It may seem that writing this article is something of an odd choice for a professional newborn photographer. After all, why would we want you – the client (or potential client) – to know how to take better photos and possibly choose to not use our services?
The answer is twofold:
- We don’t look at it in terms of business and income but in terms of customer service and knowledge sharing. If we can help people to take better photos of their family and friends then hopefully we can increase their appreciation for the whole process and end result of photography. There’s a sense of quiet satisfaction knowing that some knowledge we passed on meant someone somewhere was able to capture that memory better.
- It does not decrease our interaction with you (in fact, it’s the opposite!). Along with a better appreciation of everything photographic there comes the acceptance of the professional’s services and abilities. It can help inspire people which is always a good thing, and at the same time introduce people to an area of art they may never have discovered otherwise. Our expertise, which cannot be simply ‘known’ or read, is in the genre of newborn and maternity photography – apart from what we cover in this article there is a whole plethora of other things to consider in these specialised images e.g. safety, posing, technique, editing, people skills, advanced lighting, and training in them all. This is why there is no reason not to share this article with you.
We discuss why it’s not only desirable but essential to use a professional newborn photographer for those specific images of your new addition such as you see on our pages here in this article.
So how do I take better photos?
If you just take a few seconds before you press that shutter to think about two things, you’ll find that the quality of your photos will increase dramatically. It’s equally applicable to DSLR cameras, point-and-shoot cameras and even phone cameras. The principles are the same whatever you use – LIGHT and LOOK:
This is by far the most important thing when taking a photo – consider the light. The light creates shadows, which inform our eyes of shapes and contours. It can be flat or not bright enough. It can be overpowering or too harsh. Or it can be soft, wrapping around the subject in an eye-pleasing manner, giving soft shadows and depth. Consider:
Where is the source of light?
This can affect how your camera ‘sees’ the scene and also how it tries to compensate for it. If the light is behind your subject, the camera will try and adjust for that light coming in to its sensor and will over-compensate, resulting in a dark (underexposed) subject like this:
If the light is directly behind you it may result in squinting (if it’s strong sunlight) of your subject and / or ‘flat’ lighting which means that the shadows aren’t present enough to make an eye-pleasing picture. This is a common problem when using built-in flash – it creates a small bright light source in line with the camera lens and so doesn’t create contours and soft shadows, and often creates a harsh unsightly shadow behind the subject if they’re near a wall or similar:
If it’s off to one side but unfiltered (eg by clouds) direct sunlight or if you have bright sunlight coming through leafy trees you’ll get the dreaded dappled effect. This is where some of the subject is bright and the other areas are very dark, with very little transition between the two. There’s often squinting involved in these ones too!
How big / close is it?
There are many factors to consider here and there’s lots of complicated maths and rules (the inverse square law is one if you fancy a
thrilling read on Google) but it boils down to this:
The bigger the relative size of the light source, the softer and more pleasing the light (and shadows). This means (somewhat counter-intuitively) that to have the ideal ‘soft’ light you can either make a light source physically bigger or you can make it relatively bigger by moving it closer to the subject.
The above is fairly easy if you have artificial light (flash or studio lights) – use a bigger softbox and / or move the light closer.
But what if my light source is the sun?
If the light source is the sun, however, it’s a bit trickier to manipulate it. You can’t make it bigger, and you can’t move it closer. You can, however, trick your camera into thinking you’ve done one of those things by using something to diffuse the light. This can be:
- A scrim of some kind in between the sun and your subject. This can be as simple as a white sheet, or even just draw over some net curtains.
- Move your subject until the sun is not a small bright source of direct light, and use something white or shiny to reflect it on to the subject – a towel, a sheet, a shirt, a wall.
- Clouds! These are natures’ own softboxes, and provide the best light diffusion ever – the whole of the cloud becomes your diffused light source.
All of the above work on the same principle – it takes a small far-away light source and by ‘diffusing’ it makes it bigger and so relatively-speaking closer.
To illustrate this hold your hand up at eye level and look at your monitor, noting how big it is in relation to your hand. Now move further away / closer to your monitor and see how the size of the monitor changes in relation to the size of your hand.
Note that it’s not necessary to make it less bright – the key is to have the largest light source possible at the closest distance possible. The diagram below illustrates the ‘diffusion’ effect, which means you get nice soft light wrapping all around your subject and creating nice contoured soft shadows:
What shadows does it cast?
Shadows are what makes a photo ‘eye-pleasing’ and ‘interesting’. Shadows which are too harsh (a two-tone kind of look, either bright or black with little to no transition between the two areas) are distracting and unflattering, and can hide important detail. Shadows which are too ‘shallow’ result in flat-looking lighting where everything is uniformly lit and so our eye has more of a struggle to make sense of what it’s seeing.
Nice soft, depth-defining shadows which don’t obscure features is what you’re aiming for here! The main thing that will help you take better photos of your family is light.
The look is basically the composition – how your picture is put together, the elements in it and how it’s framed. There’s a ‘rule’ of image-creation and it’s called the ‘Rule of Thirds’. Like all creative rules it can be broken in the right circumstances but it’s a key one to remember for most situations and most importantly it’s a good starting point to help you stop and think about how you’re framing your subject. It goes like this:
The human brain is hard-wired to seek balance in what it sees, and (for some reason) prefers to see things in odd numbers, whether it’s actual things or the spaces between things – if it adds up to 3 it’s ‘better’. Let me explain…
Imagine a grid superimposed on what you’re looking at with 3 columns and 3 rows (created by two vertical lines and two horizontal lines like this:
Now try to place the most important part of your subject at one of the intersection points shown here:
Apply the technique to a photo and you have this:
So if you just keep in mind the above info, you’ll notice a difference in your photos pretty much straight away, and as it becomes just part of the process you’ll take better photos to treasure and enjoy!
This article is by no means the absolute top of design rules which should always apply! There’s many other theories out there which can be applied to creating images. A few worthwhile reads (if you’re interested!) are:
10 photography techniques from TechRadar: