February 25, 2011

Bonus - "How can I make my sledding pics look better?"

You want to know what happened.

Here’s the story. Took the boy to the local sledding grounds a few years back and brought along the camera for a day of laughs and fun. Click. He’s at the top of the hill. Click. He’s coming down the hill. Click. He’s in mid a…oh boy, he landed on his head. The bad news – a headache for Cabot and heart failure for dad. Good news – I had a good camera strap around my neck, so that when I instinctively dropped the camera to attend to the boy, it didn’t shatter in the snow.

Taking pics of whooshing toboggans can be a whole lot of fun, but there are a few real tricks to getting it juuuuuust right. Get out in the winter wonderland this weekend (if you’re on the east coast) and try these on for size…

Get the snow white.
Your camera has a habit of trying to make tones look nice and even. That means it’s going to make your shots danger to compensate for the blinding white snow. Everything will come out gray. Still shooting on P? Good for you. Get out the manual and figure out how to overexpose your picture so that everything looks nice and bright.

Pick a faster shutter speed.
I don’t recommend this one often, but until we get to the post on shutter speeds, I’m going to recommend searching out the “sports” setting on your camera. That will allow you to freeze the actio.

Go for the emotion.
We talked about getting close the other day – and this is a great chance to try out what you learned. Zoom in on faces and body language to show how your kids are enjoying the day. Nothing like a little frost on the eyelashes and rosy cheeks to create a memory.

Get in the way.
Move around and try different perspectives. Top of the hill. Midway down. On the back of your own sled chasing the kids down the hill (be careful with your camera).
Next up: taming the boogeyman of photography.

Hey! We ran a contest last week for a 4 Gig EyeFi Card – and our winner is Lynda Sinclair (Lynda, drop me a line here or on Twitter). Congratulations to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for our next contest - I’m going to give away an honest to goodness camera!

February 23, 2011

#8 - Get closer.

Here it is. The one thing that will make your next portrait, landscape or holiday snapshot a whole lot better.

Get closer.

Zoom in. Walk up. Scootch nearer. Whatever it takes, fill that frame with your subject. Too many picture takers stay too far away whatever they’re shooting. That distracts from the image. Your eye doesn’t know whether to look at the cute face your son is making or the miles of extra headroom around him. Getting close allows you to focus on the emotion and on the moment. There are technical reasons for this we’ll talk about in future blog posts, but for now do everything you can to get nice and tight on your subject.

A couple of pointers to help out…

A Little Bit Closer.
Think you’re close enough? Take one more medium step closer if you can (just watch out for that cliiiiiiiiiiiifffff). That extra push is often all you need to turn a good looking pic into a great looking one.

Cut off faces and places.
Don’t be afraid to crop out part of the face of a building to get the shot. Getting pieces of the image can often make what you’re zooming in on more powerful and interesting to look at. I got in nice and close on my daughter is the shot up above.

Turn off the digital zoom.
Your camera promised you 24x zooming capability. That’s a bit of a marketing whitewash. Most of that zoom is often something called “digital zoom.” That’s when your camera uses software to zoom in on your image instead of relying on the lens to do that. You’ll often get fuzzy, blurry shots when you zoom in all the way here. Turn this “feature” off for better pictures. And hey, if you decide you need the feature, know that you can accomplish the exact same thing in just about any digital editing program.

There will be a lot of times where wider is better, but for now get ready for the close up – you’ll gets instant oohs and ahhs.

Next up: what happens when you scoot in a few feet.

Plus we’ll be announcing the winner of the EyeFi 4 Gig card contest!

February 17, 2011

Bonus - "How do I take a really great family photo?"

They’re plotting against you.

Making faces. Chocolate on the new dress. Running around when the shutter clicks. Your kids are going to pull just about every trick in the book to make sure you can’t take that traditionally family photo.

Good for them.

Look. When it comes to that classic Sears portrait look, Sears and its ilk do about as good a job as anyone. So why replicate the forced grins, flat lighting and cookie cutter backdrops?

