Photographing Kids

Making The Unusual Usual

Friends with children often say to me “My child always pulls faces for the camera and I can’t get a picture without little Johnny sticking his tongue out and crossing his eyes.” Kids –and many adults as well– are prone to hamming it up for the camera, however, they will be more natural if the camera is a part of their everyday life instead of brought out once or twice a year. By making it a regular part of their lives, it will increase the comfort level and encourage portraits that are more natural. Try bringing out the camera once or twice a week and focusing it on your kids. They will become accustomed to having it around and it will give you a chance to practice your technique, too. And, if they still clown around for the camera, get into the swing of things and enjoy it. Little monkey faces are a part of childhood!

Kids’ Eye View

As adults, we look one another in the eye and photograph our friends at eye level. Do the same for your children. Bend down on one knee or sit on the floor to get a picture that reflects a child’s perspective. To add a little excitement, have fun playing with perspective by shooting the image from the ground up. Lie down on the ground and taking a picture from that viewpoint. Suddenly toddlers become giants and we can witness the world as they see it, by looking up.

Patience, Patience!

Small children have a limit of two or three minutes before they become bored with Mummy or Daddy’s photo session. The urge to run off and play becomes just too much! Don’t force kids to stay in one place for long, unless you like pictures of sullen little faces. If you are taking a formal portraiture-style photo be sure to plan ahead for the best possible results. Check your batteries, make sure there is film in the camera and if you are using a digital camera see that there is space on the memory card. Provide your toddler or small child with a prop, like a ball or a favorite toy to help create a more natural expression, instead of the one that says, “Just hurry up and take my picture, Mom!” Keep it fun and stress-free.

Fill The Frame

Because backgrounds can sometimes be distracting, do not be afraid to move in closer and take a picture of your angel’s face. It creates drama and interest in the photograph and eliminates extra clutter. Unless you are taking a travel photo or an image of the child engaged in a particular activity, feel free to emphasize the most important element of the picture- your child. Use the zoom or macro tool on the camera to get in closer. Pictures of your little one’s hands or feet can also be interesting studies, and one day you may find yourself saying, “I can’t believe they were so tiny!”

Just A Little Off-Centre

Many professional photographers use “The Rule Of Thirds” approach which means that they mentally divide the frame into three sections both vertically and horizontally –like a tic-tac-toe grid– and place the subject of the photo at one of these intersecting points. It helps to create a more dynamic photograph, than one where the subject is smack-dab in the middle. Take note that if your camera is an auto-focus model, you may have to focus first on your subject and then, with the shutter button still half-pressed, recompose the image.

Natural Light Rules!

One of the tricks of the trade in photography is to use morning or late afternoon light. The sunlight at this time is wonderful and helps to produce pictures that are bathed in warmth. Direct light flatters the subject and adds to a more intimate and natural-looking photograph. It also helps to greatly reduce the bane of every parent photographer- red eye!

Experiment with taking advantage of the sunlight pouring through a window, or march the kids outside on a sunny day and photograph them while they are playing tag. To have a well-lit photograph make sure the light is behind you, shining on the subject. To create drama, try using side light for impressive shading. If you try to take a photo with the sunlight behind your children, a technique known as “backlighting”, you will end up with the subject looking like a dark silhouette.

