Category Archives: photography

How to be in a group photo

No matter where I’m taking pictures – a wedding, party, or even portraits, I end up taking a lot of group photos. At the same time, most people who are in a group photo haven’t been in nearly as many group photos. I’m sure they’ve seen a lot of group photos, but maybe they just haven’t noticed these things. Well, let me give you a few tips so you can be at your best!

1) Don’t lean. Don’t hunch. Don’t tilt your head toward the group. I’m sure I’ve even been guilty of this in my life. This is a huge symptom of the people on the ends of a group photo. Don’t worry — the photographer won’t cut you off, and you don’t look weird being on the end. Own the space, and stand tall. Now, you want to be in close, no doubt, but get in close with your whole body, not just from the neck up.

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Look at that poor girl in the tan jacket, hapless victim of the lean-in. She looks like her spine has gone rubbery. (Photo © ClintJCL on Flickr)

2) If you can’t see the camera lens, the camera can’t see you. As photographers we totally try to scope out a group and get everyone positioned as well as we can, but in a group of more than a half-dozen folks, even the most patient adults gets restless. Forget it if there’s even one kid involved! We need to get that picture while everyone’s in frame. So from wherever you are, look at the camera lens. Can you see it clearly, without getting on your tiptoes to look over someone’s head? Then you’ll be in the picture. If you can only see it with one eye, well, guess what. Half your face is getting cut off. Shift yourself until you have a better view.

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Arms hanging, both feet pointing at the camera. Most of these folks are not posed very well. But check out the lady in lavender – good body position, you can’t see both her arms, and that man on the end is NAILING IT. So cool, so casual. Good position, hands look a little busy, not leaning in, one foot pointing to the side. Well, done, sir! (Photo © Dilip Muralidaran (dilipm) on Flickr)

3) Posture, posture, posture! Don’t stand with both feet pointed at the camera. This goes for ANY picture, really, but is just as applicable in a group photo. Point one foot toward the camera, and one foot 90-degree to the side. This gives your body a good angle and automatically improves your posture. Shoulders square to the camera is probably the most unflattering angle (aside, maybe, from bending over and getting caught from behind). You’re at your widest, and you look like a soldier, a mugshot, or just generally stiff. Make sure you have one shoulder closer to the camera than the other. Pull those shoulders back so you’re not hunching, and stand up tall!

4) Arms! Oh what should you do with your arms?! Well, definitely don’t cross them, that just looks adversarial.  Both just hanging down by your side can have a stiff, zombie sort of look, especially if you’ve also neglected the bit about angling your shoulders. Women often clasp them in front, but that can look a little mousy (but still way better than hanging limply). A thumb in the waistband or a hand in a pocket looks casual, hands behind the back are OK if your posture is otherwise good, one hand on hip can work depending on the picture (and especially if you’re on an end), and if it’s a more intimate crowd, and hand on the shoulder in front of you or arms around the waists of the people next to you certainly works. Standing behind someone sitting in a chair, put a hand or two on the back of the chair (without letting your shoulders hunch).

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This group is simply nailing it! All those faces and we can still see all of them. Nobody looks stiff, hands are mostly busy (especially those making the rabbit ears, we see you, Uncle Dave!) No leaning, good posture… bravo! (Picture © ClintJCL on Flickr)

Ketchup

I’m getting really bad at this, aren’t I?

Anyway, here are my general goings-on:

My photography business is going well.  My last two jobs – a sweet sixteen party and a portrait session with five kids under five – both mentioned wanting me to work for them again in the future.  That makes me so happy, that these people are happy enough with my work (and with me) that they want to give me more of their money to have fun taking pictures.  I can dig it!  I have a wedding to photograph tomorrow, which should be fun and is in a lovely location.  It’s just a touch less pressure because the couple actually is already married – they tied the knot about a month ago for technical reasons.  So tomorrow’s just for fun and show for their friends and family.  The bride and groom are both older, and most of his family won’t be there (he’s from very very far away) so the posed formals of the whole thing (by far my least favorite part of weddings) will be very low-key and relaxed and focused mostly on the bride and groom.  The only thing I’m really not looking forward to is that I’m sick right now.  Not crazy feverish or anything, but feeling kinda stuffy and with a tickly throat and feeling very, very run down.  I foresee fueling myself with cold medicine and coffee tomorrow.

Lane’s doing really well in kindergarten.  We had our first parent-teacher conference and we heard how her skills are all really far along, and (more importantly to me) that she is a real pleasure to have in class.  I can officially say she’s reading.  We laid all the building blocks for her, and something about school just helped her put it all together and she can read straight through some of the simpler Dr. Seuss books now.  She’s started taking *very* informal piano lessons and likes them. 

