Street Photography

What is Street Photography?

Let me start by clearing up a common question... Street photography is not photos of streets, although I guess it could be. In essence, street photography is a type of candid photography done in a public place, be it a street, a restaurant or even public transport. It is similar in approach to photojournalism and mostly involves people (and/or animals) in a populated environment (which provides the context of a story told), such as a city. However, street photographers often focus on everyday lives of strangers rather than some kind of important event photojournalists are more interested in. Usually, street photographers try as much as possible to stay unnoticed when photographing. The goal of street photography is to capture scenes unaffected by the author of the work so as to show a natural story and subject. Story and subject are possibly the most important aspects of a good street shot. Henri Cartier-Bresson, arguably the best street photographer of all times, “the father of photojournalism”, had once said: “Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.” I personally love street photography cause you really can't screw it up.  It's whatever you want it to be. It's a reflection of whatever you see.  Nobody else will have the same street photos as you do.

All of the following pictures were taking during my recent trip to London.

Noticing and telling a story through a photograph is one of the most difficult tasks to master when doing street photography. Crucially, it involves the not-so-simple matter of actually taking the shot.

Stop Moving

This tip has had the biggest affect on the quality of my photos... at least I think so.  Do you treat your street photography as if you are taking a beautiful stroll through the city? There is nothing wrong with this of course, but it is very hard to walk, pay full attention and still capture quality street photos at the same time. You will often find yourself out of position when a moment happens and it is much easier to be noticed when you try to get yourself into position. Finally, people are usually moving in the opposite direction of you and so it can be tough to stop your motion enough to achieve a sharp shot while framing correctly at the same time. All of this takes a lot of coordination to pull off while moving.

The key is to slow down. Make a point to stop every few blocks and wait for a few minutes. See what happens. You want the subjects to come to you and not the other way around. Explore your surroundings in a detailed way and wait for things to unfold around you. You will be surprised at the amount of moments that will occur while you are just standing around.  Trust me... you'll think there's nothing or nobody around to take a photos of... just wait a few minutes. Stand in the same spot and wait... stuff will happen.

Get Close

When I say close, I mean GET CLOSE. Get so close so that when you are taking photos of people on the street that you can see the perspiration dripping from their forehead or the texture of their skin. By using a wide-angle prime lens (as mentioned in the before point), you will be forced to get close to your subjects. The advantage of this is that the wide-angle lens will give you a perspective which makes the viewer of your images feel as if they are a part of the scene, rather than just a voyeur looking in. Not only that, but when you are taking photos really close to people, they often think that you are taking a photo of something behind them. I recommend using either a 24, 28, or 35mm on a full-frame or crop camera.

Shoot some shots without people

Street photography is often wrongly associated with being entirely about photographing people on the streets. Street photography is about people, or more specifically about human nature, but people don’t need to be present in the scene. There are an infinite amount of opportunities out there for epic street photos without people. You just have to look for them. But let’s not confuse a street photograph without people with an urban landscape. An urban landscape is a straight shot of an urban environment, such as a simple shot of the Empire State Building. Street photos on the other hand say something about human nature. They have a message to them. 

Check out their eyes

If you want to improve your street photography (or portraiture) by a thousand percent then paying attention to a person’s eyes is the way to do it. People can be so skilled at hiding their emotions on their faces but their eyes will never lie. I see too many street photos with blank stares these days. Search for that hint of emotion in a person’s eyes and it will have a transformative effect on your photography.

In addition, direct eye contact can be extremely important. It creates a powerful connection with the subject. I usually try to avoid being noticed and so I often don’t aim for eye contact but sometimes waiting for a person to look at you is exactly what a photo needs.  The photograph will still be candid as long as you capture the subject in the moment that they first look at you and before they are able to react.

ALWAYS carry your camera with you

Like you've never heard me say this before! You have heard this a million times and probably 500 or more from me and you know that you should, but you always seem to find excuses or reasons NOT to always carry your camera with yourself. “It’s too heavy, it’s annoying, it’s a hassle, it’s frustrating.” I’ll tell you what’s frustrating. Missing the perfect photo opportunity (the decisive moment) and regretting it for the rest of your life. I have to admit that is a bit dramatic, but it is true. If you always carry your camera with you, you will never miss those “Kodak moments” which always seem to happen at the most unexpected times. I have taken some of my best images at the most unexpected moments—images that would have been impossible to take if I did not have my camera by my side.

