December 28, 2011

#48 – The most important things to know about your camera.

Cameras are scary devices.

These little black boxes come with so many buttons, options and settings that it’s easy to get overwhelmed, flip on the “Auto” setting and hope for the best.

Truth is, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m a professional photographer and even I don’t use half the settings on my gigantor dSLR. Instead, I use the ones that are useful to me (and to getting a great photo).

Over the past year here at Frame One, I’ve written a bunch of mini posts designed to help you get more comfortable with your camera. To me, these are the six most important. Master these (not difficult) and you’ll be well on your way to knowing and loving that chunk of photography you hold in your hands...

Megapixels and digital zooms aren’t what you should be looking for in your next camera. This post describes the four things to look for when you’re shopping.

The simple fact of point-and-shoot/mobile phone cameras is that they’re slow when you press the shutter. They take some time to grab the photo. You need to learn how your autofocus works in different situations and be ready to compensate for what it does.
I hate, hate, hate the onboard flash that comes with most cameras – and I’ve found ways around using it. Here’s my breakup letter.

Your camera’s screen is a big fat liar. What looks bright on your screen might look dark on your monitor. Want a more accurate idea of whether or not you got the shot? Trust your histogram.

Digital zoom. Auto mode. Face detection. Useless. Useless. Useless. Here’s a few more things to disable on your camera.

Those creative settings (and “Auto”) are holding back your snapshots. Here’s how to use the right ones – “P,” “Av,” “Tv/S” or “M.” 

December 18, 2011

#47 – How to instantly shoot a better photo.

That went fast.

This time last year, Frame One was really just an idea I had with a colleague. We were sitting in her boardroom and she said to me “you really should be blogging some of your photo advice.”

And here we are. 90 some-odd-posts later, a growing community (join us on Facebook!) and a whole lot of advice. Each of the numbered posts in this series is specifically designed to give you one small thing to improve in your snapshots. Takes two minutes to read, 30 seconds to do and BAM!, you’re already making better memories.

With the holidays coming up, you’re sure to be using your camera (or getting a new one!) a whole lot more. These next few posts group some of this year’s advice to give you everything you need to take better snapshots in different situations.

I’m starting with a good general primer. If you could do just five things right now with your camera, these are the five things I’d suggest you do:

If you let your camera make all the decisions for you, your camera will create ugly photos. Turn your camera to P, Av, Tv (sometimes S) or M. Get to know these settings and how to make great photos.

Most snapshots suffer from too much headroom. Zoom in on your subject for more impact.
Bonus: How do I take a really great family photo?

Memorable photos start with great composition. Stop putting your subjects in the centre of the frame and your photos instantly become more powerful and beautiful.

Un-borify your photos by shifting the way you approach your subjects. Got a baby (like me)? Get on the ground level, or try a shot overhead.

Become a human tripod and it becomes easier to take photos that aren’t dark or blurry. This post explores my basic point-and-shoot/mobile phone holding technique.

That’s it. You can do each of these things in just a few seconds – and by doing just these things, you’ll have great holiday snaps.

December 11, 2011

#46 – Think about the background first.

If you’ve got a camera in your hand, this is the smartest move you can make.

Pay attention to your background.

There are lots of things that can make a great photo – good lighting, the right moment, colours....but nothing makes a snapshot look better faster than being smart about your background. Bad snapshots feature lots of distractions. Good snapshots let the subject pop out, and a big part is making sure you control that background.

So how do you do it? A few of my favourite suggestions:

Blur it out.
Use a high aperture (lower number = higher aperture) and blur out the background. Just turn you camera to Av (aperture mode) and get blurry. This technique makes the stuff in your foreground look better. Use your camera’s zoom here too. The more you zoom, the longer the focal length. The longer your focal length, the easier it is to blur out the background.

Use a solid colour or simple pattern as a backdrop.
Background too distracting? Move your subject somewhere where you don’t have a problem. Brick walls or surfaces with few colours are great.

Get away from people.
You’re at the mall. You want to take a photo of your friend in front of a fountain, but there’s people walking around. You’re better off to move your friend and get the shot with the fountain in the background. Random background people clutter your shot and make photos look meh.

Ready for another big year in tech? Find out what’s hot and what’s not with Intel Canada’s bloggers – only on the Intel Canada Facebook page.

November 24, 2011

Step-by-step - How to take a better grab shot.

