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.

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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 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

Top 10 Photo Resolutions for 2014

Happy New Year from all of us at Omega Photo!

Along with all of the New Year Resolutions that many of you are making (and likely breaking by now…), I thought I would add a list of resolutions that you might actually enjoy. Here is my Top 10 Photo Resolutions for 2014…

1) Start a 365 Project

01 Blipfoto

This is a challenging project where most photographers start off strong capturing a daily photo, but then fade after about four or five weeks. It’s demanding and requires diligence, but it also prepares you to view the world with a heightened sense of awareness. You’ll become more attuned to your surroundings always on the lookout for a worthy photo to post.  One of the best places to post your project is on Blipfoto which is designed specifically to accept one photo per calendar date. It’s free and the community is very supportive and complimentary towards its members.

2) Print Some Enlargements

The digital age with all its benefits and advances has a major drawback when it comes to viewing images. Most photographers are storing their images on their computers (more on that in #4 below) rarely to be seen unless it’s posted online somewhere. One of the best ways to preserve your images and share them with your friends is to print some enlargements and frame them. When you run out of wall space you can then…

3) Make A Photo Book

03 Photobooks

There are a lot of options for producing a slick photo book, ranging from very basic to custom masterpieces, that’s only limited by your imagination.  The self-serve workstations at Omega Photo feature lots of templates and designs that suit most occasions and themes. You can make a book for vacations, birthdays, and holidays then, at the end of the year, create a retrospective annual of your family’s activities.  To manage all that you’ll need to…

4) Get Organized and Back Up Your Images

Data-Recovery-1

This resolution may not be a lot of fun, but the time and effort invested in organizing your photos will pay off in the long run.  I organize my family images in an annual folder (Family Photos 2014) with numbered monthly sub-folders (01 January 2014, 02 February 2014…).  This narrows the search based on the date of the event and saves a lot of time otherwise spent clicking and opening folders and files.

This is also the perfect opportunity to purchase a couple of external hard drives and archive your images on a daily basis.  If there is one true adage in the digital age, it’s this,

“It’s not a question of “if” your computer’s hard drive will fail, but “when”.

Save yourself a lot of heartache, dirty looks from the family, and endless self-loathing by making the effort to back-up and archive your files. Check out my Back Up Your Memories article for more detailed information regarding storage and archiving solutions.

5) Share, Post, and Publish

The internet is a great way to share your images with family and friends and there are lots of online resources to facilitate the publishing of your photos. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter are the “Big 3” and they all offer options for sharing, posting, and adding comments. It’s a great way to share news of family events and to get feedback on your latest images.

A cautionary note: Facebook and other online services implement strict Terms of Service (TOS) that explicitly give them all rights to use your photos as they deem fit. It’s mostly a protective legal measure but you need to be aware of it …

6) Take Your Camera Everywhere

Just do it… You can’t take great images without a decent camera, and a cell phone doesn’t quite cut it.  It’s certainly better than nothing, but a real camera will provide more creative options that will produce higher quality files and allow you more control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

7)  Embark on a Photo Safari

07 Safari

One day, one week, one month… it doesn’t matter. Plan a trip somewhere with the sole purpose of photographing the essence of that location. Treat the excursion as a photo assignment where you must deliver images to an editor that provides a variety of different angles, views, and subject matter from that locale. Be sure to include some people shots and to change lenses and locations often. This mindset will help you capture many different perspectives of the area and prevents you from getting into a rut and returning home with 317 photos of the same statue…

8) Enter A Photo Contest

Photo contests are a fun way to keep your creative juices flowing and maintain a competitive edge. The odds are stacked against you, and the judge’s choices often defy all logic, but it’s still a thrill to enter. Start out with contests that are free, but consider reputable fee-based contests that offer more prestige and recognition. Always be aware of what the rules require, and what rights the sponsoring organization claims when you submit your photo (usually Rule #6).   Omega Photo sponsors a “Photo of the Week” contest that you can enter by emailing your image to omega@omegaphoto.biz . Most newspapers also sponsor a “your best shot” type of contest that is easy to enter. The Seattle Times offers the Reader’s Lens contest that can be entered online here.
TIP: Don’t even think of submitting a sunset shot to a photo contest. Trust me, I’ve judged a lot of contests and sunset shots go straight into the trash…

9) Try a New Photo Technique

baywoodpano12x36

Panoramas, black & white, infrared, pinhole, 3D… There is a wide selection of different techniques and effects that you can experiment with to keep the creative juices flowing. If you prefer to do something unique and different with pictures you already have on file, then I recommend purchasing The Photojojo Book.  It contains treasure trove of creative DIY type photo projects that will keep you busy on those days when it’s just too bleak to go outside and shoot.

10) Take a Class or Workshop

07 Sunset Photogs

The best way to learn or improve any skill is in a hands-on environment at the feet of a Master. You can watch all the YouTube videos you want, but attending a workshop is the most efficient way to hone your skills.  Omega Photo offers a series of classes each month on a wide variety of topics ranging from Basic Photography to Advanced Speedlite seminars. Just “Like” our Facebook page or sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates.

There’s your top 10 photography resolutions for 2014.  I look forward to doing many of these items myself and hope you do too.  Happy New Year!

-Jeff Greene