Friday, February 26, 2010

Composition, Perspective, and Lighting

My husband and I --we-- are wedding photographers. Sometimes I feel silly saying that, knowing that I don't have any traditional training or credentials. But experience over the past five years, taking over 250,000 pictures, has given us the opportunity to build the skills that qualify us for the title. 

Our own wedding actually sparked from the adventures we found in photographing other people's weddings together. Looking back on those first few (or maybe even more than a few) weddings we photographed, we laugh at our work and wonder how we ever made it to this point. But our progress has come from a simple desire to learn and improve--a desire I know many of you share.

So here are three things we have learned that can make the difference between a good snapshot and a great photograph.

First, pay attention to composition: consider how you want to frame your photograph, decide what you want to include or not include, and be deliberate in where you position the subject.

Take a look at this photo:

I am embarrassed to admit that we even took this picture. It is from the very first wedding that Jason and I photographed together. (Blake and Megan, thanks for still being our friends!) 

What did we learn from this tragic photo?
  • Don't cut people off at the ankles. (Or the knees or elbows or neck)
  • When photographing a group, don't center the heads in the middle of your frame, leaving a whole lot of nothing up above.
  • Watch out for stray lamp posts, tree branches growing out of heads, or other distracting background items. (This might also include electrical cords, outlets, or animal tails)

Now, here is a much better group shot from a wedding we photographed last year:
Ah, the satisfaction of a well composed group picture. :)

Second, perspective:  Move. Move your body and your eye. Move higher, lower, to the right, to the left, behind a branch, somewhere different.

Here is a typical snapshot perspective of a few bridesmaids:

I chose this photo because it is from a wedding Jason photographed before he and I started shooting together, and I am in it! Yup, that's right--Jason is looking through his lense here at his future wife, the bridesmaid on the far left of his viewfinder, baby! (Spencer and Ivy, thanks for giving Jason and I that day together--it was life changing for all of us!)

But I think you'll agree that this next photo is much more appealing to the eye:
 By stepping to the side of the group in this photo, Jason was able to bring the attention to the groom and create much more depth to the photo. By moving his location and changing his perspective, now he is able to give a much different and interesting viewpoint.

Third, and maybe the most important, lighting: take the time to determine what your light source is and how to use it to your advantage. Natural lighting gives a richness to photographs that is very difficult to duplicate with other light sources and is pretty much impossible to get with an on-camera flash. However, direct sunlight will give harsher, more dramatic (but often unflattering or distracting) shadows on faces. Most often you will find the best results come from a diffused natural light--sunlight filtering in through the clouds or a window perhaps.

Here is an example of using natural light at home--first the bad example:

This is my daughter, Naomi, while trying on a pair of swim goggles for the first time. She is in front of a large window with a simple white curtain filtering the light. But because the light source is behind her, her face is totally dark. All we had to do was turn around so the window was in front of Naomi, putting the beautiful natural light on her face; and we got this:

There are many more elements of composition, perspective, and lighting--I could go on and on with thoughts about each. But for now, I hope these few pointers will give you a small jump-start into the process of improving your own photographs. I know it can be difficult to think about all of these things when you're trying to capture the fun and fleeting moments with your kids, but the more you practice, the more naturally it will come.

And now, just because I love to share a great photo, here are a few of my favorite wedding shots...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Black and White

My father is colorblind. Really colorblind. For example, since he can't see the colors, he knows when a light changes from red to green because where the light reflects. It makes things interesting when the sun is hitting the lights just right. He was in the army, but the only reason he passed the colorblind test to get in was because he guessed. Luck I guess. There has always been something that has struck me with him though. When you ever ask him if he wishes he could see colors, he says, "no, I see them in a different way." He sees his own colors, even if he is guessing that his shade of grey or brown, is our pink. He sees differently. His favorite color is brown too.

