Posts Tagged ‘tips’

Photography: Making The Most of a Convenient Location

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

I wanted to take some photos of Caroline in her new princess dress last week, but it was dinner time and Multicultural Night at school so my timeframe for this magical photo shoot was about 7 minutes. I live on a teeny tiny lot in a city neighborhood, so meadows and forests are in short supply. We do have an empty lot across the street, but most of it has been turned into a community garden (the vegetable kind) by a church.

But the weather was warm-ish and the sun was shining and my model was cooperative, so we popped across the street to borrow their grass, figuring we would just be making the most of a convenient location.

And we found a beautiful field of crocuses!

But it wasn’t actually that magical. It was just a little square of flowers between a driveway, a dead spot, and the church’s mulch pile. Here’s the cell phone pullback shot of Caroline in the same location:


There are several tricks you can use to maximize a less-than-ideal location if it’s all you have to work with. I knew when we went out to shoot I would be trying to disguise the background so I choose my 85mm f/1.8 lens, which is a medium length and is good at separating the subject from their surroundings. Once we found the flowers I decided to shoot at about f/2.2 or f/2.8 so I could include a good slice of the photo in focus – I wanted to be able to get Caroline’s whole profile in focus instead of just her eyelashes, or her whole body as opposed to just a sleeve.

Here are 5 more pieces of advice to help turn a bad spot into a good spot:

  1. Light! The sun is starting to go down and partially blocked by some of those trees, which means a great glowy kind of backlight instead of harsh overhead shadows. If the sun had been coming from the opposite direction I would have shot the other way (which would have been unfortunate, because there’s pavement the other way).
  2. Work your angles. I took a lot of these photos from overhead with Caroline crouching down, which includes a lot more grass/flowers and a lot less background. You can also get super low yourself, and shoot straight across the ground – you’ll end up with fewer distracting background elements.
  3. Get close. Fill the frame with your subject instead of trying to get too much of the environment. Yes I wanted to capture the crocuses, but having her hold them or shooting the flowers on their own is a good option.
  4. Horizontal vs vertical can be your friend. I shoot horizontally 90% of the time, but in this location I didn’t have a lot of space to work with. To create some variety in my shots, I took a series of photos vertically. Sure, she was standing almost next to a dirt pile, but because the photo is narrow you can’t see it.
  5. Don’t say cheese. Almost none of these photos have Caroline looking at the camera. Instead, you’re looking at what she’s looking at – her hands, the flowers in front of her, etc. Let your subject guide the viewers eye into the foreground instead of the background.


If this was a client shoot instead of just a fun session for Caroline, I would have taken the extra step in ¬†post-processing and fully removed the fence posts, dirt spots, and blue trash can from the background of a few of these. It’s not a hard fix in Photoshop, but I’ve gotten in the habit of using only Lightroom to edit my 365 photos or blog photos, just because it’s so easy.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Making the most of convenient locations


5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Let me start by saying that while I have learned a LOT about taking photos in the past 3 years, I am by no means an expert. I’m not even a photographer, since my eyes glaze over when people start talking ISO and shutter speed. The only part of photography I actually understand is aperture, and even then I only know a small number means I get a fuzzy background and that looks fancy so, like, do that? Right?

But after owning a Nikon D90 for a while and reading a zillion articles and books and tutorials I feel like I’m qualified to give 5 tips for taking great photos even if you don’t know what you’re doing. And the top 5 things I’ve learned about photography DON’T involve super fancy camera settings or post-processing. Photoshop and Lightroom are amazing programs but if your main goal is to take better pictures of your kids – either for your blog or just for their scrapbooks – you don’t need editing software. I promise. Just be more mindful of the following things when you’re snapping away:

1. Use natural light. It’s all about the light. Yes, your camera has a flash and no, I’m not saying flash is evil. Skilled photographers can do amazing things with artificial light. But when I use flash, everyone comes out looking like a deer in the headlights and/or a flesh eating zombie so I take advantage of natural light whenever possible. I don’t mean direct sunlight – it can often be too harsh – but light coming through a window, a shady spot under a tree or that magical golden hour right before sunset are all better places to take you kid’s monthly baby photos than under your ceiling fan lights at 8 pm. (This goes DOUBLE for photos of food.)

