March 31, 2011

Bonus - "I just bought a new camera. Now what do I do?"

Ooo. New technology. So much hope. So much shiny.

A few weeks back, we talked about the secrets to buying a brand new camera. Now that you’ve plunked down the cash and put one into your hands, you’re going to need to do a few things to make sure it takes the pretty, pretty pictures. Here’s my list of must-dos straight from the box:

Switch the Factory Settings
·      Autofocus – Centre (not Face Detection)
·      Continuous Autofocus – On
·      Digital Zoom – Off, Off, Off, Off, Off (you can do this in your software program)
·      File Size – Biggest one possible (if your camera supports “RAW,” use that)
·      Volume – Low (Nobody wants to hear the shutter at 100 decibels)
·      Custom Colour Settings – Off (most software will use the straight up image without your colour settings anyway)
·      Language – Finnish (Because I always wanted to learn a new language – I’m kidding)

Tinker with Shooting Settings
Your camera is full of helpful tools to get the shot just right. Here’s what you need to do in situations:
·      White Balance – If you’re outside, it’s Cloudy or Sunny. If you’re inside, match the balance to the type of light you’re using – or use Auto White Balance
·      Flash – Reduce it by 2/3 a stop if you have this setting
·      Gridlines – Always on
·      Histogram  -- On. You might not understand it right now, but it’s very helpful

Prime My Computer
·      Files – Pick one location for all your photo files
·      File Naming – Figure out a naming system
·      Computer – Upgrade if it’s time – processor, RAM and hard drive are musts

Get more insider information on buying your next computer, plus more insights from Frame One. Join us at the Intel Canada page on Facebook.

March 30, 2011

#13 - Go left (or right).

Better photos with your subject off centre.

Must. Resist. Temptation.

That little voice in your head is going to tell you to place the subject of you next photo smack dab in the centre of your screen. Don’t listen to it. After all, this is the same inner voice that told you to eat that sweet, sweet chocolate cake on your birthday.

In short, that voice is a liar.

One of the first things they teach you in photo school is that images are more powerful when you put your subject off the left or right of your photo. Snapping a landscape? Put that tree off to the left. Taking a portrait? Put your subject on the side.

Think of the screen on the back of your camera as a Tic Tac Toe grid – or if you’re old enough, the grid from the opening credits of "The Brady Bunch." The best spot to place the most important part of your subject (like the eyes in a portrait) is about a third in and a third down. Photographers call this the Rule of Thirds (the photo divided into three sections of three). You just need to know to stay away from the centre.

Turn on your grid.
Most cameras will help you do the work. Pull out the manual and you’ll discover that many screens come with built in gridelines. I keep these lines on at all times. They help me figure out where to place my subject and serve as a guide to make sure my shot is straight.

Try both sides.
Which side is better for your photo? Depends on the shot and the only way to find out is to try the shot out. Go left. Go right. Turn the camera vertical and try the top and bottom. No matter what you end up choosing, you’re going to end up with an infinitely better looking pic.

March 25, 2011


A little new territory for Frame One.

Every week, I publish a simple tip for making better memories with that great little point-and-shoot camera you already own. Starting this week, I’m going to take things a step further – I’m going to show you exactly how to get the shot I describe in the Wednesday post with a simple little step-by-step guide.

This week, we’re talking about ditching your on board flash. Want to get a great shot of your charming new beau? Here’s what you need to do:

  1.  Prep. Grab your camera and a white surface of some sort – foamcore, a sheet, even a couple of sheets of paper work.

  2. Set up. Open the blinds on a nearby window or screen door. Want to try it outside? Head into the shade beneath a tree.

  3. Camera. Turn on the camera, set it to “P” and turn off the flash. Most cameras make it easy, offering a button that looks like a lightning bolt on it. Check your manual for exact settings.
  4. Position your model. Make sure he, she or they are lit by the window. A good rule of thumb is to have them turn their body so that the body is on a bit of an angle – even if they turn the head to look straight into the camera.

  5. Check the light. Do you like the way it looks? Does it blend nicely from light to dark? If you need a bit more light on the dark side of the face or body, grab your white surface (fomacore, sheet, etc.). Put the surface on the dark side of the model so it makes things a little brighter. Move it around to see what things look like. 

