The obstinate ones

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about my challenges taking Christmas photos of my niece and 6 month old daughter (click here for a refresher). Fast forward one year. This time, my niece had moved beyond the terrible twos and posed happily but Maelle was another story.  Is there such a thing as the obstinate ones (if not, there should be!)?

But once again, giving the kids an activity to do while taking photos proved to be good choice (distraction is key!). And I was reminded of the importance of another tip for photographing kids:   ask them for photo ideas. Isla suggested taking a picture of her jumping, which added some fun shots to the mix. 

If we decide to do a reshoot next year, I can only pray that Maelle decides to skip the terrible two phase all together:)


A perfect pose?

The timing of my Photography of People course at George Brown couldn't have been better. Maelle has entered a serious "camera shy" phase, so it's been nice to have some new subjects. Each week in the class, the instructor brings in two models and the class takes turns taking photos.
A classmate shooting the model in the studio 
Although sometimes the models have ideas about different looks, for the most part it is up to us to provide direction in terms of posing. Here are a couple of portrait photography tips I've learnt throughout the course:

1) Think small instead of big

This one was a surprise for me. My natural instinct when posing people is to take a photo or two in one pose and then ask them to do something completely different. In reality, even the smallest tilt of the head, change in direction of the eyes, or shift in body angle can create a dramatically different photo. That's why it's really important to slow down when shooting (unless of course you are taking pictures of a toddler when this advice is impossible) and consider small details.

Take a look at these two photos, where the poses are similar but convey quite different emotions. When the model stares off into the distance, it creates a more dreamy look, whereas when she looks right at the camera, it a much more intense photo. Additionally, the slight downwards tilt of her chin in the second photo slims her face.

Likewise, in these two photos below, the simple act of touching her face caused her to adjust her expression, creating two distinct looks.

2) Angles matter

Angles in photography don't just create interest in travel and landscape photography, they are also really important in portrait photography. Whether it's posing groups of people in a triangular shape or  following the helpful suggestion "if it bends, bend it" (regarding arms and legs), it's important to use angles to your advantage.

One thing to consider is the angle of the body and it's relationship to the camera. Positioning the shoulders at an angle can make them appear more narrow.

While this works in many photos, it's important to remember that it isn't a hard and fast rule. Sometimes a straight-on photo is the best bet, especially with guys when you want the subject's shoulders to look more broad. In the photo below, having the model's shoulders square to the camera works well, while the crossed arms convey strength and authority. This photo wouldn't have worked as well less if his arms were hanging straight down beside him.

In this photo, the model's bent arms across her body create interest, and her bent front leg (with weight on her back leg) creates a flattering pose.

3) Catch the in-between (and authentic) moments

One of the challenges of posed photos is keeping the photo looking natural, and avoiding a photo that looks cheesy and overly posed. This quote captures what you're ultimately looking for in posed photos: "It is trying to catch the energy and honesty of a candid in a highly directed shot". While this is definitely true, sometimes capturing a candid moment is really the best bet.  Take smiling - often when you ask someone to smile, you end up with a forced smile that doesn't look natural. For these cases the best thing to do is to capture an authentic smile, which sometimes takes a bit work on the photographer's part.

The photo below was taken several seconds after I asked the model to pose with the fur hiding most of her face. After I took the first photo, I told her my idea made her look a bit like she had a beard, which made her laugh and I was able to capture a real smile. So sometimes asking your subject to do something out of the ordinary (or even a little silly) can help you take a great shot, just remember to have your camera ready to capture their reaction.

My first failed photo. 

To take this picture below, I waited and watched as the model talked to one of my classmates, and snapped the photo in the middle of their conversation when he was genuinely laughing.

Looking for more tips? Here are more helpful posing techniques to remember. 


Freeze Frame

Taking pictures of non-moving subjects can be hard enough, but throw in a moving subject and it's a whole other ball game. The general rule of thumb is to ensure your shutter speed is at least 1/60 of second when hand-holding your camera, but this only really helps with one part of the equation. A blurry photo can be caused by two things: the photographer's movement or the subject's movement. Often times, 1/60 of a second will avoid camera shake but is not fast enough shutter speed to freeze a moving subject.

When shooting indoors it can be a challenge to find enough light to choose a fast enough shutter speed. But this summer, I shot plenty of photos outside, allowing me to experiment with faster shutter speeds. In the photo below, the super fast shutter speed of 1/1250 of a second ensured my little girl was crisp and clear.  Could I have ended up with the same sharpness with a slower shutter speed (like 1/400 or 1/250 of second)? Maybe, but I didn't bother risking it. Unfortunately, I still rely on trial and error most of the time to figure out how fast my shutter speed needs to be,  in any given situation.

Very fast shutter speeds can create really interesting effects with water. In the two photos below (shot at 1/1250 and 1/800 of a second respectively), I was able to capture movement so quick that even the human eye wouldn't have been able to see it in the same way.

