Group Writing Project – Photography-Related Contributions

Darren wrote this at 2:47 am:

This week, Darren Rowse over at hosted a group writing project with the topic of “How To”. Some 343 people wrote articles for the project, with a huge range of topics that makes for some interesting reading.

There were several photography-related contributions, so I’ve linked up to them below for your convenience:


How To Take Great Photos Of Children

Darren wrote this at 10:56 pm:

Kids are typically not terribly interested in having their photos taken, especially by a photographer they don’t know. As well as the normal shyness that goes with having an unfamiliar grown-up around, the prospect of a photo session brings back painful memories of the torture parents usually impose: “look at the camera”, “smile”, “stand up straight”, “take your finger out of your nose”, “stand still”, “stand closer to your sister”, “she won’t bite”, “move in closer”, “don’t push your sister over!”.

If you want to get great photos of children, you need to steer well clear of this type of experience! Here are some tips that have worked well for me in the past:

Make It Fun

Joke around with the kids during the shoot and keep them engaged. Depending how young they are, you can do silly things like trip over or bump your head or pull a funny face to get them laughing. Making a joke or telling a silly story about a sibling or parent will often get a great reaction. While you’re doing this, keep your camera at the ready and shoot their reactions. Photos of kids laughing uproariously can really capture their personalities, and make excellent additions to family albums.

Choose A Good Location

Make sure your location fits in with the style of photograph you’re trying to shoot. There’s no point shooting formal portraits in a playground – the kids will want to play and explore rather than sit still and cooperate. On the other hand, you can get fantastic candids of kids in playgrounds, interacting with their environment, exploring and discovering, and having fun on the equipment.

Try to choose locations that will provide a good backdrop for your photos, such as parks and beaches. Cluttered, messy backgrounds will distract from the image. Clean and simple is best. It’s also good if your location has nice backgrounds in several directions – kids move fast and you can’t always be in the ideal position to get the background you want. Try not to leave prams, cars, bikes and other large things lying around all over the place, as they’ll inevitably creep into your photos.

In inclement weather, shooting in the child’s own home often works well. They’ll be comfortable in the familiar surroundings, and you can get them to show you some of their toys to keep them interested. Shoot tight and exclude as much background as you can if the house is a little messy (like most houses with young children are!).

Photographs made in a child’s own room can provide a view into another aspect of their personality, showing clothes, toys, bedding, photos and other trinkets they own. These things change over time as children get older, and parents often enjoy looking back and remembering them.

Minimize Your Equipment

Don’t worry about bringing your tripod or monopod to the shoot – kids move too fast and too much equipment will only slow you down and cause you to miss shots.

For the same reason, try to limit yourself to one general-purpose mid range zoom lens (something like 28-135mm is ideal, but 28-70mm or 35-105mm would also be fine). Zoom lenses allow you to adjust framing on the fly and grab shots that you’d miss if you had to physically move closer or further back. I often bring along a fast prime lens as well, though, just in case we need to shoot in lower light conditions or I want to work with very shallow depth of field.

I’ve usually also got an ultra-wide lens (12-24mm) in my bag, although I don’t always use it. Given the right subject and location, you can get some really fun shots by shooting from above with the lens very close to their nose, or shooting from their feet looking up (more on this later).

I usually only change lenses once or twice per location. You don’t want to spend too much time mucking around with equipment, or you’ll lose the child’s interest and struggle to re-engage them. Trying to rush lens changes will also lead to accidents, like dropping a lens or leaving something valuable sitting within reach of a clumsy sibling.

Protect the front element of your lenses with a UV filter. When you’re in close with kids, especially little toddlers, they have a nasty habit of reaching out and touching the lens, leaving it smeared with gobs of whatever sticky substance their parents have been bribing them with.

If you’re shooting indoors, an external flash swivelled into the bounce position can give good results. It can limit you a little, however, if you keep switching between portrait and landscape orientation and have to keep adjusting the flash’s angle. Whenever I can, I like to keep the flash off and use a wide aperture and high ISO. The photos look more natural, and you’ll also get those nice out-of-focus backgrounds that parents usually associate with ‘professional’ photography.

Vary Your Style

You don’t always know what kinds of photographs the parents will like, so it’s good to cover your bases and shoot a variety of styles. Even if the parents have a specific preference, there will often be relatives with different tastes who would also like prints.

Take some close-in head shots, even getting extreme and filling the frame with their full face or even just their eyes. Pull back for some full-body shots as well. Environmental portraits, taken with a moderate wide angle lens and showing something of the room or location as well as the child, can work really well to give some context to a page of photos in an album.

