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. 

November 10, 2011

Bonus: The two other things that make this photo

There’s more to a good snapshot than the background.

Yes, yes, I’m being ironic. Often, when we take a quick shot of friends at a party, we let the flash light them up and everything around them turns out pitch black. The other day, we talked about ways we can get the background to show up in all its glory (see the above photo).

So what do you do when it’s dark and you want the stuff in the front to show up too? You add in a little light with your flash. When I took the photo above, I had nice surrounding light from streetlamps and these little strobe lights sitting at the base of tombstones in my graveyard.

The problem was, you couldn’t see the stuff in the front – like the tree. So what I did was this. I turned the flash on, played with the amount of power it blasted out and the above photo is what I got.

It may seem complicated, but it’s really straightforward. Set up your shutter speed to let in the background light, then add in some flash for the front. Tweak the flash in front (settings should be on your camera) and you’re good to go.

One thing. You’re going to need to pick a white balance for your shot, and if you’re using “daylight” (my recommendation), your flash is going to look pretty white. Want to warm it up? Put a little piece of translucent orange tape overtop of the flash to warm up the colour – and warm up the things in front of your photo. Just be sure the tape isn’t too orange (lest everybody look like they have a bad tan.).

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November 6, 2011

Use long exposures (and a tripod) for beautiful backgrounds and landscapes

The photo at the top of this week’s post is a mistake.

A glorious, wonderful mistake that taught me a whole lot about taking a better photo. My family really gets into Hallowe’en (ok, ok I really get into Hallowe’en), and at the end of every year I take a picture of what we’ve created.

The problem is this – it’s dark at 9pm, even with a bunch of strobe lights swirling around to light up tombstones. Now, both you and I know that if you open the shutter for a long time – half a second, one second, even longer – you’ll get more light into the camera. The light can look amazing (check out the street lights in the background). Try this out for fireworks

Here’s what you need to do:

Get a tripod.
Get a real tripod or use something stable – a table, a beanbag, whatever – and put your camera on it.

Open up the shutter.
The longer your shutter is open, the more light you get into the shot. So if there are lights around, you know they’ll show up in the shot. The only thing to remember is that your camera will record everything it sees. If your subject moves, your camera will show the motion.

Turn on your countdown timer.
If you press the shutter, there’s a good chance you’ll subtly shake the camera and that can make some of your photo look blurry. Instead, turn on your timer, press the shutter and stand back (or jump into the shot like I did!).

When I originally took this shot, I was using shorter exposures and it didn’t look quite right. Everything was dark and weird. I bumped my shutter speed by mistake and it opened the shutter for a full four seconds. I was blown away by the mistake.

I did two more things to make the photo up above. Stay tuned and I’ll share it in the next post.

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