Step up to the next level and make your next family photo something to remember. To help you get there, try out these pointers:

Ask yourself one question.
What does my family love? Great photos come from great ideas – so start by thinking about a great idea. Are you all avid skiers? Then think about a fun shot on the slopes. Do you go to the movies a lot? Convince the theatre manager to let you in a few minutes early and snap away at the front row. Search online for inspiration. I like this one, this one and this one.
Think about what you’re going to do.
Plan it out – within reason. Close your eyes and see your final photo. Think about what appears in the frame (and what doesn’t). Consider what way the sun is pointing. Imagine what the faces look like in the photo. You might want to try a few sample photos at your location to see how it all works.

Get outsideish.
If you’re not a lighting freak (guilty), you’re going to depend on that ugly on camera flash – and you won’t be happy with the results. Get your family somewhere where there’s a lot of light – either outside or near a great big window in the house. Again, doing some test shots will give you a sense of what to expect.

Pack a bag.
You don’t need a sack full of equipment to make a good photo. You do need to cart along a few essentials: wet wipes for dirty faces, Clean and Clear pads for shiny foreheads, tape for any manner of things, extra batteries, your camera’s manual annnnnnnd a tripod. Don’t have a tripod? No problem. Improvise with something that’ll hold up your camera.

Don’t ask for the smile.
Here’s a million dollar secret for shooting your family (that never sounds right) – don’t get anyone to say cheese. Instead, talk to your subjects. Want ‘em to smile? Tell everyone an inside family joke or get everyone to make a funny face first. No matter what, just keep talking. Getting everyone to forget about the camera and just have a conversation is a big part of any great photograph.

Next up: the one thing that will make every one of your photos a whole lot better.

Last chance to win 4gig EyeFi Card. Post a burning photo question in the comments section at frameone.blogspot.com by midnight February 17 – and you’re entered into the draw.

February 16, 2011

#7 - "Feel" your autofocus.

Your camera is alive.

It has personality. It has quirks. And like any lasting relationship, you’re going to have to get to know those quirks – and how to deal with them – to take a good photo every time out.

The number one quirk you’re going to need to get to know is your autofocus system. Your manual gives you all sorts of technical insight into how your autofocus works, but the manual isn’t much help when you’re at the birthday party and your autofocus keeps hunting for your subject. It’s in focus. It’s out of focus. Oh wait, it’s in focus aga…annnnnd she blew all the candles out

Unless it’s super bright out, your autofocus can be fussy. I ran into this one myself over the weekend while taking snaps of my seven-week-old. I was taking her picture with a pretty hefty DSLR and even that autofocus refused to play along.. Luckily, I learned how to caress and cajole my autofocus into doing what I want.

If your manual’s not going to be a lot of help, your best move is to turn on your camera and get to know the autofocus with these tips:

Try it in a bunch of different situations.
Low light. Bright light. Close up. Flash on. Flash off. Your autofocus will do something different in just about every situation. The better you know what it’s probably going to do in a given moment, the better chance you have to compensate.

Pay attention.
Don’t just try out the autofocus, make some mental notes. Does it have a tougher time with different colours? With skin tones? In fluorescent light? Keep a mental catalogue on this stuff – or better yet, write it down so you remember.

Get good in low light.
Your autofocus will give you the biggest fits in low light. This is your chance to use your flash – some of them pre-flash to light up the scene and lock in the focus. Or you could try this great trick. Just before you’re about to take the picture, have someone hold a cell phone screen near your subject. Make sure the screen is lit up and the camera will instantly focus on the screen. Move the cell phone and you’ve got your shot.

Pick the corner.
Autofocus looks for contrasts. When I couldn’t get my camera to play along on the weekend, I focused on the area where her head met a giant yellow chair. The autofocus could tell the difference between her skin and the chair’s fabric. Find the area of contrast between your subject and the background and you can get many an autofocus to do thy bidding.

Next up: taking a fantabulous family photo.

Time is running out to win a 4 Gig EyeFi card from Frame One. Post a question in the comments section below and you’re automatically entered. Contest closes Friday night!

February 12, 2011

Bonus - "Help! What photo editing program do I use?"