Ways to Make Money with Your Digital Cameras

  • Fishing contests – be around at the end of a fishing contest to take photographs of the contestants that didn’t even think about bringing a camera. Most fishermen are more concerned about fishing than carrying cameras, and most fisherman also want a picture of their stringer full of fish or the big one that they’re going to have mounted.
  • Parades – be in position to get great shots of folks and floats in the parade and sell the prints back to the individuals or to their family members. The folks who take part in the parades are often way to busy to take pictures before or after, so someone who captures them in action might really be doing them a favor – and a profitable service.
  • Landmark and tourist photographer – if there’s a famous landmark in your area, offer your photography services to tourists who want their photo taken in front of it. Even if the tourists are carrying a camera and get someone else to take their photo, often the camera won’t be digital with a display so it means the tourists won’t know how the picture turns out until they’re long gone. With your digital camera, you should be able to show them it’s a good picture.
  • Graduations – preschool, high school, or college graduations offer dozens, if not hundreds of opportunities to capture a significant moment in someone’s life. If the family members of the graduate aren’t located in as good a location or don’t have as good a camera as yourself – you’ll have even greater opportunity at getting the shots they couldn’t.
  • Holiday Family Postcards – offer your services to families that want their picture taken and put on a postcard that they can send to their extended family and friends. By using your digital camera you can not only get photo-postcards through online photo-processors, but you can make the prints available in your online gallery and have the customers refer their extended friends and family there to purchase a larger print if they desire it.

Make a Time-Lapse With Digital Video Camera

We have all seen them in a movie or a TV show, those very cool shots where they speed up time and capture a long segment of time and condense it into a very short amount of video. An example is many of the TV news stations nowadays have a camera that captures the day’s weather and then they process it down to a 20 second clip to show the clouds and weather racing by on screen.

Well this technique is not just a tool in the hands of the movie makers or the big TV stations. You can do this with your digital video camera gear too. I will go into two ways that you can accomplish this effect and get some cool results for your next video project. This one is worth playing around with in order to find the right settings to get the most dramatic effect.

Technique number one is to use the camera itself to do the time lapse recording for you. Almost all digital video cameras have the ability to do an interval recording. What this means in a nutshell is that you tell the camera how long you want to record for and how long in between recordings and it will go on autopilot for you for as long as the battery lasts or the tape runs out. This is what those cameras at the convenience store do, they record a few seconds of motion every 30-60 seconds giving the overall view of the traffic in the store over time.

Now if you want to capture some time lapse in your digital video camera you will need to get into your cameras menu and find Interval Recording (or in my case Int Rec, as I use a Sony PD 150 for my camera) When you select this option you will decide how long of an interval between shots you want and how long to record each time. If you are trying to capture something that takes a long time to occur and in which not much happens quickly you will want to set the interval at around a minute and the record time as short as possible on your camera. An example would be if you wanted to record a day in the life of a flower or the clouds rolling by in the sky. Suppose however that you want to capture an event that has lots of action and occurs over a much shorter time frame. Then you would want to shorten the interval between recordings and increase the time of each recording. So in this case you might record every 15-30 seconds and record up to 2-3 seconds of video each time.

I used this technique to capture an afternoon of work being done by a team of carpenters on my house remodeling project. The result was a flurry of activity as workers raced hither and yon nailing boards, carrying equipment and building walls. I have added it to my photo collection of the project. (Hey I had to live through the project so I might as well have a great record of it for posterity!)

Now suppose you have one of the great software video editing packages on your computer to work with your digital video camera. Now you can do it in post as they say in the business. You can record any length of video you want (subject to the limitations of your tape length) and then import it into your editing program.

I use Adobe Premiere Pro for my editing jobs, but I have also used Avid DV Express, Final Cut Pro, and others in the non linear editing world. These are all great programs and are very powerful products that can create some very professional looking videos. You don’t have to have these products to create your own videos but if you are serious about digital video editing it might be a good idea to take a look at these options.

I digitize my raw video of the scene I am doing time lapse on into my computer (big hard drive, video eats up GB’s of space) and then import the clip into my time line. From the timeline you can then select the clip with a right click. From there you will be given a menu with options depending on the software you use. Select the option that says “duration”, “speed” or something similar. Change the speed of the clip so that time will speed up considerably. If you have an hour of video in the clip and want to shorten it to 2 -5 minutes then you need to increase the speed of the clip to 3 or 4 thousand percent of normal. This will require your software to render the clip at the higher speed and may take some time top process depending on the speed of your computer.

