January 28, 2011

“How do I take a great looking, no fuss portrait in 30 seconds?”

You want it fast. You want it good. Memorize the steps below and you’re already impressing friends and family with your brilliant photos.

Position your subject.
Grab your mom/dog/son and position them facing a large window. It’s best to do this on a nice overcast day because the light is soft and flattering. If it’s bright and sunny, try putting a white sheet over the window. Position your subject in such a way that there’s a neutral background (like a wall) behind them.

Look for the shiny, shiny catchlights.
Catchlights are the reflection of the light in the eye of your subject and they look smashing in kids and animals. The closer your subject is to the screen door, the bigger the catchlight. Position your subject until you can see the reflection – they may have to turn their head or body.

Set your camera.
For starters, click your settings dial over to P. Next, turn off your flash – the window will do all the heavy lifting for you. If you feel comfortable, you’ll also want to change your white balance to “Cloudy” or “Sunny.” This changes the colour of the light into something a little warmer.

Zoom in.
Look at your LCD screen and zoom into your subject so that the face fills the frame. This is your chance to play around a little. Try a head and shoulders shot or zooming in cropping out part of the face.

Do a mental check.
Before you snap the shot, ask yourself two key questions:
  • Is her face clean? I’ve taken too many spaghetti-stained face shots to count.
  • Are there any weird shadows falling anywhere in the photo? Look closely. Does anything look wrong?
Don’t ask anyone to smile.
The best skill you can learn as a photographer is how to make anyone forget the camera. In theory, it’s a simple trick – just keep talking to whomever you’re photographing. Want a smile? Tell a joke, rather than ask for a forced face full of teeth.

That’s it. A whole lot of words, a spiffy portrait that the family will love.

Next up: Boring stuff that will save your (photo) life.

January 26, 2011

#4 - Get to know your screen door.

Beneath the smudged fingerprints left by your five-year-old and the cobweb that the spider contractors erected over the winter sits the single best photographic tool you own.

Your screen door.

The fastest way to take better family shots? Position your mom/husband/small fries in front of the door on a cloudy day and take a good look at your subject. The clouds give you a giant soft light that filters through the biggest window you've got in the house.

In an instant, you can create the sort of fab shots that grace covers of magazines and generate envy when it comes time to send out the annual Christmas letter. Take that Cousin Martha and your wildly successful summer BBQ!

What To Do
Turn off your flash.
  • Experiment with your subject facing a screen door, window or other brightly lit area.
  • Try it out in bright sunlight (hard light) or cloud cover (soft light) and see what the shot looks like.
  • Bonus: Make those really big, glassy catchlights. Get your subject really close to the door on a cloudy day. Ooo.
  • Extra Bonus: Get the sunset in your backyard? Shoot your portrait then for nice super warm light.

January 22, 2011

Bonus - "What's the difference between 'Auto' and 'P' anyway?

I admit it, I actually had to look up the answer to this question.

When I mentioned the other day that you should move from “Auto” to “P” for creative control, I was trying to improve your confidence, rather than your shooting. See, if you’re shooting on “P,” you’ll automatically feel like a more accomplished photographer, and confidence is a big part of making great memories. Look at me – I’m using a setting that is more advanced – even if it feels like it does exactly the same thing as “Auto” does.

In a way, “P” (it stands for Program) does work just like “Auto.” You crank the knob, you turn on your camera, you stab at the shutter and you get your picture.

But there is a difference.

When you shoot on “P,” you have the option to change some of the other settings on your camera – like the white balance, the amount of flash you’re using or the type of file you want to shoot. Think of “P” as a semi-automatic setting. It’ll do all the work for you if you want, or it’ll allow you to experiment jussssst enough to keep you out of trouble.
We’ll be talking about the features you can use in “P” in upcoming posts, but for now get out there and take a bunch of shots on the “P” setting. Feeling a little more adventurous? Try out different settings on your “white balance” to see what sort of weird colours you can get. Don’t worry what it means or what happens when you press the shutter, just be surprised and amazed by what that little machine can do.

Next up: the one place in your house that will make a gigantic difference to all your photos.

Got a question? Got a photo? Post it here in the comments.

January 19, 2011

#3 – Abolish "Auto."

It's just so darn tempting.

You turn on your cam and are bedazzled by that ever-expanding list of situational settings. Portraits. Fireworks. Aquarium (!). When you first buy the camera, you think to yourself "Oh man, I'm totally going to use all of those on trips next summer."

Then next summer comes and you can't find "Aquarium" buried under menu three and how to get the best shots from it.