Jake is just such a boy now.  He was watching Little Bear on Noggin today and just laughing in a very amused way at very appropriate parts and it just struck me that he’s a kid now.  Not my baby anymore!  Though I wish someone would tell that to him when he insists on nursing.  I still mostly don’t mind but where Lane was more laid-back about scaling back or shortening sessions, Jake will have none of it.  Oh well, he’s only little like this once.

Frank and I are talking about another baby.  Gluttons for punishment, no?  😀  It’s funny though… for a long time I’d bring up the subject and he was very noncommittal about talking about a baby.  Very recently though, something’s changed.  He’s more into it now.  I wish he’d be more forthcoming with his affirmation, rather than me having to infer it from his intense concern that I get the H1N1 vaccine in case I get pregnant.  Though it may be a while in coming, as I and my (new, feels like a great fit!) midwife are both pretty sure I’m not ovulating, and we’re trying to figure out why through myriad tests, including an ultrasound of my lady parts that I have to schedule.

Frank, in actuarial matters, took one of the FSA exams a couple weeks ago, and he’ll find out if he passed in January.  In the meantime, he got ahold of the syllabus for the other FSA exam and he’s started studying for that one.  Each of the FSA exams is only offered once a year, but not at the same time.  So the first one was offered in October, and the other one will be offered end of April.  So… you either focus on one and only take an exam once a year (and have to wait a whole year if you don’t pass the first time) or you split your focus on both of them so you’re always working toward an exam that isn’t more than a few months away.  Not to say Frank’s definitely chosen one approach over the other, he’s just in limbo right now, not knowing if he passed, with an exam coming up in April.  So I think he’s optimistically going to start studying for that one, hoping he passed the exam he just took.  If he finds out he failed the exam, I imagine he’ll switch back to studying for that one.  I know this seems a sort of weird subject to dedicate a big ol’ blog paragraph towards, but our lives sort of revolve around exams and the time Frank needs to study for them.  Plans are put on hold in favor of studying.  Our friends have largely forgotten what we look like.  However, we ARE taking two vactions in the next few months!  In addition to the week we’ll spend in Buffalo for the holidays, we are going to Disney world in mid-February, and Aruba in April.   I kind of hope I can make those trips pregnant.  🙂

The joy of a new camera

As I mentioned in passing recently, I’ve sort of officially started my own photography business.  I’m going to try to get some gigs shooting weddings, and portraits, and see which I like better, and which I feel I’m better at.  As such, it served as a great excuse to look into getting a second camera.  I’d hate to be shooting a wedding and not have a backup.

I weighed my options and decided to get a Nikon D200.  This is a camera that has recently been discontinued for the slightly snazzier D300.  The D300 adds a couple million megapixels which, when it comes to the effective maximum size of a print, is not a huge difference.  There’s a couple features I would have liked, such as the D300’s self-cleaning sensor and its 51-area autofocus awesomeness, but beyond that, it’s much the same camera as a D200 — and since I could score a D200 (new) on eBay at half the going price of a D300, and since I’m not quite sure where this whole photography business will end up, the D200 just made a lot of sense.  If the business is a booming success I can justify a D300 (or its successor) in the future, or even the D700 (the D300 with a full-frame sensor) or even a D3 (drool).  But for now, this is what works.

So I got the camera last week, and while it’s not like the best thing since sliced bread compared to my D70s, it ain’t too shabby.  I went outside with the kids a few days ago and took these pictures of Lane and Jake:

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I wasn’t shooting with great available light, and the lens I had on the camera wasn’t very fast, but still the pictures are quite nice, with good contrast and color balance for the evening light that was available.  And the kids are just cute, so that helps.  Jake with his impy little smile, and Lane with those eyes, that grin, that lovely blonde hair, with highlights most women would pay good money to duplicate.  But I digress.

It was handy I had the new camera around to play with and learn the ropes and settings because this morning I was cajoled to take a couple new pictures of Lane.  Like these:

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I used the on-camera flash, which I am normally loathe to do, but it was essential in this case to capture detail to really tell the story.  Wouldn’t you agree?  I was also pleased with the detail it picked up in a different sort of composition:

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That’s my bathroom sink.  It’s funny.  When we all went to bed, there wasn’t any hair in it.  Yet, the pictures above weren’t taken long after Lane joined us in our bedroom in the morning, as she always does if we don’t wake up before her. It’s a weird discrepancy we still have not quite figured out.

So we went on with our day, which included an unplanned trip to the mall where they have a kids’ haircutting place.  As in, grown-ups cut kids’ hair, which in a perfect world is how it would be all the time.  And we bought Lane some headbands, and then dropped her off at school.

When we got home, I decided to test out the new camera one more time, again, playing with the on-camera flash.  The detail is quite illustrative.