Once you have rendered the video clip at the new speed you will want to play it to see if the movie flows evenly or if you will want to readjust the speed setting to make it better. Sometimes you may want to shorten your raw video and adjust the speed down somewhat in order to get a smooth flow of action. Once you have rendered the clip at the new speed you can now cut and splice it as you see fit with the speeded up action intact. There are some things you will record that might only need a slight speed change, take for instance some digital video of your kids playing sports. Double or triple the speed of the clip and show it to them and you might have them rolling on the floor.

You can also use these techniques to capture the growth of a flower or plant over the course of days or weeks. Simply set you camera in exactly the same place at the same time each day and record an interval that works each day fro however long you want to document. May be you get the seedling just breaking soil and follow it all the way through turning into a full grown plant.

Another interesting idea is to capture the path of the moon across the night sky. Set up your camera on a tripod in a spot that can see the path of the moon for several hours. Set the camera to interval record and put the moon on one side of the frame so that it will pass across the frame as the night passes. This one may require some testing in order to get the exposure and framing right as well as the right interval to record at. Most likely you would want to set the interval as long as you can and the record time as short as you can but do a test run first to see what works.

Specialized Styles of Photography

Wildlife Photography

Wildlife photography is often assumed to be an exciting and high adventure genre of photography. In reality it is extremely challenging and wildlife photographers find themselves at the mercy of inclement weather and sometimes even face danger. Here are some suggestions for this specialized form of photography.

Understand the life form that you plan to photograph in terms of living habits, habitat and behavior. In other words you need a perspective on ‘a day in the life of’ your wildlife subject. Books and online research will throw light on your subject. The importance of getting acquainted with the behavior of the animal is a lot more important when you have to shoot dangerous jungle animals that can attack like lions or tigers or even bears. Animals will become aware of you when you enter close to their habitat but will usually not attack if you keep your distance. But you have to be clear on the distance at which an animal will begin to feel threatened by your presence and decide to attack you.

It goes without saying that you can’t expect any kind cooperation from your subject! You have to fit yourself in, place yourself in a vantage point and have your camera set and ready and then wait for the ‘right moment’ to take the shot that you are looking for.

You may have to wait many days before you can capture the right shot. Your subject could not care less if the light is diminishing or the light is at its best. You may have perfect light conditions on a particular day but your subject may not be in the right spot for you to take the shot.

You need telephoto lenses to shoot from a distance and other camera features like Center-weighted metering. The Center-weighted meter allows you to meter the wildlife subject at the center of the frame and vary the size of the sensing area based on the dimensions of the subject and its distance from you.

Landscape Photography

Taking landscape pictures within a city from atop a building or on the beach is one type of landscape photography. But if you want to get closer to nature and shoot unique pictures of nature and environment in remote locations like wild forest area or mountain ranges, then you have your task cut out for you just like a wildlife photographer. You need the spirit of adventure within you in order to travels around to different places and scour different regions for landscape opportunity.

It is tough to firstly identify the right spots, you may have to explore for days before you find an idyllic panoramic landscape to shoot. You then have to wait for the right light conditions while braving the weather and the rough living conditions. In terms of equipment, landscape photographers need to go in for a variety of wide-angle lenses since this type of lens is capable of lending depth in the photograph. A wide-angle zoom lens is useful in this type of photography because of the range of focal lengths it can provide while fine-tuning a shot. But there is also the need for telephoto lenses for certain shot though not of the high focal length required by sports photographers. Landscape photographers usually go in for telephoto lenses with focal length less than 300mm (a telephoto lens has a focal length greater than 50mm, a wide angle lens is less than 50mm, and a standard lens has a focal length of 50mm).

Sports Events

Those who have made a career of photographing sporting events have a different style of operation to capture the high action of dramatic moments in a game. The length of the lens, the location of the photographer taking the shot and the need to limit blurring are the three critical aspects in sports photography.

Sports photographers use a telephoto lens. This type of lens magnifies the subject. The focal length to choose from in telephoto lenses varies from 60mm to 1000 mm. A lens with a high focal length can give you a wider visual area which is a necessity when you photograph field events. Sports photographers by and large prefer 35mm cameras and use focal lengths of 300-600mm especially for field events like soccer.

