I’ve been writing about photography because it’s something I’m passionate about, and I’ve dabbled in it my whole life. In the last few years, however, I’ve put much more effort into learning the mechanics of a camera and what makes a good composition. There is so much I could say about how to take better photos that I can’t possibly write it in one column. Instead, I’m going to share a few tips that have helped me take better photos, and then I’ll point you to some websites that you can get lost in, if you want to.
One thing I notice about bad photos is the wasted space around the main subject. Sometimes space is good, but usually it’s not, especially in portraits. I see so many family snapshots where the photographer stood back and put his subjects dead center, so there is too much space (or sky) above their heads. It’s best to get closer, and sometimes putting your subject off-center looks better. (Google “Rule of Thirds” if you want to learn more about this.)
The word photography comes from the Greek and means “to write with light.” Indeed, light is everything in photography. The best light is natural sunlight during the early morning hours or late afternoon when it’s at an angle that makes it soft and diffused. Positioning your subject so that the sun hits them on the side of the face creates shadows on the face that are appealing. If there is too much shadow, some photographers use a fill flash. An alternative is to find a good place in the shade like on a front porch where you can receive good, indirect light. Cloudy days are ideal for taking photos. The clouds create a natural filter between your camera and the sun.
When I’m inside the house and I want to take formal photos of my kids, I put them next to a window that is facing north. North facing windows do not allow direct sunlight to shine through, so during the day the light there is perfect. I pin up a white sheet behind them as a backdrop. I also put a white sheet under them, which helps to reflect the light back onto their faces. With the light shining on them from the side and the white sheet acting as a reflector, I have gotten some photos that the grandparents love.
Taking photos of my toddler, I have learned that I can get better photos if I put the camera down on his level or under him slightly. (When your child is sitting at the table, try setting the camera on the table, tipping it up a little, and shooting from that angle.) Most of the time, I don’t look through the viewfinder. I just keep shooting, and occasionally I check my LCD screen to see if my aim is okay. With digital photography, I can take a lot of photos and delete the bad ones, which is helpful while I’m chasing a toddler around and trying to capture that perfect moment.
It’s important, however, to remember that a portrait is not necessarily a formal headshot, and my favorite photos are those where my children are in their everyday environment. Children’s profiles are beautiful as they lean over to smell a flower, or maybe you want to capture them running away from you at the park. Be sure to take photos of their hands and feet too. Are they painting? Focus on those little fingers gripping the big paintbrush. Experiment and have fun. Twenty years from now you will find delight in these precious details that are so easily forgotten.
As promised, here are a few of my favorite photography websites:
http://digital-photography-school.com/ - This has everything. I have learned so much from subscribing to its e-newsletter.
www.dolcepics.com - Specifically geared to parents who want to take better pictures of their kids, but the tutorials will help anyone who wants to learn the basics.
www.shuttersisters.com - A beautiful site maintained by several female photographers. They offer tips, resources and a lot of inspiration.
Shelli Bond Pabis is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.