Composition- One simple word that means so much! There are so many elements to composition, but in it's simplest form it's what you leave in or take out of your frame in order to tell the story. And just like the books at your local library, the stories can range from very, very, simple, to complex novels.
A couple weeks back we talked about the rule of thirds. The idea that you want to balance your image across the frame in thirds, avoiding the center for your main focal points. And yes, there are exceptions to this rule. Like all good rules that are made to be broken, but for now let's just stick to following, the rules. :)
This week, I'd like to introduce another simple but important composition concept, leading lines. Leading lines serve the same purpose as the rule of thirds, to tell your eye where to go when looking at the photograph. Think about pathways, bridges, walls, things that create direction in your photograph. What direction do you think they should lead, have you ever even thought about it? The answer is they should lead to your subject. So let's see what that looks like.
See how the lines that stair way creates lead you right to Chloë's little face? Now what do you think would have happened if she had been positioned in the right third of the photograph?
In my journey with my camera and my family one thing I have come to understand is that with any frame worthy moment there is usually more then one story going on at any given time. Take for instance, a simple Saturday morning snuggle session with my biggest girl and her daddy. I looked over from my computer to the scene of my Chloë Yoshe cuddled up with her daddy looking so small and sweet and knew immediately it was picture worthy! But once I grabbed my camera I realized that there were many stories here to tell.
The story of my dear husband taking a break from his busy morning to just be a daddy while sneaking a glimpse of his wife.
The story of my biggest girl taking advantage of the rare quiet moment while her sister napped to watch a cartoon.
The story of a daddy's big strong hand holding his tiny daughter close.
Or The story of the cuddle itself and my daughter's sweet expression.
You always have options, so when you pick up your camera with each snap of the shutter think about what story you are going to tell!
Snap to it!
I love the internet - where else can you catch up with someone you haven't seen since high school and pick up instantly? Well, I haven't seen my friend Courtney in *ahem* a number of years, but from her Facebook page it seems the only thing that's changed about her is the number of gorgeous children… including her latest who is 5 months old today!
So in celebration of today Courtney, here are some tips for capturing your baby boy!
First things first - find your pocket of great light. Where are the good windows in your house? Glass doors? No glass doors? Take advantage of this gorgeous weather we're having down south and open one up! Windows and doors take the bright sun and diffuse it into gorgeous portrait-taking light, so find your best and brightest portal and plop that baby boy down at the edge of the light. (Or you might want to try a baby doll first so he's fresh when you get your camera settings perfect!)
What do I mean by the edge of the light? Here… see how my not-so-little one *sniff* is positioned just on the shadow side of the light?
Now look what happened when I put my duff down just inside the door - me sitting in the light, and her just on the other side - magic! And since she's facing the light - look at what it did to her eyes!
Now lets talk about backgrounds. From what I've seen on facebook, your little man should be lifting his head and pushing up. Since we want a decluttered backdrop, use a bench, ottoman or even a chair like the one Sydney's sitting on and place it behind him. Now take a very neutral blanket (dark and heavy wools, felts, etc work nicely - but so do plain white down comforters!) and drape it over the back of the ottoman spilling onto the floor under him. It doesn't have to be perfect, just make sure it's not distracting. If it's large enough, you could even put a boppy or a dog pillow underneath it to give him some reinforcement.
Next - you have a Sony DSLR-A300 camera, so rather than get into how to use your manual controls (because I'm just not familiar with your camera!), lets try and take advantage of the built-in portrait mode. That should be your equivalent of Aperture priority mode. While you're at it - turn off your flash! You want all natural light here. According to the Sony Website, there should be a "flash off" position on the Exposure Mode dial.
Also, check your ISO. If you find a really great pocket of light, you should be able to stay between 100-400. The lower the ISO the better RAW files you have to work with on in your computer. How do you know what that number should be? Take a test picture. Too dark? Bump your ISO. But be careful - go too high and you'll introduce noise.
Speaking of Raw files, are you shooting in RAW or JPEG? For these precious portraits, you want to be in RAW, or at the very least, RAW + jpeg so you have both on hand. Just make sure your memory card is clean so you have lots of room!
Okay - now that you're done with your menus and dials, get on your belly and shoot! Go eye to eye with that baby boy. Connect, laugh, tickle, sing Elmo songs! Don't just rely on your zoom - get in close with your camera. You don't have to see the whole blanket in every shot. What if you just got his head? Just some toes? Get down low with him and just see what happens! Just make sure he stays facing the light!
And finally - come over to the boards and show us your pictures!!