Hopefully this helps you a bit and most of all encourages you to go out and take some street photos. Remember, photography is not done behind the computer screen, but on the streets with a camera in hand. Honestly when it comes down to it, all this obsession over cameras, lenses, and gear doesn’t matter. Grab your DSLR, point-and-shoot, iPhone, or whatever and hit the streets. The beauty of the world awaits you—don’t miss your chance.

Series: Behind the Photo

As many of you know, I spent the last week of January in London, and what many of you probably don't know is that I LOVE London.  The people, the food (yeah, I said it. The food in London has really become fantastic and we had some great meals) and most of all the architecture.  I love the buildings.  Each and every one of them look like they could be the focus of a beautiful photo.  I love how you could go into a Starbucks (not that I did) and it could be housed inside of a thousand-year-old building.  I mean the Starbucks I often go to near my office is in a building that's nine years old. So when I found out I'd be going to London, I made sure to pack in a way that would allow me to bring my photo equipment.  I even got a new bag for the trip that would allow me to bring everything I needed for photography but in a smaller bag.  I went with the Lower Pro Runner 200 AW Backpack and I'm really glad I did.  It's the perfect size for my camera and the three lenses I wanted to bring, which included the honking 70-200 2.8, which as you might now, is a pretty big lens.  After the lenses there's still room for some extra batteries, the charger, memory cards and a case with some filters.  It's a great bag for traveling and I highly recommend it.  Not too big, not too small... just right.

Anyway, let's get to the photo.  I chose this photo today because I have received a lot of questions about it and, frankly, it was a bit of a challenging photo to take.

To be honest, I thought pictures of the Parliament building and Big Ben all pretty much look the same.  From this distance, there isn't a whole lot of options for shooting the building.  You can just get Big Ben, or get the bridge and the clock, or part of the building and end with the clock, but I've always wanted to have a few good photos of this building.  Ever since I first visited London, I wanted to come and get this shot and this was my opportunity.  So, even though I didn't love the creativity needed for this shot, I really wanted the photo.

To make it a little different, I decided to make a panorama.  For more info on how to make a panoramic image like this, type "pano" in the search box above and my previous blog posts on the subject should come up.  Anyway, I decided to shoot a pano.  Now, in order to get the soft, silky water I knew I was going to have to use some pretty long exposures which means having a really good tripod is a requirement.  I took 7 photos, all overlapping by about a third and took them vertically to allow for the most leeway when using Photoshop to put them all together.  If you shoot horizontally, you have less photo at the top and bottom to work with. When you use a good tripod, this is less of an issue since you're pretty much staying on the same horizontal plane, but it's still a good idea.  I shot in manual mode so my camera wouldn't change the exposure if one image was a big brighter or darker than the others.  If I shot on Aperture Priority, I'd run the risk of having different exposures for one or more of the photos, and when you try to stitch them all together you'll run into problems.  Problems that can be fixed, but it's harder than it needs to be. So I shot each photo at 25 sec at f/18 and ISO 100. To get the 25 seconds I had to use a ND filter because it was already too bright when I took this shot.  For this image I used a 10-stop ND filter from Hoya and it worked like a charm.  I chose this exposure to have the shutter open long enough to make the water look soft and creamy but also so I didn't have the aperture closed down all the way to f/22 to maintain maximum sharpness.

Some people asked how I got that soft even blue sky.  Well, this photos was taking at around 6:00 in the morning, so the sun hadn't come up yet.  This is what we call the blue hour, which in the morning is before the golden hour and makes for really interesting and beautiful photos. I think photos look really sharp and clean at this time. 30 minutes later, the light totally changed and looked like this photo below.

So now the question is, if I was taking 25 sec exposure, how did I get that boat to be so sharp?  At 25 sec, it should just be a blur whizzing by, right? So did I take a fast exposure of just the boat and use Photoshop to put it in?  Nope!  Wanna know the secret?  Okay, but don't tell anybody... the boat wasn't moving.  It was anchored right there in front of the building.  Worked out great, huh?

