A Note on Content

The purpose of this blog is twofold: (1) to advertise my services as a photographer, and (2) to provide useful information to people who want to take better pictures, particularly when it comes to photographing children.

Although I have not organized the blog posts in any particular order, I have tried to start with basic information and build from there, so those wanting to learn more about photography and visiting the site for the first time may want to start with the oldest posts first.

If you have questions or comments about the blog, please feel free to leave a comment or to email me directly. I hope the photos and other information presented here help you appreciate the art of children's photography, and inspire you to take great photographs of your own.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Say "Cheese" ... or maybe not

So, here are a few pics from a recent impromptu photo session. Our three-year old neighbor wandered over to see if my youngest daughter could play. Recognizing good overcast lighting (see post #1), I grabbed the camera and began shooting away. (Generally, I don't advise photographing children without asking their parents permission first, but these are close--and understanding--friends.) 

See any smiles? Me neither, but I was still happy with the results. Sure, I know, we all love smiles, but in children's photography I do think one can get "too much of a good thing." Kids khow the drill, right? You pull out the camera, they put on a fake smile, the camera goes click and ... whew! ... they go back to doing whatever they were doing before being so rudely interrupted.

So, I think it's safe to say we want (1) genuine smiles, and (2) maybe not smiles at all. Sometimes it's great to simply capture a kid being a kid. They aren't always smiling after all, and many of their most interesting and charming expressions aren't necessarily the smiliest ones.

To that end, I suggest the following, general approach: first, don't ask or expect a child to smile immediately. You want the child to get comfortable with you and the camera, so introduce yourself. Show them the camera. Engage them in conversation. Ask them about their interests, about the weather, about anything at all. While doing so, you can often check the lighting, adjust camera or lens, and then start shooting--all before a single "say cheese" has escaped your lips.

The photo session with my little neighbor went someone like this: "Can I take your picture? Can you stand right here? Thank you sooo much!! How old are you? Three? Wow, you're getting sooo big. What's that stuck in your hair? Is there a monkey on my head? (This, to get her to look up.) What color is that monkey? ..." You get the idea. I wouldn't recommend taking that approach with a fifteen year-old, but, hey, with a three year-old, anything goes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In Ain't About the Camera

How many times have you heard someone say, "If only I had a good camera then I could take pictures like Anne Geddes" (or words to that effect)? Then those same people run out and buy an expensive digital SLR and—guess what?—the pictures still don’t look so hot.

Bad camera? Nah. Here's the deal, it ain't about the camera; never has been, never will be.

Don’t get me wrong, cameras are important, particularly in the digital age, where the quality of the digital sensor does make a difference in the final image, but there are very successful professional photographers out there who still use … get this … pinhole cameras. You know: an oatmeal box with a tiny hole in it and a piece of film taped to the inside. No electronics. No lens. No “camera” at all in the way that term is normally understood. Don’t believe me? Check this out: http://www.pinholeimpressions.com/index.html.

So, if it’s not the camera, then what does matter?

First, composition. Most cameras produce a rectangular image: a snapshot. A little piece of the world around you, and—here’s the fun and interesting part—you get to choose what to put inside of those four corners and, more importantly, what to leave out. As Anne Geddes, perhaps the most famous child photographer ever, has observed, “The hardest thing in photography is to create a simple image." So, we have Rule #1: keep it clean, keep it simple, keep it uncluttered. Don’t include things that detract from your subject or what you want to say.

“What’s that?” I hear you say, “Pictures don’t speak.” Oh yes they do, or at least the good ones do.

Second, the quantity and quality of light. The word photography means “writing with light,” and, once you’ve selected a subject, most good photography starts and ends with an understanding of light and the effect light has on your subject. Modern cameras do, generally, take care of the quantity of light, but, no matter how smart the camera, no matter how expensive the circuitry, cameras do not, as a rule, appreciate the “quality” side of things. That’s where a photographer’s own instincts and experience come in.

Good photographers appreciate keenly the quality of light, and their heart starts to do a little pitter patter when they find the perfect light for their subject. In an outdoor setting, such opportunities for great lighting often come on overcast days—where the clouds diffuse the harsh rays of the sun—where light is reflected, like on the shady side of a building, or early in the morning or late in the evening, where the earth’s atmosphere acts, again, like a giant diffuser, and the angled light of the sun often takes on a soft, warm glow.

A photographer faces a similar challenge with indoor lighting. Most indoor lights create a different sort of light from the sun, and, as a result, show up differently on film or as a digital image, often with a distinctly yellow or greenish tint. And an automatic, on-camera flash creates its own set of problems: red-eye, that “deer in the headlights” look, harsh highlights, deep shadows. No surprise then that serious studio photographers use soft boxes (off-camera light sources with some kind of material over the light that softens or diffuses it) or reflected flash.

So, now we have Rule #2: look for soft, even light. Avoid the harsh, squint producing light of the mid-day sun and, for heaven’s sake, turn off those horrible on-camera flashes that turn those beautiful little faces into flat, white, featureless masks. Yuck!

And that’s basically it. Really. Master those two principles and you will take better pictures than many a photog lugging around a big, fancy looking camera.

More later.