Get candid shots of the child playing with a toy, exploring their environment, or reacting to a joke. These types of images give insight into their personality, getting past the rigid pose, fake smile and ‘photo face’ so often seen in family albums.

If you have time, shoot some little details as well. Shoot buttons, laces, hairclips and other interesting details from the child’s outfit, and get some close-ups of favourite toys. Get the child to hold a favorite toy or book towards the camera, so you can shoot a close-up of it with them slightly out of focus in the background. These images can capture day-to-day details that would otherwise be forgotten, and are often treasured years later.

Keep the traditionalists happy, too, by taking a few formal-style posed photographs. Do this early in the session, while the child is still engaged and cooperative, but not right at the start while they’re still wary of you (especially if you don’t already know them).

Get Down To Their Level

Portraits taken from above the subject’s eye level often look domineering. This can be used effectively if you want to show how small and helpless a child is, but it can be unflattering and should be used sparingly.

Get down to the child’s level. Roll around on the ground with them. Shoot from below their eye level and your shots will take on a different perspective, showing the world from their point of view. This is something that parents and amateurs don’t often do, so it will make your photos stand out from the rest of their family snapshots.

Involve Others

Especially if they don’t know you, it can be hard to get children to cooperate with you and follow your directions. Get the help of a parent or relative to keep things moving smoothly. Get parents, friends and/or siblings involved in the photographs as well, showing interactions between them and the child.

It often helps to get someone else to pose for you, showing the child what you want them to do. Take a photo of that person while they’re at it – getting Mum or Dad involved will often make the child giggle and want to have a go themselves.

Even pets, teddy bears and dolls are great for this. Again, showing the child in the context of their family and friends can help to show more of their personality and individuality.

Take Some Funny Photos

As mentioned earlier, you can put on a super-wide angle lens and take some funny photos with grossly exaggerated perspective. Kids love this! Also ask them to pull funny faces or do something silly. Show them the photos on your rear LCD, and they’ll want to do it again and again trying to outdo previous attempts.

Save the funny stuff for towards the end of your shoot, though, or the child will want to keep doing it and you won’t be able to get them back into other styles of photos.

Give Them A Go

Let the child hold your camera, or at least press the button while you hold it. Let them take some photos of their parents, siblings or pets. They’ll love the idea that they’re a photographer too, and they’ll treasure the resulting photos that ‘they took’.

The down side to this is that the child will keep wanting another go while you’re trying to shoot them. It can also lead to them becoming a little too familiar with your gear, and they might pick up your camera and mess with it while your back is turned.

Like the funny photos, save this until the end of the shoot so you can pack your gear away safely afterwards and remove the temptation. Having some fun at the end of the shoot will also keep the child’s interest and enthusiasm going, even if they’re starting to get a little tired and bored with it all. It also helps ensure they go home remembering the photo session as a fun experience rather than a traumatic one.

This post was written as part of the ProBlogger How To… Group Writing Project. Surf on over to read all kinds of posts on all kinds of topics, all with the general them of how to do something.

Don’t let your glasses get in the way of capturing great shots of your kids. Find cheap contact lenses and never miss another moment.

Photographing Jewellery

Darren wrote this at 9:57 am:

I just received this question from a visitor:

I am currently using a Canon Eos 20D and am trying to get the best result shooting very beautiful jewellery and diamonds etc.

What settings, lighting, etc do u suggest to get the best out of this fantastic camera?

We are currently having trouble finding the best lighting system and focusing setting!

Please help

I can’t tell you exactly what to do without being there to see what you’re trying to achieve, but some general tips for jewellery photography are:

  • use a light tent
  • use manual exposure
  • use manual white balance
  • use a small aperture for large depth of field
  • use a proper macro lens
  • use manual focus
  • set up with a tripod, shutter release cable, and a stand for the jewellery so you can photograph items one after the other quickly
  • wear cotton gloves to avoid getting fingerprints or smears on the jewellery

I also found a great article on tips for photographing jewellery.

If you have any more tips, please add them in the comments!

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Subject Matter and Print Size

Darren wrote this at 12:09 am:

Alain Briot has published another essay in his Reflections On Photography And Art series, Subject Matter And Print Size.

This is an excellent exploration of the relationship between the subject matter of an artwork and the finished size of that artwork. Alain’s classical artistic training at the Beaux Arts gives him an uncommon insight into the artistic aspects of photography, which are often ignored by conventional photographers.