After using Photoshop to stitch all the photos together and then to add some contrast and sharpness, erase a few dust spots on my sensor and clean-up some of the ugly scafolding that you can see still on the left of the photo... Voila! You can see the final image above and I really dig it.  I've waited a long time to get it and it was totally worth it.  Of course half the fun is getting up early, taking photos, then walking to the Borough Street Market for breakfast and coffee.  It's amazing how much a hot cup of coffee can improve your photo taking abilities on a freezing cold, London morning.

Babies got back... button focus.


Back button focusing allowed me to take this photo and two others of the same subject without refocusing since the distance from the camera to the shutter didn't change.

Over the past couple of weeks I've become a huge fan and advocate for making the change to focusing with the button on the back of your camera instead of pushing the shutter button down halfway, commonly referred to as back button focus.  It was one of the most revolutionary changes I ever made to how I take pictures.  It seems like such a small thing, yet it's a huge difference in the way you take pictures and how your camera focuses.  This should really be the standard setting on all cameras, cause once you try back button focusing, you're gonna like it.  In fact, you'll probably even love it!  If you're one of the people who have never tried this -- STOP EVERYTHING NOW and do this. You'll thank me :).  If you don't love it, let me know and I'll buy you lunch... but not an expensive lunch.  Let's say a sandwich and a drink... but no chips.  Okay chips, but no dessert.

One of my biggest frustrations when shooting photos is having to refocus ever time I recompose the shot.  When you're taking a bunch of pictures in a short amount of time, this can be really time consuming, frustrating and just an overall pain in the ass. The biggest thing that has impacted my images in the realm of focus is switching from using the shutter button to control focus to using the back "*" button to control focus. And if you're a Nikon shooter and don't have a "*" button, don't worry -- there is still hope for you. :).  Making this change takes some getting used to, mainly because for the first few times you try this after switching, you'll probably keep expecting your shutter button to do the focusing out of habit.  The problem is after making the switch, you're shutter button is only going to activate the shutter... WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO DO!!   

For this image I focused by using the back button method.  Put my camera on a tripod, locked in my focus, then took this picture and a few others  I recomposed three or four times but never had to refocus the camera.

The idea is to separate the focus function from the shutter function. I love it because when I'm shooting a stationary portrait, or some situation where the camera to subject distance is constant, I can lock in the focus (push the * button with the focal point on the spot I want in focus, then let go of the button) and shoot away, even re-composing, and the focus will stay dead-on. This has also freed me up from constantly changing my focus points and always refocusing every time I take a new shot, even though I didn't move the camera more that a little bit, or in some cases, not at all.  I'd still have to refocus because the act of focusing was attached to the shutter button. This was one of the most frustrating things I ran into when I used the ‘shutter half way down method of focusing. Sure you can lock in focus by holding the shutter half way down, then focus will stay locked as long as you hold your shutter in shutter-limbo. But then you have to hold your finger there! If you let go or accidently lift your finger just a little bit, the camera will refocus as soon as you press it down again. Or press the shutter a little too hard and you will take a picture before you’re ready. I now leave the center focus point selected and recompose after locking in the focus using the "*" button on the back of the camera. 

In the situation of a moving subject, I also like the back button because it allows me to track the subject and still get consistent focus. 

RC answers a question on what is the back focus button. He talks about how to set your Nikon or Canon to back focus and explains why you'd want to.

If you want to try back-button focusing, you need to change some of your custom functions. You can very easily search online for the directions for making this change to your particular camera.  I found the directions for my 5D Mark III in about three seconds and made the change in about six seconds.  It may have actually been seven seconds, but I was a little distracted.  You should notice that your camera will focus when pushing the * button but when you push the shutter button, your focus will not be impacted. 

Please let me know if you have any questions, or need any help making this change.

Series: Behind the Photo

So, here we are again.  It's the Friday before a weekend where I feel like I should be creating  a blog entry, but I didn't really feel inspired by anything in particular.  So I decided just now to create a new series called Behind the Photo.  First of all, if I'm going to be honest, I didn't just think of this.... I thought of it yesterday, but that's not important.  So now when I'm inspired to do a blog post and don't have anything in particular I feel like writing about, I'm going to pick a photo or two that I really like, or has some special meaning, and I'm going talk about what went into creating that image.  It may be once a month, or it may be once a week, but I'll try and keep these coming, because cause I know when I was learning photography, I wanted to get every bit of info from other photographers.  I wanted to know why they made the choices they did and what went into creating their images.  This will be my attempt at helping readers get into my head.  Good luck in there.