“Auto” is a scam.
Here's the truth, these settings are more than a bit misleading. They promise you professional-quality shots by letting the camera do all the thinking for you. If you've ever seen the robots rise up in movies like the Terminator, you know that letting the machines take control is rarely a great idea.

If you take the time to learn what these settings mean and how they can be used, you can get snappier snaps. But you don't need to go that far. There's an easier way to get the same shots with a little less mental ballet. It's probably why you give up at some point and just use the dreaded Auto Setting -- the roulette wheel of photography.

Use these settings – and get better photos.
Look for four settings on your camera "P," "Av," "Tv" and "M." Learn these four settings and when and how to use them and your aunt will consider you the photographer at the next family reunion.

We're going to cover each of these settings over the year, but for today, I'm going to ask you to do just two easy things. Stop using the fancy settings -- including Auto -- and start using "P." This is an easy move because "P" or "Program" is like a fancier version of "Auto." Ultimately it gets you some more street cred with the family and forces you to start thinking about what you're shooting. My shot of Cabot up above was the very first one I took when I moved the dial.

Make your next frame by shooting on "P." Forget you "Fireworks," I'm trading up to better moments.

What To Do
Forget about creative settings like Sports, Portraits or Night.
Stay away from the simple Auto Setting.
Use the "P" setting in place of Auto.

Got a question, thought or great example of your work? Post it here in the Comments section.

January 14, 2011

Bonus – “How do I buy a camera?”

This is the way it usually goes down.

You’ve been thinking about a camera and you find yourself in your local big box store, agog at the rows of choice. You depend on a commission-based salesperson to give you some magical insight that delivers the perfect decision. You get dinged for “high speed SD cards” and “premium protection cases.” You are most definitely not happy.

I know. I’ve been there too.

The thing is, buying a digital camera doesn’t have to be a chore, a snore or a war. Just follow these four steps to absolute point-and-shoot happiness…

Don’t Impulse Buy             
Digital cams are cheap, everywhere – and on sale right this second. Don’t panic. If you’re only thinking about price, you’re going to get burned. Find a handful of cameras you want to try out, then head to the store. 

Ask Yourself Three Questions
·      What do I want to photograph?
This one’s going to let you know what kind of features you want. For the likes of this blog, I’m recommending a good point-and-shoot. If you’re thinking of stepping up to the DSLR world, drop me an email.

·      How do I want to carry my camera?
For some, size matters. I have a massive rig that I use for my professional career, but it’s a total pain to schlep it down to the zoo for a family day. That’s exactly why I ponied up the dough for a Canon G11 (great shots, slooooow when you press the shutter).

·      How much do I want to spend?
Costs for digital cameras and accessories can get out of hand verrrrry quickly. Give yourself a price range and tailor your search there.

Do Some Easy Research
Because I’ve made so many bad purchasing decisions (anybody want to buy some hot lights?), I do my research – and I start at one of the very best sites on the entire Internet. Digital Photography Review (http://www.dpreview.com/) has exhaustive reviews and message boards where you can ask lots of questions. If you find the choice a little daunting, check in on the reviews at a reputable retailer like B&H Photo, Camera Canada – even Best Buy. Other customers will give you the straight goods.

Ask Someone (Who Isn’t a Fanatic)
Everybody’s got that friend (or in my case, is that friend). The lippy know-it-all who has an informed opinion on what you should buy. Figure out what you want and tap into that resource.

Three Fast Recommendations
I know, I know, you just want to know what camera to buy. While I can’t tell you exactly what you need, I did some digging and recommend these three point-and-shoots:

·      Canon PowerShot S95 ($400ish). This tiny superstar is a monster-good camera. Great controls, great pictures, outstanding low light performance. Expensive and a bit slow on the shutter though.

·      Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5 (About $300). Great in low light, shoots lots of frames fast and a super (10x!) zoom. This one hits the sweet spot of price and performance.

·      Casio EX-FH100 (Maaaaybe $350). A solid camera with some really cool extras – like a mega high speed video shooting mode and a high speed burst. Great if your kids are in soccer – or snowboarding.

Psst. Want more advice? Send an email.
Ask a question and I could make it the bonus feature of the week (or shoot you an answer back). Get emailing at frameone@creativemercenary.com.

January 12, 2011

#2 - Buy a decent camera.

It’s best we get this out of the way early. Yes your phone will take a passable snapshot (see the slightly blurry image above), but it leaves you at the mercy of the camera. To take great shots every time, you need more control.

