Over the holidays, when families get together, there is a unique opportunity to capture a special time in each family. Pictures from this time will be part of family history for years, and perhaps even generations, to come.
In addition to capturing just memories as a visual record, it is much easier these days for anybody to get a wonderful picture that can become a piece of artwork for the home, as well as a celebration of a person, or people, important in the family.
Get some pictures, particularly closeups of the faces, all the kisses that happen when people arrive. And I have always found that taking pictures of the people preparing the food in the kitchen before the meal are always memorable. Most people don’t take pictures, but in my wife’s family, Mom and her grown-up girls have a great time in the kitchen.
Think about taking pictures that are a study of a special person, whether that is a child, a friend, or an elderly relative, and understand how to capture the essence of that person. Some might call it their spirit or soul. We’ve all seen pictures that really seemed to capture who a person is an shows some insight into their personality or soul. These pictures touch us, especially when it someone we know and love.
When there is an event, a gathering, even if the family is not getting on well, or there are some tensions, still take pictures – especially of the kids. They will want them later as a memento of their childhood. Get pictures of kids, yours or other people’s kids, doing things with their parents. We take so many pictures of just the kids. But the next generation will want to see more than just pictures of their or mom and dad (“Mom. Dad. Where are all the pictures of you with Grandma and Grandpa?”). So put today’s parents in the picture.
Taking pictures of groups is a special art, and with a few simple techniques for positioning people and bringing out the best expressions in a group, anyone can get pretty good group photos that everyone will be pleased with. There are tips in the previous post in this blog.
Let’s not forget the scrapbooks – someone on a mission to get images to fill those pages has a different agenda from the casual snapshot-taker, so we will talk about that too. You need what they call in movies and television, “cutaway shots”.
Get some close-up shots of the turkey being carved, and some top down pictures of a nicely arranged plate of food – that always looks good are scrapbook page. Remember to get some good pictures of all presents under the tree before they get opened. If the tree has lights on it, try turning the flash off and holding the camera very still. That way the tree lights will show up.
One of the first things that is important to understand about getting a great picture is being able to get clear on what the picture is meant to say. There is usually an emotion or a special set of circumstances that drives the picture-taker to get the camera out. Being clear on exactly the emotion, or what the picture is meant to say or show, is essential to being able to get that image.
For a holiday gathering, if this is a little someone’s first, it will be a happy event that will create priceless memories. Or, if it is someone’s last gathering due to age or illness, then you will want to make sure that you absolutely get those pictures.
Techniques for getting great pictures fall into three main categories. The first is understanding the camera and how the settings will affect the picture. The second is understanding how to arrange the subjects in front of the camera or frame a subject in the viewfinder. The third is how to interact with people in the process of bringing out the best in them for the picture.
Give thought and care in composing a shot, getting people into the shot and forming groups, capturing something special about each person, taking pictures with enlargement and framing in mind, as well as for the scrapbook. Arrange people into a natural-looking group – one that is comfortable for them as well. Tell them in advance you plan to taker a few shots to make sure you get a picture where everyone looks good.
Look at the lighting on people’s faces. Scout around and find good natural lighting. You can get help with everyday household items (like a white sheet or silver sunscreens from the car) – get someone to use it as a reflector to get rid of dark shadows. This works well inside and outside.
It’s always important to make sure that you get the shot that you want. And these days, with digital cameras, we can take lots of pictures and then narrow them down to the one that says what we want it to say. We no longer have to just take one picture and hope it turns out.
There will be times when you’re taking a photograph, and you just respond spontaneously to the moment and the occasion thinking, “I’ve got to get a shot of that!” And there will be other times when it’s a good idea to ask yourself what will be the purpose of the picture – a scrapbook, to send to family overseas, to have enlarged. Thinking about how you will use a photograph can help you decide how you will frame it and what you will include.
A word of caution – be careful not to spoil or dominate the natural flow and spirit of the event by taking too many pictures throughout the whole day. There should be times when there is no camera and flash. Relax and allow yourself to be part of it. Give your camera to somone else for a while.
When is the best time to take pictures of the family dinner? I see this so often – whether at home or restaurant, people will wait until part of the meal before they bring out their cameras to take pictures. Of course, this means that the pictures will have empty plates on them. The beautifully arranged table will no longer be there – it will just be messy.
So, take pictures when the meal is served, before people have started to eat. If your family typically shares a prayerful moment before the meal, mention to them before that you would like to take a picture before they start to eat. Get a photograph of the table at its finest, with newly served food (and clean tablecloth).
Maybe take a picture of one or two people with delicious-looking plates in front of them, and an expression of anticipation on their face. That would be a good one for the scrapbook. Try a vertical format for this one.
Look at ways of taking pictures that are a little unusual – such as having a toddler and grandparent doing something together without even looking at the camera. Cut down on the number of pictures we take of kids pulling faces at the camera. If someone starts hamming it up, don’t take the picture – move on to someone else. They will soon get the message.