So this entry's photo choice was a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned.  Anybody who knows me knows I'm a really big Giants fan.  I love those guys and last night was one of the most fun, exciting games I've ever seen.  In the last inning the Giants won with a walk-off homer by the most unlikely of heroes, clinching the National League Championship and sending them off to Kansas City to face the Royals in the World Series.  Since I'm still thinking about that game and the excitement is still coursing through my veins, I wanted to talk about one of my shots of the Giants from the game I went to in Milwaukee in August.  Since Angel Pagan is out for the season and will miss the World Series, I thought I would choose one of the photos I have of him from that game.

So this is the photo.  Angel Pagan taking his swing at the plate in the first inning of the game against the Brewers.  In fact, this was actually the first batter of the game.  There is a roof over this stadium and I didn't know how that would affect the light as the game went on, so I tried taking a lot of pictures right away, before they closed the roof and the light changed.  First thing to notice is that this picture was taking with my Panasonic micro four thirds camera and not my Canon 5D.  I was traveling with only a carry-on and frankly, i didn't know if they'd let me take a big camera into the game, so I thought it was safer to just bring this.  It doesn't take as good of pictures, and it's much slower to shoot and to focus, but it's better than nothing and I couldn't risk my Canon 5D being not allowed into the stadium.

This photo was taken at 1/640 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1600 and I used a 45-200 lens at 78mm.  Anything jump out at you?  Yeah, me too.  Why the heck would I use ISO 1600 for a shot outside?  Well, good question, I'm glad you asked.  You'll notice my aperture was wide open for the lens at 5.6.  That was going to get me the most shallow depth of field and would let in the most light.  For this shot I was mostly concerned about shutter speed, because I didn't want to bat to just be a blur as he swung.  So, even though it was outside, we were in the shade and it really wasn't that light in the stadium.  That ISO was required to get the shutter speed fast enough to freeze the bat.  In fact, if you notice, the bat isn't tack sharp.  I was trying to get a bit of movement, but I wanted a clear shot of the bat and not a bat-blur, which is a term I just made up.

Another suggestion when you're taking sports photos... take lots of pictures.  It's hard to predict where the players are going to be, how fast they'll be moving, how long they'll be standing there, etc.  So to remove as many variables as possible, take a lot of photos.  You can always toss out the ones you don't want when you're done.

The above image is a perfect example of why you should take a lot of photos when you're shooting sporting events.  This shot was literally taken 10 seconds before the above image.  In this image, Pagan didn't swing at the ball and the catcher took longer to get into position so the photo is much less dramatic.  Now, it's also cropped differently, but you can see that the image itself is totally different and doesn't have the movement or the emotion of the photo above it. 

This image didn't take a lot of post processing and everything I did do was done in Lightroom. You can see the untouched photo below.  The first thing I did, which is the first thing I always do is take down the highlights and open the shadows a bit.  There wasn't many shadows to open, so I didn't do much with that slider.  After doing that I bumped up the vibrance a bit and then it was almost all dodging and burning.  After the dodging (lightening) and burning (darkening) and a little bit of noise reduction, I added a vignette to the whole image and that was about it. Voila, we're done!

So take lots of photos, decide what you want your photo to look like and make camera choices that will deliver those result and... most importantly... GO GIANTS!!!!  Next week is gonna be exciting regardless of what happens, but at the end of the season, no matter what happens, I'll have a bunch of great photos of the Giants losing to the Brewers in Milwaukee. ;-)

I'm back!

Well, after a week in Israel and two missed blog postings, I'm back.  I'd say I missed you all, but I didn't really.  I love traveling and this was quite the traveling experience.  I went for my sister's wedding, but one of the benefits of a destination wedding is the ability to take photos... lots and lots of photos.  I took about four 16GB memory cards and I almost filled three of them with hundreds, if not thousands of photos.  I've been back for almost a week and since then I've culled them down to about 600 keepers.  I feel like some of those are really great and some will only be great to my family, but I had a great time and really loved bonding with my camera.  It was an amazing place and over the next week or so, I'll be sharing tons of the photos from my trip.  In the meantime, I thought I'd share one to wet your appetite.  Let me set the stage for you. I was in Tel Aviv for the second half of my trip and I decided, without any knowledge of where I was going, to try and get up for sunrise and head over to the Mediterranean to take some photos.  So I set my alarm and got directions for how to go down to the water.  It was about a 20 minute walk and it went off without a hitch.  However once I got there, I realized that there wasn't anything but empty beach around.  I could see the old city far beyond and the sky scrapers of the new city as I looked in the opposite direction, but where I was, there wasn't a lot.  It just goes to show you that when you're in a new place, it really benefits you to do a little research before heading off to take photos. After walking for a little bit and thinking that my morning was hopeless, I happened upon this old pier.  I was stoked and I knew with a long exposure, this had the potential of being a really cool shot.  There was a fisherman on the pier getting ready to fish for breakfast, but after I asked he graciously said he was happy to share the space with me.  The most interesting part of the experience wasn't getting to the sea, it was coming back.  I quickly realized that I had no idea where I had walked to or how to get back to my hotel.  The good news is everybody in Tel Aviv that I ran into was really nice and I felt very safe.  People were more than happy to try and point me in the right direction.  Having my camera with me actually saved me as I couldn't remember the address to my hotel.  The good news was I had taken a photo of the chocolate shop a few blocks down from where I was staying and that photo was still on my camera.  So, not speaking the language wasn't a problem... I could just point to the photo on the back of the camera and folks knew exactly where I was trying to go.  The fact that everybody I asked gave me DIFFERENT directions is besides the point... they meant well.  So that 20 minute walk I took to get me down to the water was over an hour and a half walk to get back!

Here's the photo I came home with:

This photo was taken right at sunrise.  It was a 30 second exposure which is why the water looks so silky and creamy.  Using a long exposure does the exact opposite of what using a fast shutter speed would do.  A fast shutter speed freezes all the action... that would mean the water and waves would freeze right where they were.  The long exposure blurs the area of the image with movement, so although the pier is really sharp (because it wasn't moving), the surrounding water that was flowing in and out is creamy smooth.

This is one photo with lots more to come.  Stay tuned.  I promise there will be at least one that you like and if not I'll give you your money back.


Drobo Update

So, good news... After almost of month of waiting, My Drobo 5D has finally shown up. Just to remind you how we got to here, last month I submitted my website for a contest where the prize was a Drobo... and I won!  So I had a few weeks to get excited and to prepare for the new arrival in our family and Thursday it came.  I thought I would let you know how the process of setting it up went, because to be honest, so far it's a totally awesome product. 

Now let me start by saying that the Drobo 5D isn't for everyone.  It retails for $699 and that's before you buy the drives to go inside of it.  But for those in the market for an expandable, safe storage system for their files, photos, etc., this sucker can't be beat.  It's so sweet and it has little lights on the front.  Who doesn't like a new gadget with lights!?

The Drobo 5D isn't just super functional, but check out all these lights on the front.  That's the sign of a sweet product! ;-)

The Drobo 5D isn't just super functional, but check out all these lights on the front.  That's the sign of a sweet product! ;-)

So what is it? 

According to the website, the Drobo 5D is basically a fancy storage system "that's built on award-winning BeyondRAID technology with single or dual-drive redundancy, Drobo 5D protects your data without any user interaction, even in the event of multiple drive failures. Drives can be added or hot-swapped on-the-fly for storage expansion with zero downtime. If you’re running low on space, the lights on the front tell you what to do. Just add a drive in an empty bay or remove a smaller drive and replace it with a larger one."

So you can have all your information backed up once or even TWICE with the Drobo 5D

So you can have all your information backed up once or even TWICE with the Drobo 5D


So what does all of that mean? Well, basically it's a small box that holds multiple hard drives in it. These drives can be whatever capacity you want, or can afford.  I chose five, 1TB drives to put in mine, but you can use any size up to 4TB (so if you had five, 4TB drives, you'd have a storage capacity of 20TB!) and you don't have to fill all the drives to start out.  You can start with two and upgrade as you need them.  So the box pools together the storage of these drives, so instead of having five, separate, single terabyte drives, the Drobo pools the storage together, so I have basically 5TB of space available.  The redundancy feature means that it's basically backing up your information in the same place as your storing it on your drives.  However, if a drive fails, the Drobo moves the information to the other drives, allowing you to swap out the failed drive and replace it with a new one.  No fuss and you're up and running again in minutes and haven't lost any of your data.

