“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” Henri Matisse
the clicking series
Taking focused pictures is something every photographer wants, right?
But it’s not as easy to do when you have no idea how to use your camera or how your actions as a photographer can hurt or help the quality of your images. I had to learn about focus the hard way, through lots of blurry and out-of focus pictures that left me scratching my head wondering, “why doesn’t this look right?”
I didn’t know it was “focus” that was problem, I just knew my pictures never looked right to me. They were never clear, clean, or like the vision I imagined them being in my head. But then when I began to focus on my photography and learning how to get better, things began to change.
I say this to say that focus is a subject near and dear to my heart.
If your pictures aren’t looking as clear, crisp, and focused as you’d like, try considering these five things:
1. Do you have poor focus? This sounds obvious, but it’s not really when you, as photographer, have no idea what your desired subject is before taking your shot. Perhaps, unknowingly, you’re focusing on the wrong area when shooting. Or, and this was something it took me forever to learn, perhaps you’re too close to your subject to allow your camera to focus.
Another possibility is that your selected aperture is too high, producing too narrow of a depth of field.
To fix all these problems, take your time when composing your shots. Decide on your subject before shooting, set your focus on that, then shoot.
As you can see, in the above picture, I’m focused on the flower in the forefront. It’s this (focusing intentionally on that single flower) and my aperture that produces the blurring of the background flowers.
2. Has your subject moved? Unless you’re hoping to convey movement in your shots, make sure your shutterspeed is high enough to account for any movement. Generally, when shooting my kids, I try to stick to 1/125 and above. For stationary objects, like flowers, perhaps, you can choose lower shutterspeeds.
3. Is your ISO too high? The better your camera, the better it can manage the grain that inevitably comes with shooting at high ISOs. If your camera is not as great, try to keep your ISO as low as possible. To compensate for the decrease in light, and if possible, make adjustments with your shutterspeed and/or aperture.
4. Did your camera shake? Not as obvious when you’re starting out, but camera shake, either knowingly or unknowingly, can lead to un-focused shots. To fix, be mindful of form when shooting. Use both hands, keep the camera close to your body, and support yourself with some form of solid object, i.e., wall, tree, etc. Or, even better, shoot with a tripod (spoken from a photographer who has only used her tripod like two times in the past three years. 🙂
5. Is it your lens? If you have the money to invest in a good lens, do it, since lens quality can have a very big impact on the crispness of your images. Two years ago, I decided to upgrade from my kit lens to prime lens and I have not looked back. I now only shoot using my prime 1.4 lens because I love that it consistently and easily produces sharp images.
Another factor to consider when it comes to your lens and producing sharp images is cleanliness. Having a clean lens that’s clear of dust and grime is a must for clear and crisp images.
Also, one more thing to consider, if your lens is clean and you’re doing everything else right (see above) and are still not getting focused shots, get your lens professionally checked. It could be that your lens has a mechanical error preventing it from properly focusing.
What are your favorite tips/tricks for ensuring focused pictures?
So, this is the last post of the Clicking Series. (cue the violins) I know. I know. It’s a sad occasion for me, too. I love talking about motherhood and writing and parenting, but writing about photography is something that I’m really into right now.
This series has been fun for me. I’ve enjoyed sharing tips with you and hearing from you what you’re doing to make your pictures of your children better. I’ve enjoyed this so much that I think I will make conversations on photography a more regular part of this blog.
The response to this series has been overwhelming and humbling, very humbling. Your comments that you’ve learned something, your retweets, your facebook shares have meant a lot to me!
But this is the end. Or, not the end but the interlude to future conversations. In case you’ve missed any of the posts, here they are in the order in which they appeared in this series:
This is the post that you’ll want to bookmark and come actually come back to for future reference. Here I name my favorite online and offline resources for newbie photographers. These are resources that I rely on and make use of, in some cases, on a daily basis.
Books on Photography (General)
The Digital Photography Boxed Set, Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 by Scott Kelby.
Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4 are considered standard reads by most photographers. I like these books because the author, Scott Kelby, is funny, relatable, and a great teacher. In these books, Scott’s not heavy on the technical side of photography (which is good for newbies), but he is big on providing you with all you need to know to take great shots.
Most general, beginner photography books these days offer information that could be applied to any type of camera, but the information usually slants one way or the other. Or, for instance, a book that leans towards point-and-shoot users will not talk much about the Manual settings of a DSLR. This book doesn’t do that. I like it for that, plus, the images are breathtaking. This book is a bit more on the technical side, but it’s still an easy read.
I like this book because it offers some insight into, what I consider, a God-given gift—that is the ability to see creatively. Peterson is not strict on rules, instead he challenges readers to begin thinking about all that goes into making interesting images, or color, lines, shapes, forms, and patterns.
I was first introduced to this book via a really awesome giveaway on Veronica Armstrong’s blog. I didn’t win that giveaway, but I was inspired by her love for this book to buy it myself. Along with its beautiful images, I love this book because it’s message of the power of shooting from your heart and soul is one that is often missed in photography books. Sure, the technical stuff of a photograph is big, but, in my humble opinion, more than that is a person’s ability to shoot the visions from their heart. That’s what photography is. And that’s why I think photography, being a parent, and shooting your children all go hand in hand.
Books on Photography (for Parents)
There are a lot of great books out there offering tips to parents on how to take better pictures of their kids. Here are some of my favorites.
Mamarazzi: Every Mom’s Guide to Photographing Kids by Stacy Wasmuth.
This is a really great book. It’s easy to read, easy to understand, and delivers.
If there’s a book that I think any expecting mom should have before giving birth, it’s this one. I love Me Ra Koh’s story and her photo recipes for shots to take of your children in their first year of life are priceless. Priceless! If you have a new baby, get this book now!!
This is a community of artists, hobbyists, and professional photographers. Along with offering really great classes through its CMUniversity, it’s the forum that’s worth its weight in gold. It’s the forum that contains hundreds of tutorials and tips and tricks and access to photographers who really want to help you. The cost of membership may seem a bit steep, but if you have interest in furthering your photography career or just being able to talk to real women who, like you, are passionate about photography, it’s so worth it.
Along with taking beautiful pictures, Darcy, the blog’s author, is awesome because she offers really great photography and Photoshop tutorials that are easy to understand. She’s a mom, too, so she also talks a lot on her blog about some of the challenges and topics that are of interest to moms. Oh, and she also has a great community formed around her photo challenges.
This is one of the first sites that I found on my quest to improve my photography. Here you can find informative posts, tutorials, interviews, and tips. I was introduced to iheartfaces through a lovely blog I follow called Mamahood Among Other Things. She often took part in the challenges so I became interested in this site through seeing her beautiful work.
I have hundreds of other sites, books, and blogs I frequent, but I’ll stop here.
What are some of your favorite photography resources online and offline?
This is perhaps one of the most important posts of this series. Wait. I said that before? Okay, this time, I really mean it. This post names 11 habits of great photographers.(Note: These habits apply whether you are shooting with a camera phone, a point-and-shoot, or a DSLR.)
1. Choose a subject (first). When shooting children, they know when to focus on the child and when to focus on something related to the story they’re communicating about that child. They choose a subject first,adjust their camera accordingly, then shoot.
2. Keep their backgrounds simple (and clutter-free). Unless a cluttered background is part of the story of the picture, they keep the focus on their subject by keeping the background simple. Vacuum cords, TV remotes, dirty diapers, bras, and anything else lying around are unnecessary distractions to what could be a fabulous picture.
3. Shoot in lighting that is most flattering to their subjects. These photographers shoot with their backs to the sun to give their subject(s) beautiful frontlighting. Or they intentionally shoot with the sun in front of them to create dramatic silhouettes.
