It’s that time again. Now that the holidays are here and families and friends are coming together we are presented with the perfect opportunity for a photography extravaganza. In our family we never missed a chance for a “monster” picture. You know the one where the entire clan stops hitting each other long enough to nuzzle together, crack a smile and get shot.
Having recently returned from a certain workshop on the North Pole and, employing finely honed sleuthing skills earned by years of routing out the wiliest hiding places and flawlessly unwrapping and rewrapping hidden treasures, it is known to me that there will be many a new digital camera stuffed in those sugar plum stockings. I know you didn’t ask but I thought I’d mention a few tips for you snappers out there who will be just getting to know your camera.
Let’s start with the monster or group portrait. Whether you are shooting indoors or outdoors lighting is important. Outdoors the juicy golden light of late afternoon will soften and warm your subjects. Please don’t put the sun at your back unless you are shooting the Blues Brothers with sunglasses or you want a bunch of squinty scrunched faces looking into your camera. Try putting their backs to the sun and using your on camera flash to add fill light to their faces. Didn’t think you need flash outdoors? If you don’t add some light they will be silhouetted against the bright b a c k light. Most point and shoot have a setting for backlight that works fairly well. To avoid light coming into your lens and causing a flare effect you might want to shoot from a shady spot or hold a hand or piece of cardboard above the camera to shade the lens. Although not necessary, it is always better to use a tripod if you have one. If your camera has a self-timing option you could think about setting the camera and jumping into the picture. Next consideration is posing.
Photographers love triangles. The shape is pleasing to the eye and makes for a nice composition. Loosely keeping the triangle in mind keep the taller ones in the back. Nice variations will be to have someone sitting or kneeling on one knee with others around. Little ones can be perched on laps, couch arms or sitting on the floor. Do this early in the day when everyone is fresh and excited and try not to spend a long timeposing because you’ll never keep them corralled. Ever notice that someone is always looking the wrong way or blinked at the wrong time? The easiest way to make sure everybody’s eyes are open and looking at you is to ask them to close them and open them on the count of three—simple but it works every time. Take at least 3 shots but tell them ahead of time that you are going to do that or they will disband the minute you snap.
The secret to capturing memorable portraits of children is to anticipate or watch for intimate moments. Think about a child’s face in that split second when the wrapping is peeled back and a wondrous present is revealed or better still that moment of puzzlement or consternation when he can’t quite figure out what it is.
Shut off the flash and look for places where there is natural light near a window or in the yard. Forget about smiling and “say cheese” just become an observer and capture a simple moment. Sometimes when I’m photographing a small child I just put him in the light and let him be. I might add a prop that is about him or maybe something simple like flowers or a piece of fruit. Set your camera to portrait and be ready to come in close. One of my photography mentors would say, “if you think you are too close—get closer.” If you have a zoom lens I recommend that you zoom in rather than putting the camera in the child’s face which will distract him and distort the image. The zoom and the portrait mode will compress the depth of field and blur the background for a pleasing effect. The beauty of digital is you can snap as much as you please and just show the keepers– have fun.
You just closed the door and waved goodbye and you take a moment to review the photographs you have made. “Not bad”, you say to yourself as you shut the camera off to put it away for the next time. Don’t do it! Don’t let those moments, those slivers of life live alone in the dark. Get them out there in the universe. Create digital albums on Facebook or Picasa or if you want to do something really cool go to Blurb.com build a book that will make a touching gift or live on your coffee table for all to peruse.
Go ahead, shoot someone—it’s a snap.