Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ten on Tuesday: You get the picture

I'm a mom, not a photographer. I don't have a fancy camera, but I take pictures of my kids every day. I have some experience in editing and publishing photographs from my days as a newspaper editor, but not much beyond cropping, adjusting lighting, and framing the subject. I am learning as I go, and here are some of my tips for taking better pictures.

1. Cut the Cheese. Whoever came up with it had the right idea. Saying "cheese" does give the illusion of a smile. However. Some kids, especially little ones, take cheese to the extreme and then you end up with gritted teeth and forced smiles. Instead, get your subject to laugh just before taking the picture. Wait a few seconds. The laugh will settle into a natural smile, the subject's eyes will be open, and SNAP!

2. Natural lighting is best. If possible, go outside to take pictures. Or, open the curtains or shades to let the light in. It doesn't even have to be sunny, overcast is actually best. Too much sunlight can cast shadows and make your subject squint.

3. Natural setting is best. People have a tendency to pose for pictures in the same place. Most of the pictures we take at my in-laws house are in front of the fireplace. We have a zillion pictures of us standing there, but we don't typically congregate in front of the fireplace, so it is kind of un-natural and pose-y looking. If the person or group of people that you want to photograph is sitting on the couch or at the kitchen table, take their picture there. Instead of having them get up and pose in front of the window or fireplace, just ask them to sit closer together and look at you for a quick photo.

4. Clear the clutter. Take the junk out of the scene before you snap pictures. One of my biggest personal pet peeves is pictures with cameras in them. You know, like taking a group shot and the people in the picture are holding their cameras. Or a picture like this where someone else is taking a picture in the background.

You see it? Ugh, that irks me like nails on a chalkboard. Other clutter to watch out for & remove from the scene: cords/cables, cell phones, dirty dishes. If you're taking pictures outside, be aware of clutter in the background like parked cars, gutter/drain systems, and energy/water meters. You can always crop clutter later, or you can zoom in now and crop it before you take it!

5. No knees. One of my favorite tips that I read in a fashion magazine is a tip from a model that is, obviously, photographed a lot. She said never let your knees face the camera directly. Turn your body or even just your legs slightly to the side. It makes your legs look longer, and besides, knees are ugly anyway.

6. Play with perspective. Instead of taking the picture straight-on, try taking it from a different angle for a fresh perspective. One time I asked BigGirl [my budding photographer] to take a picture of me as I was sitting at a picnic table. She took it straight-on. I took one look at it and deleted it within seconds. It was uninteresting and not very flattering. So, I asked her to stand on the bench that I was sitting on and take the picture again from up above me. It was MUCH better! Get down on your child's level, get on the side of your subject so they have to turn to you, shoot from above, or even beneath or behind. Get up close. Closer. Closer!

7. Consider colors in clothing and setting. Some of my favorite pictures of my kids are of them wearing bright colored clothes and they're outside in the bright green grass, against a bright blue sky, or they're playing in the sparkling blue water. However, some of my favorite pictures of them as babies are of them wearing all white, or they're nakey against a soft white background. Right now, BigGirl is playing with a fantastically colorful Chinese Checkers game, but she's wearing striped PJs that totally clash with the game, so I'm not taking a picture. I have a picture on my desk of our family on the beach and it's almost perfect. Blue-gray waves are splashing in the background, the sky is sunset orange, and all 4 of us are smiling. What makes it not perfect? DaddyHall is wearing a black shirt and dark shorts. Next to the rest of us in our bright summer clothes, he looks like he's going to a funeral on the beach later. And that's why the picture is on my desk and not framed and hanging on the wall. Give some thought to the colors that are in the frame of your photo. I love the colors in this one:

8. Know if you need flash. My camera has a Flash Off, Forced Flash, and Auto mode. I take most of my pictures in Flash Off mode. Using the flash will brighten the picture and is best used in dark settings. Taking the picture without the flash looks more realistic, to me. When you don't use the flash you have to be very still to get the best picture, otherwise it will turn out blurry. I especially like using the Flash Off mode when we're outside. Play with your camera's flash modes and get comfortable not using flash all the time.

9. Picnik your pictures! I think I first heard about Picnik from Kristen at We Are THAT Family. Picnik is an online service for editing, storing and sharing your photos. The editing tools alone are totally worth the "Premium" service fee. Using Picnik you can give your pictures borders and frames, adjust lighting like a pro, erase wrinkles, even slim your subjects down 10 pounds! The editing tools are really fun and you can use some of them for free.

10. Organize your pictures. I have found the best way to organize my digital pictures is in folders named Month Year. Inside each folder I have sub-folders for large groups of photos, labeled with what they are, such as "Zoo Trip" in the May 2007 folder, or "Mom's Bday Party" in the January 2009 folder. This has been really helpful for times when I am searching for a particular picture or group of pictures. I also like to print them and put them in albums chronologically, so having them organized on my computer by date is really helpful. Shutterfly and Snapfish are also good, free services for storing and organizing digital pictures. Find what works for you and keep your digital pictures organized.

And finally, need some inspiration for taking better pictures? Get lost on - you'll find some really good pictures taken by really good photographers there.

Oh, one more thing...crop the date stamp off of your pictures before printing and framing.

For more 10 on Tuesday, visit OhAmanda!