Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to improve your photos (Photography Tips)

A few weeks ago, I was discussing photography and learning photography with a friend, which gave me the thought for these tips.  I find that many people erroneously believe that in order to produce attractive, quality photos, you'll need to buy the most expensive camera.  That's why a photo compliment often takes the form of "what camera do you have?"  It may surprise you (or not) that several of my tips won't cost you a dime.

Turn off the onboard flash

The direct light from an onboard camera flash is simply too harsh and leaves unappealing results.  You are left with a those tell-tale shadows and a brightly lit subject with an overly dark background.  Turn it off.  You don't need to use it.  There are alternatives, which I'll discuss later. There are reasons why you'll never see professionals using that flash that comes with the camera.

Your first question is probably how do I turn off the flash? which brings me to. . .

Read the manual for your camera

I know how dry and boring a camera manual can be.  I've read mine.  I know.  But you won't be able to learn what all those buttons and dials and menu options do unless you read your manual.  I suggest taking it a little bit at a time.  An alternative to the camera manual is a field guide.  Check out Amazon and you'll see what I'm talking about.  (I had the one by David Busch for my D50 and found it to be quite helpful.)

Watch your composition

How you frame your subject can make or break a photo.  I don't want to make blanket statements such as "always follow the rule of thirds" because sometimes you shouldn't but you really need to pay attention to placement.  This not only applies to the subject but what's in the background.  Hey, that's a cute picture of Billy but why is there a branch growing out of his head?  There are entire books written about composition so I won't go into details but take this as a reminder to watch your composition and background.   


I try to keep my backgrounds clean.  If you have the option to move people, do so.  For example, after the girls's dance recital, I watched parents and grandparents snapping photos of the dancers in the crowded lobby.  I cringed.  We left the building and walked past more parents and grandparents snapping photos on the crowded walkway in the full sun.  I escorted my crew to the side of the building, which was empty space and in the shade.


(No tips for cooperation from sassy 7 year olds.)

So here's how I take photos -  I place my subject in the frame and then my eyes scan the entire frame, in a clockwise motion before I press the shutter.  It's something that only takes 2-3 seconds and something I do without thinking about it.

Also, watch the dreaded limb chop. There's nothing worse than cutting off body parts - my pet peeve is feet.  Obviously, not every photo is going to be full body so try to follow the general rule of avoiding cutting off the body at a joint - ankles, knees, elbows, etc.

Watch the light

Admittedly, this is a tough one that will take practice.  Not only will light help you avoid using your onboard flash but learning how to photograph with what light is available will improve the look of your photos.


I used to dread photographing people outside if the sun was out and then I learned out to photograph in the sun.  It's still not a favorite or ideal lighting situation but I can work with it now.


Read books/websites

The most recommended book, especially for those struggling with shooting in manual mode, is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.  If you're concerned with purchasing books that won't be helpful, check out your local library, which will give you the option of borrowing or borrowing before you buy.  You can also purchase used copies of books on Amazon.

Don't overlook the fact that there's an abundance of knowledge available to you free on the internet.  Not all tips are useful - my favorite being "want better photos?  buy a better camera" - but you can still find plenty of helpful tips even after sifting through the bad advice.

Add a Speedlight

So, you've turned off your onboard flash but there are times when you still need more light.  This is when I suggest investing in a Speedlight.  They can be pricey (you'll want one with a swivel head) but you'll get your money's worth from it.  I've been using the same Speedlight for more than 5 years ago without complaint or issue.  Click here to read my post on what a Speedlight can do for you.


Replace your kit lens

There is some truth to the statement that great quality photos come from better equipment.  But better doesn't always have to mean more expensive.  If you shoot Nikon, there are a few great, inexpensive lens options available to you.  The first is the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens, which sells for about $200.  I've had this lens for a loooong time - maybe almost as long as my Speedlight - and it has definitely served me well.  Another option is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens, which sells for $100-$200 depending on if you need the AF-S version.  I don't own this lens but I've heard others rave about it and it has great reviews on Amazon.  (Before you purchase any lens, be sure to check that it is compatible with your camera.  Some cameras do not have built in motors for auto-focus and require specific lenses or you'll be stuck trying to manually focus, which is different from shooting manually and something you won't want to do.)

Keep in mind, too, that there is a pretty big market for used photography equipment.  Not only do you have photographers who upgrade their equipment and sell what they are no longer using, you have those who pick up for photography as a hobby, like running, and then quickly lose steam and decide to get some of their money back.

Avoid trends

Remember selective coloring?  Excessive, unnecessary tilting?  Blowing out whites during black & white conversions?

Be yourself.  Do your own thing.  If something looks trendy (everyone is doing it), walk away.  It will look cool for about 5 minutes and then you'll say, "Why did I do that?"

Shoot in manual

I know it might seem intimidating but move that dial from A to M and see what happens.  What's the worse that can happen?  You have to delete some photos?  So what.  Not a big deal.  Shooting in manual gives you full creative control over your photos.  And while your camera is smart, it's not that smart.


Practice, practice and then practice some more.  Some people are gifted with certain talents with others of us have to really learn that skill.  Take musicians for example.  I've always been in awe of those who can play by ear.  When I wanted to play an instrument, I had to practice, practice, practice and while I may have been decent, I was no musical superstar.

Practice.  You'll get there.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pool portraits









All of the above photos were taken with my Nikon 85mm, f/1.8 lens, while I used my 35mm lens for the three below.  I'm currently working on two photography posts - one for outdoor photography tips and another with tips on how to improve your photography.

And, yeah, love the googles.




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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Life lately


I have to say that I'm so happy it's summer but I can't believe it's almost August.  The beginning of August has that halfway over feel to it.  Blah.  I like walking out of the office at the end of the day and feeling that wall of heat.  Although, we've had a fairly mild season thus far.  Anything and everything is better than winter.



Three or so weeks ago, I attempted to start running again after a month's hiatus due to work and overtime.  I ran exactly twice and did something to my right foot that was quite painful.  I'm still not sure if it was running related or not as I had stepped on a toy in Allie's room that weekend but either way, I had to give it a rest.  There were about three days when it hurt even when I was sitting doing absolutely nothing.  I really want to start running again because I know the longer I wait, the harder it's going to be.


Elmo and "his brother" (per Allie) wearing vintage doll dresses.



Allie finally lost her second tooth this week and then proceeded to really lose it.  Rich and the girls had picked me up at the train station.  Allie showed me her tooth but then instead of placing it back in the baggie, she held onto it.  When we arrived home and I slid open the van door, I saw it fly out of her fingers.  And then it disappeared.  I've searched the van and the garage floor with a flashlight and I cannot find it.  She's still upset over the whole thing.  The only reason why she's smiling in this picture, which is from the day she lost the tooth, is because Anna had come into her room and was cracking us up.  



We are now the owners of an above ground swimming pool.  It was Rich's idea and I went along with it, knowing that he would be the one taking care of it.  He was spreading stone around the pool a few weeks ago and I looked out to see that he had put Allie and Anna to work.  (Emily was at a birthday party.)  Love this picture of Anna.



I didn't accomplish what I wanted to this weekend - too much going on - but I was really happy with how this Anna tank top came out.  That was my big sewing project last week.  I stitched it out one night and then the next, popped it onto a tank top.  I wish it was as easy as that sounds.



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Friday, July 25, 2014

So, what are you guys doing this summer?

The popular question going around these days.

The girls are enrolled in weekly gymnastics and tennis lessons.  I really like how the gym offers normal classes during the summer, in addition to camp type programs, because a regular weekly class seems to work best for us.  Tennis lessons are through the town, run by teenagers/college kids and pretty much laid back.  There's structure to the lessons but they aren't intended for the next Serena, which is perfectly fine.  Not complaining, just explaining.

I also believe in time for kids to be kids.  We have enough of schedules and go, go, go during the school year so it's nice to have a break.  BUT I'm one of those parents that insists that the learning doesn't end just because school does.  The girls have been reading many library books, I still read to them every night, and sometimes they read to me at night.  They did receive summer math packets and I want to make sure they complete them.  (The school does not require them to be finished.)   Emily was working on hers a few weeks ago but I haven't seen her doing so since.






Shortie actually has made a fair amount of baskets.  I didn't get any pictures of it but I've witnessed it!


Let's talk gymnastics.  A year ago, Allie's coach told me that Allie almost had her backbend, which was one of the reasons why she skipped over the beginner's gymnastic class.  Well, I don't know what happened but it took her almost a year to finally get it and then she started trying to kick over.  That wasn't going so well at first but one day, she just got it.  When I left for work in the morning, she couldn't do it, but when I arrived home that night, she could.        



I really need to kick myself into gear and get moving on my sewing projects.  I spent two nights this week crafting an Anna (Frozen) tank top for Emily's BFF who is leaving in a few days for Disney.  I was really happy with how it came out and she loves it.  I'm glad I was able to add some magic to the magic.  I'll share it soon.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

According to...

On future planning:

Allie:  "If you become president, do you have to drive yourself to Washington, DC or do they send a limo or something to pick you up?"

On road rage:

Allie:  "Oh, great.  Now there's a motorcycle.  When is this going to end?"

On what I should have figured out before I was 29:

Allie:  "I would never marry a rock star."

Me:  "Why not?"

Allie:  "I'd never get to see him.  He'd be so busy performing.  And then those people would always be knocking on our door."

On fashion:

Allie:  "I asked Grammy why those people always wearing those "cool" skull and crossbones and she told me that they were trying to look cool."

Me:  "Do you want me to get you a shirt with a skull and crossbones on it?"

Emily:  "No!  Then my friends will think I'm scary."

On babies:

Me:  "Don't you want to go and see the baby?"

Allie:  (fake crying)  "No.  He always gives me a dirty look."

Me:  (laughing)  "What do you mean?"

Allie:  "When I talk to him, he looks at me like I'm crazy."

Me:  "Well. . . ."

On BFFs:

Allie:  "My second best friend is Elmo."

Anna:  "He can't be your best friend."

Allie:  "Why?"

Anna:  "First of all, he's a boy.  Second, he's a stuffed animal."

On career choices:

Allie:  "Emily doesn't want to work at Wendy's because of the uniforms."

Allie:  "I don't want to be a Tax Return Person."

Me:  "Why not?"

Allie:  "I don't even know what you do at that place.  What do you do?  Send out bills or something?"

Me:  "Well, not really.  We put numbers on forms."

Allie:  "That sounds boring."

On pets:

Allie:  "When I grow up and marry someone can we get a dog?"

Me:  "Sure.  You can do whatever you want."

Allie:  "Okay.  I don't want to get a little one or a big one.  I want to get a one that's a teenager."