The location where photographers position themselves to take different shots is directly responsible for capturing the relevant high-points in a match. It also helps if you have a good knowledge of the sport. This ensures that you identify the right moments and are alert and ready when a memorable situation occurs during the sport. You can get the right shots if you are able to move around and use the right location in different points in a game. However, quite often the areas of movement are restricted for photographers and the best way to tide over this problem is to use a lens of focal length in the region of 600mm to enable shots of the far end of a court or field. Though a good location is usually described by the angle and distance from the court or field, the other aspect of a good location is also the play of light from your vantage point. Most photographers have the task of avoiding shadows caused by the quality of light. The intensity of color in a photograph is reduced in dull light conditions while bright sunlight can create shadows in certain angles.

To limit blurring and capture action during a special game moment, you need to have fast shutter speeds at your disposal. A 35mm camera that is generally favored in sports photography can provide the high shutter speed necessary for action shots. Besides shutter speed, the speed of the film also plays a role. Higher film speed enables higher shutter speeds. A film speed of 100 is inadequate in sports photography. You need a 400 and above speed film.

The autofocus mechanism in is also useful in sports photography especially when manual focus is difficult to achieve quickly in certain sports situations.

An interesting technique called panning is applied in capturing action shots. You have to avoid holding the camera still when you shoot action. A rule-of-thumb is to hold the camera steady but move it along with the action rather than attempting to hold still. This steady movement of the camera along the path of motion of the player; incredibly, has the effect of minimizing blur. On the other hand, you will get a blur if you hold your camera still while the action is taking place. This technique is actually based on sound scientific principles.

It should also be mentioned here that the art of sports photography actually goes beyond capturing action or high points in a game. The readers who view these photographs in newspapers and magazines want to see player expressions, the thrills, the disappointments, the concentration that players display is something that readers find captivating and it becomes a talking point. Readers also like to see crowd reactions and reactions of family members of the players in certain critical game situations. To cater to the public sentiment, a photographer has to also attempt to click these special poignant moments during a game by capturing reactions and facial expressions.

Choosing Right Digital Camera

First of all, forget all the high-tech jargon. It’s mostly a lot of sales hype anyway. Choosing a good unit is pretty simple really…pretty much all you have to remember is that the higher the mega pixel rating on the front of the camera, the bigger picture you can make without it breaking up into little chunks (called pixels) and most likely the more cash it’s likely going to pry out of your pocket. Each model has an array of techno-widgets that go by different names but they all have the same basic focus, to help you take a better picture.

I have a quick (and admittedly simplistic) overview of the pixel story. The shot on the left on my web page

http://www.great-nature-photography.com/digital-cameras.html

is one I took with a high pixel rating and the one on the right was with a much lower rating. They’ve been enlarged way beyond what you would normally do, but I do have a point to make here.
If you look carefully you can see there’s a terrific difference in the way they look or, in the ‘resolution’. The image on the right has already broken up into small pieces (pixels) (I hope) you can readily see. The picture on the left was magnified several times more than the one on the right which should give you an idea of how big you can enlarge it and still retain a fairly decent result. By the way, these shots are of a very, very small piece of a picture I took of snapdragons in our front yard.

A camera with a 5.0 mega pixel rating or higher can produce a decent 16X20 print but one with a 2.0 mega pixel rating or lower should be restricted to a maximum of 4X6 prints. For the most part, you won’t be happy with pictures any larger than 4X6 from the lower rated camera.

Okay, Let’s Pick A Camera…

Well, I have my favorites and my not-so favorites.

When I looked at all the digital cameras available, I was more than a little astounded at the vast selection of available equipment. It seems that every company that’s ever heard the word “computer” has jumped on the bandwagon. It seems they lay their hands on some lenses, wrap a computerized box around them, added a few techno-widgets and bingo, instant digital camera! What can you say…it’s money in the bank!

