Friday, February 24, 2012

Say cheese!

......or not.  Today I thought I'd give you just a few photography tips.  As most of you know, I am also a professional photographer and absolutely love it.  I think there's a lot of folks that think, "hey! I've got a camera like that.  I can be a professional photographer too!"  Well, I'm here to tell you if you haven't figured it out already, it's not an easy job.  It takes a LOT of practice and it's not a cheap.  You have to just start out with the basics and you'll naturally build up from there.  My camera is a Canon 7D, and the main lenses I use are my 24-105mm/4.0, and a 50mm/1.4.  I prefer to use natural light.  Not only that but it's much cheaper than going out and purchasing a ton of lighting equipment.  I always have my small step ladder and a 42" collapsible reflector with me.  The reflector allows me to bounce light onto my subject if needed, or I can use it to create some open shade.  I also have a 580EX external flash along with a basic tripod/umbrella kit.

Let me first say that it is extremely helpful if you own a digital SLR camera.  You know those larger cameras that allow you to switch out lenses?  You can definitely still get a lot of practice in with a small "point and shoot" camera, but honestly you can only learn so much.  Not only that, but you will quickly learn that it's not about just having a "good" camera and putting it in P mode, or Automatic mode and firing away.  You want to get to a point where you can put your camera in Manual mode and tell the camera exactly what you want. There's nothing worse than taking a picture and not getting the image that you were hoping for, and then not knowing how to fix it or what to change on the camera to get it.  OK, there could be worse, but you know what I'm saying. I'll get into more detail in other posts, but today I just wanted to cover some basics.  Here we go:

1)  Move in!  I mean, get closer to your subject.  Get rid of all that dead space around your subject.  Part of taking an image, for me anyway, is telling a story.  If you're kids are outside playing and you're taking some candid shots of them, do you care to see the entire front yard with who knows what taking up the dead space.  Are you telling a story about those folks that live across the street, their trash bins that are still out,  and that old green Monte Carlo that they drive?  Of course not.  (Or I don't know, maybe you are.  It kind of sounds like there might be a good story there. ?) So, first get as close as possible....then if you're still picking up a lot of distracting items, now you can use your camera to zoom in.  I say this because people think that just because you have a zoom lens, that means you can stand really far away and still get a great image.  Not true.  You'll notice when you take images like this, your subject doesn't look as clear as you had wished.  When you're using a good zoom lens, then your subject should still look decent, but if you have a zoom point and shoot camera..not so much. 

2)  Move around!  That's right, take shots at different angles.  Get a feel for what looks best.  Do you like the shot of your little one as their looking up at the camera?  Do you prefer the one where you squated down and got eye level with them?  Or maybe you really like the one where you're actually looking through the legs of a chair, but focusing on the little one?  This is where the foreground, the legs of the chair, may look blurred out, but your subject is crystal clear.  Kind of a cool image.  Everyone has different taste, so move around and get several different views.  Find the one that you like the best.  

3)  Rule of Thirds.  I'm sure you've heard of this one.  This is where you look through the viewfinder of your camera and imagine the space being divided into 9 equal sections.

image from

Place your subject in one of those sections.  Either off to the left, to the right, or in the top half or the bottom half, or depending on the situation maybe you place it dead center.  Let's say you're taking a picture of a beautiful horizon.  The image would look much more interesting and creative if you set the horizon in the bottom 1/3 of the frame rather than putting it right across the center. 

Here is an image I took of my daughter at the beach.  The water isn't my subject, and the horizon isn't my subject, but she is.  Part of my story telling is a nice sunny day at the beach playing in the sand.  I obviously wanted to include some sand, the ocean, even the jetty in the this is what I shot.  I had also bent down some to be more at her level.

4)  Leading lines or natural frame.  Look around for opportunities to take some creative shots.  If the tree limbs are creating a natural frame to place around your subject, use it.  You can see here in these images that I used leading lines.  When I went to do this Senior photo shoot, I knew I wanted to take advantage of the old standing railroad ties.  

Here is another image from a day at the beach. Again using leading lines.  Those birds are everywhere and I wanted to make sure they were included in my storytelling.