I hate just about all photo software.

They all have their quirks – a little too slow, a little too clunky, a little too lightweight. So a few years back, I decided to pick one program to import, rename and fix all my photos. As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, putting everything you do into a single program can be helpful over the long term – you’ll be able to process your photos nearly automatically.

And to be honest, as I was prepping this post, I didn’t find all that much that really knocked my socks off. It seems like you get really simple software that’s cheap and more complex software that’s crazy expensive.

What about software for the dad who just wants to do a bit of cropping and colouring? The truth is, if that’s you and you’re on a Mac, iPhoto fills the gap. It’ll download, categorize and let you make the changes you want to make without a major fuss.

But most people aren’t on a Mac – or if you are, you might already see how you’ll outgrow iPhoto.

Picasa is fast, easy to use and full of features. It’s free to use and lets you make most common edits. It’s great for organizing photo albums and even tags pictures of people you know with the right names. All in all, this is about as close you’re going to get to iPhoto without a Mac.

Photoshop’s little brother really is head and shoulders above most of the other stuff out there. This one’s approachable and easy to use (if you don’t want to dig too deep into the features) and it gives you loads of control over images. Bonus: Lots of companies bundle this software with their cameras.

Adobe Lightroom – About $300 (but there's a 30 day free trial)
I hate to slobber all over Adobe, but to my eye, they make the least annoying photo software out there. With a price tag that’s heftier than most point-and-shoot cameras, you’re only going to go this route if photography is a hobby. That said, there is no easier, smarter program on the planet for importing and editing photos (Apple’s Aperture is a near-second in this department). Beware: this one will eat up your computer system’s resources. It slowed down my Macbook Pro so frequently that I actually upgraded my computer.

There are loads and loads and loads of other options out there, but when it comes to that balance of ease-of-use and flat out firepower, these are the three photo programs that I hate the very least.

Hey! I’m running a contest! Win a 4 gig Eye Fi SD card. It’s wireless sends your photos right to your computer (or photo sharing service). All you need to do is ask a question in the comments question of the blog. Contest closes Friday night at midnight…

Next up: the one photo-taking trick I’ve never seen covered in another book or blog.

February 9, 2011

# 6 - Pick one image editing program

Every picture you take needs a little work.

That’s not a shot at your fabulous photos – it’s actually a confirmation of the possibilities digital cameras open for us. Once upon a time, the film you picked up from the Fotomat was the best you were going to get.

Not anymore.

Today you can soften Aunt Tina’s dayglow orange tan, clean up your son’s ice-cream caked face, even get rid of the pesky tree that’s just ruining your landscape. Just ruining it, I tell ya!

Here’s the problem. There are loads of choices when it comes to image editing programs. Super easy (iPhoto!) to super feature rich (Lightroom!) and everything in between. With all the goodly sliders and features, you’re going to be tempted to try them all.

Do that. Try out a bunch. Then pick one and stick with it. When you grow with a single image editing program, you automate your ability to colour correct and retouch your photos. It quickly becomes second nature after and in no time you’ll know exactly what to do to make your pictures look out of this world.

How easy is it to use?
If you’re not used to it, don’t start with Adobe Photoshop. Brilliant program, with so steep a learning curve that you’ll probably put your camera down and just try and remember your kids as they are. Pick something that is easy to understand and easy to use.

Does it work the way you work?
I’ve always been frustrated by programs like iPhoto because they don’t think the way I think. Notice how you use a program when you’re testing it out. Can you find the buttons easily? Are your favourite features buried in a menu? Does it make sense. (For the record, I use Lightroom. It follows a straightforward routine that I entirely love.)

Do I have room to grow?
Sure your program is great today – but will it be great tomorrow. Think about things you might want to change or fix in your photos when you get a little experience – colour temperature, sharpening, cloning and healing brushes. Even if you don’t know those terms now, they’ll be ready for you when you’ve mastered the exposure controls.

Contest! Contest! Contest!
Giving away a fancy Eye Fi card next Friday. All you have to do is ask a question in the comments section of the Frame One blog.