Here is an image from my Drobo dashboard.  It tells me the health and capacity of my drives and I have control over the whole unit from this screen.

Let's talk about how my install went.  First I got home and opened the box and took out the Drobo.  This was literally the hardest part of the whole process as the Drobo comes beautifully packaged in a box that's just big enough to fit the unit.  So slipping it out was honestly the hardest thing I did all night... and it wasn't that hard. :-)   Once it was out, I first had to decide if I wanted to hook the unit up to my computer with the USB 3 or the Thunderbolt cable.  I opted for the Thunderbolt connection as I wanted the fastest possible option.  So with everything out of the box, I proceeded to add each of the five drives.  They slip right in and lock into place.  Then I put the MSATA, 120GB, solid state drive in the accelerator port which is on the bottom of the unit. This optional drive allows for frequently accessed data to be stored on the faster, solid state drive rather than the more traditional SATA drives mentioned above. Again, you don't have to put a SSD in this port, but if your looking for the best performance, you won't want to ignore this option.  Once they were all in, I plugged in the Thunderbolt cable and the power cable and turned on the unit.  While it was booting up, I downloaded the dashboard software for the 5D from the Drobo website.   Okay, now we're cooking with gas!  It's all going great and totally simple.  Once it was all going, I used the dashboard software to name and format the Drobo and drives (which is literally two clicks of the mouse) and then it was ready for use. First thing I did was move all my photos to the unit, as that's what I'm going to use it for.  Photos, photos and more photos!  Now this process was really simple too, but because I archive my photos with Lightroom, I had to move the photos from WITHIN Lightroom!  This is REALLY important.  If you just move the photos without "telling" Lightroom you're moving them, it won't be able to "find" your photos and you'll have problems.  Easily fixable, but you'll have problems.  So let me be really clear because this will help you avoid major headaches later.  If you're going to move your files, you can't just take your photo folder and move them over to a new drive.  Lightroom won't know you did this and won't be able to find the files.  You'll find little question marks on top of all your images signifying that Lightroom doesn't know where they are.  You'll have to then manually relink all of them.  Instead, just move your photo folder to the new drive from within Lightroom.  Then Lightroom will know where you moved the folder to and all will be right with the world.

So here's my settings window for Backblaze.  As you can see it was easy as checking both the boxes for my hard drive and the Drobo and it was good to go!

So here's my settings window for Backblaze.  As you can see it was easy as checking both the boxes for my hard drive and the Drobo and it was good to go!

So the photos moved over and I was ready to go.  It all worked great and my photos were all safe.  As a reminder, I have all my photos on the Drobo with redundant backup, so that's one safety measure.  I have the additional hard drive with all my photos on it hidden away, in case something happens to the computer, and then if you remember, I use Backblaze, for online backup to the cloud, just as an extra safety measure.  So what about using Backblaze with the Drobo?  Well, that was easy too! Once the Drobo was all set up, I went to my Backblaze preferences and checked the box next to my hard drive AND the Drobo which meant I wanted both my hard drive and my Drobo backed up to the cloud.  It immediately started moving files over and within 30 minutes all of my computer's hard drive and all of the photos on the Drobo were backed up to the cloud.  It was much faster than the initial backup to Backblaze since the files where already backed up... they were just moved from one drive to another.  Now I'm ready for anything...  I think.

So if you're in the market for a safe, expandable storage system, I can totally recommend the Drobo 5D.  Again, it's not for everybody, but for those who have a need, it's a fantastic device and sure to exceed your expectations.  I know it did mine.

And don't forget it has all those cool lights!!!


Never work with children or animals.

