The terrible twos

Let me start off by saying my two year-old niece is anything but terrible. Isla is a super cute, caring, and energetic little girl. The only thing terrible about Isla is her extreme aversion to having her photo taken. I learned this first hand while taking holiday photos. Any time I pointed my camera at her and pleaded for a smile, she ran away or politely said no or stuck out her tongue (or made a crazy face like the one below).

The terrible twos + a six month old who doesn't take direction  = trouble
And because I am still learning to adjust the settings on my camera, even when she was cooperating, I often missed the shot. In the end, I decided to adjust my expectations a little. I might not capture a perfect shot by the Christmas tree, but I still could get some keepers. Here are couple of things I learned that day.

Plan an activity
Thankfully I had suggested beforehand that we make gingerbread cookies during our photo shoot. By distracting Isla with a favourite activity, I was able to snap a couple shots where she forgot the camera was focused on her.

Crop Photos
If I thought taking a photo of Isla smiling was a challenge, capturing one with Maelle smiling too proved to be impossible. When I looked through my photos I didn't see any of both girls smiling, but there was one that would work with a bit of tweaking. Using my photo editing software (Adobe Lightroom, but any basic software would do the trick), I cropped Maelle out of the photo. Voila!

As shot
Cropped in Adobe Lightroom
As I general rule I like to get in close when taking kid's portraits, but with a camera shy child it can be helpful to take some photos from farther away and then crop after the fact.

When cropping, its important to ensure you're shooting your pictures at the highest resolution. When you crop a photo and then re-size it to the original dimensions, you lose quality and clarity in the photo (which will be noticeable if the original resolution was low) . Here's an article that provides further explanation about resolution.

Embrace the Unexpected
My original intent was to take Christmas related photos, however two of my favourites ended up being of unexpected moments from the day. It may seem obvious to say, but it's worth remembering that often the best photos tell a story and evoke a memory. And sometimes this isn't always a happy moment or an expected one.

In the first photo, Isla was jumping in excitement while watching her favourite TV show, Dora the Explorer. In the second photo, Isla erupted in sadness when she heard a song she loved, but realized that she wasn't dancing to it.

Overall, although I failed in getting Isla and Maelle to pose for a great cousin shot, it still proved to be a fun shoot. Here's one more photo from the day before Christmas!


Where to begin? Getting technical

After I decided to improve my photography skills, I was left with the obvious question. How?  Any one who has tried to learn the technical side of photography knows that it can be like learning a new language (and I've never been very good at languages).  ISO, shutter speed, white balance, Fstop, aperture, depth of field ...its really enough to make your head spin. Take Wikipedia's definition of aperture:

The lens aperture is usually specified as an f-number, the ratio of focal length to effective aperture diameter...The photography term "one f-stop" refers to a factor of 2 (approx. 1.41) change in f-number, which in turn corresponds to a factor of 2 change in light intensity.

Huh? Did I mention that math was also not my forte? But I was firm in my belief that although I might be confused at the beginning, it would be worth it in the end.

I was left with some options.  I could just keep shooting, hoping that practice would make perfect.  I could try to teach myself by reading the plethora of online resources or picking up a photography book or two.  Or I could go to the experts and take a photography course.  For my best chance of success, I figured I'd do all three. In future posts, I'll zero in on what's working, what isn't and show you my progress.

First off, if you're looking for a good overview of the basics of the technical side of photography (described in a rather non-technical way),  here are some online resources:

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Exposure - One of the best explanations of exposure that I've read, straightforward and clear.

It's Overflowing Photography Course - Conversational, easy to follow tutorials. Written by an amateur photographer, so she explains things in layman terms.

Digital Camera Modes - A simple explanation of the various modes available on your DLSR camera.


Shine baby shine

Several months ago, I was lucky enough to give birth to my first child - a 6 pound, 9 ounce little girl named Maelle. Her father and I quickly succumbed to many of the clich├ęs that abound for new parents: we wondered if we'd ever sleep again, debated if she really could be the cutest baby in the whole wide world (what parent doesn't think that!), and worried that she was growing up too fast. And I found myself afflicted by another all-too-common urge to take pictures of her (lots and lots and lots...). Some turned out...

...but many did not. Too often, the photo of baby Maelle was too dark or too bright or not in focus. Or even in worse, in the photo her skin had turned an ungodly colour of blue thanks to florescent hospital lights!

Bright background, dark baby

Blurred hand
Too many things wrong to count!
Like many others, I bought a fancy camera (aka a DLSR, albeit an entry level Canon Rebel)  in the hopes it would allow me to take beautiful, sharp photos. And sometimes my photos were just right, but too often I found myself relying on luck (as opposed to skill) when attempting to take the perfect shot.  My photography skills  - which had in the past served me quite well for taking travel snapshots of stationary objects in beautiful, tropical light - were becoming a bit of problem. Taking pictures mostly on "Auto" or "Program" mode (and only occasionally venturing into the other dials) wasn't going to cut it anymore.

I understood some rules of composition and the basic relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO, but I didn't know how to apply this knowledge consistently.  I often found myself wondering:
How could I take better, more interesting pictures of my (often squirming) baby girl in my dimly lit 100 year old house?
What really was the problem with shooting on Auto or Program mode? What was my camera doing in these modes?
What was the difference between lenses?
In autofocus mode, how does my camera decide what to focus on?

Shine Baby Shine is my my quest to learn the ins and outs of photographing lil' ones (with the occasional travel and everyday photo mixed in). Enjoy!