One interesting (and unexpected) thing that I have realized when shooting moving subjects is that sometimes "blur" is a good thing. At times, it can create a more interesting photo than one that was crisp and clear.  Take the picture below as an example. On one hand, the photo is a perfectly nice - it clearly captures the joy of my niece's face as she rode the ferries wheel. On the other hand, there is something missing: by freezing all motion, I failed to capture the very thing that caused my niece to smile  - the fast, circular motion of the ride.

Panning can help to over come the above problem by helping to convey a sense of motion. Although fairly difficult to master, it involves picking a slower shutter speed and moving your camera in the same direction as your moving subject and shooting continuously (see full explanation in following link). If you get it right, you'll end up with a photo with a sharp subject set against a blurred background.

Here's my attempt at panning on the ferris wheel shot at 1/10 of a second.

Finally, as you'll see with the two photos below, different shutter speeds can both work, but will change the creative effect (first shot at 1/80 sec, second at 1/3 of a second). Which do you prefer?


Happy (Belated) 1st Birthday!

Four months ago Maelle turned one. (I'm clearly a little delayed with this post). To celebrate I decided to stage my own "cake smash" photo shoot (insert eye roll here from my husband who thinks these types of things are a little too cheesy). For those who aren't familiar with "cake smash" photos, here's an example  (and another).

Before I began my shoot, I made sure I had all the components of a good cake smash photo:

1) Colourful pennant banner? Check
2) Cake (or cupcake) to smash? Check
3) Simple background? Check
4) A cooperative year old? Ummm...

Actually, Maelle was a good sport. She (mostly) sat still long enough for me to take photos. She played with the cupcake. She "smashed" (or rather crumbled) the cupcake. She wasn't, however, keen on actually tasting the cupcake and I don't even think she knew it was food.  Here are the results of my shoot!


Into the light

"Take photos with the sun behind you".  I don't remember when I came across this advice but it was something that I held onto for a long time. Referred to as front light, this technique can help to  ensure your photos are evenly lit, making it easier to produce consistently well exposed images.  But there is a downside: it can result in flat, uninspiring images (aka it can be boring). Shooting with the light source behind the subject (back light) is challenging but rewarding.  Here is a summary of front, side and back light.

My first step in embracing the sun was getting better at manual mode (and also trying spot metering).  If you shoot auto in a backlight situation, the camera sets the exposure for the entire scene. This means that your subject will often end up too dark with the brighter background properly exposed. Take a look at these examples (side note: Maelle's doll is becoming a much easier model): the first photo was shot in auto and the second in manual. For the second photo I spot metered off the doll's face and added an additional stop of light because it was too dark.

By forcing myself to shoot in a wider variety of lighting situations, I have pushed myself to be more creative. Which isn't as easy as it sounds. I often ask whether the result is interesting or if it just plain wrong! Take lens flare, for example. Lens flare is caused by excessive light reflecting inside your camera, resulting in light streaks/shapes or haze. When used creatively, it can add interest but when used incorrectly, it can be distracting.

In the first photo, the sun in the bottom corner is blown out, with Maelle looking in the opposite direction. Since your eye is naturally drawn to the brightest part of the image, it can be distracting when it competes with the subject. This might have been a better photo if I shifted my angle so that the sun was behind Maelle's hat. I think the second photo is an improvement with Maelle looking in the same direction as the sun, almost as if she is searching for the source of the light. That said, the photo might have been stronger if it was taken close to sunrise/sunset when the sun's rays are less intense.

Aperture choice (the size of the opening through which light travels) can effect how bright light appears in your photo. Smaller openings (high f-stops like f/22) will create a starburst lens flare, which is often pleasing to the eye.

Larger apertures (lower f-stops like f/1.8) will result in the light source having a circular/hexagonal shape. In the first photo below, I think the multitude of lens flare spots takes away from the image, while it adds a magical, ethereal effect in the second image.

Lens flare can often manifest itself as haze, reducing contrast and saturation. Generally you want more contrast, but again it can work to your creative advantage. In the photo of my brother-in-law and future sister-in-law, the first picture is unedited and has a little too much haze for my liking.  I made some adjustments to the second image in Lightroom (my editing software) to keep the dreamy, romantic feel while toning down the haze.

Shooting in back light can also result in rim light (when light shines on the subject from behind and creates a bright outline around the head/shoulders). It can add depth, dimension and interest to the subject. To make the rim light pop, make sure the subject is set against a mid-to-dark background.


Family Time

I know first hand how difficult it can be to get a great photo of your whole family together. Since I am the photographer in my house, I have a tonne of photos of Maelle and my husband, but few of the three of us together.  So when a couple of my friends and family members asked me to take their family photos, I was happy to help out. How did my family photo shoots go? Let's start with the not-so-great part. I had rather dismal success getting a classic family portrait with everyone looking at the camera and with everyone smiling. After four family sessions,  I am batting 250 (not bad for baseball, but not what I am striving for in photography):
Thankfully I had better luck capturing other photos, including a mix of mom or dad with child, individual kid shots and candid family pics. I found it helpful to have in mind a couple ideas of photos that I wanted capture (e.g. child on dad's shoulders, everyone holding hands, etc. Pinterest is great for inspiration). I am also learning more and more about posing (check out some great tips here). Take a look at my favourite family photos so far: