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Get People Together
hether you’re gathering for a family holiday, celebrating a birthday, or capturing your favorite sports team, a group photo is often a good idea. Yet, even the most experienced photographers face challenges in taking a group photograph - from impatient subjects, to closed eyes, bored expressions, bad light, and blurry images. What’s a photographer to do? Don’t worry, with a few tips and a little practice you’ll feel confident about getting a group together and your pictures will look fabulous.
Choose a Location
Are you shooting a large group or a small one? A large group requires more space and you or the people you’re photographing need to be elevated in order to include everyone in the scene.
Consider the Light
An easy way to capture beautiful photos outside is to shoot very late in the afternoon when the sun is low in the sky. Just face the entire group towards the setting sun, make sure you’re not casting a shadow, and snap away. The soft light casts a beautiful, even glow upon everyone.
Direct the Group
Patience is fleeting when people are waiting for you to take the picture. Whether it’s a casual or posed group photo, you need to provide some direction. You’re the one behind the camera, so nicely take control of the situation - tell them what you’d like them to do and suggest some poses. Along with thoughtful positioning and careful poses, I often ask families to give a group hug, or to jump up in the air for an energetic, fun photo.
Take a Lot of Pictures
The odds are against you when trying to photograph a large group because people blink, talk and glance in other directions besides the camera. It’s important to take as many pictures as possible because you increase the odds of capturing everyone looking good at the same time. Set the proper expectation and tell everyone that you’re going to take a lot of photographs once they are in position. I like to give the group a time limit in order to prevent them from walking away once the first few shots are taken. For example, “hey everyone, this is going to take about 10 minutes, stay with me here.”
Capture the Real Moments
Posing works for some photos, but if you want authentic expressions in your images, you need to be observant and technically ready to capture the interaction and relationships between people in your images. This is what makes an image compelling, powerful, and memorable.
Both formal and casual portraits offer opportunities for candid images. It could be the emotion shared between people before or after a formal pose is struck, or the natural reaction to something funny that occurred during the casual pose. Whatever happens you need to be fully present in the moment, keenly aware of what is happening with your subjects, and capable of anticipating and recognizing an important moment.
Give People Something to Do
Capturing a candid moment is easy when you place your subjects within the context of objects or activities. When your subject is doing something your image tells a story and becomes much more interesting.
It’s The Little Things That Count
Everyday household items transform into artful abstractions when photographed close-up. Taken with a Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Autofocus Lens.
he art of photographing things extremely close-up is called macro photography. From flowers and insects, baby’s fingers and toes, to coins and collectables and everyday household items—macro photography uncovers a whole new world of photo possibilities.
A baby’s toes are even cuter when photographed close-up. Taken with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens.
Whether you’re shooting with a compact camera or a DSLR, there are settings, lenses, and other accessories to consider when capturing a close-up/macro image.
Look for the close-up/Macro Mode icon on your camera’s LCD screen.
I set the camera on the table next to the flower and used the 2-second self-timer to stabilize the shot. Taken with a Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Digital Camera set to Macro Mode.
A digital camera Mode Dial set to Macro Mode.
In the world of compact cameras, the term “macro” refers to the camera's ability to focus very closely on an object.
The Macro Mode exposure setting is denoted by a flower icon and is located either on the back of the camera, on the Mode Dial, or in the Scene settings.
Once selected, the flower icon appears on your LCD viewfinder. This allows you to focus and shoot closer to your subject than normal. For example, most compact camera’s minimum focusing distance is 30cm or 1 foot. The possible shooting range in Macro Mode is approximately 3cm, which translates to about one inch. That’s pretty close!
Getting close-up magnifies more than your subject, it also increases the potential of image blur due to camera shake. To decrease the blur in your photos, stabilize your camera on a table or use a mini-tripod. To further ensure that your camera doesn’t move, use your camera’s self-timer feature and set it to 2 seconds.
Digital SLR Cameras
Some DSLR camera models have a Mode Dial with a Macro Mode pre-set.
This setting attempts to optimize your camera’s exposure parameters for a “macro” shot, but your ability to capture a close-up image is actually controlled by your lens choice. For example, if a Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens is attached to your DSLR, the minimum focusing distance to your subject is limited to 9.8" (25 cm) and close-up/macro images will not be possible. If a dedicated macro lens is attached to your DSLR, like the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 macro lens you can use any exposure setting you desire and you can get closer to your subject with a minimum focusing distance of 7.8" (20cm).
What’s so special about a macro lens? Can’t you just use an 18-55mm lens and move it to within inches of whatever you’re shooting? Well, no. The problem is that a regular “non-macro” lens cannot focus at such a short distance (unless you use one of the accessories I mention below.)
True macro lenses allow a short focusing distance and can capture an object on the camera's sensor at the same size as the actual object. This is called a 1:1 magnification ratio or reproduction ratio. To confuse matters somewhat, the term "macro" is also used loosely to describe close-up photography, which could include other magnification ratios. Check your lens to see if it says MACRO then consult your lens manual or check out online information for the magnification/reproduction ratio specs.
The Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 macro USM lens has a true macro magnification ratio of 1:1 and is designed to work with a camera with an APS-C sensor, such as the Canon EOS Rebel models.
The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens will focus over the full range from infinity down to life size (1:1 reproduction ratio).
If you don’t have the budget for a macro lens, there are quite a few quick-fix options for achieving a higher magnification. Following are two of those options:
A Canon close-up lens attached to the front of your camera lens (normal or macro) allows a shorter focusing distance to your subject.
This Canon Extension Tube fits between the camera body and lens and helps increase the magnification of your image.
Diopters or Close-up Lenses
A bit like reading glasses, these lenses attach to the front of your lens just like a filter and allow a shorter focusing distance to your subject. They are easily attached and removed, and very portable. The optical power of the lens is measured in diopter, with +2 being weak and +10 being strong.
Extension tubes fit between the camera lens and body and contain no optical elements. The idea is to move the lens away from the sensor or film resulting in a closer focusing distance and greater magnification ratio. Take a look at the images of the lemons to see the difference an extension tube can make, even with a regular “kit” lens.
Taken with a Canon T4i set to Macro Mode using a “non-macro” Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Autofocus Lens.
Taken with a Canon T4i set to Macro Mode using a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Autofocus Lens and the Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II. Notice how the extension tube allows me to focus closer to the lemons.
The beads were the focal point in this macro image. Taken with a Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Autofocus Lens.
Our eyes are drawn to the sharp areas of an image. When you’re very close to your subject Macro Mode creates a very shallow depth of field (that’s what’s in focus within a certain area) so you’ll need to decide what area you want to focus on. Otherwise, you’ll find that a lot is out of focus. Experiment with tilting your camera back and forth, and move the camera closer and farther away from your subject. Keep your camera and the object you’re photographing parallel for the most detail. You’ll need to do this while pressing your finger halfway down on the shutter button to check the focus in your viewfinder.
Spray a little water on flower petals to freshen things up. Taken with a Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Autofocus Lens.
Use a reflector to reflect light into the shadows and brighten up your scene.
More Photo Tips
Capture water droplets on your flower images by spraying water on the petals right before the shot.
Brighten up your scene with a professional reflector or use household items such as tin foil wrapped around a cookie sheet or a car dashboard reflector to reflect light into the shadows.
Now it’s time to grab your camera. Look around your kitchen, your backyard, and your garage for interesting things to capture. Explore and get creative! Once you see things close-up, you’ll be hooked on macro photography.
A Look at Lenses
ould you like your soccer-match images of the kids to look more like Sports Illustrated as opposed to a regular snapshot? How about capturing wide-angle shots of a monument or landscape? Or perhaps you’re wondering how professional photographers blur out the background in a portrait while keeping the subject in sharp focus? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’ll need to know a little more about lenses.
One of the major benefits of using a dSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera is the creative option to interchange your lenses. Professional photographers use various types of lenses to achieve different effects in their images and you can certainly do the same. All you need to start with is the knowledge of the fundamentals and a game plan. You can build your lens collection to include the basics and perhaps add other lenses over time for a completely unique effect in your images.
Zoom Versus Prime Lenses
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS zoom lens
Zoom lenses have a range of focal lengths (for example, 24-105mm) and allow you to quickly increase or decrease your lens focal length, including more or less of your scene, in seconds, without changing your physical distance to your subject.
Here’s an example of two very different images I captured while standing in the same spot, using a zoom lens:
This image was captured with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS zoom lens using the longest focal length possible, 105mm.
This image was captured with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS zoom lens using the shortest (widest) focal length possible, 24mm.
Canon Normal EF 50mm f/1.8 lens
Prime lenses have a single focal length (for example, 50mm), are generally less expensive than zoom lenses, and can produce sharper images in some instances. The only drawback is that you miss the convenience of quickly changing your focal length with one lens.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money for that professional-looking blurred background in your images. This portrait was captured with a Canon Normal EF 50mm f/1.8 lens.
One lens that I recommend everyone have in their collection is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens, also known as the “nifty fifty”. Not only does it allow you to use a wide aperture setting on your camera, giving you a shallow depth of field for that “blurry” background look, but it’s very light and extremely affordable.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens.
What makes a lens “fast?” A lens with a constant, wide maximum aperture (for example, f/2.8) is considered a fast lens because more light passes through the lens, enabling you to use a faster shutter speed setting on your camera. A fast shutter speed helps you capture the action in a photograph, while a wide aperture gives you a shallow depth of field – rendering that sought-after blurry background that is so popular in portrait photographs. A fast lens is typically expensive and contains more glass so it’s heavier than lenses with a smaller maximum aperture.
A fast lens can make all the difference if you’re shooting a fast-moving subject. These water droplets were captured in midair with a fast shutter speed of 1/4000 second with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens.
A lens with a smaller maximum aperture (for example, f/3.5 - 5.6) allows less light to pass through the lens and therefore a slower shutter speed is required. Most basic inexpensive zoom lenses have a varying lens speed of approximately f/3.5 - f/5.6. The “varying” lens speed changes as you zoom closer or farther away from your subject with the wide or telephoto capability of your lens. These lenses are fine for beginning your photographic journey. They produce good images, but they do have limitations. For example, you can’t shoot handheld in most low-light situations, you can only capture the action in bright light or by using a flash, and rendering a very shallow depth of field is often not attainable. They are however, very light and very affordable compared to most of the fast lenses.
