Like many dads, I am the designated family photographer. My former profession as a photographer may have something to do with that. Nevertheless, I take my job quite seriously. Photographs capture moments in time and I want to preserve those memories in the best way possible. It takes no great powers or magic to reproduce somebody’s face in a photograph. The magic is in seeing people in new ways.
It took several years for me to learn how to take magical portraits, but I’d like to reduce your learning curve by sharing the following 12 tips that will help you improve your photography immediately.
Operating the Camera:
- Read the instruction manual. Whether you have a simple point-and-shoot or a fancy SLR, take the time to learn your camera’s settings and how it operates. Dads, I know that doing is like asking for instructions, but it will save you time and embarrassment. I can’t count the times that I’ve seen people miss crucial shots because they didn’t have their cameras set properly.
- Use the right shooting mode. Here are a couple of simple rules to remember: (1) Use Aperture Priority mode outdoors – This mode allows you to experiment with different depth of field effects that can dramatically improve the appearance of your images. (2) Use Shutter Priority mode indoors – This mode allows you to capture very natural-looking images, instead of photos with bright faces and very dark backgrounds. I recommend trying both modes with and without your flash enabled, and 1/30 sec or 1/60 sec are good starting points to use for your shutter speed. These modes will improve your photography and give you more control, but if you don’t want to think about your pictures this much, just turn your dial to Program mode and let the camera do all of the thing for you.
- Use the proper ISO level. Remember buying film and you had to choose between 100, 200, 400 or 800? You have the same decisions to make on your digital camera. I’ll keep it simple: (1) If you’re outside on a sunny day and everyone is standing perfect still, use ISO 100 or 200. (2) If you’re inside or you’re capturing action or movement, use ISO 400 or higher.
- Use your flash. Disclaimer: I hate flash (washed out faces, red eye, etc), but it can be useful when the lighting isn’t perfect. Using a flash will help to prevent the raccoon eyes (dark shadows in eye sockets) when you’re shooting outdoors on sunny days. When using your flash indoors, cover the flash with translucent item to soften the light. If you have an adjustable flash, bounce the light off a white ceiling or wall.
- Move closer to your subject. Many people stand too far away from their subjects and then wonder why the people in the picture look so small. Get close enough so that your subjects’ faces adequately fill the frame.
- Look for natural expressions. Don’t tell people to say cheese unless you’re actually taking about cheese. Stiff poses and fake smiles ruin photos. Allow people to be themselves. If your kids want to make goofy faces, let them. Take photos when people are not expecting to be photographed. But most importantly, be an observer. You will develop an eye for unique photo opportunities.
- Pay attention to composition. Most snap shooters have a tendency to place their subjects dead smack in the middle of the viewfinder. Take a few seconds to move your camera an inch in any direction to make the composition more interesting. Also, pay attention to the background. You don’t want to have a pole sticking out of grandma’s head.
- Use a Tripod or Monopod. Have you ever taken a great shot and wondered why it was blurry or out of focus? Lighting conditions, lens speed, and imperceptible hand movements all work together to cause a condition called camera shake. Using a tripod or monopod will keep your camera steady. If you don’t have a tripod, find something to brace yourself against, such as a wall or tree. Also keep your legs spaced about shoulder width apart with your elbows tucked in.
Getting Involved in the Pictures
- Be fair and balanced. I have enough photos of my daughter, Nee, to fill a wing in the Smithsonian. The photos of my son, N, could probably fill a small art museum. Photos of my third child, X, will fill a nice photo album. All parents are super shooters when their first child is born, but the excitement wanes as more children arrive. Do your best to keep your passion for photography as your family grows. Take lots of pictures of all of your kids.
- Do something with your pictures. Print them, make slideshows, use them in scrapbooks, publish a photo book, enter contests just don’t let them die a slow death in your camera or computer.
- Get in the picture. I wrote an article for an insert that was published in newspapers around the country. Right before going to press, the editor asked me to send a recent photograph. I quickly realized that I have very few photos of myself. Dads, I know many of you have the same problem. If you look at many of your family photos, you’d think your wife was a single mother. Correct this problem by using your camera’s self-timer. Place your camera on a tripod, set the timer and join your family in a spontaneous portrait. Here’s another thought: Let someone else be in charge of the camera sometimes.
- Have a professional family portrait made. If you’re married, I don’t really have to tell you this because your wife will drag you to the portrait studio at least once. The thought of having a family portrait made may be excruciating, but you will appreciate the effort when you look at the beautiful portrait hanging above your mantel. You’ll get extra points if you suggest this idea to your wife.
If you follow these simple tips, you will see a vast improvement in your photography skills. Remember: Cameras don’t take great pictures. People do.
- How The Camera Has Made Us All Voyeurs [Voyeurism] (gizmodo.com)
- How to use depth of field to take better photos (macworld.com)
- Get the Most From Your Point-and-Shoot Camera [Photography] (lifehacker.com)
- How to Take Better Low-Light Photos (gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com)