5 Tips for Great Holiday Card Photos

 

Creating Memorable Images for your Holiday Cards.

Article by Jenn Gidman    Images by Kristi Bonney

Photographing and choosing the image to use for your annual holiday card can be a tough decision, but the driving force behind your final selection should be what moves you the most. What you love about your kids, for example, are the same things your friends and faraway relatives who are getting your holiday card love about them, too.

Look for personal, emotional moments for family and individual portraits.
Have a plan in mind before you start taking pictures. If you want to include more traditional posed images as options, get those shots out of the way first. Don’t force the emotions, though. Have the family stand tallest to smallest in front of a barn or brick wall, or ask Mom and Dad to stand in the middle and then have the kids gather round and start hugging. As the photographer, just go with whatever they’re doing and start taking pictures.

© Kristi Bonney

It’s also ideal to get the family outside and capture them as they interact with nature. Holiday card photos don’t have to be stuffy! Make it kind of like a “Hey, wish you were here!” postcard. A 70-200mm zoom lens is perfect for these type of shots, since you just can stand back and observe as they run through the leaves or go sledding. The point is simply to place your family in an environment they love being in (this can be a room in your house, too). Put your family’s personality into it and showcase the environment at the same time.

© Kristi Bonney

Parents often like to focus on a single child for their holiday card, a touching way to show your faraway family and friends how a child has grown over the past 12 months. It’s a great way to make a connection with your loved ones. Fill the frame with your child doing something interesting or something she likes to do every year, like reading a certain holiday book or rearranging the ornaments on the tree or trying to untangle the Christmas lights. It speaks volumes about your child’s personality, and your family and friends will get the card and say, “Oh, that’s so Jane!”

© Kristi Bonney

Try different angles to showcase family traditions.
As a photographer, I’m always seeing photos everywhere I go. During the holiday season, I’ll see little snapshots of the memories that are happening right before my eyes. Always have the camera ready, and try to capture those moments from all different angles. For instance, as we decorated Christmas cookies, I wanted to get a couple of pictures more or less straight on to capture the whole essence of the episode. In one image of my daughter, I got down a little lower to get the plate of cookies in the foreground and my daughter slightly blurred in the background. This image really gives a sense of how many cookies we were actually decorating, as well as how much fun she was having. She’s also got this really funny expression on her face that she always makes when she concentrates. It’s great to capture that, because it’s one of those little things you look back on when they’re older and remember how they were and what they did when they were younger.

© Kristi Bonney© Kristi Bonney

It’s also cool to get pictures like this from above. I love getting shots of the entire messy table while we’re making cookies or wrapping gifts. That perspective can show a lot about the person or family. For instance, I really wanted to capture all the hands that were digging in to the cookies during our decorating session. My mom was visiting, and we don’t get to see her a lot, so I thought it would be a neat shot to get up on a chair and take a picture of all of their hands from above to really show our fun, chaotic family tradition.

Capture the solemnity and respect for your holiday when the lights go low.
The holidays can also be a really reflective time, and it’s wonderful to show that in a holiday card photo as well. A menorah image, for instance, can really capture the feeling of Hanukkah and the emotional impact of the moment when you’re in front of the menorah and thinking about the holiday and your life in general. For lit menorah shots, I’d recommend people use a reflector, as well as a tripod and shutter release to keep your camera stable, and keep your lens wide open. I literally lowered my eye into the viewfinder just so I could see where my reflector was hitting, because I wanted the light to bounce off of the metal of the menorah.

© Kristi Bonney

Incorporate your holiday decor into the image.
You could take some really fun shots using materials for holiday decorations. For example, you might ask your child to blow some glitter into the air and try to capture that. For an image like this, it’s important to light the glitter from the side, so use a reflector or just position your subject so that the glitter is sidelit. You’ll need to use a faster shutter speed to capture the glitter in midair, so shoot for at least 1/500th of a second. Also, use a smaller aperture so that more of the scene and glitter are in focus.

