"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in."

-- Robert Frost

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Photography "tricks"

When I first started wanting my pictures to have that magical something, I read everything I could here.  The more I read, the more I felt that photography is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors. Tricks. Are we really capturing memories as they happen or are they all orchestrated?

Blurred backgrounds, chosen locations, dressing brightly, looks in that direction, wait ... let me adjust and shoot it one more time...

The magic's gone.

And it felt like I needed a magician's touch just to juggle what was going on behind and in front of the camera at the same time.

I love portrait photography but I struggle with it being my style.  I think it's important, though to find your style.  I just find I prefer a more candid approach.

I have a wall of favorite pictures.  My husband took them.  They hang in my front hall and every day that I walk by each of them I can't help but think, "That was a good day!"  I just love when a picture speaks a story to me.  It's the story of my life with these kids.  And that's what makes up my style, maybe it's a picture of one child in one moment we are having together, or just where we all were at some point in time.  Either way, I want each picture to take me back there.  Here are a few "tricks" I've learned to capture that kind of magic without disrupting the spell.

1)  Any camera will take great pictures with good lighting.  I stink at indoor photography.  My house is dark.  But even my camera phone will take great pictures with great natural lighting.  That said, I do have a Canon RebelT2i camera which is the most affordable DSLR on the market.  I have the lens it came with (18-55mm).  It was a great jump start.  I read the manual, played, read it again, played some more, and read it again.  I carried that manual in my purse to read while waiting in the car outside of kids activities. Learn ISO, learn manual, learn white balance, learn focus points.  For all you know, that darn camera might be able to make dinner, you just have to learn everything that it can do.

2)   The lens my camera came with was a great "training wheel".  Next, I bought the only affordable piece of equipment Canon makes.  The 50mm 1.8 lens — $100.  I'm pretty sure it's Canon's marketing trick because that lens has taught me more about aperture (that blur that makes subjects stand out).  They hook you in with the cheapie and then gouge you with anything beyond but by then it's too late and you're addicted.  I love the 50mm.  It's pretty sharp and I think the color just a little more vibrant than the standard the camera came with.  It's a fixed lens so I have to move in and out, but that's okay because kids are always moving, too.

3)  I like to get in close in my photography.  Maybe this comes from my scrap booking days way back when I had time to scrapbook.  I'd cut off all the extra "nonessential" parts of my pictures in order to tell the story.  Now, I frame my pictures in the viewfinder the same way.  I get as close as I can.  If I can't get any closer and still have focus or I don't want to disrupt what is happening out front with my closeness, I will post crop.  Sometimes it's a little tricky getting in close and succeeding in grabbing all of what I'm trying to capture in the moment.  That's when I change the angle.  Down low, up high, sideways to get it all in. And sometimes, just a part tells all the story I need.

4)  Nextly, (I know that's not a word) I got a 100mm 2.8 for my birthday after a year of practicing with my 50mm.  It's an L series which ain't cheap but man, is it sharp and bright.  It's a dual macro so it really takes great shots of little details, too.  I do love that it takes me into the action without getting up in the kids faces.  It makes capturing what is going on easier because it zeros in while I hang back and leave their fun uninterrupted by my camera. It's great for outdoor candids.  That's just what I have ... a zoom lens in your price range can do the same.

5)  I got frustrated with seeing a sunset, taking a picture of that sunset, and viewing the results on a screen only to find that the orange wasn't as orange as what I had observed naturally.  This was the same for a lot of colors. I know I could saturate in post production but who wants to feel like they are faking a picture?  I wanted pictures to look as I see them.  Here is where I played with my camera's factory settings a bit.  I went into my camera's main menu, selected "picture style" and by touching the "display" button, edited the ones I might use most — Standard, Portrait, and Landscape. I was given a menu to boost or lessen the sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone of each.  I spent an afternoon out in the yard with the kids, playing with these settings to get the desired effects to have my pictures come straight out of the camera as I see them, not as I have to post produce them.  Again, here I say, read your manual for directions.  See if you need to change those factory settings to get what you are wanting out of your camera.

6)  Have your camera ready.  If I'm in the kitchen, it's on my counter and pretty much already set to my indoor use. White balance on indoor, ISO up higher, and aperture low enough to avoid blurring. Same with heading outside.  I check those settings before I head out so there's no stopping standing or waiting while Mom gets her camera ready.

7)  Play with light ... a lot.  I remember family photos with that debate:  "Stand in the shade." "No, stand in the sun." "No, back to the sun."  "No, don't get back lit."  Well, which is it???  Shade is best, but not always available in which case, I put the sun behind.  I love to catch the setting sun behind and get that orange glow.  Squinting into the sun is never pretty.  Just turn until you get a fully shaded face unless your effect is to have sun on one side and in that case, whatever.

8)  Focus.  Learn what those focus points on your camera can do.  And learn how to rotate them to get a different perspective.  Focusing on a hand, eye, flower can be pretty powerful.  Learn to isolate those ... read that manual... focus can make all the difference in a good picture and a great one.

9)  Let life happen.  There's an art to conversing with your subject and snapping shots without breaking your concentration on the moment.  I watched my sister do it.  She's a pro at making folks feel at ease for a portrait.  Boy does that take practice, but if you can be spending a quality moment with your child, and still capture that easy laugh or concentrated look ... that's it!  

10)  I don't like to post process much.  It feels like cheating.  I did purchase Lightroom 3.  I determined Photoshop would take a semester of college to learn.  If I can get my picture coming out of my camera pretty much like I see it, all I do in post process is heighten my exposure and pull in some black.  Too much post processing looks ... well, over processed. 

Unlike film, digital photography is limitless so snap away!  There was a time I kept my camera on continuous shoot in the hopes of catching a fast moving child perfectly.  That's a great start. Eventually, as skills get better, you'll get tired of shuffling through 20 of the same picture and get better at snapping one or two of exactly what you want.  But, practice is key.  Last summer, I loved to just take my kids to the park and tell them to go play and pay no mind to what I was doing as I practiced away with settings, angles, light and so forth.  It was fun for both of us and I look back at those pictures now and remember, "Yeah, that was a good day."  

Just capture the magic your heart holds close.


  1. Thank you for this. I actually think you have a gift with photography. Your pictures amaze me. I'm on the brink of a new camera and this is just the tut I needed!

  2. great tips Marlowe! I SO need to play with white balance - but never do!!! I always love the pictures you post here, you are a fantastic photographer! And an L series lens......swoon :) I recently lost one of my lenses (I was so bummed!!!!) since then I've been eying off the L series 24-100ml - I LOVE it, but like you said, It is a pretty penny!!


    ps) my mum said I MUST ask you if you are related to a John robert linford from Denver Colorado?? She's been doing family history and has come into contact with some linfords that we are related to.....I can't remember the details exactly but when I said I had a friend :) that was a linford in the states she almost died with excitement :) which makes me laugh! anyway I said I would ask..... :)

  3. Hmpf. Mixed emotions here. Was so ready for you to give me magic clues. You just have pure raw talent. Beautiful!