Where did I start looking? Well, I went back to my tried and true method of buying a film camera that I talk about later. It’s always worked for me and didn’t let me down this time either.

My personal digital camera finally wound up to be an Olympus C-5050. By the way, in my opinion Olympus didn’t do themselves or their customers any favors by dumping theĀ f1.8 lens on the C-5060.

I chose this camera for the fastĀ f1.8 lens and ease of use. I’m lazy at best and wanted a unit that’s going to do most of the work for me while leaving me with the option of doing what I want to do when I want to do it.

This unit has all the automatic features I’ll ever need but I also have the ability to set up the camera completely manually. I can still do minimum depth-of-field work among other things. I never want to completely lose control to a mindless computer although they do have their uses at times.

The first thing I did after I opened the box was print off the user manual – all 265 pages of it! I figured I had done my duty by it and promptly ignored it.

After very quickly killing my first two sets of “high-capacity” alkaline batteries, I sprung for a couple sets of Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) rechargeables. Not only did they last longer but it was a heck of a lot cheaper than replacing the alkalines every darn time I picked up the camera.

It boils me to have to admit this but I actually had to go back to the user manual. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted and there was also some ‘stuff’ on the camera I had no clue about using. The moral of this story is that you’re gonna have to at least have a nodding acquaintance with your user manual. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

Back to choosing a camera…

Throughout the years I’ve learned that if a camera ‘fit’ my hand it worked well for me. It may sound a little strange at first but just think about it. If you’re handling something that feels awkward, your results are going to look like it. I had a Mamiya RB-67 for a lot of years. It was a big, ungainly unit but it was a good ‘fit’ for me and produced a great image. I also used a Hasselblad for quite a while but I much preferred the Mamiya and it gave me better results than the Hasselblad. (Don’t tell Hasselblad lovers I said this, they’ll kill me!)

So, rule of thumb…if it fits your hand nicely, if the main controls are handy to your fingers, if it has the mega pixel number you want and falls within your budget, you can be pretty confident this will do the job you want it to do. Oh yes, if it’s a brand you’ve never heard of before, be very, very wary. It may work well and it may not. If it doesn’t, there may not be any tech backup for you to be able to access.

The major camera companies spend lots of money developing new photo technologies. Although the latest techno-widgets go by different names, they all have the same goal, to make your pictures look as good as possible.

Pretty well every company in the world that has even come close to producing a good digital camera has gotten into the “SLR Wars”.

Single lens reflex cameras dominated the photo market for years until digital technology hit the market. Because of design and price limitations, SLR technology has not been widely available in the non-professional digital cameras until the last year or so.

The furious pace of technological developments has completely overtaken the market and even professional photographers are being boggled trying to keep up.

Remember the old Nikon F2? It was the major link in the Nikon chain of professional cameras for over 10 years! This was pretty much the norm until the computer hit the photographic industry big time.

Changes used to come slowly and deliberately and it wasn’t hard to keep up with the latest and greatest when major new developments came along only two or three times in a decade.
The battle now is to produce digital cameras that operate faster, can be sold cheaper and will produce a better picture. Severe competition even exists within the same corporate structure where teams of developers do their utmost to ‘outgun’ other camera designers who work in the same building as they do!

Nikon has a distinct advantage over many of the other manufacturers in that owners of some of the older series of Nikon lenses can use them with the new digital bodies, a tremendous dollar saving to the photographer.

Most of this rapid development is focused on the professional photographer. But, with technology changing as rapidly as it is, a camera technology that sells for several thousands of dollars today will undoubtedly become available to people like you and me in the next couple of years for a whole lot less money.

One of the hardest jobs a new camera buyer will have is determine which of the new techno-widgets does the best job and is the best value.

One thing to keep in mind about camera features…they all have the same job and that’s to help you take a better photo.

Picture this if you will. If you lined up 10 cameras from different manufacturers, each with similar basic features, took the same picture with each, I think even the camera manufacturers would have a tough time picking out which of the resulting photos came from their units.