  6. Click. Take the picture. The light should look and feel more natural and beautiful than what your flash offers. Is your subject blurry? There’s a reason for that. You need a little more light. Get a bit closer to the door/out of the shade and see if that does the trick.

That’s it! Have fun – and if you’re brave enough, post your finished pic on our Facebook page for congratulations.

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March 24, 2011

Bonus - "A few of my (photo) favourite things."

Me like light.

I broke up with my on board flash yesterday.

It wasn’t easy, but it was for the best. That thing was frying everything I saw.

Luckily I’ve got a few suitors waiting in the wings. When it comes to photography, I’m addicted to light. I’m fascinated by the ways photographers use light to set the mood, create a tone and take a better picture.

So it’s no wonder that my favourite things aren’t my cameras – they’re the things I use to light. Three simple things I love:

Big, dark, gray clouds are perfect for better portraits – and moody landscapes. They create nice, soft, flattering light for just about every situation. Too sunny out? Use a white sheet to filter the giant ball of fire and make your subject look super duper pretty.

My pop-up reflector.
Most camera shops sell these round, oval or triangular reflectors. They’re typically covered by white, gold and/or silver fabric and they bounce light back onto a subject. Don’t want to go that far? No problem. Pretty much any white/silver/gold surface works. A wall. Tinfoil. Even the inside of a book. Use this anytime you want to make the darks a whole lot lighter.

My portable flashes.
Advanced tip. Everything I don’t like about my onboard flash is solved by my portable flashes – like the Canon 580 EXII or the Nikon SB900. These put out a whole lot of light and I can use them in clever ways to get some brightness back into a scene (like bouncing it up into the ceiling for great birthday party pics). Want to learn more about lighting with flash? Try’s Lighting 101 series

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March 23, 2011

#12 - Turn off your flash.

Boo (flash)                                             Yay (natural light)

Dear flash on the front of my point-and-shoot camera.

I hate you.

You rarely work the way I expect. You fire when there’s already enough light. You create evil looking red eyes in my subjects.

Things rarely look right when you're in the picture.

And so, I’m breaking up with you. I’d like to play the field a little more. I’d like to see more natural light. Try out a tripod. Maybe go on a date or two with a nice, big, external flash. I (and the people who read this blog) am turning you off for most situations. I’m opening my camera manual, figuring out how to toggle you on off (and importantly, back on). I’m making the leap.

When this idea won’t work.
Oh sure, we can still be friends. I know you’re a great pal whenever it’s dark in the room or outdoors at night. You can light up quick snapshots like nobody’s business. We can totally hang out then.

But if I’ve got a nice big window in a room, I’m going to open the blinds and let it flood the space. If I’m outside, I’m turning you off.

When this idea could work – if you want to try something cool.
I’m even going to try out no-flash photos in lower light situations just to see what happens. I know that some shots might be blurry when subjects move, so I’ll try to make that look nifty. I’m going to use my camera bag to hold my point-and-shoot steady when I take pictures of stars.

I’m ready to move on. Thanks for the memories.

March 20, 2011

Bonus - "My kids are bored. Can you help out?"

Weekends. March break. Whenever it’s cold outside.

I’m bored.

You hear it. I hear it (I’ve got six kids). And because you don’t want to go another round with Netflix or the PS3, you wonder – what else can I do that’s fun and interesting for all of us.

Pick up your camera.

Kids are brilliant natural photographers. They’re curious. They have a different perspective. They shoot first and ask questions later. Share a camera in a clever way and you’ll find that even the four-year-olds are having a blast.

All you need is a little ingenuity. Here are three projects that I’ve actually tried out, all with pretty decent success:

The ten-minute project
Think about what your child’s favourite thing is – trains, LEGO, animals – and make it the subject for a quickie photo shoot. Here’s the twist – make them the photographer. Just get them to point the camera and click. Want to show ‘em how to take better pictures? Try these two tips from the last few weeks.

The one-hour project
Every little one likes to play dress up in some way, shape or form. Drag out last year’s Hallowe’en costumes and create a cool looking scene. Ninja dojo. Princess castle. Crime scene. Have some fun decorating the area, then let your kids direct you as they take the photos. Notice how someone shorter than you sees the scene differently.

Want an extra hour of fun? Head to the computer and make a slide show out of your work.

The all day project
Give your kids a shooting challenge, and then head out to the zoo/museum/Science Centre for a photo safari. Encourage them to try different angles and (depending on the age) settings as they move through the day (no flash, wonky white balance and more). You’re encouraging creativity and experimentation here and the results can be spectacular.

Take this one up a notch by printing out your best pics at the end of the day. I’m a big fan of Costco’s lab when it comes to snapshots – either in store or online.

March 17, 2011

#11 - Think about the background.

The weird looking wall calling for attention behind your friend. The powerlines cluttering that landscape shot. The tablecloth behind the meal.

Backgrounds. You may not think of ‘em much, but they can make (or break) a great photo.

A good background helps any foreground look a little more fantastic. All you need to do is think about how you’re going to use it.  Three good ideas:

The easiest way to deal with the background is to make sure you shoot against a simple one – that’s one without too many patterns, colour, or mess. Get good at finding neutral backgrounds and your foregrounds will look sharper and smarter.

Pick a good looking one.
I like to take portraits and so I spend a lot of time driving around looking for really great backgrounds. Cinder block alls, great sunsets, fields with electrical towers – anything interesting can become a great looking background (look at this one in last week’s post – really nifty). Take a walk around your neighbourhood and make some mental notes of nifty looking backgrounds – there are lots to choose from.

Blur it out
Blurring the background – photographers call it “depth of field” – can make any image look even better. Best of all, it’s pretty easy to do. If you’re shooting on “P” (you’re shooting on “P” aren’t you?), just adjust the Aperture to the lowest number possible. Take a look in your manual to see how to adjust the settings. We’ll talk more about what Aperture is and how it works in another post. For now, just know that a lower number means more blurring in the background and a higher number means a shaper looking background.

Up next: it’s March break. The kids are bored. Restore sanity. Try out this great family friendly project.

March 12, 2011

#10 - The five things to take in your photo bag.

Your photo bag needs to go on a diet.

I can’t tell you how many times I hit the zoo with the kids and I see dad after dad, weighted down by a 40-pound backpack full of photo gear – just to get a snapshot of the little ones at the tiger cage. In fact, I used to be that guy (that's me four years ago up above -- note the superheavy sling bag over my shoulder).

When it comes to a good snapshot, you don’t need a monster sack full of stuff. To “catch the moment,” there’s only one important rule – catch the moment. If you’re bogged down by lenses and other photo gunk, you’re going to spend more time figuring out what you need than you are taking pictures.

And by then, your five year old will no longer be doing that cute thing he was just doing.

Yes, you want to travel with enough stuff to get the right shot – but when it comes to getting a good snapshot, you only need enough stuff to get you out of trouble. Here’s what to bring along:

A lightweight photo bag.
Bring something with two straps to share the load along both shoulders.

A mini tripod.
Very handy for low light photos and self-portraits. Go one better and invest in a bendy Gorillapod.

One extra memory card.
Because you forgot to empty the one in your camera.

A mini pack of Hnadiwipes.
For messy faces, sticky hands and touchups.

Your camera.
Make sure your camera strap is securely attached.

If you’re a little more advanced, you’re going to want an external flash, a small stack of index cards. We’ll cover off the whys and hows in another post.

Know what you don’t see on this list? An extra battery. Make sure your original battery is new(ish) and fully charged, and it’ll click along for a complete day.

And that’s it. If you know how to take a good photo with your little point and shoot, you won’t need to bring along everything you spotted in the camera store. Get out there, start shooting and have fun.

March 4, 2011

Bonus - "What do you use?"

“What do you use?”

This is the one question I hear more often than all the others. It’s a bit of a tricky one. I started my photo life wanting to take better shots of my kids. I had a great little Canon Powershot that I outgrew after a couple of years.

After that, things got a liiiiiiiittle out of control.

Just about the worst combination is “Gadget Lover” + “Guy” + “Photographer.” It means my basement is filled with all sorts of professional equipment. I make part of my living with pro-grade DSLRs, reflectors and lighting stands.