I love catching my kids in the moment. The earnestness on the face is so much better than dealing with that mega-fake smile that should be reserved for Jostens day at school.

In my last post, I mentioned the key ingredients to taking a better snapshot in the moment. But the real secret to making a good grab shot happen?

Be ready.

Putting together the right combination of settings makes it easier to life the camera to your eye, take the photo and get the shot you want:

1.         Turn on your camera.
2.         Pick a white balance that matches your lighting conditions.
3.         Turn off your flash if you don’t need it.
4.         Set your camera to P, TV, Av/S or M.
5.          Dial in your ISO, shutter speed and/or aperture (depending on what you did in #4).
6.         Look around for a great potential shot.
7.          Lift the camera to your eye and become a human tripod.
8.         Lock in your focus.
9.         Wait for the moment.
10.    Click.

November 20, 2011

#45 – Find little moments to make some of the best photos.

Best wedding photo, like ever.

I don't know what it was like to be a wedding photographer in the 1970s, but I can only guess it was awful.

Go ahead, flip back through the photo albums of parents/friends/yourself and take a look at photos snapped at nuptials. All stilted and posed, with far too much powder blue tossed in for good measure.

Here’s the bad news. Flash forward to what’s hiding on your iPhone and you’re going to find the modern equivalent. Sure, the snaps you took at your friend’s birthday bash don’t suffer from the same bad fashion sense, but look a little closer. There it is – the posing. Sure it’s a little more cheesy than the stuff from That ‘70s Photo, but it’s still posing nonetheless.

When it comes to what you’re taking “in the moment” shots (pros call them editorial, or sometimes “grab” shots), you’ll want a few posed pictures. But the real magic happens when you catch something beautiful/funny/touching happening. Those snapshots are genuine. They create emotion. They get remembered.

So go ahead and whip out your point-and-shoot or phone at the next family function. Get a few goofy grins on your memory card. Then turn yourself into a ninja. Get quiet and sneaky and start quietly taking pictures of little moments. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Look for a story.

Good photos tell good stories. Take a look around at what’s happening and try to anticipate where good stories are happening. Little ones chasing each other at a picnic. Baby grabbing ornaments off the Christmas tree. Grandparents doing just about anything (like having dinner at a fish and chips restaurant).

Never let them see you coming.
People get freaked out by/fall in love with a camera. Point one in their face and you’re inevitably going to get the “look at me” pic or the “person holding up their hand so you can’t take their photo” pic. Be clandestine about your pictures. Step out of the area and use a zoom lens. Keep talking as you take a picture and don’t reference the camera. Be cool, calm and collected about everything and the action will keep unfolding.

Use the tricks you’ve learned.

If you’ve hung around Frame One for awhile, you already know a bunch of great little techniques to transform a good snapshot into a great one. Use aperture to blur out the background. Get in really close on your subjects. Turn off your flash and use the natural light. Each technique helps you make that natural grab shot look a little more natural, a little more real and a little more memorable. 

November 13, 2011

Get in super close with your camera's "macro mode."

Macro mode "on" (look at the flower).

There was a time (not so long ago) that I knew nothing about cameras.

On the day I unboxed my first digital SLR (eight years ago this week), I thought it’d be a great idea for my first photo to be one of a gift I was going to give to a friend.

I put the gift on a nearby windowsill, got up really, really close (so it’d look nice and big in the frame) and tried to snap the photo. But the autofocus wouldn’t work. I was new to all of this and figured something was wrong with the camera. So I tried switching to manual focus. All I got was a bunch of blurry photos.

The reason? Nobody told me that you need a special “macro” lens to get really close with a camera.

A macro lens is perfect for shooting flowers, bugs and holiday gifts for friends – and the best news is that your point-and-shoot has one (sorta) built in.

How I turn on macro mode.
If you look on the back of most point-and-shoots, you’ll see a symbol that looks a whole lot like a tulip. Your camera defaults to something called “landscape mode,” which is designed to let you take nice portraits and landscape shots. Macro mode simply switches things so you can get in super close – like 3-4 inches or less – and take photos that fill the frame.

Traditional mode engaged - the "!" shows me that I can't focus.

Enabling macro mode on most cameras is super-duper easy too. On my Canon G11, I just press the macro button (the flower) and I’m ready to go. It’s really that easy – and that handy.