When we created this site - we had two main goals. The first was to create a fun, warm, safe place for moms to show off pictures of their kids. Done - check! The second was to create a place where moms are continually challenged to learn how to take better pictures. Almost done- half check! :)
I (all bias aside!) think we are off to a GREAT start! The information is here and available to you, but I really want to to challenge you to take it a step further and start the process of taking better pictures! Don't worry, we are going to help! :)
So here's what I want you to do:
1) Participate in the monthly challenges! It's fun and there are cool prizes!
your set up. Myself and/or Adrienne will critique and give suggestions for improvement for every picture posted, from composition, to post processing, to focus, we will get down and dirty with SPECIFIC suggestions. We ask that you follow up our suggestions with another picture attempting to put them into action! It's going to be a conversation, give AND take to help you improve.
This thread will be in the same vein as "Critique Me", but will be much more in-depth and focused. Other members are welcome to jump in if they have something to add or a question about anything posted, but we promise to do the heavy lifting here. The goal is to have at least one thread strictly dedicated to helping you take better pictures! :)
SNAP TO IT!
Yesterday was my daughter's first-ever gymnastics lesson. Gush. I can't tell you that this post isn't a great excuse to tell you how proud I am that we may have found an outlet for our super-active chatterbox (after our *ahem* interesting experience with ballet), or how entertained I am by her fearlessness. But if I'm going down the emotional rabbit trail of my parenting experience, I need to disclose that it was a real nail-biter.
Ah, the push and pull of parenting. Let go. Stay close. Hide in the bleachers so you're there for the inevitable potty break, but
If backlighting is what happens when your subject is lit from behind while you expose for their face, then silhouettes are what happen when a subject is lit mostly from behind and you expose for the light.
Silhouettes are created in extreme lighting situations when the light behind your subject is bright and the light on and in front of your subject is low. When you expose for the bright background, you render your foreground and suject to be darker, giving you a silhouette. It's a great storytelling trick that puts just the form or the "idea" of your subject completely in context with it's background. Just look at this story told at the beach near sunset...
When using a point and shoot camera or shooting in automatic, turn off your flash and the camera will do the work for you - automatically exposing for the brightest part of the image (the backlight). When shooting in manual, spot meter for the background (the brightest light) by pointing your camera at the backlight and get your settings from there!
One of the best things about Silhouettes? They're easy to accomplish with just a little bit of trial and error and they go a long way to help you understand how your camera handles exposure. Artsy and informative - what's not to love?!?
It's one of those things. You probably nailed it on accident once or twice and had no idea how to do it again. You've certainly seen in some really jaw-dropping photos but you could never put your finger on exactly what was going on. But wow, once you understand how backlighting works you can reap it's benefits and rock it in your own photos!
Backlighting is easy to describe. It's that beautiful light that shines from behind your subject, illuminating them to the point where they quite literally glow! It can truly take your breath away when done well. But it's not always the easiest effect to acheive - it's one of those lighting opportunities you have to be on the lookout for, and then know how to take advantage of it!
Generally, backlighting works when the light behind your subject is far brighter than the light in front of them. Momtographers will likely find when the late afternoon sun is low in the sky, there's plenty of opportunity for backlighting. Just position your tot facing away from the sun (look for that glowing rim around their hair!) get infront of them, and snap away. They don't have to be directly between your lens and the sun, in fact, it's better if the sun hits them more at an angle. And you'll have to be on the lookout for lens flare depending on how much light is directly entering your lens. It's a practice that takes, well, practice. But it's an effort that pays off in glorious images.
But once you find your backlighting - you still have to get your camera settings right. This can be tricky in and of itself. Backlighting creates a dynamic lighting situation that can be hard to meter for. Where do you meter? The face? The hair? And what mode do you meter in? Spot? Center? (Yes, yes, we promised simple, but you said you wanted "serious snap" so it's time we start asking some of photography's harder questions).
We suggest starting with spot metering and going off your child's face. You're going to get lots of blown exposure around the hair and in the sky - but that's part of what makes this look work. In fact, you're just going to have to learn to accept that with backlit photos, you will end up with some overexposed, blown out backgrounds. Because unless your cutie is a glowing ball of brightness like your light source, chances are their skin is go ing to be darker than the background. You can try slightly underexposing thier face to maintain more detail in the background area - you can always play with it in post processing to brighten up the face or bring the background down further. This is what we've found works best most of the time. Well, that and learning to live with overexposed, blown-out backgrounds in exchange for an illuminated glowing angel child!
There's one final challenge with a backlit photo... that's getting nice light on the face and a catchlight in the eye! Why? Well, the light's BEHIND them. But, if you have them facing a reflective source like a reflector, a body of water or a bright wall bouncing light at them, well then, voila!
We love love love window light! There is just something about it! We said it before in Brand Spankin' New - every home has at least one great pocket of light and often times it will be in front of a window, or better yet, a bunch of windows.
