Amy Clark

5 Tips for Great Photography Straight From A Pro

I was excited to have found an old friend of mine from high school through Facebook. As I paged through my friend Daniel’s info and pictures, I couldn’t believe how incredible his photography was and had to find out what he was up to. It was no surprise, after seeing his amazing photography, that he was running his own business and doing quite well with it.

I asked if I could interview him for our website so I could share tips for great photography with our moms and was so thrilled when he accepted. He was happy to share with our readers just a little glimpse into the world of great photography and I hope that this information will help you as you venture into taking pictures of your children.

Best of all, he shares his secrets for getting that perfect family photo and just in time for those fun holiday pictures for those photo cards!

Can you offer some insight on choosing the best photography equipment for a young family? What is one good investment that is totally worth the splurge?

Sure! I can talk cameras and gear all day and night, but I’ll try to keep it brief. The main thing to keep in mind is that expensive gear doesn’t make great photographs. Expensive tools are nice, but more important is the knowledge of how and when to use the tools you’ve got. With that in mind, remember that digital photography equipment is very rapidly evolving. For example, the big camera manufacturers have a history of announcing new SLR camera bodies every 18 months or less! So the one solid investment to make in digital photography is in glass (lenses). Spend your money on the best glass you can afford, keep it forever, and then look for a camera body within your remaining budget.

If the SLR world of bodies and interchangable lenses is entirely out of your budget from the start, then don’t forget that truly great photographs are made every single day with cameras in the Point & Shoot (P&S;) category. In general, P&S; cameras will range from being completely automatic to having the ability to shoot fully manual. An automatic camera can be convenient and may serve your purposes well. However, in my experience, most people taking photographs of their kids will eventually want at least some amount of manual control over their camera’s settings. The danger in letting an auto-camera do all the thinking for you is that there will be situations involving lighting, motion, white balance and selective focus that will require at least some amount of manual control to capture. I don’t want to get too much into recommending specific brands or models, but the P&S; camera I take with me when I scuba dive is a Canon G9, which can be as “auto” or as “manual” as I need it to be. I use 2 SLR bodies and a variety of lenses when shooting above the water!

If readers would like more specific recommendations with regard to brand/model, they are more than welcome to contact me directly. I’m happy to help! So, quick re-cap: spend your money on good lenses first if going the SLR route or spend your money on getting some manual control if going with a P&S; camera.

When trying to capture pictures of children, what are a few quick tips for good photography?

First, remember that photography is about light and without good light on your children, their smiles, laughs and actions will likely go uncaptured! So, position yourself in relation to your children so that their faces are well lit and worry about lighting in other areas of the frame as secondary importance. With that in mind, harsh sunlight isn’t very flattering in most situations and finding some shade under an overhang or next to a building will generally improve the quality of your light. Think about light in at least two different ways; there is a quantity of light and also a quality of light, which are very different from one another. Try to avoid shooting under tree leaves as you’ll end up with “broken light” on your children from the sun shooting between the leaves of the tree. You’ll end up with bright spots and shadow areas right next to one another on their faces, creating a “giraffe skin effect” on your kiddos!

Of course, with kids, the harder you try to pose them, the worse the situation becomes, and very quickly! Most parents with younger children would have no trouble agreeing with that! So, let children be children. Don’t impose too much, hang around close enough to capture your photographs, gently inserting mild directives when possible, but try not to intrude. If you do need to pose children in a more formal manner, do it quickly, with lots of praise and by showing them examples of what you want, etc. Get the shot immediately and then set them free to go play! In general, I try not to keep the little ones ‘posing’ for me any longer than 30 seconds to a minute before giving them a play break. Of course, during their play break, I’m still shooting from a distance!

Young children are constantly in motion, what settings work best for energetic toddlers?