You’re going to need a decent, mid-end camera – nothing crazy like a monster DSLR. Just a good, dependable point-and-shoot like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 (cheaper) or the Canon Powershot S95 (spendy). These cameras have settings like M (Manual) or P (Program) that give you more control over making a good photograph. We’ll cover these terms and settings in upcoming posts, but believe me – they’re easy to understand and easy to use.

In the meantime, if you’re on the market for camera, these are the four most important features you want:

Better Low Light Performance
You’re going to take a lot of photos in awful-to-impossible lighting situations. Having a camera that can focus and shoot decent quality pictures in low light will be a lifesaver.

Faster Shutter
Nothing worse than your little one making a cute face and having to miss it because you press the button and … wait. And wait. And wa—click. Find a camera that can turn on and take a photo as fast as it can.

If it’s too big and bulky, you’re probably going to leave it at home. Find something that’s easy to stash.

Good Image Quality
Do a bit of homework (and don’t ever buy a camera on impulse). Review sites like dpreview.com and cnet.com can give you a sense of what cameras take natural photos without a lot of digital noise.

Know what you don’t see here? Megapixels. That’s not a good benchmark for a camera these days. Any point-and-shoot has enough megapixels to satisfy your giant printing needs.

What To Do 
  • Look for a camera with settings for “M,” “Tv,” “Av” and “P” settings (bonus: it shoots the “RAW” file format)
  • Get a camera with good low light performance, a fast shutter, small size and good image quality
  • Worry less about megapixels, zooms and frivolous features like colour settings

January 5, 2011

#1 - Shoot more photos.

"Shoot more photos." I know., right? You’re staggered by the revelation.

Simple it is, but you’d be surprised by how many people have forgotten the camera at home. Or have dead batteries. Or who rely on the Blackberry cam to take top quality snapshots.

Grab your camera, keep it charged and shoot as many photos as you possibly can. The more you shoot, the better possibility you'll take a great picture – and the more you can learn from those that didn’t turn out so well.

Shoot extra to compensate for everything from blinking eyes in portraits to a confused autofocus in landscapes -- even a grumpy nine-year-old on the end of the couch. Try different modes on your camera or shooting from different perspectives. Make note of a great angle or a nifty thing your flash did – and remember it when you’re in a similar situation on another day.

Thinking about what you’re shooting and what your camera does in different situation helps you get to know your camera better. And when you know what your camera is capable of, you’re one frame closer to taking the perfect shot.

What To Do
  • Shoot more and remember what works.
  • Try different modes, angles, flash/no flash.
  • Taking a portrait? Shoot both a horizontal or a vertical version.

January 4, 2011

A place for anyone who doesn't want to be a "photographer."

I’ll be you’ve got a picture like this one laying around. I call it the woulda/coulda/shoulda shot – the one where you capture the perfect moment, only to have something go wrong with the final photo.

When my son Cabot was born back in summer 2001, I had a shiny new Canon Powershot in hand – and zero knowledge of how to take a photo. When I snapped this one (that's a screen grab from a video featuring the image), it looked greeting-card good on the camera’s tiny LCD. When I got it onto my computer? Notsomuch.

I knocked that point-and-shoot around for a couple of years and noticed that I really did like capturing great moments with my family. So I upgraded the camera. Learned about lighting. Added this accessory and that accessory. I learned a lot as I stumbled along. I also wasted more time and money than I had to.

Why You’re Here – Learn How to Take Better Photos, Three Minutes at a Time
That’s the reason for Frame One – to help you capture better moments without making major investments in time or money. You can take envy-worthy photos by learning a little every single week. You don’t need to become a pro photographer, just somebody who knows how to make that little box in your hands do what you want it to.

Here’s how it works:

  • I publish a mini lesson every Wednesday. Read it and use it in just three minutes – immediately doing ne single thing better with your camera.  I’ll keep the jargon and confusion to a minimum. Follow each lesson and before you know it, your friends will be asking you for photo advice.

  • A bonus post every Friday. Reviews of things to help you take better shots. Interviews with tips from other photographers. A breakdown of how I (or someone else) got a great shot – all related to what you find in the Wednesday post.

There’s also a Twitter feed (@frameonephoto) where I’ll post interesting news and inspiration, plus a fan site on Facebook (Frame One Photo) where you can follow all the action in a single place. Bet on a Flickr feed to share your own work in the coming weeks.

What You Do. Read. Comment. Share.
Here’s what I need from you – get involved. Read the blogs. Try out the stuff. Share your thoughts here or on Facebook. Ask questions – I’ve got a big mouth and love to share advice.

Most of all, have fun. Because when you do, you can turn the photo up above into the photo down below – shot of my new daughter Adeline, born the day after Christmas.