If a photographer is defined as one who is so good at it that people pay them for their photos, then I am not a photographer.
But if a photographer is defined as one who takes a lot of pictures – well, then I qualify a bit more, seeing as I do take a lot of pictures. Many of them are bad, some are acceptably good.
Seeing as I’ve lived all over the country, all too many of my friends are not local. As such, the only way they can experience my kids is if I can come up with some good pictures of them. As such, I’ve had a lot of time for experimentation, though unfortunately not enough time for any formal training. Also, my background is as a network engineer, not as an artist. But even so, I’m at least trying to be as good as I can.
So with that, here are some tips on what I’ve learned:
Check out Flickr, Find Photos you Like, Figure Out Why
One of my favorite essays from L. Ron Hubbard on Art is one from his “Art Series” of issues, entitled “Art Series #8: A PROFESSIONAL”. I think you’ll see why it’s applicable here:
A professional is somebody that can produce a high-quality product. A professional is not an audience, and when he views things, he looks for what’s good in them and neglects the poor, low-grade things. The reason he does so is so he has an ideal scene. Without an ideal scene, he just operates off technical data and produces, artwise, a low quality product and isn’t a professional. Without an ideal scene, he can never get a preconception of the shot.
In viewing things that approach an ideal scene, the true professional works out how they did it and when presented with similar tasks of production, can bring off things which approach an ideal scene in his own work. — LRH
Point here is that I find it quite useful to browse similar pictures on Flickr from great photographers, look at things I really like, and then work out how it is that they did them. Then, I strive to create similar effects myself – or, when presented with cute situations, I have a sort of “memory library” to compare to. An example was a friend who I saw took some amazing photos of his daughter on the beach. He had some neat photos taken down low where the sand blurred out as the beach faded into the distance. So, I tried getting a similar effect with mine, last time we hit the beach when we were in Florida.
My Best Purchase Ever: A “Nifty Fifty” Lens
One problem I’ve been running into since having a baby was the fact that most of the cute shots you want to take happen indoors. And indoors, you often don’t have huge studio spotlights blaring on your child to properly light them for a shot. As such, too many shots come out gritty and blurry and full of suck.
I don’t have a huge budget for camera parts, so when I went shopping for a lens for my new camera, I wanted something that would take FANTASTIC pictures indoors in LOW LIGHT, and not cost an arm and a leg. Answer was a lens many photo-types refer to as a “Nifty Fifty”, otherwise specified as a 50mm fixed-focal length, f/1.8 lens. That means:
- 50mm fixed-focus: This means, to the layman, that it has no zoom. It is at one zoom level. This also means that it forces you to be less of a lazy photographer and move around and get in on action, which actually makes you a better photographer.
- “f/1.8”: The word “f-stop” is a photography term that describes how wide the aperture (or hole for light) is for the camera lens. The smaller the number, the more light that gets let in. This article gives you a better description than what I’m prepared to provide, but in our case here saying a lens is an “f/1.8 lens” means that the lens’s aperture can open as wide as f/1.8. As a comparison, my two point & shoot cameras could neither one open up wider than f/4. Which, when combined with their cheap little sensors, would mean that there’s less light that could get in. Which means that when you’re in a dimly-lit living room, and there’s not a lot of light to deal with, the images can get blurry.
If you’ve tried to take indoor, nighttime shots with your kids, you likely know what I mean. But just for reference, this photo was taken with only a single incandescent bulb lighting him:
Or this one, taken when my daughter was literally jumping up and down – again with NO FLASH, and taken with only a few lights on:
The best part of this is that a nifty-fifty, due to its simplicity, is one of the cheapest lenses you can get. For Sony, Nikon or Canon, the lens is around $120. So literally, if you’re on a budget, you could get a slightly older-model DSLR with one of these lenses for less money than a new point-and-shoot, and take FAR SUPERIOR munchkin photos. Think about it.
Try Not to Use the Flash
I don’t need to go off on this, but in general – using the built-in flash in your camera only washes out peoples’ faces and should be used as a last resort – i.e. use the flash if you won’t get a picture at all otherwise. If you commonly are in such a position where you have no choice, read the section above. I think my new Sony camera has fired the flash in only 3 of the 5000 pictures I’ve taken with it so far.
Get Down at Their Level
For whatever reason, more interesting pictures of munchkins always seem to come when you stoop down and take pictures from their eye level.
Not sure what it is, but my most boring pictures are taken looking down at them from my vantage point. Squatting with them, makes it cooler.
Daily/Weekly/Monthly Photo Projects
I initially started doing a daily photo log of my kids as an alternative to a baby book. But I found it was a great way to start forcing myself to be creative. I can’t take the SAME PICTURE of the kids every day. So, as a result, I would sometimes end up finding ways to get outside, get in some different light, go to a new park, etc, etc, just to try taking a new and creative picture of the kids.
Result of those projects are here and here, for my son & daughter.
Take a Lot of Pictures
Lastly, I’d say that for every one photo I take that’s good, there are probably 15 that are abysmally bad. So, to end up with any good pictures, that means a LOT of shutter-snapping. It also means, with kids around, to always have a camera to hand. One never knows when the cuteness is going to happen – and there are a million times when we’ve had something ridiculously cute happening, but the camera wasn’t charged / had no memory card in it / etc. So, always have a camera at the ready, and USE IT A LOT!
Photographers Please Chime In?
Now, as I happen to know that there ARE a few pro photographers that read this site, I’d very much appreciate actual pro tips you might be able to add. Anyone?