Great question! I tend to think of child photography as being similar to sports photography in many ways. Two things have to happen; 1. your shutter speed has to be fast enough to ‘freeze’ the child’s motion and 2. your focus must be constantly adjusting as the child moves and the distance changes between the child and your camera. A slower shutter speed will let in more light of course, but motion will also be blurred (which can be a cool effect). However, I find that a sharp, crisp, and in-focus photo of a moving toddler will typically require a shutter speed of 1/80s or faster depending on how fast they are moving and depending on the lens you are using. A longer (telephoto) lens requires faster shutter speeds to avoid camera shake. Many cameras have several focusing modes. If your camera has a mode that allows you to track movement, sometimes called AI Servo or AI Focus among other names, this usually works better than pre-focusing and trying to anticipate a child’s movement. So, quick shutter and tracking focus for kids on the go!

What editing software would you recommend for a mom who is just starting out with photo editing?

Well, there are just so many good options for editing photos anymore, many of them free and I’d be happy to recommend a few of my favorites. However, I want to emphasize how important it is that good photographs be made in-camera, not ‘fixed’ in post processing. With tools like Photoshop we can do some really amazing things to a digital image, but it’s always obvious when a photograph has been ‘saved’ in photoshop. There’s a saying to this effect amongst many photographers, “garbage in, garbage out.” My point being that you should spend more of your time working on getting great photos with your camera than working on trying to edit them into great photos .

However, in my opinion all digital photos do require at least a little post-processing in the way of white balance, saturation, curves and sharpness and one of my favorite tools for, say a mom jus
t starting out, is
Google’s Picasa. It’s free, has a very easy interface, offers many web and sharing options and likely isn’t going away any time soon! Honestly, my 6 year old uses Picasa with her digital photos. It’s very user-friendly. For those who may be ready to get into a little more serious editing, but want to maintain the ‘free’ aspect, I’d recommend the application, Gimp.

There are also many free web-based applications for those times when you might not be at your own computer, but need to quickly upload and edit a handful of images: Picnik, Pixenate, Fotoflexer, LunaPic, flauntr, picture2life, phixr, and easyphotoresize. Personally, I do the majority of my editing for the weddings and portraits I that I shoot in Adobe Lightroom and a little bit still in Photoshop.

When getting family portraits done, I am always stumped how to dress the family. Do you have any suggestions for getting that perfect family picture?

Sure! In general, I like families to feel comfortable above all else. Good photographs are about capturing a family’s personality and it’s always very obvious when subjects are uncomfortable in their own clothing. Additionally, I tend to like solid colors on top and either jeans or khaki pants. In the Fall, I prefer solid black or white tops. In the Spring and Summer, I really like bright bold solid colors on top. Bright, bold colors in the snow for winter portraits can really be fun too! It’s usually best to avoid busy patterns, horizontal stripes, and clothes that have never been worn before. So, be comfy, be yourselves and do your best to NOT stress out about getting your family portraits done. One thing I can say for sure, is that stress always shows in photographs and stiff, posed portraits are just not my style at all. So, when considering getting your own family portraits done keep comfort and personality in mind. In general, you want your family to look like your family in your portraits, not a stiff, posed and stressed version of your family!

I have to ask, what is your favorite photograph that you have ever taken and why is it special to you?

Definitely the hardest question to answer, Amy! It’s so tough to say. On one hand, there are so many photographs that I am really pleased with and on the other hand, one is always very critical of his own work.

One thing I do every year in December is put together a collection of what I feel are some of my best photographs for that calendar year and publish them as a free video podcast, which can be found in iTunes by doing a search for “dgmphotography” or “Daniel G. McNulty” in the iTunes store. Subscribing to this video podcast portfolio is free of course. I also regularly put many of my personal favorites on my blog in more of an informal format. That said, I think I’d have to choose a favorite in multiple categories (weddings, children, families, landscape, etc), but if I were forced to choose one photograph to keep for the rest of my life and never look at another, it would probably be this one, mostly because they are my daughters and loving the beach and loving each other as I do!


General Info About Daniel G. McNulty Photography:
Website: www.dgmphotography.net
email: daniel@dgmphotography.net
Blog: www.dgmphotography.blogspot.com/
iTunes Link

A big round of applause to Daniel for helping us with this piece. What is your biggest dilemma with capturing pictures and what would you like us to feature more of in this category?

Please be sure to leave a comment and thank Daniel for his time in helping us supply these amazing tips!

Published November 26, 2008 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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