So when I write entries for this blog, I try to think of things that might be of interest to my dozens and dozens of... okay, maybe a dozen (hi mom!)  readers and things that I think helped me when I was starting out learning about photography.  Let's be honest, there are so many things to learn it can be a little overwhelming. I still remember picking up my cousins DSLR for the first time--this was weeks before I would get my camera--and taking a shot.  The picture turned out black... just black.  All... black.  So I've learned a lot and I promise, if this all seems a little overwhelming, that it will all start to click real soon.  But other than the technical aspects of photography, there are things you can do right away to help you take better photos.  So I was thinking about what most of us are taking pictures of these days.  If my Facebook feed is any indication, we're all taking just a few pictures of our kids.  I'm just as guilty as most.  There are a few that are worse than me, but they know who they are and there's not point in my singling them out here.  However, if you email me, I'll be happy to spill the beans (Her name might rhyme with Lennifer and Mennifer, but that's all you'll get from me).  So let's talk about how to take better pics of our kids.

Now in fairness, I could have even gotten down lower to her level, but it was important me for to keep the sink visible, as I thought that was an important aspect of this photo.

Now in fairness, I could have even gotten down lower to her level, but it was important me for to keep the sink visible, as I thought that was an important aspect of this photo.

There are a few thins that you can do to improve your kid photography that you'll see on almost any list. “Get on their level” and “Get Closer”, are the two that come to mind right away and they are both great ways to improve your kid shots. Now, just to make sure there's no confusion, we're talking about human "kids" not goat "kids".  However, if you are taking photos of goat kids and by that I mean people that are half human kid half goat, these principals still apply.

The top tip on any list you find is often going to be “Get on their level”. There is a reason that it should be as it is great advice and will make a big difference immediately. If you get down on the same level as a kid to take their photo, you give them power by allowing them to look into the camera straight on. Kneel down so that you become the same height as the child. Chat with your subject and engage them before just going right into taking their photograph. When the time is right, lift your camera and poof, snap the photos.  Try to wait until they're looking at the camera unless that's not the look you're going for.

Photography is a visual language and the angle with which you shoot the photograph is an important part of the story you are telling. Photography is a common language that even kids can understand and when you make the effort to physically go down to their level you allow them to be important and, well, the SUBJECT!

Kids are short and you may have to get on your knees to get their eye level, but now, go further. Come on, you can do it, lie down. You may be amazed at what the world looks like from the ground.  Babies and real little kids don't always cooperate, but if you get down with them, they may even enjoy it more and you can end up with some great  faces. 

If you have a fast 50mm lens, it's great to use it when taking photos of your kids. If they are busy, you will need to use a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion. Using a fast 50mm lens means you will be able to open up the aperture to allow you to use that faster shutter speed indoors and avoid triggering your flash. 

Almost as often, when searching for ways to improve your photos of children, you will be told to “Get closer.” Children’s faces are so cute and soft (does that sound creepy?) that it is great advice for you to fill the frame with them. Isolate the tiniest details by photographing in close on things like baby lashes, toddler lips going in for a kiss or the drips of an ice cream on their messy, smushy faces.

Okay, that's it for today.  Go take some pictures and put them on Facebook.  I'll be watching... even you Lennifer.

I Said a Bud Light! (Photos From the Pigeon Point Lighthouse)

Hopefully, you're all old enough to get that joke.  If you're not and have no idea where "I said a Bud Light" is from, or what it's in reference to, please don't tell me.  I feel old enough already and if you tell me you don't understand my corny jokes referencing lame TV commercials from the '80s, just have a Coke and a smile with Mean Joe Green and go read another blog. 

Okay, who's still with me?  Anyone... Bueller... Bueller? (see what I did there).  For those of you STILL reading, which is probably only my Grandmother and my mom, thanks!  I'll try to move onto something more interesting.  The Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Last weekend my family was away and I had Sunday to myself.  I decided I wanted to go somewhere to take photos and I decided on the Pigeon Point Lighthouse.  I've always thought lighthouses were cool.  There's something really classy and poetic about a lighthouse, sitting out on a cliff next to the ocean, guiding in ships and preventing them from hitting the impressive rock formations that make up the coastline.  The Pigeon Point Lighthouse is over 140 years old and is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States.  It's 115 feet tall, so it can make for some pretty impressive photos. 