For that scrapbook, where we want to capture the feel of an occasion, will look at special details that we can capture to add a flavor and feel of the occasion, such as closeups of the turkey been carved, veggies being served onto a plate, drinks being poured, or a gift being opened. Sneak a shot of someone sitting at the table, looking longingly at the food being served.
Try some different angles. Try both vertical and horizontal shots. Zoom in and out (or get closer and move back) to get more or less in the frame. Filling the frame with the subject and make an interesting shot.
Opening presents is a good time to get spontaneous pictures of expressions of delight (or amusing bewilderment) on people’s faces as they look at the gifts. Getting pictures of people thanking each other is also a wonderful way of showing connections between people. There is usually so much going on during the gift opening, that it is a very active event and taking lots of pictures helps the excitement. Remember to give the camera to somebody else so that you can be included in the set of pictures.
When you are taking a group photograph or even of a couple, use the red-eye reduction when you use a flash. Now here is an old idea that has been reworked. Tell your subjects to look for the little pre-light (the new “birdie”). It may be a tiny light, or flashing light. Tell and when they see it, to put on their biggest smile. Please, don’t tell people to smile while you’re still working out how to set the camera. Those fresh smiles will be gone by the time you press the shutter.
If you are using flash indoors, remember that very dark and very light skin will give different results. I have found that when I’m photographing a group where there are variations in skin tones, bring the people with darker tones closer to the camera, and those with paler tones towards the back of the group.
And be careful about taking pictures in front of a window or mirror. Even if curtains are closed, you will still get a reflection. Position yourself on a slight angle to the glass.
If you live somewhere where there is a lot of snow, or you’re on vacation skiing and you want to get pictures of people in the snow, there is an art taking pictures in the snow. When the camera sees a lot of white, it thinks that the picture must be very bright and simply makes it darker. That is why a lot of snow pictures come out muddy-looking.
Here is the trick. If your picture is mostly snow (two-thirds or more), then set your light value two point higher. On some cameras this is referred to as the “EV” setting. If the amount of snow is less than half the picture (and the rest is people, trees or buildings), then set the EV setting just one higher. All you’re doing is tricking the camera into overexposing a little, so that the snow actually comes out as white. Some cameras actually have a sand and snow setting. This makes the whole thing lot easier. Try with and without flash to light the faces more.
If somebody has a video camera, or even the video in a digital camera, it is really worthwhile capturing some video, particularly of people talking. In years to come, and with future generations, being able to hear somebody’s voice as a child, or of an elderly person who has passed away will be priceless.
If you’re taking pictures with a cameraphone, try setting the display so that you can see the whole picture on the screen. The pictures are usually not square, and you may want to try turning the phone on the side if you want get a vertical picture.
Digital photography has changed the way we share pictures. Most pictures taken these days never end up as prints. A sad thing is most of them are stored on a computer and never seen. This is why it is important to consider prints. For many people, prints are still a very real way of looking at pictures. And of course for scrapbooks and special pictures that we frame for hanging in the house, we need to think about what size will print and what kind of paper will use.
Today’s digital cameras, often with up to 10 megapixels in a tiny pocket camera, allow the average person to take a picture that can be enlarged to poster size and still be razor sharp with beautiful detail. This gives us some wonderful opportunities to get pictures that can be custom framed then featured a special place in the house.
Always try to get the best pictures you can. It is important for the future, and makes it easier for people you share the photos with to enjoy them. Learn how to use your camera – practice and play with it when you’re not taking important pictures. Don’t wait until you want to capture an important or special picture to figure out how to use it. Take lots and lots of pictures and try different things with your camera before an important event. Practice with it so that you don’t even have to think about using it.
A quick word about sharing. After you have taken all these pictures, what will happen with them? Will you print them all out? When you select a few and e-mail the and people or create a website? Or will they go onto a computer somewhere and be forgotten?
From any event you take pictures at, if there are a few special pictures from the large number that you have taken, considering making duplicates of these on your computer and putting them in a special folder. That way they don’t get lost (or even deleted) amongst a huge number of ordinary pictures.
If you print pictures out to put in an album and share with people, make a selection of the best pictures. Think about what the experience will be like for the person looking at the pictures, and how many pictures they will want (or have the patience) to look through while you sit there waiting. If there are pictures in the album that need an explanation, then put a little explanation in writing in beside it. Make it a story book. Or, and take the time to explain it in person.
In the next posting, we will look in more detail at:
_ Digital shoeboxes – best ways to store and find digital images
_ Cropping and enhancing – why crop, how do we do it?
_ Sharing your pictures – e-mail or prints?
_ Tips for printing –using photo labs, kiosks, online services, and home printers
_ Scrapbooks and albums – how to make them interesting and meaningful