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This is part of a series of posts providing practical information for parents and families while highlighting the many talents and expertise that we have in our BCS school community. Here one of our talented parents shares some tips and tricks everyone can use to improve their everyday photography. Read on, and put these to use capturing your family this summer (maybe wearing BCS spirit wear….)!
The end of the school year is fast approaching which means one of the best times of year – summer vacation! This time of year also means more time outside enjoying the beautiful weather and celebrations with family and friends. If you are anything like me, you can never have enough pictures of your children. They grow and change so fast and it is fun to document them at the stage they are in. However, having professional pictures taken on a semi-regular basis to keep up with tracking these changes can certainly get expensive. So here are some quick and easy tips you can use to improve your photography, whether you are using an expensive DSLR or your iPhone!
1) Consider Your Background
When you prepare to take a picture, I am sure you are focusing mostly on your subject. This makes complete sense. However, right before you snap the picture, take a quick minute and look at what is behind your subject(s). Clutter can be a very distracting element to a picture. You want to try to keep your main focus on the subject, not the background. Are there any small changes you can make to your background to make it more visually appealing? Is there a pile of clothes you can move to the side? A stash of toys you can shove behind the couch quickly? You want your background to distract as little as possible from your main subject and sometimes simple changes can really help take your picture from blah to great in a very short period of time. You may even be able to change your position or angle just slightly to remove a distracting object from your photograph.
Bedrooms can be tricky as there is a lot of stuff that can get in the way of the picture and be a distraction. Just keep moving around (or move stuff out of the way) to make sure the background is visually appealing in your photo.
2) Get Closer
One easy way to remove distracting or unappealing objects from your photo and bring the focus to your subject is by getting closer and filling your frame with your subject. When you are ready to snap your photo, take a few more steps closer to your subject. Yep, even closer. Try to fill your frame with your subject, not the background. This may take a little getting use to but I promise you will like some of the resulting pictures. Yes you may cut off or remove some parts of your subject from the picture but you will create a much more intimate picture.
Moving in closer to your subject allows you to focus on the details as well. Not every picture you take of you children has to be standing and smiling at your camera (not like this is even possible most of the time). Instead, try to think outside of the box and focus on some of the other details that are equally important to capture. Think about ways to get creative with the shot you are taking and the story you are trying to tell.
3. Watch the Light
Good lighting can really make or break a picture. While this can get pretty technical, a few basic things you can learn about lighting that will dramatically improve your pictures. Summer time is of course a great time to get outside to take pictures of your kids. However, with the longer days and warm weather comes bright sun and harsh shadows. These two factors do not make for the best pictures. In fact, overcast days are ideal for shooting outside pictures because colors stay true and your subjects won’t be squinting instead of smiling. Many photographers like to photograph during what is called the “golden hours” – the hours right after sunrise in the morning and right before sunset in the early evening because this time of day nicely lights your subjects and creates a warm natural glow. However, as a parent, I know very well that taking pictures during this limited window of time is very hard with kids. So what can you do if you want to take pictures in the middle of the day? The key is looking for open shade. Basically you want your subject out of the bright sun in a shady (but not too shady) area facing towards the light. This will help give you nice even skin tones and a better overall result.
For these pictures I waited until the sun was setting (maybe around 7 pm) so the colors were nice and even and there were no harsh shadows falling on their faces.
Now let’s talk for a minute about taking pictures inside. When taking pictures indoors, as tempting as it is to use your flash, I would first try to find the most natural light you can from your window source. Spend some time watching where and when the sun comes into your home for a few days and figure out the best spots to use for natural light. Open up your blinds and curtains. I like to position my subject facing the window (such as near a window or an open door) at a 45 degree angle while I stand in the doorway or as close to the window as possible to actually take the picture. By positioning your subject towards the light source, you will also get a nice little sparkle (also called a catchlight) in their eye which really helps make your picture feel alive and bright.
This picture was taken in the dead of winter in our dining room. I simply positioned my son facing the window and stood with my back facing the window to make sure there was that sparkle in his eyes. If you aren’t sure whether you are getting good light, just keep moving your subject around until you see that nice little sparkle in their eyes.
4) Compose Your Picture
There is a concept in photography called the Rule of Thirds. This is a timeless technique that will help take your pictures from boring snapshots to wow photographs. Here is how it works. Think of placing a tic-tac-tow grid over your picture. You want the most interesting part of your picture to fall on one of the lines on the tic-tac-toe grid. When taking portraits, the eyes usually are the part you are aiming to place at one of the interesting lines. This is not a hard and fast rule and can certainly be broken. It is just something to consider when composing your picture.
You don’t have to have fancy editing software to improve your photographs with editing. Many iPhones comes with basic editing features right in the camera. You can even add filters for more artistic looks. Play around with a few and see which one speaks to you. You can also add light, color, contrast and saturation pretty simply to your photographs that will help make them look a tad more professional. Just play around with the little levers until you get your picture to a place you like. Also, check out picmonkey.com for a free and easy editing software program that allows you to quickly and easy doctor your photos.
I snapped this picture on my iPhone and with a few small tweaks – tightening the crop to remove the shadow in the bottom left, adding some light to brighten everything up, and saturating the colors a tad the edited picture is much better than the original and it only took me a minute!
6) Improving Group Photos
We’ve all been there. You are celebrating at that special family reunion or bridal show and you attempt a group picture to capture the special day. Afterwards, you check out the photo and realize there is not one picture with everyone’s eyes open! Here is an easy trick when taking a group shot. If you are acting as the photographer, tell everyone to close their eyes. Tell them you are going to count to three and then they need to open their eyes and smile. As they open their eyes on the count of three, start snapping pictures. Those first few are bound to contain a few good shots!
7) Don’t Pose Your Kids
I know we all love the pictures of our kids standing and smiling perfectly at the camera, right? But let’s be honest, they are hard to come by. Try experimenting with “non-posed” pictures. Those pictures of your kids playing and exploring; taking a bath; building with Legos; having breakfast; snuggling watching a movie. Take pictures of things other than their smiling faces. They help tell your story and share more about your son or daughter than any posed picture ever will.
And while you are quietly documenting these moments, softly whisper their name. When they look up from whatever they are doing, snap the picture. They may even smile when they hear their name. Or say something funny when you call their name. These are the moments you will get the genuine expressions we are all looking for.
With older children, I also like to play the “no smile” game. This works with most kids over the age of 4. Make it a game for them NOT to smile. Play it up as best you can — “don’t smile. Oh no, I see you smiling.” They will generally start laughing (and smiling) and a nice, genuine smile is almost always the results. They just can’t help themselves.
There you have it, a few quick and easy tweaks you can make to instantly improve your photography. If you are looking for a great resource to improve your photography even further, I highly recommend the book Mamarazzi: Every Mom’s Guide to Photographing Kids by Stacey Wasmuth.