5)  See the light! Probably the most important thing you can practice on is seeing the light and utilizing it to your advantage.  This is one of the reasons why it's so important that you learn how to use your camera in Manual mode.  You will be able to adjust the settings in order to bring in the amount of light that you need for an image.  That being said, your lens plays a big role in that as well.  A typical kit lens (the ones that come with your camera when you purchase it) is not going to be the best lens, and I can bet that before long you'll be at the camera shop looking for a better one.  There's a reason why lenses get pricey.  Not only is it a really good piece of glass, but one of the benefits is that you can get one that will help you produce the type of images that you want.  For me, I do mostly children, couples, and families.  I'm in pretty close range, so my 50mm/1.4 is perfect.  It's a fixed lens, meaning it's not a zoom lens.  I am the zoom.  I just walk in closer or step back until I get what I want in the frame.  The 1.4 is the big difference.  This is the aperture.  The lower the number, the more light the lens will allow to enter.  This will also give me a better bokeh.  Bokeh is that nice blur you see around a focused subject.  Notice the railroad ties in the picture above.  They get more and more blurry the further back they go.  Again, she was my focus, not the railroad ties.  They were just there to add character to the image.  So I naturally wanted to use a setting that would blur out the background.  The more light that is allowed to enter, the lower ISO I can use.  The lower ISO I can use, the less grainy the image will be.  The less grainy my image is, the more crisp it will be.  Now sometimes, you may want a grainy image to give it a gritty feel, or give it some texture, and that's fine.  IF that's what you're going for.  Again, in Manual mode YOU make the choice in how you want your image to look.  Later in post processing you can always add other textures, overlays, and whatnot. (that's for another future post)  The other thing to think about when seeing the light is seeing EVEN light.  If your subject is standing in harsh sunlight, you may end up creating some pretty nasty shadows.  It's best to look for nice open shade.  "Evenly lit" is what you're looking for.  If your subject is standing underneath a tree and there are harsh sunrays bursting through the limbs onto your subject, that's not evenly lit.  You'll end up with basically white lines going across your subject. Take a look at my little man in that first image.  It was in the middle of the day, super bright sun.  I had him hold his arms up to block the sun from his face.  This gave me nice even light over most of his face and gave me the shot I was looking for.  I shoot mainly outdoors, but you can get some decent shots inside as well.  This is where a good piece of glass with a nice open aperture comes into play.  Enter my 50mm/1.4 lens. (By the way, there is also a 50mm/1.2 lens which allows even MORE light to enter, but that's another $1000 that I don't currently have in my tight budget) By utilizing the open window light and setting my camera to a 1.4 or 1.8 aperture, I can get a beautiful evenly lit shot.  I rarely have to use my external flash.  Unless of course you are in a setting where it is dark outside, you're inside, and then you'll need to use that flash.  But again, think "evenly lit".  No harsh light.  This is where you want to have some sort of diffuser attached to your flash.  It helps to spread the light out and make it more even.  There are several different styles out there, some you can attach directly to your camera and others that attach to your external flash.  I don't think you'll ever see a professional photographer using a flash without a diffuser.  

Well, gosh!  I think I went on a little longer than I had planned.  I know it's not everything that you need to know, but it's something to start off with.  There's absolutely no way I could fit everything into one post anyway.  It's just too much. There really is so much to learn when it comes to photography.  The important thing is to practice, practice.  I can't say it enough.  A few recommendations I will leave you with are:

  • Learn your camera through and through.  In other words, read the manual.  And then read it again.  I guarantee you you'll learn something new every time.  There's nothing like taking pictures for a friend and your camera does something that you're not used to and you don't know how to fix it.  Or you know that you're camera does something that you really need right now but you don't know how to use it.  
  • If you have a dSLR camera and are thinking about upgrading your lens I would recommend renting.  If you live in the DFW area, Fort Worth Camera and Arlington Camera are great places to rent from.  They are very professional and helpful folks.  They know their stuff, and they know photography.  Lens rentals are anywhere from $20-$60 depending on the lens.  I would also recommend renting it for the weekend because it's the same price as a one day rental, except you pick it up after 3p on a Friday and don't have to return it until Monday morning.  Allows you more time to practice!
  • If you're thinking about going professional, a good external flash is essential.  You never know what type of lighting situation you will be in, and having that extra light will be a life saver.  You can also purchase some lower end remotes for your flash.  This allows you to put your external flash on a tripod behind an umbrella and setting it in a place where you need more light.  Oh, that's another thing....the tripod and umbrella.  You can get a lower end kit for under $200.  You don't HAVE to have these items, but I will tell you that there will be instances that you say to yourself, "OMG!  If I just had some more light!". In the meantime, you can just get a diffuser for your camera's flash and stick that puppy on there anytime you need more light.  One of the other differences is that with an external flash, you have the ability to rotate the flash head.  You almost never want the light bouncing directly onto your subjects face.  You typically want to point it up at a 45 degree angle, or point it behind you, or bounce light directly off of the ceiling or off of a wall.  Options, options.  
  • If you can afford to take a basic photography class, do it.  If you can afford to take the occasional photo workshop, do it.  From now on, you will constantly be learning.  I remember a few years ago I told my husband about a specialty workshop I had signed up for and he said, "Mel, don't you know enough already?"  WHAT!  I will never know enough!  There is so much to STILL learn.  Continue to educate yourself. If anything, make a trip to the bookstore and purchase a book on beginners photography.  I would even check out the University book store for new and used books that the kids have used for their actual Photography courses. Oh, and learning Photoshop.  Eeeek!  That's a whole 'nother monster all by itself.  
  • Purchase some sort of image processing software.  Of coarse, Photoshop is the standard.  There are TONS of tutorials out there on using Photoshop.  I'll be posting some in the future. Now, the ridiculous thing is the price.  The standard Photoshop CS5 is around $700.  Ouch!   I use Photoshop CS2.  It's the version that was out when I got into photography and I never upgraded.  Too expensive.  They already got me for my $600 back then, and the newer versions don't do enough "new" stuff for me to rationalize spending even more money on it. :)  If you're just starting out, PSE (Photoshop Elements 10 or any older version, I think 10 is the most current) will do just fine. You can get it all day for under $100.  There are so many things you can do to your image to make it look even more superb!  
  • In the beginning of the post I typed "Say cheese.....or not".  This is because you don't always need your subject looking directly at you.  Candid shots of them having fun and doing something natural are just as great as the ones where they're looking right at you saying cheese.  

I think that's it for now.  Please let me know if there is something specific you guys want to learn about and I'll be sure to add it to the post list.  All I know is that there are so many tips and ideas I wish other people would have shared with me when I was starting out.  I've learned a lot on my own and still learning.  I've taken several classes, workshops and looking forward to more.  Nowadays, there is so much information out on the web.  You can learn just about anything really.
Until next time!  Have a great weekend! and have fun shooting!

No comments:

Post a Comment