4. Shoot in the morning or late afternoon. I said this before in the post on lighting, but I wanted to say it again because it’s important. When shooting, the great photographers who use natural light aim to shoot closer to sunrise or sunset.
5. Use a tripod or know how to hold their camera to minimize “camera shake.” Shaky hands = Blurry photos. Whether voluntary of involuntary (this often happens when you push a camera’s shutter button), camera shake is a common, and, often, unrecognized mistake of newbie photographers. To avoid camera shake, use a tripod , change your ISO in low lighting conditions, or set yourself or your camera against something firm.
6. Know when to fill the frame.
When shooting children in particular, these photographers know that one of the best ways to make a strong composition is by moving in closer (or using their zoom) and having the child fill the frame. As a warning, when doing this, you’ll want to check the focusing distance of your camera so as to prevent blurriness.
7. Choose the best quality image option their camera allows. With their DSLRs, these photographers know to shoot in raw (a format that contains all of the image’s data) and then convert to JPG in post-production. Of course, if your camera only allows JPGs, then choose the largest and finest quality option.
8. Place their subjects off-center.Centering your subject every time gets really boring, so why not experiment? Good photographers shoot their subjects in a way that best communicates the story they are trying to tell. One photography rule that some follow religiously is the Rule of Thirds, a rule that says you should place your subject one third from the top or bottom and one third from the right or left edge.
9. Don’t just take snapshots. They tell stories.
Snapshots are the kinds of pictures you take when your kid rides a pony for the first time at a local petting zoo. A story is different. Stories are deeply contextualized. When viewing them, these are the kinds of photos that come with, sometimes, lengthy explanations.
10. Know how to create beautiful layers in their shots. When needed for their story, these photographers shoot with a foreground, middle ground, and background in the shot. They do this to create depth, and, again, to provide added context for their story.
11. Find and love the light they have. Good photographers know that they won’t always be blessed with perfect lighting when taking their pictures. So they have learned to love the light they have. If you have poor light indoors, consider shooting near a door open to the outdoors. If a room seems particularly dark, consider turning off all lights. This will make the light that is available that much stronger and more dramatic.
Master these habits and I guarantee you’ll be taking better pictures in no time. I promise!
I wish I started this blog knowing how to take great pictures of my kids, but I didn’t. I mean, my pictures weren’t always that bad, but I was new at this so, inevitably, I made some mistakes. Okay, okay, I made a lot of mistakes.
The top 10 mistakes that I made, and that you may be making, too, are included below:
1. Using the built-in flash.
I started out with a point-and-shoot and would mostly take pictures in the apartment I was living in at the time. Low light + active baby = lots of blur and dark images. To “fix” this I would reluctantly turn on the flash, which would always create ugly shadows, shiny skin, and very dark backgrounds.
2. Not keeping my camera available. From today onward, begin telling yourself that you are a photographer. So what do photographers do? They take pictures! Keep your camera near you often to tell more interesting stories of your children’s daily lives.
3. Shooting only in Auto. Whether you have a point-and-shoot or DSLR, it is imperative that you know your camera beyond it’s auto settings. IMPERATIVE! Read the manual and practice until you get comfortable with working with your camera to take better pictures.
4. Standing too close to my subject.
Learn your camera’s minimum focusing distance (check camera’s manual or go online to find this). If you get closer than that distance, your camera will have a hard time focusing and this will result in blurry pictures.
5. Not having a steady hand. I had NO idea how important it was that my hand be steady when taking pictures, especially pictures in low lighting conditions. I would always just casually whip my hands into my “picture taking” mode and start shooting. And the result of this was lots and lots of out of focus images that could have been better. To take focused pictures, your whole body matters. Anchor yourself and your camera (more on this in another post), then shoot. Or, consider using a tripod.
6. Assuming that I should get “the shot” on the first try. And this is why you should use the Continuous Mode on your camera. Shoot, assess, and shoot some more. Delete all the unwanted pictures in post-production.
