Saturday, November 30, 2013

How To Take Pictures By Christmas Lights

I'm sure lots of places have local light displays where people get out, walk around, and take tons and tons of horrible pictures.

The Christmas lights are so pretty!!  But they make for pretty tricky lighting.  Fortunately, if you follow these easy tips, you can have much better pictures!

There are TWO elements to a decent light display portrait.
1. Background
2. Lighting

Not one or the other.  BOTH.

1. You need to have something pretty in the background.  Doesn't matter what color or how in focus or out of focus it is.  Just make sure it isn't a parking lot or something else horribly ugly.

2. You need to have WHITE light hitting the subject's face.  And we really don't want to use our flash if we don't have to.  Colored lights can make the skin look funky and can make your subject look ill.  Best to stick to white light for hitting the face.  (Off white and yellow would be 2nd and 3rd choice.)  You can include the lights in the picture or crop them out.  But your subject will likely have to be practically hugging the light source to get decent light unless they are just SUPER bright.

THAT'S IT!  The photo above was taken with a DSLR and a tripod, but the same tips can improve even quick cell phone snapshots.  Like this one:

Happy Holidays!

Since I already included the shot from 2012 (main shot used at the top) and then a cell phone shot from 2013, I figured I'd go ahead and update with a 2014 shot.  Because it's my blog and I can.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Things I learned from attempting a birthday party photobooth

My son Tristan just turned 4.  We had a Superhero themed birthday party for him.  I have a Nikon D5100, which has a view screen that flips out and rotates.  This means you can flip it out and see it when you're standing in front of the camera.  My son *loves* using the remote and taking a bazillion pictures of himself this way.  I figured, if he likes it, other kids his age probably will too!  Hey, brilliant idea!  Let's set up a photobooth at his birthday party!  Pinterest had some great examples.  They inspired me and fueled my enthusiasm.  So my mom and I built our set, I hooked my camera up to the TV, and BAM!!  Or, so I thought...

First issue: Not enough light to be flash-free.  And we set up in a den with a lot of windows.  I rigged up a diffuser for my pop-up flash out of wax paper.  This is the test shot I took seeing if it'd work.  It's still more direct light than I would have liked, but it did manage to keep most hard shadow outlines off the backdrop.

Second issue: Kids are not remote-friendly.  I was standing by the camera trying to secure my wax paper creation before all the kids showed up and my son hurled the remote at me.  Apparently he pushed the button as he was launching it, though, because BAM - I've got a picture of the remote flying toward the camera.  I ended up tying a ribbon to the remote and securing it to the phone booth.  It kept the remote from getting lost, but the ribbon is visible in all the pictures.

I like this shot because my son looks like he's about to take off any second (so very Superman of him!) AND it looks like he's looking directly at the camera.  In truth, he is looking directly at ME because I'm about to yell at him for throwing the remote.  That also explains why he looks like he's about to bolt.  That brings me to the third issue: Kids don't look at the camera.  They look at the TV.  In my setup, the TV was mounted on the wall about 2 feet higher than the camera.  This can be seen in the NAILED IT! image I used up top.  You can also see examples of issues 4 and 5 in that image.

Fourth issue:  Kids suck at posing.  They stand too close to the camera.  They don't appreciate all the hard work that went in to the awesome backdrop.  They have no imaginative superhero poses.  At least not the kids at our party.  Of course, he just turned 4, so the kids are all about the same age.  Older kids might "get it" a bit more.

Fifth issue: Kids are like little tweakers with the remote control button.  They just push it.  They're all BUTTONBUTTONBUTTONBUTTON!!!  It doesn't matter what's going on.  Most of the images look like out takes.  They are definitely funny and I think they'll make an awesome memory for my son, though!

So what did I learn?  When it comes to birthday party photobooths, if you want really cute shots there is one critical element needed that I underestimated: adult guidance.  "Here kids, push the button when you're ready to take a picture" didn't cut it.  There needs to be an adult to tell them where to stand, where to look, give posing ideas, and to take the picture when there is a picture worth taking.  If you want comical out takes, you can do as I did :)