(First in a series of posts on this topic)
One of the things I am asked advice on all the time is how to take good photographs of children. And while I appreciate the compliments, I am not an expert. I feel sort of weird giving advice. There are plenty of people who take far better photographs than I do. I feel like people are going to rise up and say, “You stink! Who do you think you are handing out any sort of advice.”
I do know that you don’t need fancy and expensive equipment to take good photographs. I have seen people with expensive cameras take awful photos and people with lower end point and shoot cameras take beautifully composed photos.
So I’ll share a few practical tips this week to help you take better photographs and let you know some of my own personal pet peeves ::cough:: dirty children ::cough::
First I need to make a distinction between photographs that capture the moment, capture a memory for you, and make you feel good when you look at them because of your memories. These are the kind of photographs like the Christmas morning present-a-thon, or school plays where your child is a tiny dot in a vast landscape. These are the type of photos you put in a photo album, snapshots. Not the kind that are worthy of hanging on your wall.
Please continue to take those sort of photographs. Not every photo you take has to be great. The more photos you take the more likely you are to have a handful of good ones. I can easily take upwards of 100 photos, delete half on my camera before downloading them onto my computer, and end up with 10 or so that I am really happy with.
The number one distinguishing feature between good photographs and bad photographs is composition, or the way the subject(s) is arranged in the photo. This post is going to focus on framing.
What does framing mean? It means that you should take your photo in such a way that that the subject of the photo stands out from the surroundings.
When I was an art major in college one of my professors in my freshman year drawing class had us hold up cardboard frames and view the still life set up in front of us through this frame. The point of the exercise was to determine what the most important and interesting part of the still life was before we began drawing.
Your viewfinder is this frame. Look in all the corners… what is there? Empty space? Do the things in the background distract from your subject, or enhance it? Does it look like things are growing out of their head?
Get in closer…. closer. Rarely do you see photographs where people are too close to the subject.
Look at what is in the background. Is your adorable and cute child standing in front of a pile of clutter?
I often see photos like these.* What is wrong with this photo?
When you look at it, what is your eye drawn to? It isn’t the adorable children with the orange peel smiles. It is all the clutter in the background. Nobody wants to look at your crap. Seriously, if people are commenting to you that Hey, they use Scott toilet paper too! Well, you might have a background clutter problem.
And in this photo, not only is the subject of the photo occupying a very small portion of the frame, the clutter in the background is overwhelming, AND it looks as if she has two water bottles growing out of her head.
Basically the same framing, but this time with the flash turned on. You can see how the flash completely washes out the subject. Unless you have a higher end camera with a detachable flash that you can angle away from the subject, try to avoid using the flash and position your subject near a source of natural light.
Now you are saying to yourself, “Okay so now I know what is wrong with all of my photos, but that doesn’t help me. What should I do to make them better?”
First of all… get closer. Nope, even closer. Closer still. Okay.
When you are looking through your view finder of the camera your eye tends to make whatever you are photographing the most important part . Your eye ignores all the extraneous things within the frame.
Really look at your children with a critical eye. Stains on clothing will show up more prominently in photos than they do in real life.
If you are tying to take nice pictures of them, remember that no one likes to look at dirty kids. You might be able to see your child’s cuteness behind the dirt, but the rest of us see dirt first and foremost. The exception to this, of course, is when you are taking a photograph of your child eating something like ice cream and part of the cute factor is their messy face. But if there is no food in sight and eating something is not featured prominently in the photo, well then just wash them off before taking their picture. Please? Do it for me.
These pictures are taken in the same room. Instead I sat my kids on the table to take advantage of the natural light coming in from the large window.
Fill the frame with your subject.
Get even closer.
Now you are really able to see the children eating their oranges. There is nothing else in the frame competing for your attention.
Next up in the series, I am going to write about the “rules” in composing your photos. And give tips for making your photographs more interesting.
(* I piled all this stuff up on my table from around my house, to try and replicate clutter. It was painful ;-))