7. Centering everything. The most interesting pictures, in my opinion, are those that tell a full story that includes a foreground, middle ground, and background. Centering your kids in every shot is boring and doesn’t do the most to contextualize your images.
8. Not taking advantage of natural light. From last week’s post, you know how important natural light is to your pictures! It’s key! So, when shooting, aim to find the best light or adjust your camera to make sure you have the best light for properly exposed pictures.
9. Waiting for my baby to look at the camera. Forget snapping your fingers and making silly faces, focus on capturing storytelling moments. If your baby does happen to look your way, then great! But, if not, just keep shooting!
10. Shooting at the same angle…EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I have learned that there is so much beauty and meaning inherent in pictures with a different angle. When shooting, don’t stay at the same angel. Move above. Move below. Or, move to the side of your subject.
What are some mistakes that you made when starting out with your camera?
Great light is the key to great pictures. If you don’t have or can’t create the conditions of great light, then you can’t take great pictures. Period.
Since it’s so important, the subject of this post is just light.
Whether you have a point-and-shoot or DSLR, to find great light for your shots indoors or outdoors you must do these things:
Seek out soft natural light.
Natural light is interesting.
It’s expressive and, sometimes, dramatic.
To shoot great pictures of your kids, you want good natural light, or light that actually comes from the sun, the real sun that shines in the sky.
Good light, the kind that creates beautiful shadows and is most “true” to life, is in most abundance early in the morning (30 minutes before sunrise) or late in the evening (sunset).
Of course, if you can’t do these times or close to these times, just try to make it your goal to seek out or create (see below) good soft light.
This rule applies to shooting outdoors or indoors.
When it comes to shooting indoors, the key is knowing your light. Do a walk-through of your house at different times of the day. Notice which rooms are brightest and darkest and at which times of the day. Again, you’ll want to look for soft light when taking your pictures and, if shooting indoors, be as close to your light source as possible (i.e., near the window, near the open door, etc.)
Create soft natural light.
If your rooms are too bright, consider using a sheer curtain to soften some of the light. You can also use a white poster board or reflector or diffuser to fill in shadows created by the harsh light. Okay, so I keep saying harsh light without really explaining what it is or what it looks like. Look at this picture:
It’s cute, right? Or, that she’s holding two dolls I placed in the shot is cute, right? I really like this picture of Annah for what it represents. It was shot the day our power went out. It was 100 degrees out and BURNING up inside so we came outside to wash our car/spray ourselves with the water hose. This is not a good photographic shot, however, because of all the distracting unnatural shadows that are cast on her face by the sun. The light in this picture is way too harsh.
If you’re shooting outside at midday or when the sun is at its highest point, you will get harsh light. To fix this, you’ll need to seek out open shade.
These following two pictures of Annah within minutes of the above shot. The sun was still BEAMING! But, unlike the previous shot, there aren’t any unnatural shadows. Why? Or how? Well, I salvaged the shots by shooting her in the shade of our open garage.
You should do the same when shooting when the sun is at its highest point. You should find shaded areas like leafy trees or tall buildings or open garages. 🙂
Be open to bad weather.
Just because it’s cloudy out doesn’t mean that you can’t take great pictures. Clouds in this instance act like a natural filter. If there is less light available, and you’re shooting indoors, bump up your ISO.
That’s it! Now start shooting in natural light! Go on! Do it! Do it!
If you take nothing else from this series, take this: You can take great pictures of your children. You can tell beautiful stories and capture precious memories.
As a new mom, I remember feeling frustrated with my pictures. I was frustrated with not knowing how to produce anything but blurry, underexposed, and grainy pictures that did not do justice to the beautiful images that lived in my head.
When I began my journey into taking better pictures, I started with camera settings. I started by un-teaching myself that my camera’s default settings could produce the pictures that I wanted. I changed my settings and my pictures changed.
To take better pictures, and whether you have a point-and-shoot or DSLR, here are the camera settings that you’ll need to know or that you’ll need to adjust for better pictures.
