Holiday Family Photo Tips!

The other day, a friend at work asked me for a few tips for taking better family photos during the holidays.  Since I hadn't taken any photos this week,  thought I would highlight what I told her in this blog post.  There are tons of tips... too many to talk about here, but there are a few that I think will make a big difference.  The holidays are a great time to take pictures, so why not try and make them the best you can.  Everybody will be glad you took them and you'll look like a hero.  You can thank me later.

I'm going to focus on a few things that I think will make the biggest difference in your photos.  If you want to talk about exposure, shutter speed and stuff like that, read some of my earlier blog posts.  Today's post will highlight simple things you can do to make a big difference in your family photos.

1) Rent a bunch of models and pretend they are your family.  This will not only be a lot of fun, but the models will appreciate a paying gig and don't worry... they won't eat a lot. With this option your photos will look beautiful and you'll have really fond memories to look back upon years from now.  Now I already live with models (hey, I'm no dummy... that's my story and I'm sticking to it!) but if you're not as lucky, search Craigslist and look for attractive, inexpensive, experienced models who want to work during Christmas.  I'm sure there are tons... Good luck with that.

2) Okay, let's assume the model option is out of the question.  One of the best things you can do to improve your photos is to consider the environment and your background. Whether your shooting outside or inside you need to watch out for objects in the background appearing to sprout out of the heads of your family. Now if someone in your family actually has something protruding out of their head, you can forget this tip.  Inside it might be a lamp, a plant or that machine you have for making meth at home, while outside it’s often trees, street lamps, signposts, or that machine you have for making meth at home... outside. Have a good look around the scene before you take the shot and if necessary move the offending article, recompose the shot or find an alternative location.

3) Another thing to consider is the inside light. Most often, in the winter, there's not a lot of light inside and by the time everyone is ready to eat, it's often dark.  One thing to consider is just to go outside.  There’s much more light outside and provided you pick an over-cast day, there should be good, even lighting. Alternatively, if you want to shoot at home, try pushing up your camera’s ISO and use a flash or two with the light bouncing of a white ceiling or wall to help spread it out and give soft, even coverage.

4) "Aunt Johnny's eyes were closed!" Something you've probably heard before cause there always seems to be one person with their eyes closed in every picture. The worst part is it's usually the picture that you like the most and everybody looks perfect except Aunt Johnny's with her eyes closed. One solution to this particular problem is to get everyone to close their eyes and then open them when you give the signal – just as you press the shutter release. Of course, you might wind up with some strange, wide-eyed expressions, but that’s part of the fun. Another approach is to take plenty of photographs in the hope that there will be some in which everybody has their eyes open.  I usually choose a combination of both approaches. 

5) My final tip I've said many times... Make sure you're in some of the photos!  Nothing's worse than looking over your photos with the family and realizing that you're not in any of them.  Now, maybe you're really ugly and have something sticking out of your head like I mentioned above.  In that case it's perfectly fine to keep yourself out of the photos.  Assuming you're relatively normal and don't have a plant permanently sticking out of your head, you'll want to be in some of the photos.  Get your camera all set up and let somebody else take some, use a tripod and a timer, whatever it takes... just get in some of the photos.

That's it.  I'm off to spend the next two weeks with family.  Wish me luck! Over the next few weeks have fun, take some great photos (send me the ones with the models) and have a Happy Holidays!

The Best Camera Is The One You Have With You!

There is an old saying that the best camera is the one you have with you.  Well, I definitely believe there's some truth to that.  Therefore, the best camera for about 99% of people these days is the one on their cell phone.  Ever since phones starting shipping with built-in cameras the number of photos taken every year has increased to the hundreds of billions. Facebook alone recently reported approximately 300 million photos added every day during months in 2012. Instagram boasts 45 million photos per day and 16 billion photos shared.  So lots of people are taking photos and lots of people are taking photos with their cell phones. But if you’re frustrated with taking great shots of sunsets, or just want some ideas to improve your cell phone photos, take a look at these tips.


Now this doesn't mean to tell your subjects to go "into" the light.  That's totally something altogether different.  Smartphones and cheaper digital cameras are notorious for having lenses and image sensors that just don’t capture light as well as professional systems. The answer is, simply, to move your subject into better lighting. Who ever said you have to take a photo exactly where your subjects are standing? Move them around, arrange them closer to light sources, or turn on any available lights nearby. A window, a room light, heck, even a flashlight can work in the right situation.  The right light can make all the difference.

2. Avoid Squinting Eyes

When you are outside on a bright day, don’t have your subject facing the sun. If you do, they’re likely to be squinting. And, sunglasses don’t always make the best portraits. Unless, like mine, your sung less make you look like Maverick in Top Gun.  If you're that cool... and I am, sunglasses can work.  If sunglasses are not adding to your photo, and they're probably not, turn your subjects so the sun is to their side (not back), and, if you can, use flash to soften the shadow since most phones these days have a flash of some sort.

3. Shoot On Cloudy Days

When you get up and see clouds outside and you know you're going to be taking pictures, don't worry, cloudy days make for great photos!  When there is cloud cover, you essentially have an enormous soft box above your subjects. Cloud cover can create nice even lighting free of harsh shadow areas. Even cheap, or, eh, inexpensive cameras can take great pictures in even lighting.

4. Change Your Image Quality

Your phone should let you set the image quality of your photos. Look at the settings for your camera and set to the highest quality resolution you can. When you increase the resolution, you’ll use up the memory on your phone a lot quicker. But if you want higher quality images to work with, and possibly make prints from, you’ll want to max out the camera’s capable resolution.

5. Make Sure Your Image Is In Focus

Now I'm about to share a tip with you that will change your phone photography life.  This is a doozy that most people don't know.  It will, without a doubt, help you take better pictures and let you know why some of those photos that you love aren't turning out.  Now this is true on the iPhone, but I can't guarantee it's use on other cell phones.  On the iPhone, your camera is taking the photo when you take your finger OFF the shutter button, not when you initially push it.  That means to take a faster, in focus photo, you can put your finger on the button and then release it when you're ready to capture the image.  The camera will respond much faster, take the exact image you want and it will most likely be more in focus because you won't have moved your camera thinking the photo was taken when you initially pushed the button.  Unless you’re looking to create moody, Impressionistic types of images that lack detail, you’ll want to be sure your camera is in focus before taking the shot. Watch the LCD display. Wait for the subject to be in focus. Then take the shot.

6. Download A Camera App

I counted... there are officially 1,352,746 camera apps available in iTunes.  Many of them are garbage, but a lot of them can really help you take your photos to the next level. Apps can help you selectively focus areas in your image, control exposure, color balance, and even make your subjects look like cartoons, if for some reason you wanted to do that. I’ve messed around with several for the iPhone including Camera+, ProCamera, and even the program I talked about last week, Perfectly Clear, has a iPhone version that is really good and can really do wonders to your photos.

I hope these tips give you some ideas. If you’ve got additional questions on taking better photos with your smartphone, send me an email, otherwise, get out there and take some photos... with whatever camera you have with you.