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Friday, November 20, 2009

Holiday Photo Advice

When Rod Stewart sang “Every Picture Tells A Story” he was lying. While an accepted fact that every picture should tell a story we all know that few actually accomplish it.

Holidays are about stories. Stories are the way civilizations pass the reasons behind its traditions to future generations and photos are the way we pass our personal stories to future generations. So when you take photos this holiday season keep in mind your responsibility to your descendants. (And all you thought you were doing was grabbing a few snapshots.)

Telling your story pictorially is not hard if you stick to a few simple rules.

1) Before you shoot know your equipment.

Don’t let that new camera sit in the box until everyone is already on his or her second course at dinner (or after you’ve had that second glass of Uncle Robert’s homemade wine). Take it out of the box right now. Unwrap all the memory cards, software discs, and wires, charging cables, manuals, guides, doodads and gizmos packaged with the camera. Find the Instruction Manual and if you’re lucky, the Quick Start sheet.

Next compare what is in the box with what is listed in the Instruction Manual or Quick Start sheet. This will accomplish two things, first it will allow you to familiarize yourself with all the camera’s parts and, just as important, see if anything is missing. Do not throw anything away!

Now charge the battery.

While the battery is charging read Instruction Manual to learn how to operate the controls, especially the On/Off switch and Shutter button. Don’t bother to look at the camera for the moment, there are plenty of pictures and illustrations in the manual, let the battery charge. Later you’re going to read the manual again with the camera in front of you, after the battery is fully charged. Did I mention to charge the battery enough times?

When reading the manual the second time around, with the camera in your hands, play with all the buttons and shoot a few worthless pictures then delete them.

In the history of photography cameras have never been more sophisticated yet simple to use. By reading the manual cold then going back to it again with the camera in your hands you’re effectively studying its operation and re-enforcing your memory. If you take this advice, when you have an operational question in the future you’ll pick up the manual to find that you already know the answer.

2) Have enough memory on hand (or film if you’re still doing that).

There’s nothing worse than having a magical moment appear in front of you and seeing that dreaded MEMORY CARD FULL prompt on the LCD screen.

Download your memory card’s contents to your computer! Buy extra cards. And never delete individual photos from the card to free up space. You might accidentally erase the entire card.

I don’t recommend permanently storing all your photos on cards since they are small (especially SD cards) and easy to misplace. Also dropping a card on a hard surface or exposure to the elements, especially magnetic fields, can damage them and make the pictures unreadable.

3) Tell your story.

A good story has three parts: a beginning, middle, and an ending. So shoot lots and lots and lots of photos. While its true that a seasoned professional photographer can tell a story with one really great photo you’re not under that kind of pressure. You can shoot everything. In a future blog entry I’ll give you some ideas as to what to do with all those photos.

Maybe your story starts with packing the car for the road trip to Grandma’s or dressing the kids.
If you’re going on a road trip don’t forget to take photos of the signs along the way. If you’re driving stop first or let your passenger grab the picture. I spent many years traveling by motorcycle and my favorite pictures (and best reminders of where I was) are of my motorcycle in front of a sign.

The author on a car trip to Las Vegas This is me on a car trip through the California high desert.

Breakfast Bears The sign at restaurant in Vermont where we stopped for breakfast.

Shoot the turkey going into the oven or even start your story with shopping for the turkey, especially if you’ve gone to a turkey farm and picked out a live turkey. Opening a bottle of Champagne makes a good photograph. Relatives greeting at the door also makes a great image. Pay particular attention to older friends and relatives, one day you might wish you had a photo of someone that is no longer around.

Mix it up. Take generational photos. Your oldest relative holding the youngest child. If you have photos from past holidays and the same people are together arrange them in a similar pose. Make that same photo every year.

Baby in Grandma's arms This is Gabe in Grandma's arms

When taking photos of people eating give them a chance to swallow their food. Stand up or on a step stool or chair when shooting across the table to minimize the table clutter in the foreground. Have people get close to each other, wrap their arms and get their cheeks together (both sets). If using a flash, arrange everyone in the same plane as people close to the camera will appear lighter than folks in the background. Learn and use the red-eye prevention setting and warn everyone to keep their eyes open and smile while the flash fires multiple times.

Move in close, either with your zoom or by taking a step closer. Fill the frame.

Take pictures while saying goodbye no matter how late it is or how tired you are. Pictures of children who have fallen asleep on the spot always look angelic (as opposed to the shot of Uncle Robert who’s passed out after the third glass of his own homemade wine).

Thanks to the digital photography revolution we no longer need to worry about the cost of each image and with rechargeable batteries we don’t have to worry about buying extra batteries. However if you’re really shooting lots and lots and lots of images, then having an extra rechargeable battery and a charger is a nice idea.

Shoot photos unmercifully now and delete the one with Mildred’s eyes closed later, ON THE COMPUTER, AFTER DOWNLOADING!

Thanks for reading my first blog entry and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

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