5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don't Know What You're Doing

August, 6pm – the light is behind the trees so even though Caroline is backlit it’s the nice halo-type of backlit. Plus it shows of her ginger curls in a way head-on light wouldn’t.

2. Pick a great location. My couch is moss green, filthy and makes a terrible backdrop for photos. My kitchen is OK but the dark counters and wood cabinets make it a cave. The rest of my home is always a mess. But the park less than a mile from my house is gorgeous – stone pathways, arbors, fountains, lots of shade, space for playing and running and bikes. I’m not capturing our “everyday” in the sense that we are in our house but I am capturing a typical afternoon in our neighborhood. It’s easy to bring the camera along, sit in the grass and let the gingers run in circles while I mess with my settings. Having a great location makes all the rest of the tips MUCH easier.

5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don't Know What You're Doing

This was spontaneous wish-making…something that wouldn’t ever happen at home in our family room.

3. Pay attention to your background. This is why you’re shooting at the park instead of in your house (as cute as my tiny gingers are in those photos, the background prevents them from ever becoming prints I hang on the wall). But it also means take three steps to your left to avoid capturing that trashcan or people scooping dog poop or a couple having a fight behind your kid (all actual things I avoided during this shoot). Even if you are in your house, do your best to get blank walls, plain cabinets and doors in the background rather than piles of brightly colored toys and laundry. You can crop in post-processing – even basic, free programs allow cropping – but these are tips for AVOIDING all of that so try to remember to look behind your kid’s adorable face.

5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don't Know What You're Doing

Things going on around Evan that you can’t see because I framed the photo well – trash can, people fishing, teenagers loitering and smoking and doing general annoying teenagery things.

5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don't Know What You're Doing

There were some people sitting on the edge of the fountain at first, so I took close up shots until they wandered off. Then I backed up and let Evan throw his penny.

4. Children looking at the camera are better than children not looking at the camera. I should have just called this tip “Bribery”, but that seemed crass. I take a LOT of pictures of the backs of heads, butts, shoes, etc. But when you’re trying to take memorable photos, try to get your kid’s face as much as possible. Some of the best ways to get a child to look at you are shouting, waving your arms, playing “Can you see my eye through this camera?” and promising candy/ice cream/ponies. Mostly it’s a matter of following step number 5…

5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don't Know What You're Doing

As cute as Caroline’s ruffle skirt is, her “leader of the tiny bike gang” face is way cuter. (Although, technically, the composition of the facing away photo is better…BIKE GANG. I MEAN COME ON.)

5. More is more. As long as you’re shooting digital, keep shooting. At a photography class just a couple weeks ago one of the pros told us to STOP taking so many photos and really focus on getting the shots right the first time. I am definitely going to work on that…soon-ish. But if you aren’t a pro, my advice is take tons of pictures, especially of kids. You might only get a few worth saving but that’s the magic of digital – delete, delete, delete. When your kid is running away from you, shout their name and start snapping – those just-turning-around faces are great and you almost always get eye contact. The same goes for jumping, swinging, splashing, dancing, and running kids – it’s better to have too many shots to choose from than miss a moment you loved.

5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don't Know What You're Doing

Dancing kids are hard to keep in focus but too cute to miss, so I took at least 30 pictures in 60 seconds.

5 Tips For Taking Great Photos Even If You Don't Know What You're Doing

Swinging pictures are even harder than dancing pictures (plus the light on the playground wasn’t as good) but I got this one from a collection of many.

I’m not saying you’re going to get magazine-worthy photos from your point-and-shoot or your cell phone camera, but I wish I had known all this stuff from the beginning when I was taking pictures of Baby Evan with my Panasonic. Just remembering to set the baby down somewhere without burp cloths in the background would have made a huge difference.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll try to help or find someone to help. And feel free to link photo tips that you’ve found helpful (or written!) in the comments.

All my photos in the post are straight out of my camera (Nikon D90, 50mm 1.8f lens) – no cropping, no exposure changes, no editing. All I did was watermark and resize the files for uploading. I did use my camera’s manual settings when I shot but I do that fairly often now and still don’t get great results. These photos look nice because I took them mindfully, not because I have amazing technical skills with a DSLR.¬†

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