The focal length of a lens is usually displayed on the side of the lens barrel.
Lenses are available in a multitude of focal lengths with varying degrees of quality. Technically, the focal length of a lens is defined as the distance from the middle of the lens element to the digital camera’s imaging sensor, and it’s measured in millimeters (for example, 17-55mm).
Different focal lengths produce different perspectives, or “angles of view” in your images. Here is an example of how I created three very different photographs, just by changing my lenses:
This image was captured with a Canon Normal EF 50mm f/1.8 lens. A “normal” or “standard” lens approximates the perspective of the human eye.
This wide-angle image was captured with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L lens. Notice how this lens renders a wider field of vision and a deeper depth of field.
This image was captured with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens. Observe how the longer telephoto lens seems to magnify my subject and narrows the field of view in the scene.
Now that you know some of the basics about lenses, it’s time to think about all the creative possibilities. You might visit a local camera store and try out a lens or two, then strategize and begin to build your lens collection. It doesn’t have to happen all at once. Just remember to explore, experiment, and have fun!
Finding Good Light
f you love the great outdoors and enjoy taking pictures in natural light, you’ve probably encountered those unattractive under-eye shadows in your portraits or the disappointing, dull landscape shot. Am I right? If so, keep reading because I have some quick tips to help you remedy those problems and capture beautiful images.
When and Where Do You Find The Best Light for Taking Pictures?
I captured this image at sunset - the light was low in the sky and cast a golden glow upon Jeffrey, my surfing neighbor. Look at how the late afternoon light warms up his face and the angle of the light creates dimension.
Early Morning or Late Afternoon
Images captured in the harsh light of the midday sun can look flat and boring, lacking dimension, depth, and warmth, but images captured in early morning or late afternoon light reveal textures, shadows, and depth in warm and vivid tones. Whether you’re shooting landscapes or people, this quality of light offers a perfect opportunity for capturing a beautiful and interesting image. It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo when shooting at this time of day.
The early morning sidelight reveals dimension and texture in the landscape and on my model, Bryan.
But what if you don’t have the time or luxury of shooting at the most beautiful time of day? Are your chances of capturing a beautiful image…shot? Not at all! It’s still possible to capture great images in the middle of the day; you just have to know what to look for.
Shade can be found almost anywhere on a sunny day. The shaded area beneath a tree, under the porch of a house, in a doorway, under an umbrella or the shade of a building – any shady location where the sunlight is not directly falling upon your the subject. This is one of my favorite light sources for shooting pictures of people. It produces beautiful soft light, often mimicking studio lighting and it’s one of the easiest light sources to shoot with.
Doorways and arches offer beautiful “open shade” lighting and they provide an interesting frame around your subject. I positioned my friend, Pat, under the arched doorway and then zoomed in with my telephoto lens to fill the frame.
As long as you place your subject relatively close to the edge of the shade, looking towards the light, you’ll be able to see a catch light in your subject’s eye and their face will be evenly lit. You, as the photographer can be standing in full sun to get the shot, if necessary, as long as the subject is not in direct sunlight. This means that you can photograph at almost any time of day and not have to worry about the timing of the early morning or late afternoon light.
This is where we shot the picture, in a living room with a sofa that faces a big sliding glass door. It’s a bright overcast day, so no direct light is entering the room, only bright indirect light.
Window light has been a source of inspiration for traditional artists for centuries, from portraits of people, still life images, and the interiors of magnificent works of architecture.
The quality of window light I prefer is the soft, indirect light that comes in through a window during the middle of the day. This is different from the hard, direct light that can also come through a window. Similar to open shade, window light can be a very convenient light to shoot in, especially when the weather outdoors is not comfortable and perhaps your subject wants to stay inside.
Here’s how I took a beautiful picture of my Mom using window light, a black piece of fabric and a blue scarf.
I positioned my Mom on the sofa facing the window, draped a blue-green scarf around her shoulders and had a friend hold a black piece of fabric behind her to block out the distracting background.
I stood out on the balcony and using a long focal length lens, zoomed in to fill the frame with my Mom’s face, and this is the image I captured. It looks like a professional studio shot, and you’d never know how easy it was unless I revealed the setup. You can do this too!
The overcast skies created soft, even light on Alissa’s face.
You might think that a gray, overcast day would be a good reason to cancel a photo shoot, but an overcast sky can result in beautiful photos. Instead of a direct light source coming from a single spot in the sky, the clouds on an overcast day create a huge soft box in the sky resulting in diffused, even light falling upon your subjects and less contrast in your images.
Overcast skies also allow you to capture more saturated images during the middle of the day. If you’re lucky enough to have some weather roll in, this can be a great time to take advantage of the different moods weather can evoke in a photograph.
Now it’s time to pick up your camera, get creative, and find your own beautiful light.