Monday, December 15, 2014

How to take better Christmas photos with your smartphone

This weekend the weather here in Augusta warmed up and we spent the afternoon at the big park near our house. While we were there I noticed a few families all dressed up to take their own family photo. I made every effort to mind my own business and spend my time with my own family but right before we left the park I spent a couple of minutes with just my girls to share just a couple of tips on how to take better family or group photos with your smartphone. Here are just a couple of tips that will dramatically improve your group shots.

Look for shade
The number one tip that will make or break your group shot is choosing the right location. Our eyes are naturally drawn to bright sunny spots with interesting features. They look great in our eyes but through the lens of a camera a sunny spot is actually the worst place to take a photo, especially for a group shot. 

This beautiful sunny spot in front of the live Christmas tree at our park is a great example of this. While I was taking this picture of my kids someone walked up to me and asked if I wanted them to take a group shot for me,  confirming to me that yes, most people think that this is the perfect spot to take a picture but take a few steps closer and this is what you get:

Squinty eyed smiles and harsh shadows on their faces. You can't even see their eyes.

Look up at the picture above this one again, see that shadow, one the other side of the tree? 

Let's try again there:

Their faces are more relaxed, you can see their eyes a lot more clearly because the light is not so harsh. 

Here is another example of using shade:
The location: in a spot of shade in the picnic pavilion. Here is the close-up:

It's not perfect but you can see their eyes more or less and there are no harsh shadows or a ton of bright spots on their faces. It's not 100% perfect but it's okay.

Here is a sunny spot on a park bench:
This shot is, overall really pretty. You can see the blue skies and the bare winter trees. But here is the close-up:

What you actually see is bright spots of sun on their faces, shadows and squinty eyes. Also, the background ends up looking like a long line of cars from the parking lot. 

Here are some pictures we took at the big pavilion -

In the sun:

In the shade:

So the next time you need to take a group shot - step into the shade!

Pay attention to your background 
There is nothing worse than taking a great picture of your kids only to notice later that someone else was walking through the frame. 
My oldest daughter took this of my second oldest and middle child and me. Did you notice the figure walking through the frame behind me, sticking out of my head?! There is also a massive bright spot behind us - not fantastic for taking pictures. I prefer to have a group of trees or brick behind my group shot whenever I can.

Take lots of pictures
Okay, here is another tip - sometimes your best moments and most genuine smiles are in between the "1-2-3 say Cheese!" moments. Yes, most of the pictures I took came out looking like this:

But if you can keep your sense of humor and try to steer your group gently into position you are more likely to get genuine expressions than if you simply line everyone up to say "cheese"

Set your exposure
Yes, you can do this on your smartphone! In most camera apps you can set the exposure by touching the screen on the point you want to focus and it will also meter the exposure for that spot. Some apps let you set the focus and exposure on seperste points, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. If you touch your screen on the faces of the people in your shot you'll ask the app to readjust the exposure for that exact spot. Some camera apps do a better job than others of doing this automatically than others.

When your smartphone meters the light in a shot it is usually looking for faces and will try to get those to come out looking good but sometimes, especially if there is a lot of background in your shot, the camera tries to meter the whole shot so that there are no overly dark spots or overly bright spots and you get a shot like the one above. If you are getting shots like that try stepping closer to your group so that more faces fill the frame, then touch the faces in your shot so that the exposure is perfect for that one spot.  

I hope that these tips will help you the next time you step out to take a group shot and you'll remeber to:
  • Step into the shade (no bright spots on faces!!)
  • Pay attention to your background (you don't want people walking through your shot)
  • Take lots of pictures (especially in-between shots)
  • Set your exposure (tap the faces)

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