Getting feedback from all kinds of users is one very excellent use of newsgroups. Serious photographers, amateur and professional both, love to talk about their latest ‘toys’. This is a good way to spend time and a good place to ask questions and (sometimes) get intelligent answers.

Don’t wait until you’ve made the investment to start doing your homework.

Another rule of thumb, if you’re happy with a particular brand name already, my suggestion is to stick with it. You’ll probably be more satisfied in the long run.

Now, having said all that, there are currently five search engine ‘favorite’ companies among the people looking for information on the Internet, Sony, Canon, Olympus, Kodak and Nikon in this order of popularity. Of this group, Sony is the only one with no prior experience in camera building before digital.

Understanding how to set your camera’s resolution is absolutely vital. There’s no shortcut and there’s no way around it. This is the core of taking a good, reproducible photograph. If, for instance, your camera is set for 240X360, you can forget making any kind of decent print above a ‘thumbnail’ size.

The low-end cameras are not a bargain if you’re looking for good photo reproduction. Labs are constantly arguing with customers who submit low resolution digital images from a cheap camera for printing and then aren’t happy with the results. They simply don’t understand why the pictures from their brand new digital camera are so lousy. Lenses and the type of digital image recording technology are also critical factors.

I won’t get into the technical details of why but I will suggest you consider spending in the $250 to $400 range if you want something that will satisfy you.

Let’s spend a few minutes on lenses. Pretty well all of the digital cameras these days have a form of zoom lens. Most of the higher-end cameras have the capability for the user to add either an external telephoto or wide-angle lens. Depending on the type of photography you want to do will determine whether or not this is of value to you.

One thing to watch out for. The higher end cameras have very good glass lenses. It’s part of what you’re paying for. The lower-end units have progressively less expensive lenses and consequently, a lower image definition.

There are both optical and digital zoom capabilities on digital cameras. The term “optical zoom” simply means you’re using the glass lenses to do the magnification. “Digital zoom” on the other hand simply increases the size of the pixels to make the image larger. For reasons of image clarity, the optical zoom is a far better way to go.

One last note – if you run across the “best deal in town” on a very low-priced name brand camera, check to make sure it isn’t badly out-dated. Buying well-priced clearance stock is okay if it isn’t too old. In this computer age, pretty well anything over a year old is considered ‘old technology’. As new technologies are developed the price keeps going down so you could actually be money ahead by investing in the ‘latest and greatest’.

Always keep in mind the old adage that ‘you usually get what you pay for.

If you go to a ‘box’ store looking for the best price, don’t expect service. The folks there simply don’t know what they’re selling. Their job is to move as much merchandise as they can as quickly as possible. It’s not to give you advice.

Go to the Internet to get the latest data directly from the manufacturers. It changes very, very quickly. When you do this, try to climb through all the sales hype to get to the ‘meat’ of what the cameras are all about. Newsgroups can also a very excellent source of advice for ‘newbies’.

Most people will be very happy to give you their personal opinion of what you should buy. Just remember, they won’t usually tell you what the downside to their purchase is. They don’t want to look less than ‘expert’ in your eyes. Do your own homework. This is an investment you probably won’t repeat for several years.

A specialty camera store on the other hand gives the buyer both service and product and usually very well. Keep in mind that the specialty store personnel are quite often very highly trained and will probably be well prepared to help you find the best equipment for you and will also give you a ‘leg-up’ in getting started using it.

We need to spend a couple of moments on storage media. Whatever size media card you stick in your camera will determine the number of pictures you can take and store. It’s like a roll of film, the bigger the roll the more pictures you can take.
Digital images are no different. The greater the number of available megabytes (Mb), the higher the number of pictures you can take.

A word of caution – never, never, never leave your media card in a photo lab. The incidence of loss is high and most labs won’t replace lost cards. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. Far, far too many false claims have been made and labs now refuse to take any responsibility for your memory cards.