In my family, we make paper snowflakes to decorate the house, which are fun to use in our holiday card pictures. To create a blurred snowflake effect, hang paper snowflakes at varying intervals and pull back when you shoot. You can also switch it up and try something like placing the edge of a paper snowflake on the outer edge of the lens so that it creates a cool blurred effect along the edge. Or you could use colored paper to give it a bit of a glow. The snowflakes can also be used to frame your subject, which makes for a nice composition.

© Kristi Bonney

Take the picture for your card with the end result in mind.
When you’re composing your image, think ahead about how you want the actual holiday card layout to look. For example, do you want it to look more like a landscape image or a portrait? Also consider where you might want to place the text. Either take the picture and leave room for text, or plan on framing the image on the card, with room for text on the side of the image. Finally, don’t be afraid to play around in post-processing and edit the photos. Play around with the settings if you need to to add more warmth to your image and make it a true reflection of your family.

5 Tips For Awesome Summer Photos

Beaches provide excellent opportunities for digital photography because of their vast natural beauty. Impressive colors, textures and most of all – amazing light. Many consider a beach vacation to be a dream destination for a family trip, honeymoon or a casual get-away. Follow these tips to capture more exciting and creative beach photographs…

Capture the Fun!

Capture some the fun by getting your friends or family to run on the sand for some wonderful action shots. Be sure to protect your camera and lens from any kicked up sand!

Sunsets

Once the sun has started to set, grab your tripod to take images of the sky and sea. The water will look calm and there will be many captivating and vibrant colors. Place the camera on a sturdy tripod because of the lower light levels.

Avoid Shadows

When there is a bright sun, it means that harsh shadows are inevitable. There are a few things you can do; use fill-in flash which will bounce some light into the subject’s faces, especially the eyes to counteract the shadows. You can also zoom in closer using a standard or telephoto lens, cutting down on the amount of shadows.

Unique Subjects

Beaches are great settings to photograph wildlife. Birds like seagulls and sandpipers are a good choice. Make sure you use a good quality zoom or telephoto lens (at least 200 mm) to get close without disturbing your feathered friends.

Always Have a Camera

Finally the above tips are all useless if you don’t carry a camera -a cell phone doesn’t count- around with you at all times. You have to be ready to capture that great moment or happy event, so keep a camera in your pocket, bag, or pack at all times.

 

7 Tips for Better Landscape Photos

By Jenn Gidman / Jeff Greene
Images by David Akoubian / bearwoodsphoto.com.

David Akoubian has had plenty of practice photographing the great outdoors. Whether he’s exploring the region around his Georgia home in the mountains or leading one of his photography workshops to the Grand Tetons or Apalachicola; David has a special love of nature that translates effortlessly to his photography.

lighthouseVFor this series of images, David used the Tamron SP 24-70mm VC lens, a full-frame F/2.8 standard zoom that’s compact and lightweight for a day shooting outdoors.

Read on for some of David’s tips to get the most out of your landscape photography experience.

Choose the right lens. 

When you’re selecting a nature and landscape lens, you want to pick a lens that’s incredibly sharp and has great compression/decompression abilities.

When trying to stretch a landscape, the wide-angle end of the 24-70 gives you the decompression needed, “stretching” the landscape out and providing the ability to use a compositional element to grab the viewer’s attention.

For example, in the lighthouse image above, Akoubian literally jammed his camera down into the rocks. The rocks look so much bigger than the lighthouse itself, mainly because of that decompression factor.

creek

The same thing happened in this

image of a river with little ferns in the foreground. It was a perfect compositional element-the ferns are maybe 3 inches tall, but they look huge in the foreground thanks to the decompression factor of that lens. The front of the lens is about 12 to 15 inches away from the ferns, so they look really huge.

Evaluate the Scene 

Decide what kind of mood you’re trying to set. If you’re photographing a river decide if you want a stop-action image with a faster shutter speed to show the power of the water, or if you want to slow the shutter speed down and create a more relaxing mood.

