Father Apprentice posted a couple of “intro to photography” ways to take better pics of your kids, and in true 8BitDad fashion, we waited a week to let you know about it – and now we’re adding to it. Because that’s what we do: we lag, then attack. So, grab you camera and pull up a seat on the rainbow. We’re embarking on a magical journey that ends in you making your wife cry. And this time, it will be because you took a beautiful and frame-able photo of your kid.
1) Get level with your subject
Take a look through all the pictures that your Facebook friends post of their kids. What angle are they all from? Right, way-the-eff high up. One of the best pieces of advice I had read when I bought my camera was to get down to your baby’s level. If your kid is running through the park, get on your knees. If s/he’s crawling across your carpet, get on your belly on the carpet. Though sometimes, angles work for conveying height or distance, you’re going to find a greater sense of “connectivity” between the kid in the photo and the person viewing the photo if you physically “get down there” and shoot straight at them. You can’t always drop to the floor whenever you want to capture a moment, but you should try.
One thing to be wary of when army-crawling through a photo-op is the empty space above your subject’s head in the frame. Unless you’re a master at “rule of thirds” photography, you should fill your frame with your subject and eliminate weird empty space above and around them. Keep reading for the related fifth tip about zooming (and not zooming).
As a test, take a picture (even with your phone) of your kid playing on the floor while standing in front of him or her. Then, get down on the floor right where you’re standing and take the same picture. Bet you an imaginary buck that the one that’s down on “their level” looks better.
2) Know the difference between “good photos” and “fun pictures”
We all have fun taking a photo of our child and running it through every filter that Photoshop has to offer. And in the age of iPhone apps, it’s easier than ever to snap a pic of your kid, add sepia tone, retro film grain, a black scraggly border, and look at it like it’s a masterpiece. But it’s gone from being a photo to being a picture. And since your kid (probably) isn’t from those happy-go-lucky 1840’s, it doesn’t really make sense to make the photo look retro. Unless s/he’s in a Civil War outfit for Halloween, you don’t need that crap.
A “good photo” is first and foremost, a photo. It’s maybe got some color processing in order to adjust white balance or maybe you had to adjust the exposure if you were lucky enough to shoot it in RAW (see below)…but that’s it. A photo becomes a picture when it’s got more fake elements than real ones. Think about the baby photographers out there – they sit your kid nude on a pillow in front of a splotchy dropcloth and snap away. And you pay them hundreds of dollars for it. Meanwhile, you see a photo op, and you grab for the iPhone, then send the pic through the wringer with filters and effects before uploading it. Why not copy the big dogs and go au naturel? The test: if your wife sees your photo and says “that looks cool,” you failed. If she tears up, you won.
3) Decide if you should shoot in RAW
DSLR cameras, and some higher-end point-and-shoots (with hacks at least) can shoot in RAW mode. This mode doesn’t compress the photos like JPEG mode does, so you’re still able to easily color-correct, adjust white balance, or pull details out of washed-out and over-exposed photos. If you don’t mind a couple of extra steps moving your photos from the camera to your hard drive, shooting in RAW is a great way to make sure you’ve “caught the moment.” But it comes at a price – RAW photos are bigger and will take up more memory on your memory card. But, with flash memory being so cheap these days, you can pop an 8GB card in your camera and probably won’t run out of room shooting a 12 megapixel camera in RAW mode.
Keep in mind that depending on your operating system, you might not natively have the capacity to see thumbnails of RAW photos. Google’s Picasa will view them, and Photoshop can help you convert them in a batch or one-by-one. For some less computer-savvy types, shooting in RAW will be a pain in the ass. But you’d be surprised at what detail you can pull out of a RAW photo that can’t be done so from a JPEG. It’s worth playing around with it during a day at the park.
If you need more info on RAW versus JPEG, just google – wait for it – “RAW versus JPEG.” And if you’re sporting a point-and-shoot camera and don’t see a RAW option, then forget you read the last couple of paragraphs.
4) Learn about your camera
People that don’t learn about their DSLR cameras are doing themselves a disservice because the DSLR alone doesn’t make the photos look great, but tweaking the options for specific situations gets you a lot closer. You don’t need to learn the ins-and-outs of ISOs and shutter speed – but it’d behoove you to pick up a $10 book about your camera, available at almost every bookstore on-and-offline. Point-and-shoot cameras might not have full books about specific models – but you can pic up a Photography-for-morons book that’ll drag you kicking and screaming into better photography.
Either way, it wouldn’t kill you to learn what settings to adjust when it’s sunny versus cloudy, when you’re inside versus outside, or shooting action photos versus portraits. You’ll be pleasantly surprised after that above-mentioned day at the park when you employ some of the things that you read about your camera. It won’t turn you into INSERT-FAMOUS-PHOTOGRAPHER-HERE, but it will make the photos you print out at Target look craploads better when you wedge them into a greeting card.
5) Zoom. And don’t zoom
This is another tip that I read along with getting down on the ground to shoot photos. Basically, you only zoom when your feet can’t get you there. If you can walk or lean closer, do it. Once you’re physically not able to get closer (or need to stay outside of a flailing kid’s wingspan), then feel free to zoom. You don’t need to know about camera lenses to know that you’ll see a lot more detail in your kid’s eyes if you walk right up to him rather than taking a picture across the room.
If you’re using a point-and-shoot, you’d better stick to the optical zoom. Without getting too technical, the basic difference between optical and digital zoom is that optical zoom is done with the actual physical parts of the camera, and digital zoom is processed by the camera’s processor. Because of this, digitally-zoomed photos a lot of times have a more pixelated look – or in some cases – too smooth. That’s because the camera is basically making the picture bigger by adding pixels to it. It’s guessing what colors to add…and sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong. Kodak actually has a good explanation here. They sum it up nicely, saying “sacrificing image quality to capture the moment is more important than not getting the picture at all.” Learn about how to stop your zoom before it gets into the digital range.
Well, that’s all 8BitDad’s got for you. Thanks to Father Apprentice for the inspiration! Hopefully our two sites have inspired you to get out of that iPhone-pic retro-filter rut that we see too often on Facebook galleries.
Sauce: Father Apprentice