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I really look forward to using this camera for a long time.  Like, perhaps, in a few months when Lane has real bangs and not just pixie fringe.  And maybe a couple years from now when her hair is all caught up in length again, like it very nearly was before she took such decisive action.

Alas, the new toy does have its limits.  It can’t go back in time to capture my shock, or tears, and it can’t show how heavy my heart is to see my gorgeous little girl looking so weird.

Say Cheese!

These days I’ve been passing a little time working in a photo studio.  It’s a fun job and I work with cool people who are mostly much younger than I am.  I’ve learned some neat stuff about portraiture, and a bit more about Photoshop, both which will serve me well as I embark on starting my own photography business.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ve sort of had a rant building up, and working today I had one family who refreshed the rant in my brain.  They were otherwise very lovely people, a family of four.  Dad, Mom, and two kids — a boy of about 13 (and all the requisite fun and angst that comes with that age) and a daughter of about eight or nine, who was seven different ways of adorable and missing her two front teeth.  The parents were obsessed – OBSESSED – with getting these kids to smile just the absolute perfect way that they wanted them to.  But of course, the 13 year-old was, well, a 13 year-old, and the daughter was obviously self-conscious about her gappage.

These parents were militant crazy about it.  Which I don’t necessarily begrudge them — portraits at my studio are not cheap, and I know they, as every parent that comes through, wants to leave with pictures they can display and show off and that truly capture how beautiful their family is.

Luckily, I and the other photographers I work with are pretty good at pulling that off.  For babies, we know the sounds that get their attention, and that jumping up and down is almost always a surefire way to get a few smiles.  For toddlers and kids through about seven, pretending to tickle their parents is like smile gravy — and the parents always love to play along.  Shit, the parents would donate a kidney if it meant their kid would smile.  Tweens and teens nearly always can talk about video games, or the last movie they saw, and once they relax and realize I’m not as dorky as their parents are, they are usually eager to smile for me.  (Even though, yes, I’m a parent myself and in a handful of years I’ll be reduced to complete dork in my kids’ eyes.) Older kids want to be treated respectfully, and they respond beautifully to it most of the time.  The point is, there are lots of ways to get a kid, nearly any kid, to smile for a picture.  Sometimes it’s being goofy, sometimes it’s building trust, sometimes it’s being chatty, and often it’s a combination of all that and more.

But there are things that definitely, most assuredly, do not work.  Yelling at your kids to smile will never get them to smile the way you want them to.  Telling them that’s it, we are NOT going to Chuck E. Cheese after the pictures will not get them to smile at all.  Threatening them with grounding will not get them to smile, for sure.

So, here’s a bit of advice for parents.  Once your kids are old enough to follow directions, try to relax a little.  If you let your kids relax and have a little fun, your pictures will turn out great.  If you relax and have a little fun, too, they’ll turn out even better.   Try your best not to get frustrated — or at least, not to show your frustration.  It will unsettle the more resilient kids and irreversibly stress out the more sensitive ones.

Then…. there’s the other side of the coin.  The parents of the babies.  Most of the time, they hover and coo and apologize profusely when their baby isn’t the Gerber baby 100% of the time.  We love these parents.  They keep their babies happy, and safe, and they are ten shades of thrilled when their beautiful baby makes us look like photography geniuses.

Of course, not every parent is as easy to work with.  There’s the moms that decide feeding their baby after the shoot is wiser than feeding him before the shoot.  There’s the parents that don’t consider naptimes when they schedule their shoot and, halfway though, say something like “he’s usually so happy, he must be tired, usually he’s napping right now.”  And then, there’s the glaring example of stellar parenting we witnessed recently:  a couple came in with their baby, got her set up for the shoot, and then DISAPPEARED FOR A HALF HOUR.  Without a word, they left and went to get lattes and left their baby in the hands of people they’d never met before.  The photographer started taking pictures, turned around to ask them something, and they were gone.  (The shoot did not continue any further.)

For the two-and-under set, the hints I can offer are simple.  Bring in a child who’s been fed (or even bring snacks with you – I’ve had more than one parent feed their kids Cheerios or Gerber puffs in between pictures).   Make sure your baby isn’t tired or sick.  Then once the shoot begins, pull out all the little tricks to get your baby to smile.

Oh, and if you really want a latte, get it ahead of time.

In absentia

I’ve been mad busy.

I got myself a little part-time job for the holidays, taking kids’ portraits at a higher-end photo studio. It’s a smallish chain so you may not have heard of it, and I wouldn’t mention the name of the company anyway. They decided to torture me last week and scheduled me for 25 hours spread over six days, and no day has ever ended with me getting out of there exactly on time so I put in closer to 30 hours. Whew.