Look for S-curves and C-curves

Lead a viewer into a photo with an S or C curve giving viewers a way to travel through the image. The S-curve look, typically starts at the bottom left and moves through the image to the upper right. For example, that could be a river winding through a landscape. On the other hand, waves crashing against a shoreline with a lighthouse might appear more masculine-the land against the sea appears to make a backward “C” shape.

lighthouseH

Use the “Rule of Thirds”

If you were to take a tic-tac-toe board and place it over your image, the power points are where those lines on the board intersect. Studies show that our culture tends to read left to right, top to bottom, so your focus points are typically in the upper left and lower right of your frame. Ideally, you should try to place your center of interest on one of those intersections.

Evaluate the Composition

You might think you’ve got a great shot, with ferns in the foreground and a river in the background, but then when you go to look through the viewfinder, you might see a big, bright rock or other distracting element in the lower left of the frame. If that’s the case, change your angle of view, blur out the background, or do whatever it takes to eliminate those distractions.

cactusEvaluate the Exposure.

A camera’s dynamic range is fairly limited compared to what the
human eye can see. To remedy that, mount your camera on a tripod, take one picture exposing for the foreground, one for the background, then I blend them together in Photoshop.

Use can also capture a set of images, exposed in 1-stop increments, and use HDR (high dynamic range) enhancement for scenes with very high contrast. Keep in mind that you don’t want to over use HDR resulting in  fake looking image, you want it to be complementary.

 

Filters

Use a high-grade circular polarizer. The polarizer will reduce glare enhance the sky and clouds, and saturate the greens in your image to make them richer.  A neutral density filter is also handy to darken scenes enabling you to use a slow shutter speed to blur movement.

All this being said, just slow down and don’t sweat the technical stuff so much. Take the time to select a lens and focal length, select your photographic elements, and compose the scene..
 
Create an image, capture the mood, and enjoy the moment.

-JMG.

7 Tips for Photographing Tonight’s Lunar Eclipse

1) Determine the Time of the Eclipse
Eclipse Phase   Pacific Time  
Penumbral Eclipse begins   Apr 14 at   9:55 PM  
Partial Eclipse begins   Apr 14 at 10:59 PM  
Full Eclipse begins   Apr 15 at 12:08 AM  
Maximum Eclipse   Apr 15 at 12:46 AM  
Full Eclipse ends   Apr 15 at   1:23 AM  
Partial Eclipse ends   Apr 15 at   2:32 AM  
Penumbral Eclipse ends   Apr 15 at   3:36 AM  

2) Use a Tripod & Shutter Release.
Nothing is steadier than a good quality tripod and although your exposures will be surprisingly short, if you’re using a long lens, you’ll need to keep it as steady as possible. Remember, if you forgot your remote release, use your DSLR’s 2-second timer.

3) Use a Long Lens
200mm is good.  300mm or 400mm is better… If you have a 2x converter, use it. For most shots you’ll want to fill the frame as much as possible.

4) Shoot in Manual Mode
Most photographers overexpose their moon photos when they rely on the camera’s auto modes. The moon is actually quite bright. Think about it, it’s being illuminated by the Sun so the Sunny 16 Rule is a very close estimation. Once the eclipse starts you may have to make some adjustments.
 
The photo above was taken during the lunar eclipse on December 10, 2011
Exposure: 1.6 seconds @f/5.6  ISO 1600

5) Shoot Wide Open
In a related note, select the widest aperture so you can use the fastest shutter speed possible. Remember, the earth is rotating and the long focal length will amplify movement.

6) Compose and Re-compose
Because of the aforementioned rotation of the earth, the moon’s position in your viewfinder will constantly shift. Make the necessary adjustment to keep the moon centered.

7) Create a Multiple Exposure of the Entire Eclipse
A very cool effect, especially if you have an extra camera, is to capture a multiple exposure of the entire eclipse sequence. Mount your camera with a wide angle lens, compose the scene with some interesting foreground, and capture an image every 30 minutes. Afterwards you can blend the different phases of the eclipse into a single image in Photoshop.