February 4, 2011

“Ok wise guy – what’s ‘your’ workflow?”

Oh experience. Why have you deleted so many of my files?

The only thing to make you religious about naming and backing up your files is one really awful tap of the delete key – similar to the one that wiped out my 2000-2004 archive. I managed to recover most of ‘em, but now I’m crazy for the workflow. Based on Wednesday’s post, here’s what I do as soon as I stop taking the pictures:

Where you keep your photos.
  • Open the 2011 folder.
  • Make a new folder for the photo shoot with the [DATE] and [NAME] – 020211 – Family Snow Day Trip
  • Make a folder for the type of photos (e.g. “RAW” or “JPEG”).

What you call it.
  • Open my photo editing program
  • Stick my card in the card reader.
  • Open the import dialogue box.
  • Title my photos according to date and activity – 020111 – Leafs-Panthers Hockey Game 

How you tag it.
  • Type meta tags into the box – names, locations, type of shoot (Portrait, Landscape, Family)

How you fix it.
I use Adobe Lightroom and follow the steps on the “Develop” window
  • Color temperature
  • Exposure (light/dark)
  • Clarity
  • Saturation
  • Sharpening
If I’m doing special stuff (like converting to Black and White), I’ll usually make that my first step.

One more thing.
I'm a backup fanatic - I use two separate locations for backing up.
  • Use “Time Machine” automated backup software (I'm on a Mac)
  • Use a second offsite backup at Mozy.com

And now - the contest. Submit a question on the Frame One blog page.
Why don't we take a step out of your workflow with automatic downloads via a braaaaaand new EyeFi 4 gig card. What's an EyeFi? It's a memory card with a Wi-Fi signal. You hook it up to your network and tell it where to send your pics - and blammo they fly through the air and land on your computer.

Here's what you've got to do.

Post a question you have about taking pictures - something you've always wondered, something that bugs you in one of your photos, something you'd like to hear more about. Post your question in the comments section of the blog (I'll answer 'em in future posts). I'll make the draw on February 18 from all the entries. Prize is a fab 4 gig EyeFi x2 card. Just like this one.

Get the conversation started.

February 2, 2011

#5 - Build a simple workflow. (Wait! It's not that boring.)

This isn’t going to seem nearly as boring as the title implies.

If you’re taking a lot of pictures, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to have to do something with all those pictures. Eventually the memory card fills up and you’ve gotta transfer everything to your computer.

Now, you couuuld just chuck everything in a folder called “Pictures” and hope for the best when you import IMG_044 from your camera. Problem is, four years down the road when something goes wrong with your photo editing program and you need to find the original file, you’re going to be outta luck. Not that this has ever happened to me. Twice.

Take a little care with filing and editing your photos and everything will work out just fine. You’ll be able to find things and improve your shots faster and easier than ever before. Four steps to the perfect process:

Where you keep your photos.
Pick one folder to hold your photos. I keep individual photo shoots in yearly folders (i.e. 2009, 2010, 2011). I then list folders for the individual shoot - starting with the date on the folder (010111 – Baby Portrait). This way, all my shoots for a year appear in order.

What you call it.
This one’s a big one. Come up with a file naming convention that works for you. Here’s mine: [DATE] – [TITLE]. If it’s holiday photos, it looks like this: 122510 – Family Holiday Photos. Makes it easy to find the photo I need.

How you tag it.
Most photo editing programs allow you to “tag” photos. Use this feature. By typing in a few basic words (who is in the photo, where you took it, what kind of photo it is), search becomes lickity-split easy.

How you fix it.
I always do the exact same editing things in the exact same order – fix the colour, fix the brightness, add some tone, etc. By doing this, I make the editing process so straightforward that I can do it while holding client conference calls. Not that I’d ever actually do that.

One more thing.
Back up your files. Head on over to your favourite gadget store and buy yourself a handy dandy drive specifically for creating a backup. Make sure it comes with a decent backup program and you’re set. Shouldn’t cost you much more than $100 for a terabyte backup drive. You will not be sorry.

Next up: Contest!