It’s Spring. Things are thawing, including your toes and your photo-taking fingers. Year after year, you say to yourself, “I need to hire a photographer to take family photos.” But things get busy — homework, soccer, vacations, and oh yes, work — and it never gets done. You also never know what to wear. You feel too much pressure dropping a lot of money on a photo shoot that may turn out to be a disaster of kids in bad moods, sun not shining, and a bad hair day for you. Not to mention your husband feeling uncomfortable with a stranger and hating getting his picture taken.
In addition, your life isn’t one day at a park with a pro. It’s many days. Lazy mornings, vacations, birthdays, visits with friends, grandparents. Sports events. Those times when you look at your kids, filled with emotion, that you just want to keep forever. It’s so much that a pro can’t capture.
Photography is love, all the time.
Well, as a professional, I say, ditch the professional portrait session. If the following list doesn’t interest you in the least, and you’re willing to pay, feel free to call me. Otherwise, follow these steps to get started on improving family snapshots.
1. It’s not the camera (or the phone.)
So many of you shutterbugs think that you need to invest in a better camera, in order to take better photos of your family. You couldn’t be more wrong. While it’s frustrating to see photos that don’t have the clarity that you want, having photos that are too sharp can be equally undesirable. Some of my favorite photos are soft and grainy. In addition, phones of today can make lovely 8×10 prints.
2. Turn off the flash!
When you think you need a flash most, you don’t. Nothing worse to ruin the mood of a room is blasting a flash. If there’s one gizmo you should learn on your camera, it’s how to turn the flash off and to set it on ‘night time’ mode or increase the ISO. The soft, warm light on your children’s faces will glow in the lights of the Christmas tree.
…..So I turned off the flash, but now I get blurry photos from all that movement.
It’s possible that you’ll get blurry photos if your kids move too fast or if you don’t hold your camera steady in very low light. The solution? No, not an expensive tripod. Just lean up against a wall and exhale slowly. This is a DIY human tripod. I often even hold my camera against the wall too, to keep it steady. Another option is learning to set a timer on your camera and setting it on a table. If it’s a phone, and has a timer, prop it up.
The second cause of blur is movement from the subject. If this happens, embrace it, while still using a makeshift tripod method. This will give you sharp images of everything, except for the bouncy kid in the picture. This tells a story and is a technique used by pros. Another option is simply finding a moment when the subject is still.
3. Turn ON the flash!
Yes, you heard it, turn on the flash. In order to take a great photo, you need to have manual control over the flash. And you OFTEN need to turn it ON when the camera thinks it should be OFF. Example? On your beach vacation. You tell the kids to stand at the water’s edge. If you let your camera do it’s thing automatically, chances are you’ll have the kids’ faces in shadow and the landscape exposed properly (unless you have a camera/phone that exposes for the faces, in which case you’ll have them exposed properly and the sea, sand and sky whited-out). Either way you lose. (Unless you are looking for that silhouette look, which can be lovely especially if the kids are facing the sea, or building a castle.) THE SOLUTION? Turn ON the flash! It will be lighted more ike a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit shoot, only with better models, your kids!
4. Stop telling your kids to smile!
Because it’s not usually even a real smile. It resembles what they do at the dentist — show their teeth. Sometimes it’s cute to see what kind of poses the kids come up with when a camera’s pointed at them. And that’s an art in itself. This point leads me to the parent/child relationship, and how often the child resists photos just because they don’t want to listen to parents. This is where things get tricky and sometimes strangers take better photos. But, you know your kids more than anyone. Instead of instructing, interact. Ask them questions. Remind them of a funny time. I like to pretend there’s a spider on my head, or camera, to make them laugh. Or if there’s another adult around, have them get behind the photographer and make funny teasing faces. In short, try to elicit real smiles somehow.
Or not, because those quiet moments when you simply let your child be, are often the most lovely of all.
5. Backlight the subject.
Put a child in front of the sun, at an angle. Let the rays cast lines and spots on your lens. Create mood. So much nicer than a noonday sun beating down on a child’s squinty face. When you shoot in the day in summer with the sun behind you, you often get a flat, colorless image with little interest. (Of course there are exceptions to everything. I could go on. But just to keep it simple.)
6. Of course, wait for the golden glow of sunset.
Everybody knows this, but few people know the trick of waiting for AFTER sunset. At this time, things get crazy-beautiful — the sky does wacky prize-winning things after the sun disappears. AND, even in the dark, utilizing the techniques in #2, (turn off the flash) you can find magic. Start looking to light your subject with car lights, street lights, moonlight. Tap into your inner Scorsese.
7. Frame it so there’s pretty stuff around.
Seems obvious, but some pretty flowers in the foreground, or in the frame, will add color and texture and, yes, magic to a photo. Even some blurry blobby thing, the edge of a chair, anything, could add interest. Which leads me to my next point…
8. Figure out how to specify what’s in focus.
A pretty picture of flowers in the foreground with a blurry child smiling in the background is probably not what you’re aiming for. Make sure you know how to specify focus points on your camera. It’s not that hard and will open up worlds of creativity.
9. Create interesting composition.
This is not so easy if you don’t have it intuitively, but it can be learned, through experiment over time. The subject need not be centered on the frame. This is what school pictures are for. Spin around the camera. Lie on the ground. Play.
10. MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN AT LEAST SOME PHOTOS.
And I’m talking to myself, too, as a mom.
Many of the world’s biggest photographers set up the camera and scene and actually have assistants click the shutter.
The biggest mistake the photographer can make, who is often a mother, or father, is to be absent from all photos. My goal for this season is to have more photos with my kids. Once you learn these tricks, you can set your camera and even frame it and have a friend do it. It takes a village. In fact, have a friend bring her family over, or go on an excursion, and be each other’s photographers. Get ice cream. Strawberries. Bring toys, beach balls, colorful stuff. Don’t lose your sense of humor, and don’t be too goal-oriented. Just see what unfolds and have fun!
Still need help?
+1. Learn how to get those pictures off your phone. How to put them in a dropbox. How to make prints. OR, let ME help you with all of this, and edit and print your photos.
If you want to do it yourself, 4×6 prints are cheap. Put them in a cigar box or album and accumulate them. In my opinion, those Snapfishy type albums will not stand the test of time. They will lose luster and fall apart. Prints are classic. Your computers and hard drives will crash, who knows what will happen to your cloud, and your phone will fall in the toilet. Make prints.
Hope this helps. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. If you are in the NYC area, I will be holding tutorials in Central Park from time to time. Have fun!