If you miss your chance tonight, no worries, the next total lunar eclipse visible in the US is on October 8th.
-JMG

8 Tips for Sharper Images

8 Tips for Sharper Images

Baywood Sunset, Morro Bay CA  / ©2014 Jeffrey M. Greene

How can I get my photos sharper?” is one of the most common questions I get asked during my workshops and seminars. There are no shortcuts to getting sharp images, so here are my eight suggestions for staying in focus:

1) Use a tripod

Nothing will keep your camera and lens fixed and steadier than a good quality tripod. There are lots of choices when purchasing a tripod system and there are basically two types you can choose from:

1. Tripods that are cheap, light weight, and easy to carry. 

                or…

2. Tripods that actually work…

I’ll discuss tripods in detail in a future newsletter, but you should be prepared to spend from $500+ for a carbon fiber model with a ball-head and quick release system.

2) Use a remote shutter release. 

It makes no sense to secure you camera to a tripod only to jab the shutter with your finger. Use a remote release.

Bonus Tip: If you forgot your remote release, use your DSLR’s 2-second timer. 

 

3) Capture in Live View Mode

The old-school advice for shutter speeds that are 1/4sec and slower was to enable “mirror lock-up” to reduce vibration. With Live View, the mirror is already secured since you’re viewing directly off the sensor. Bonus Tip: Enable Silent Mode 1 or 2 on Canon DSLRs. The simulated electronic shutter action reduces the vibration even further.

4) Achieve Critical Focus

Check and double-check your focus. In Live View, magnify the view on the LCD monitor to ensure that you’re in focus. Use a small aperture (f/11, f/16, f/22) to increase depth of field. A piece of blue painters tape or gaffers tape is perfect for securing the focusing ring and prevent it from slipping. 

5) Select a Fast Shutter Speed

If you’re shooting sports, (or ignoring Rule #1 above) select a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and reduce camera shake. For sports I recommend shooting at least 1/500sec, but 1/1000sec and faster is preferred. To reduce camera shake with a hand-held cameras, select a shutter speed that is the inverse of the lens focal length. Example: if you’re using 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/200sec or faster.

6) Enable Image Stabilization / Vibration Reduction

Canon and Nikon both have lenses that feature technology that compensates for slight camera-shake from hand-holding a camera. Although it’s no longer required, I still recommend turning off this feature when using a tripod.

7) Minimize Filter Usage

The more glass you add to the front of the lens, the more the image may suffer degradation. There are proper times for using filters and I only carry three in my bag; a polarizer to reduce glare, a vari-ND to cut down light, and an IR filter for infrared photography. Many photographers affix UV filters to protect their objective lens, but in that case I strongly advocate buying a top brand UV (Heliopan, Hoya, B+W).

8) Invest in “Pro” Lenses

There is huge difference in quality (and price) between consumer lenses and the Canon L series and Nikon ED/N lenses. Glass quality, coatings, and construction all contribute to higher overall quality. Most experts will advise you to invest in “glass”. Camera bodies come and go, but a good lens can last forever.

 

For the sharpest images possible, I recommend that you follow all of these tips whenever you can. It takes time, patience, and effort; but that degree of diligence is what turns a snapshot into a great shot…

 

-Jeff Greene

Time to Spring Forward!

Spring Forward Today…

Today is the second Sunday of March and that means that it’s time to set your clocks to Daylight Saving Time.
ALL your clocks,  …don’t forget the internal clocks on your cameras.  

DST 2014 Spring 650px

The Good News is that we get an extra hour of daylight in the evening to follow our photographic pursuits.
The Bad News is that most of us will waste half a day running around the house setting all of our clocks one hour forward  instead of spending it outside shooting.

To set the time on most cameras, simply go to Menu > Camera Settings >Date/Time and make the necessary changes. I use my cell phone as an accurate reference for the correct time.  As you go through your home changing the other clocks in your house, make a list.  Before you know it November 2nd will be here and you’ll be reversing the process back to Standard Time.

Here’s my “Clock List“:

  • Master bedroom
  • Kid’s bedroom
  • Guest bedroom
  • Master bathroom
  • Guest bathroom
  • Office
  • Workshop
  • Kitchen Stove
  • Microwave
  • Coffee maker
  • Anniversary clock
  • Wristwatches
  • Cameras
  • My car
  • Her car
  • Motorhome

DST 2014 Spring Strip 650px

Tempus Fugit…

-Jeff Greene