Window light is great for many reasons: you are almost guaranteed good catchlights, your light is lightly diffused and usually pretty even, (except for times when the sun is low in the sky shining directly through it), plus you have the added benefit of being indoors, sheltered from the elements - you never have the weather to blame for not getting GREAT pictures of your fam!
The other great thing about finding an awesome window is the predictability! Over time you will be so familiar with the light and how it come through your window, it will take little effort to create magic time and time again in your little "spot".
The key to really using good window light is to have the window behind you or to the side of you and your camera while your subject faces it. Here - sometimes it's just easier to SHOW you...
Adrienne's happy place in her Alabama neighborhood is her kitchen! As we see here, she has the window to her back and sweet Sydney directly facing the light streaming in.
And here is an example of some of that magic that Krista loves to conjure up in her living room! Krista is lucky enough to have a living room that is 3/4 covered in windows (quite the rarity in NYC!). Needless to say, she spends a LOT of time shooting there.
She's actually sitting on her window sill with little Miss Luca directly in front of her, looking up at her.
Oh - here's actually a picture of the window Krista was sitting on... but used differently. This picture is a whole other way to use window light - as a backdrop! But that gets a little more complicated, so we'll save it for another lesson or we'll check it out in our learn by looking section!
Bottom line - consider window light the gift that just keeps giving to your family-documenting journey. Even, beautiful, glowing light that will show your child in the best light!
If every day were a bright cloudy day, the world would be yours for the picture taking. Ah - if only we controlled the weather, right? But since we haven't yet figured out how to cue the clouds, we have to look for "pockets" of good light to optimize our picture taking conditions. Enter your friend, open shade.
Just like it's cousin, the cloudy day, open shade creates conditions favorable to picture taking because it is an evenly-lit soft place. When taking photographs outdoors with all-natural light, your biggest obstacles are hard-cast shadows and extreme brights and darks.
So what is it? Open shade is the place where light and shade meet to create an evenly lit space that is just off of the bright light, but not in it. You find it by looking for the hard line at the edge of the light - and then place your subject TOTALLY IN THE SHADE, but FACING the light.
Think garages, doorways, porches, overhangs, and alleyways. Anywhere a nice solid shaded area comes smack up against a wall of light.
You would never know by looking at this picture that just in front of Chloe was the high noon Las Vegas summer sun! The ottoman that she is laying on is right up to the edge of a cabana opening where she is facing that bright light, but not actually in it. 1/2 a foot back towards the wall and it she would have fallen into the dark. 1/2 a foot forward and it would have been too bright for a good picture! But right at the edge of where the two meet is MAGIC!
What to watch out for -
A common mistake made by beginners and (surprisingly) even some seasoned momtographers is when looking for open shade they go right to that beautifully shady spot under the tree in the backyard. While this may seem like a great idea, unless your shade tree area is very dense, most trees create what is known as dappled light. You know when you look at someone and see cheetah-like spots all over them from the shadows created by light coming through the trees?
Look at the top picture! The baby's got spots! What looked like a nice shady area really wasn't one!
Now look at the spots on the ground all around the stroller - that should have been our first warning. Before you start snapping under the tree - inspect the ground - do you see any of the telltale spots? If not, then go for it. If so, then it's really not true open shade - it's more like broken shade!
Again, your safest bet is to look for true shade next to or under a real stucture. Find that line between light and dark - put your subject i n the shade facing the light and VOILA!
This part of composition is really quite simple - but very crucial to taking pictures with artistic appeal. If we all spent a day in art school, the concept of positive and negative space would definitely be one we'd spend some time on. Quite simply, your subject is the positive space - everything else is the negative space.
Okay, great, well what does THAT help us do?
It's just a different way of looking at your frame to help you make creative decisions. Have a hard time deciding if the background is cluttered? Pretend that pretty little face isn't there anymore - now what are you left with? Is it clean? Does it tell a story? Does it take away or add to your subject?
This driveway creates a perfect canvas of negative space for Sydney to take her doll for a walk. It's almost as if it transports you into the imaginary world of a two-year-old going into the great beyond. Even more perfect - the subtle ray of light pointing in the direction beyond.
And how's this for negative space? The dark curtains behind leave nothing to focus on but the sweet sensation of getting valentine candy.
Now lets contrast this to a picture with negative spce that's a little more complicated.
While our rocking princess is as cute as can be - there are elements in this picture competing for her crown. It's not so much that the rocking chair is busy - that's really still part of our positive space since it's part of our focal point. Look at the negative space (everything outside of the rocking chair). It's pierced by harsh lighting differences that subtly distract from our subject. Is this a horrible picture? No. But do we wish the negative space wasn't so dappled? Yes.
Really - understanding positive and negative space is just another way to make sure that your subject is the center of attention. It's the more studied version of Brand Spankin' New's Lose The Clutter lesson. Plus, it makes you sound really smart around all the art people (*wink*)