Too often, photographers simply print all their images at the maximum output size of their inkjet printer. While we may make prints at smaller sizes for practical reasons (to fit into a photo album, to save expensive paper and inks, to fit a mat or frame we already own, etc), it never even occurs to many of us to vary the size of our prints for artistic effect. Yet this can be a simple and effective artistic tool.

The essay gave me an idea for a photographic exercise…

Lenses fall into three rough categories – wide, normal and telephoto. They each have their own characteristics, enhancing or reducing the separation between foreground and background, limiting the angle of view, and altering the perspective and perception of the scene being captured.

Similarly, prints fall into three rough categories – small, medium and large (the actual sizes will vary between photographers depending upon how big they normally print, and how big they are capable of printing). For me, 6×4″ would be a small print, A4 (roughly 8×12″) would be a medium sized print, and A3+ (roughly 13×19″) would be a large print.

So, this exercise would be to make some prints in each of the six combinations of print size and lens focal length. That is, print some wide-angle photos at small, medium and large paper sizes, and then do the same for some normal-angle photos and some telephoto photos.

In analyzing the prints, take particular note of which combinations of lens focal length and print size make for a compelling display. Try to determine what type of subject matter is best suited to each of the 6 lens/print size combinations. You might even be motivated to repeat the exercise using a much wider or longer lens or printing much smaller or larger than you’re used to, in order to explore a more extreme exaggeration of the effect. It’s always worth pushing boundaries to see how much is too much.

You just might discover an interesting new direction to pursue with your photography!

Tip: Better Outdoor Portraits

Darren wrote this at 9:19 am:

This is an easy technique I read about a long time ago, and it works really well. I use it a lot when shooting weddings and portraits.

Outdoor portraits can often end up with a washed-out and boring sky when you set your camera to correctly expose the person’s face. But if you set the exposure to capture the sky perfectly, you end up with a very dark or even silhouetted person. We all know you can use fill flash outdoors to correct this, but even then the exposure can be a bit unpredictable if left up to the camera.

The technique I like to use is:

  • take a meter reading from the sky
  • set your camera to Manual mode
  • set the aperture according to the depth of field you want
  • set your shutter speed to correctly expose the sky (based on the earlier reading)
  • turn your flash on and set it to E-TTL (or whatever the equivalent is on non-Canon cameras)

You may need to tweak your aperture setting (or ISO, if shooting digital) if the required shutter speed is faster than your flash sync speed.

The manual exposure gives perfect exposure for the sky, whether it’s a deep blue with white fluffy clouds, a sunset, a looming storm, or whatever. The flash will light your subject perfectly, giving a nicely balanced overall picture. You might need to experiment a little to determine whether you need to use flash exposure compensation – I get good results from my EOS 20D/580ex combo without any compensation.

One problem that might occur is that your on-camera flash can make the subject look a bit flat, giving the photo a ‘fake’ overall look. A diffuser like the Lumiquest Big Bounce can soften the edges of shadows and make your lighting look a lot more natural, especially if you can combine it with an off-camera flash cord. Even better would be a mobile studio light with a softbox or umbrella. Just make sure you get the lighting direction from the flash right so that it doesn’t contradict the direction of the lighting in the background – that can look awful!

Poor Man’s IS

Darren wrote this at 8:54 am:

Here’s a neat tip for digital photographers trying to shoot at slow shutter speeds without image-stabilized (IS or VR) lenses. Actually, it can even be helpful for those using IS/VR lenses when you’re really pushing the limits of hand-holdability.

Set your camera to burst mode, frame your subject, brace yourself as firmly as you can, and squeeze the shutter button gently. Hold it down so that you fire off a burst of about 5 images. Odds are, once you get back to your computer and examine the images, there’ll be one image that’s considerably sharper than most of the others. Delete the duds, and keep this good one!

The downside is obvious – you’ll use up a lot more space on your memory cards.

If you’re shooting in JPG mode and want a quick way to tell which image is the sharpest, just look at the file sizes. The one with the largest file size is nearly always the sharpest shot. This is because the JPG algorithm tries to preserve detail – the sharper your image, the more fine detail is present, and the less the JPG algorithm is able to compress the image. Incidentally, this is why high-ISO JPGs are larger than low-ISO JPGs of the same scene – the higher noise in the high-ISO image adds lots of fine detail, so the image can’t be compressed as much.

Of course, just like real IS/VR this technique only helps with correcting for camera shake. A moving subject and a slow shutter speed will still result in motion blur in the image.