Even though my dad could not see colors, he loved taking pictures on occasion. He has an old camera that he used and still uses for all the dances and things that required picture taking. I think he started taking pictures because they were developed in black and white. It was the way he saw things. It was one way for us to see through his eyes. I am not a huge fan of black and white photos. If anything I prefer Sepia, the browner toned black and white photos. I do love the ones that taken with film, that are developed by hand though. When I look at them, I think of my dad. That is how he sees. So today, take in all the colors of the world. There may be someone close to you who can not see them like you do. When you see a black and white photo, try to see the colors in them too. You may be surprised at what you see.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Do you Use a Planner?

Maybe you call it a Day Timer? Maybe you think that regardless of the name, it is totally pointless. Well, I have something you should read...

Check it out here!

Mental Snapshots

Three things I hope to learn are to: become a good story teller, whistle like in the Bing Crosby version of "White Christmas," and take better photos. I have many friends and family who are talented in the area of photography and could teach me a thing or two (or three or four or five...) about this art form, so I won't attempt to act like I know what I'm doing or give any advice of my own. I do hope to make improvements with the help of this beauty. Come on, IRS, big money! Big money! Mama needs a new camera!

I will have to say that this is one of my favorite photos I've taken with our little point-and-shoot and my limited knowledge of the inner workings of a camera.
Almost five years ago Hubby and I were asked to be "Ma" and "Pa" to a "family" of 10 teenagers during a 4-day pioneer trek re-enactment. Here's Hubby on the last morning ready to go. He's a little rugged from days of not shaving, tired but happy with the experience that was just about to conclude. I learned so much about him, and myself, and us. This was pre-kids so I saw in him the leader I'd always hoped would be the father of my children. Although we were given schedules to follow, I learned to relax and, at times, let the kids guide discussions, resulting in some hilarious or touching or uplifting conversations around the dinner circle. I learned a little about what it means to be a team of parents, and I've drawn inspiration from that time to help me keep perspective on my present daily life.

I think, just as important as it is to take literal photographs to share and document my life, I consider the small yet significant mental snapshots critical in building my character and shaping me into who I want to become. These are the brief exposures I witness every day, many of which probably go unnoticed. Some are poignant and memorable to no one but myself. Like last week while I was driving and met a car coming the opposite direction with a man driving and his arm tenderly resting on the shoulder of whom I assumed was his wife in the passenger seat and was severely handicapped. Or the snapshot of a toddler at the park raising her arm up in the air in triumph after finally getting that stubborn booger out of her nose and yelling, "Mom, look I got it!" followed immediately by a look of frustration and disgust at her inability to get it off her finger. These mental snapshots aren't any that I would consider photographing, but I've stored them in the memory card that is my life.

I encourage you this week to be more conscious of these little moments to fill your own personal life's scrapbook. I'd love to hear about them too. Or, if you want to keep them to yourself, I get that too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tutorial: Car Seat Book Holder

Last Sunday, as I was getting myself and the Little Ones ready for church, I was also getting us ready for 3 hours in the car to go see family right after church was over. I spent a few minutes organizing toys and snacks for the car, and then I realized how badly I wished we had someplace for books in the car, so they wouldn't get knocked around with the toys or spilled on when not being read. With about 1/2 hour of spare time, I pulled together exactly what we needed, with stuff I had lying around.

First, I measured the space between the carseats: about 13" wide and 20" tall.

Next, I found some suitable scraps of cotton (extra pieces from a baby quilt) and a scrap of quilt batting, and cut them to those measurements. I also dug up an old placemat which I folded in half, and the top front of a pair of old pants, to use as pockets:

Next, I sandwiched the batting, one cotton piece, and the folded placemat like this, and stitched around the sides and bottom "raw" edge of the placemat, making sure to reinforce the bottom stitches:

I added the piece from my old pants, stitching just the sides:

Then, my 4-year-old got hold of the camera while my 2-year-old goofed off under the table:

While I placed the second piece of cotton on top of the thing I just made, right-side down, and stitched around the sides and bottom of the entire thing, reinforcing the bottom stitches and clipping the corners, like this:

This is what the "front" should look like.

And this is what the "back" should look like.