But when it comes to a day out with my family, I learned (the hard way) that schlepping around a 60-pound bag of gear just isn’t practical – no matter how many wheels the bag has on it. In those instances when I want to capture the family or a great vacation shot, I have a far more compact kit – the kind of kit you could expect anyone with a camera to have.

Knowing all of that, here’s what I use on an everyday basis…

Everyday Camera – Canon G11
SLR photos from a point-and-shoot body. This camera is as effective for the first time photographer as it is for a pro. It’s a little bigger than a pocket cam and the autofocus is slow, but it’s in my man bag at all times. I’m never without it.

SD Card – Lexar Pro 8 gig
I don’t have any great attachment to one particular brand of card over another – although I’ve been playing with the Eye Fi card of late (pretty cool, just not fully ready to commit just yet). The Lexar’s plenty fast for taking multiple shots.

Processing Program – Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
Talked about this one at great length a few posts back. I use it in my pro life and in my personal life too – no need for me to learn two programs.

Computer – Macbook Air connected to 23" Viewsonic Monitor
My aging Macbook Pro bit the dust in January and I needed a replacement. I had been hoping to wait until the next generation with the new second generation Intel Core processors, but after spending 25 minutes getting my laptop to boot up on a photo job, I knew I had no choice. Still thinking about upgrading later this year.

There is one thing that this computer has that I’d recommend to anyone looking at a new system. Get one with a “SSD” hard drive. This is one of those new fangled hard drives that has no moving parts. It’s lightning fast and makes everything I do so, so, so, so much easier. You can get a SSD on just about any decent laptop or desktop system (all the Macbooks, or that sweet new Sony S Series laptop come to mind).

To give the Air a little more room, I use an external 23” monitor and an external 3-terrabyte drive (plus a 4-terrabyte backup). I’m showing the pro side of my life here. Most people don’t need this much hard drive space. Just make sure you get something with the latest connections – USB 3.0, SATA or (soon) Thunderbolt. Transfer times are a really big deal if you like your photos.

Backup – Time Machine +
Apple’s Time Machine is built right into the software and it’s easy to use – but I’m paranoid about losing data so I use an offsite solution too. has been pretty decent so far, but it takes months and months to do the first backup.

Store -- Everywhere
Where do I buy it all?  Depends. I like good service for stuff that needs good service – like the camera itself. That’s why I developed a decent relationship with the guys at my local Henry’s camera store. Canada Computers for specialty computer stuff. Future Shop and Best Buy when I need it right now. B+H and Midwest Photo when I need really specific pro photo gear.

Up next: the stuff you should pack in your camera bag

March 2, 2011

#9 - Watch out for distractions.

I have a terrible blind spot when it comes to taking pictures.

I have a bad habit of missing tiny details – like spaghetti sauce on the face of my friend’s daughter.


Little distractions can drive you nuts – like a weird shadow, something odd in the background or an out of place hair. I know that I can obsess over something small for months after I make a photo.

I’ve gotten a lot better at this over the years, thanks in part to a handful of checks and balances I’ve put in place. These days, there are fewer chocolate smudges on faces my final photo:

Look without your camera.
Look at your subject before you even lift your camera. Is the face clean for the portrait? Are telephone wires obscuring the landscape? Does the sunlight look weird on the building? No matter what you’re taking a picture of, ask a lot of questions.

Pack a clean up kit.
This one’s helpful when you’re taking portraits. Pack some wet wipes (for clean faces), a squeaky toy (to get attentions) and some Clean and Clear pads (to tone down shine), water and snacks (to keep rumbling stomachs quiet) and some clothes pins (to keep things in place). These will save your life.

Click a little more.
Why take one photo when you can shoot ten? Overcome blinking eyes and things moving through the background by taking more photos. I often take five or more photos of the same pose – just to make sure I got the right look. As you take more photos, you’ll get really good at spotting common distractions.

Take a breath.
Snap a few shots, then review your pics on the back of your camera. I have a checklist of things to look for (focus, light, pose, etc.) every time I look at the back of my camera.

Get a second set of eyes.
Having someone else look at the photos helps a whole lot. My girlfriend’s got eyes like a hawk when it comes to distractions. She’s amazing at spotting the things I don’t. Ask someone else to look at the photo – and tell them what kind of distractions to spot.

Up next: what’s on my distractions checklist.