Continuous Shooting Mode (sometimes called Burst or Multiple Frames). Children and babies are fast, very fast, and unpredictable. And this is why you’ll need a camera that can capture multiple images in a few seconds.
Anything else, or the standard mode, is just too slow. I keep my cameras in this mode because I am always taking pictures of my kids.
Turn off the flash. Always. Always. Always. That built-in camera on your flash will only leave you with harsh shadows, shiny skin, and weird skin colors. With children (or with anything else for that matter), you should always seek out natural light. Because natural light is golden, you’ll want to take pictures in places that have great light (more on this in next week’s post). If you don’t have enough light, and you can’t reasonably lower your shutter speed, you can raise your ISO, while keeping in mind that the higher the ISO, the grainier the image and the more potential for user error.
Use portrait mode (Point-and-Shoot). If you have a point-and-shoot, using portrait mode will give you some of the blurred background that you can get a lot of with a DSLR with a great lens.
Use aperture priority mode (DSLR). In this mode, the focus is on the f-stop (aperture). While choosing the f-stop, your camera selects the shutter speed for correct exposure.
Sometimes, the shutter speed for the f-stop is too slow, so in those cases, I copy the aperture from Aperture priority mode and go to Manual to adjust the shutter speed for my pictures.
Center Focus. In using this setting, your camera will automatically focus on whatever is in the center of the frame. To focus on something that isn’t in the center, just compose your photo, re-frame so the focal point is centered, and re-frame (we’ll talk about this more later in the series).
That’s it! Of course, there are more settings that you can adjust, but when you’re starting out it’s these settings that will make the biggest difference in your pictures!
If you have any questions about anything I’ve said here, please feel free to ask me in a comment on this post or email me at email@example.com.
What was your “a-ha!” camera setting, or the camera setting that you were able, in adjusting it/figuring it out, to see a huge difference in your pictures?
I hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am! Next week we’ll be talking about how to find great natural light for your photos.
In yesterday’s post, I shared the things to look for when buying a point-and-shoot camera. Today, it’s all about DSLRs.
As I said in yesterday’s post, if a point-and-shoot is all you can afford, that’s okay. Especially with LOTs of good natural light (since that built-in camera flash is crap), cooperating children (who, unlike my children or any others I’ve met, don’t move a lot), practice, and good technique, you will be able to take decent pictures with your point-and-shoot. But… if you can save some money, you should keep your point-and-shoot (for candid snapshots) AND get a DSLR, then a prime lens…. But start with a good DSLR.
With DSLRs, it’s easier to take better pictures because there are less constraints to take the pictures YOU want to take. The sky is the limit and you are in control. You can, with a DSLR, stick to the auto settings and get pictures that are just like those that come from a point-and-shoot, but if you venture into Manual? Oh, the possibilities are ENDLESS. (This is NOT an overstatement.)
Before we get into the settings in Manual you’ll need to know (that will be later in this series), let’s start at the beginning. Let’s talk about the things to consider when buying a DSLR.
Think about the brand. When you begin your DSLR journey, you should think hard about what brand you want to “join,” since all subsequent gear you buy will be based upon your brand. The major brands or families are Canon, Nikon, and Sony.
Consider cost. My Canon is priced on the low end of DSLR cameras because it’s what I could afford. In general, your DSLR will cost a lot more than a point-and-shoot, but the results are so worth it.
Look at the menu. Your camera’s menu should be user-friendly. It should be easy to navigate and intuitive. To know this about your camera, you should first give your potential camera a test-drive in the store before buying.
Go with what feels right in your hands. You’ll want a camera that feels right in your hands, not the hands of your favorite photographer guru. Is it too heavy or too lightweight? With time, your camera will become a part of your body, so this is why comfort is so important.
Don’t pay for the kit lens. One of the first mistakes I made in my DSLR journey was spending extra money to buy my camera with the kit lens. In hindsight, I should have just bought the body. Your lens matters, a lot. It matters more than your camera’s body. Seriously.
