My dear wife asked me to write a short blurb on how I learned to take better photos of our precious little one for new parents. Although I can’t fit every detail here, I hope the following will greatly improve your photography techniques.
Before we had our first daughter, I made a personal commitment to ensure all our photos would be of the highest quality and standard. I really wanted our daughter to have a great set of photo memories to look back on as she ages into adulthood. I was always very into travel and scenery photography but I didn’t have the know-how or interest with indoor photography. What I learned is that indoor and flash photography was a completely different ballgame that required weeks of study and practice to become decent at. I essentially had to relearn how to take photos, but don’t be discouraged, it is easier than you think!
Step One: Invest in good quality camera gear without breaking the bank.
Justifying camera expenses can be difficult when you’re facing the economical onslaught of new baby supplies. I thought of it as you have one chance to capture the moments, so try not to think “I’ll get the good stuff when they get older”. Don’t buy anything new until you check on Kijiji. I bought just about all my gear second hand and saved hundreds of dollars in the process. Photography is a hobby, and as with most hobbies, not everyone can afford it, so the people selling equipment are usually well off to some extent. Also as with most hobby gear, the resale value is much lower (with the exception of lenses). This makes it easy to negotiate prices as most of the sellers already purchased new fancy equipment and they’re just selling off their old stuff to make room.
What to look for:
Packaged sales with a middle range SLR body, good lenses and lots of extras. Those extras cost a lot of money brand new but somehow get tossed into package deals by the seller as they’re no longer current or relevant. Examples are batteries, bags, filters, tripods, stands, diffusers. Get an middle range body such as a Canon Rebel T series, Nikon 5000 series or if you can, the 7000 series or equivalent Canon. The 2 MOST important factors in your photo quality will be the lens and lighting you use. Invest in good quality glass always. To most people I recommend prime lenses over zoom for many reasons. The main reason is prime (fixed or non zoom) lenses are incredibly sharp and provide great colour rendering. They’re also much better in lower light due to their wider (faster) aperture (will explain this). Look for lenses that have an F number of 2.8 or below and that are made of real glass. In case you may not know, the higher the mm value, the more they will be zoomed (300mm and above is used for birds, 10mm is fish eye). I always recommend the very affordable 50mm f1.8 prime lens for everyone. Brand new it’s $100 and it will make your photos look immediately professional and “artsy” if you shoot at low f values. For lighting, try again to find someone selling a flash unit with their camera kit. If not, find a flash second hand. If you can get 2 flash units, you could then buy a cheap studio dual umbrella lighting kit for under $80 new. Then lastly you would just need 3 cheap remote triggers ($15 each) and you have a professional setup ready to go. The last 2 items aren’t necessary, however having one flash unit is mandatory. In total, you should be able to get a great setup for no more than $1000.
How to take great photos:
As a baseline, you would setup your gear as follows for indoor shots: Camera dial in M(manual) or A(aperture)mode, ISO at no more than 250 (try as low as possible until it’s too dark), shutter at 250, aperture at 2-3 stops above lowest setting (f2-4),flash unit in TTL mode and pointed up at the ceiling to bounce and diffuse the light, never at the subject.
To make images darker:
Lower aperture (f number)
Lower the flash power setting
To make images brighter:
Increase aperture (f number)
Increase flash power setting
To make images have the blurry background (called bokeh) but sharp in focus subject:
Lower the aperture to as low as possible(f number)
Increase your distance from the subject
Shutter speed is irrelevant in flash photography as long as you keep it around 200-250 depending on the camera.
From this point depending on the lens, flash strength and indoor lighting conditions, it is unfortunately a lot of trial and error. As you practice more, you will get increasingly better at finding the correct settings the first time.
To avoid blinding my daughter, I used a teddy bear as a subject for many days in order to perfect my technique. I literally had hundreds of photos of that silly teddy bear, none of which made it to print sadly. Since babies and especially toddlers are time-limited models (seconds to minutes), I still adjust my lighting setup on a teddy bear beforehand to ensure it’s absolutely perfect when the moment comes. Also keeping your camera in continuous shoot mode allows you to capture those unique smiles and facial expressions that always seem to happen when you’re busy auto focusing!
Lastly some tips:
– Never ever leave photos on the SD card longer than you have to. Always transfer to your computer and then an external drive as a backup.
– Never fill an SD past half capacity as a general rule. SD cards are known to become corrupt and it’s heartbreaking when it happens (knock on wood). Memory is cheap, always have 2-3 cards
– Attach a toy to the top of the lens in the early days to attract the babies attention to your camera
– Take as many photos as possible. You can never go back and take more pictures but you can always delete (I personally never delete). My daughter will be given a giant hard drive with all her photos when she grows up.
– Restrict as much natural sunlight as possible when working with flash photography and especially with multiple flash units. Real studios never have windows and that’s because sunlight interferes with lighting composition (a whole different chapter as well)
– Play with the tilt and rotation feature of your flash unit to let the lift bounce off different angles.
– Invest in photo processing software such as Adobe Lightroom eventually.
– Lastly, enjoy the process and most of all, have fun!
Please sure to read PART TWO.
If you have any questions or need help, feel free to message in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer you!
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