It’s a fun job. The kids are cute, and the parents are mostly sane. The management leaves something to be desired but it’s not horrendous either. The manager, seeing the MBA on my application, mentioned he was looking for an assistant manager and that maybe it was something we could talk about after the holiday season. Definitely not looking for a full-time gig… but if it’s something I could do working mostly weekends I might be interested. The place definitely needs help. I’m mostly doing it now, though, for fun. The paycheck will be nice and all, but mostly I just wanted to get into an official photo studio and see how they do things, and do some learnin’.

Anyway, there are lots of little things I could write about, but they are all lost in the swirl of busyness of the last couple weeks. So mostly I’m just remembering the kick-ass sweet potatoes I made for T-day, running back and forth in the photo studio, and being outside with the kids today putting up Christmas lights and seeing the cool display of the crescent moon, Jupiter, and Venus all hanging out in the evening sky together.

Photographic pet peeve

Now, I don’t consider myself any sort of professional photographer.  I enjoy it as a hobby, and although my energy has waned for it as I’ve expended most of it getting our new house habitable, I do think I’m pretty decent.  Good enough that people have paid me to take pictures of their kids, that photographs I’ve given as gifts have elicited tears (good ones, you smart alecks), and I’ve made enough cash selling stock photography to finance all the photography toys I’ve wanted to buy in the last three years, plus enough beyond that to fund some random eBay purchases.  I have a long way to go and a ton to learn before I’d considered myself really talented, but at the risk of sounding pompous, I do have decent skills and a good eye.  So I’m not just Monday-morning quarterbacking here.

What irks me to no end are photographs that’s aren’t straight.  Now, I’m not talking just a little crooked because of movement, or trying to get a quick shot.  I do that all the time and it’s easy enough to fix.  What I’m talking about is the picture where the photographer frames the shot, and then says to himself, “Hey, what can I do to make this more artsy?  I know, I’ll turn the camera 45 degrees!” and then snaps the picture.  Buildings become Leaning Towers of Pisa, horizons become ramps, and vertigo is induced in anyone who looks at more than a couple of these pictures in a row.

It is probably completely unfair, and I’m sure there are plenty of people that wouldn’t agree with me, but it vexes me to no end.  I hate looking at pictures and needing to crane my neck to figure out what I’m looking at and then to continue to regard the picture and look at what I want to look at.  And then I just get frustrated and start mumbling incoherently about horizons.

I am in no way against playing with perspective.  In fact, I’m pretty much in favor of the idea.  But there are better ways to do it, mostly playing with point of view.  Get higher.  A step, a ladder, a building all help.  Get lower.  Sit, kneel, lay on your belly.  Get over, get under, get behind, get on top.

But keep the camera level!  Seriously.  Keep it level.  If you think turning your camera is the only way to make your photo seem artsy, or edgy, then you’re not doing it right.  A flower doesn’t magically get more beautiful if you look at it crooked.  A person doesn’t become more alluring or memorable at a 45-degree angle.  Your job as a photographer is to accurately capture a moment, a sliver of time, to allow the people who look at your work to be transported back to that nanosecond, to see what you saw.  You don’t want your artistic legacy to be a pandemic of stiff necks.

How to make a backdrop system on the cheap

First off, you need a backdrop. I bought some white muslin from Joann Fabrics, and dyed it myself. There are a bunch of how-tos online to tell you how to do this, and they are better than I would describe. Long story short, I used two packs of permanent dye per backdrop (10′ x 20′, but you don’t necessarily need one that big), tied it up a bit with some jute twine, soaked it in one of those Toughneck Rubbermaid storage containers inside my bathtub for nearly an hour, untied it and let it soak a little longer, rinsed it like crazy, washed it in the washing machine, and then dried it on low… and untangled it about a dozen times. This sounds like a giant annoying job that you’d want to do outside and/or in a big basement… and that would be nice. However I managed to do it in my 2 bedroom apartment without a basement in the middle of winter so outside wasn’t an option.

I have plans at some point to sew a rod pocket into at least one end of each of the two that I dyed myself, but since my sewing machine is in storage while we’re between houses, that’s a little project that will just have to wait.

If you’re not into DIY, you can buy inexpensive backdrops through Adorama.com – I have a white one of their Belle Drape muslins, and they aren’t bad. I would love it to be a little heavier but it works pretty well. Dying two backdrops myself saved me about $75, so to me it was worth the effort. But, I wanted big backdrops that I could wash easily, and wasn’t entirely concerned with exactly how I wanted them to come out.

I do also have a background stand, but it does get in the way. I have found the best way to put up a background, as long as you have a bare wall (no furniture or framed art on it) is with those 3M Command Hooks and some large-sized binder clips. You know… the kind, when you have an office job, you seem to accumulate endlessly. You probably already have the binder clips (or can get them at no cost) and the hooks are inexpensive, reusable, and temporary.

Here’s what the backdrop setup looked like for the photos I shot in the previous post. I used one softbox, about 15-degrees off-center.