Turn it inside-in, and then forget to take a photo of the pocket side because your four-year-old still has the camera, and she thinks the back-side is pretty:

Fold the top raw edges in, and slip the ends of a ribbon or some bias tape in between, to make a loop at the top, then stitch it closed:

Hang it from a head-rest, add books, et voila! A traveling library! This is nice for paperback picture books, or for coloring books - the little pockets on the old pants would be great for storing boxes of crayons or colored pencils:

Safe and peaceful travels!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Family Photos: To Display or Not to Display?

Do you ever notice when you look at magazine photos of houses' interiors, that there are certain things you never ever see? Electrical outlets, toilets, and family photos are the three that glare out to me as missing from picture-perfect homes. And I totally get why: the first two are simply unsightly, and the third ... well, there seems to be a human tendency to get carried away with the third. I, myself, have been (and some might say still am) guilty. And while we can't do too much about the first two (necessary evils, I'm afraid), we can definitely distract ourselves with tasteful or fun-but-not-over-the-top ways of displaying our family photos. Here are some that I quite like (click on the photo to go to its source):

This one's my absolute very most favorite of the bunch!

Seeing the World Through My Dad's Eyes

This was me...a long time ago.

I am a photographer's daughter.
I have been since the day I was born.
My cute dad is good and I'm not just saying that because he's my dad. He is a true master at his art.
I love that.

Growing up I always felt like I was extra special. He has always been really good at making everyone feel like that though but I knew I was special to him. I loved those days when he had a plan in mind...a photography plan just for me...and he would get me all dressed up, set up and then I would try to be so still. Making me smile was always easy. He's funny. Trying to have a serious face was tricky but he could help me with that too.

My dad has won a lot of awards for his work and I remember being so proud of him when I was little. I don't remember him being like that though, proud or arrogant. He has always just loved to capture what's real and did it because he loved it.

Getting too see his world is exta great for me because I know him. I really know my dad. He sees the beauty in everything and everybody. I think that is why he can do what he does and why he does it so well.

You can tell when my dad is happy and excited about something when he he is trying really hard to hide his big grin. His eyes get bright and squinty (like mine when I smile) and it's like he can hardly contain himself. I love that this happens often and I miss not seeing it everyday. It's fun to think about this expression of joy and realise that his smirk is probably the equivelant to my butterflies I get when I see something pretty form or when I think about making something great. We both get excited about things and I feel like that is a unique connection I get to have with me dad. He taught me, through example, how to positively look at the world and how to think creatively. He has always encouraged and supported my desire to create. I love that.

Last night, after telling him about today's post and asking him for some thoughts and favorites he sent me this...


To some it means a snapshot of times past. To others it may conjure up memories of boring slide shows.

For me, photography is a way of life, an expression of my inner feelings, a representation of a fleeting moment in time whether it be a awe inspiring landscape,

or an intimate relationship between a mother and her child.

We are so blessed to live in a world that was created to bring us joy. Our maker has flooded our lives with light and shadow, expressing his tender feelings toward us through a visual rainbow of color and hue.

Our personal vision of life and it’s surroundings can be accurate or enhanced. Most seem to see everything as a literal representation of what it is. I tend to see things as more than meets the eye. Speaking of eyes, appreciate your vision! It could be taken from you at any moment. Will you have built up enough visual memories to last the rest of your life?

I am sad for those who never take the time to “see” the world around them. Since we always seem to see the world around us from “our” perspective, I challenge you to take time to “stop and see the roses” and everything else around you. Look up, look down, look all around. Get right down on the ground and look at the world from a bugs view.

Give yourself an assignment to take 20 minutes and photograph everything you see from within a six foot circle. Look for relationships in everything and everyone around you. Try spelling your name using objects around you. Try it in silence. Try it with your iPod and some beautiful inspiring music… The combination of sound and sight is so exhilarating!

There is so much to see! See it ALL! Capture it ALL! Remember it ALL!

He's been through a lot lately
But he loves what he does so he takes the risk and he keeps going.
The future looks bright for him...I know it.
If anybody can take on a new adventure, He can.

Thanks are my number one inspiration.