( This one was shot with a Kit Lens (EF S18-55mm) 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 400. It’s underexposed. To fix, and since it was taken indoors with a kit lens, I would have bumped up the ISO on this (which you can do on all DSLR cameras), but for comparison purposes of this post, I kept it at 400.)
Instead, buy a great lens. Rather than dishing out more on a new body or more for the kit lens, put your money towards a good lens. What’s a good lens? Well, a fixed 50 mm lens is an awesome start. It’s this lens, not Photoshop that I, and many other picture takers use to create that awesome buttery background effect. This lens has a low f-stop (that number that comes after F in your camera’s settings). This allows a wider aperture (opening). And this allows you to take better pictures (without having to slow your shutter speed as much) in low-lighting conditions (necessary for moving kids) and gives the soft-focus background (makes for pretty pictures). This is all geek-talk, but what it means is that prime lens are good because they allow you to capture more when you don’t have as much light (which matters if you ever plan to take pictures indoors). And, I’ll say this again and again, this is BIG for taking pictures of kids.
(Shot with 50 mm, 1/100 at f/1.8, ISO 400. Even with a lower ISO, this unedited picture is brighter because a prime lens allows via the aperture setting for more light to enter. In this shot, the focus is on the dwarf, hence the blurred pooh. )
When buying your DSLR, ask around. See what your friends and peers are using and ask them “why.” Test drive your camera before buying it and prepare to begin a very awesome journey in Manual shooting.
Do you own a DSLR? What camera do you own and how did you make your decision?
p.s. Be sure to check back next week when I’ll be talking about the camera settings that are important in P&Ss and DSLRs.
I’m often asked, “Does the kind of camera I have matter?” And, “What type of camera do you have?” In response to the first question, the answer is “Yes, kind of.” The kind of camera you have does matter, but more important than that is how you use the camera that you have.
In response to the second question, I have two cameras. I have a point-and-shoot camera (Panasonic Lumix) and a DSLR camera (a Canon EOS Rebel T2i ). I got my Canon in January of 2011. I use it for 99% of the pictures I take on this blog. I use my point-and-shoot (or, usually, my phone) for snapshots of our daily lives around town.
In this two-part post, I wanted to offer some tips on what to look for when purchasing a point-and-shoot or DSLR camera. Today’s post is on point-and-shoots.
There are some really great point-and-shoot cameras available in today’s market. Many models, like my Panasonic, allow you to control aperture and shutter speed to some degree, which is needed, especially when taking pictures of fast-moving children. But they still can’t do what a DSLR camera can do. Even the best point-and-shoot cameras can’t, for instance, create soft focus and shoot fast enough to capture fast moments.
Having said this, if a point-and-shoot is what you can afford, then here are some of the features you should look for in a camera.
Enough Megapixels. To make 8 x 10 prints from your pictures, you’ll want to make sure your camera has at least 7 megapixels. Anything more is sweet, but not necessary.
Nice size and good weight. You want a lightweight camera, but not so lightweight that it’s hard to keep it steady (which is IMPERATIVE) to take pictures. I typically keep my point-and-shoot in my purse, so for me convenience is big.
Wide-angle features and zoom capacity. Zoom is an important feature on a point-and-shoot because unlike a DSLR you can’t change your lens! Also, rather than looking for digital zoom, look for optical zoom among your camera’s specifications.
Fast/Continuous Shooting Mode. This is BIG, especially when photographing kids. Continuous shooting mode (sometimes referred to as FPS- frames per second) means that you can shoot multiple images/frames per second.
(The pictures above were taken with my point-and-shoot back in 2010, using the high speed Burst speed, which takes multiple pictures, in fast succession, per second. These pictures were taken within milliseconds of one another.)
(These candid shots were taken today with my point-and-shoot.)
Check back next week for things to look for when buying a DSLR.