So the first question I had to ask myself was if I wanted to go at sunrise or sunset.  My first inclination was to go at sunset, because if you go at sunrise, it means you have to get up BEFORE sunrise and that kinda sucks. ;-)  The problem with this particular spot is  it's location and the direction it's facing.  It's on the West Coast and from where you can stand (assuming you're not in the ocean) it's facing east.  So, if I went at sunset, I would have had beautiful golden light shining on the back side of the lighthouse.  I may have had a beautiful sunset to look at, but I wanted good light on the lighthouse itself, so that meant I had to get up at the ass-crack of dark-thirty to make it in time for sunrise.  Again, if I wanted the light of the golden hour to hit the lighthouse, I had to get the sun rising in the east to hit the east-facing side of the lighthouse.  So I made my coffee, threw my equipment in the car and made it to the lighthouse 30 minutes before the sun came up.  I knew when the sun was coming up, because I'm using a really cool app called the Photo Sundial, which tells you not only when the sun sets and rises, but also where the sun is throughout the day, so you can plan your shots really accurately. I pulled up to my spot and could already tell, with no light, that there was a lot of fog and that was really going to impact my shoot.  I also knew I was going to be taking some black and white photos, because when you have a dull gray sky, black and white photos don't know that the sky isn't a beautiful blue and you can make some really interesting photos.  Because there's not a lot of light at this time of the morning, a tripod is necessary.  I was taking exposures in excess of 20 seconds most of the time and that would be impossible without a tripod.  Anyway, below are some of my favorite shots from the day.  What do you think?


Making this photo black and white meant it didn't matter that it was totally foggy and the sky was really gray.

Sometimes the fact that it's foggy helps make for a really interesting shot. 

When you have a single subject, don't just stick it in the middle of your shot and call it a day, try moving around and getting other interesting aspects into your shot.  Putting something in the foreground and the lighthouse in the upper right makes for a more interesting shot that hopefully looks different from all the other shots taken at this popular location.

Lots of cool pictures to take here... Not just the lighthouse.

A Steady Camera = Sharp Shot

So, I'm just about to head out to a class I'm taking on studio portrait lighting.  What better way to spend the day when my girls are out of town?  Turn on sports, invite the guys over, hire some professional dancers and get some fireworks?  Nope... I'm taking a photography class. Wait until you hear what my plans are for tomorrow morning.  I'll give you a hint... it involves getting up at sunrise and a lighthouse, but that's all I'm saying for now.

I  wanted to dedicate this post on taking sharp photos.  It's really important when you're taking photos, if you want them to look good, to keep them sharp!  When shooting at shutter speeds that are lower than the focal length of the lens you're using, you have to keep the camera as steady as possible to avoid camera shake.  So, what does that mean.  We'll if you're shooting with a 200mm lens, it means shooting at a 1/200sec or faster, or if using a 50mm lens, it means shooting at 1/50sec or faster.  So if you're using at 85mm lens and shooting at 1/20sec, you run the risk of camera shake. If you're wondering what camera shake is, it's simply movement of the camera and lens that's captured when the shutter is released and a photo is taken.  The resulting photos look blurred even when the subject is focused and you haven't been drinking!   For the record, if you have been drinking, all your photos will probably appear blurry... this is not from camera shake.  This is from eyeball shake and a lack of focusing ability and it will go away within a few hours.

Many lenses have a feature known as image stabilization (IS) or vibration reduction (VR). This is a mechanism inside the lends that counters movement, allowing the you to shoot at shutter speeds lower than normal.  So, if you're shooting with a 50mm lens, to be safe you might be able to shoot with a shutter speed as slow as 1/30sec.  This feature is pretty amazing.  If your lens has it, you'll notice when you're looking through the viewfinder that you're image will stop shaking right before your eyes, once the feature if activated.  The thing you have to remember about image stabilization is that even though it will help you to shoot at shutter speeds slower than normal, you still have to keep the camera as steady as possible.  This lens feature can be very effective, but it can't perform miracles. 

The best way to shoot at slower shutter speeds is to use some form of support.  This can be a tripod, but it doesn't have to be.  You can use rest your camera on a car window if you're inside a car, a rock if you're outside, or even a half eaten, beached, whale carcass if one should happen to wash up on shore while you're shooting on the beach.   Using a support will illuminate camera shake and will allow you to take pictures will as long of a shutter speed as you need.