, I went looking for a picture of my kids to use. I wanted one of the two of them together. I had to go back six weeks to our Disney trip to find an even remotely acceptable one.
I had heard that the intensity of documenting everything on (digital) film would drop off after my kids turned one, but for me, it held out until about two and a half.
I have noticed that I am not carrying my camera around nearly as much as I used to. Could be that I got a little burned out. Could be that the travel potty takes up space in my purse so I don’t have as much room for my bulky camera. Could be that the kids move a lot faster these days and, while fairly cooperative, are just that much harder to capture. Could be that the ways in which they’re developing are not as easily visible and photographed as back in the days of learning to sit or walk or climb. Could be the dreariness of being indoors all winter and the photographic challenges of shooting in low light. Could be just plain laziness. Even when I do have my camera, I don’t seem to have the pull to snap away with the frequency that I used to.
Regardless of the motivation, I am hoping that the relative improvement in weather and increase in outdoor play will result in more, better pictures coming soon. In the meantime, the iPhone is there to capture things like Rebecca’s insistence on hanging upside-down on the monkey bars, “mama, don’t hold me!”
And I jumped on the Hipstamatic bandwagon, making this phone shot of Daniel (sitting in the sandbox lid) appear way more interesting than it might have otherwise been.
And I haven’t neglected my camera completely. Sometimes I manage to capture something in the moment. The shot isn’t perfect, but who can argue with the double-daddy pony ride?