By Laura Radniecki of www.lauraradnieckiimages.com and www.lauraradniecki.blogspot.com
1. Lighting = #1. Background = #2.
I used to think that the background of a photo was the most important factor when choosing a location. I would pick a location and then try to make whatever lighting was there work for me. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the lighting is actually the most important piece of the puzzle. Great lighting will make a photo with a decent background look awesome, while a photo with a great background and bad lighting will be a disaster. It was one of those big ‘Aha!’ moments for me. This is what happened.
I was photographing a family at their cabin on a lake. The sky was overcast, so we had the luxury of taking photos anyplace we wanted, without having to worry about shadows or squinting. The family suggested using the lake as the backdrop. I agreed and we went down to the water’s edge. I quickly realized that the photos were not good. The background was so bright that you couldn’t even see the water or the shoreline, and all of the green grass was giving the picture a weird greenish-orange color cast.
I suggested that we switch places. I moved the family over about 8 feet so they were standing in front of a wooded area, with their faces toward the lake. It took one snap of my camera to see that the photos were 200% better. The light was now bouncing off of the lake and into their faces, resulting in natural-colored, smooth portraits. The background wasn’t the lake, but it was still a nice, natural blur of green and yellow from the woods.
2. Watch for Catchlights.
Catchlights is a fancy word for the little reflections of light in someone’s eyes. Basically, it means that you have done #1 correctly - you have light bouncing back into your subject’s face, and this usually means that you will get nice, creamy skin in the pictures. Catchlights can come from a wide variety of sources: artificial lights, the sun, bright objects etc. Look for them, and if you see them, snap away!
When I take photos, if I don’t see them in my subject’s eyes, all I usually have to do is have them face a different direction, and I’ll usually find some!
3. Utilize Different Perspectives.
Instead of always shooting level with your subjects, try to spice it up with different perspectives.
Get low to the ground. This particularly works great with children, even babies.
Try shooting down on your subject. One of my favorite perspectives for children is to have them look up at me. This usually gives me great catchlights [yay #2!] and results in a more interesting and flattering photo than if I was shooting them straight on.
Keep in mind the Rule of Thirds and other rules of composition. Don’t shoot with your subject dead the center of your frame. Spice it up, tilt the camera a little [be careful - avoid overdoing the tilt], get in close with your subjects. Try different things.
4. Keep Clicking.
The beauty of digital photography is that there’s no harm in taking 500 or 5000 photos. You only have to print 10 if you want to. With adults who like to blink a lot, or kids who run around at 324 miles an hour, it often takes several tries to get a good one. There is no harm in that - even the best of the pros take many bloopers to get a keeper.
The other benefit of this is that with each photo you take, you get a little bit better!
5. Utilize Available Editing Tools.
If you want to be able to take photos and print them without editing them on a computer, there are options for you built into most cameras. Point and Shoots and DSLRs alike have settings like Vivid for jpeg photos. This means that when you take a picture, the camera applies a Vivid setting, pumping up the color, adding a little contrast to it, and resulting in a photo that is edited in-camera! No need to do anything else to it after you bring it from camera to computer or camera to a photo kiosk.
If you want to edit your photos on your computer, there are an endless number of programs to choose from - many are free! iPhoto comes with any Mac computer, and Windows Photo Gallery comes with all PC’s. There are many other free downloadable programs like Picasa that have the basic tools to photo editing. 75% of my editing is done with sliders for White Balance [Color Temperature], Exposure, and Contrast. These very simple editing tools can have big impacts!
Thanks for reading, and happy shooting!