Taking better pictures

Lisa & Steven Wedding Day

I am in no way an expert. In a lot of ways I’m still learning. However, I get a lot of questions about photography so here’s some basics to learning to take better pictures. Whether you want to be a pro or just take better pictures, these will help.

Step one: Take pictures
Take them everywhere in every situation. Don’t wait until you can afford a nice digital SLR camera to start. So much of photography has nothing to do with the gear you are using. Take photos of every-day things. Look for new ways to make the mundane look interesting. Watch your angles. Look at your photos after your done and picture in your head what it would look like from a different angle.

Step two: Learn like crazy
There is simultaneously a lot to know about photography and not much at all. The basic concepts are pretty easy but it takes a lifetime to master all the nuance in those simple concepts.
Whether your goal is to do this for a living or just take better photos, I’d recommend starting at The Open Source Photo Forum. This is an amazing forum populated by some of the best photographers in the business. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned just by reading through the various threads. Part of my lunch time every day is looking through OSP to see if there’s anything new I need to know. Also almost every photographer has a blog where they post their photos. Subscribe to them and look at everything they do. Try to reverse engineer their photos and figure out how they did it.

Step three: Shoot in manual mode
Once you own that nice SLR the first step is to switch it to manual mode and never ever go back to automatic. Manual mode is not that hard to master (really only about four things to keep track of) and will make a world of difference for your photos. Automatic mode assumes the camera knows what you want and how best to get it. This is almost never the case. Just learn what the four major adjustments on the camera are (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance) and how each effects a photo and you’re set.

Step four: Pick gear that fits you
The Nikon versus Canon debate will probably still be going long after the Mac versus PC debate is settled (that’ll be when Bill Gates admits defeat through tear-filled eyes, by the way). That’s because unlike the Windows versus Mac OS argument, Nikon and Canon both make incredibly great products. Nikon users are going to recommend Nikon and Canon users are going to recommend Canon. I say before investing any money in cameras and lenses, test them all out in real-world situations. When we first invested in a digital SLR a few years ago I had spent extensive time using both the Canon Digital Rebel and the Nikon D70s in the field. I knew the ins and outs of each one. Based on that I went with Nikon. When it came to entry-level SLRs, there’s was superior to the Canon offering. It felt like it was built a little better and I just liked the layout of all the controls better. That’s just me. Try both out. I don’t think you can go wrong either way.

Step five: Learn lighting
Learn absolutely everything you can about lighting. Then dive into off-camera lighting. Learning lighting will make the difference between a good photo and a photo you can make money on. Start here for off-camera lighting. Zack Arias is basically the expert in this field. You may not want to drop the money for one of his workshops (you should, though, if you can) but he has a DVD coming out in a few weeks which will be a little cheaper and contain hours of great info. Even having not seen it, I’d recommend it. This guys knows his stuff and he knows how to do it without breaking the bank, which will be nice for most. After you learn the basics, lighting is the key to great photography.

Tomorrow: How to get into the business side of photography

Living the dream and Uncle Bob

I’m going to paraphrase a little, but in filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s book Rebel Without a Crew, he says if you want to become a filmmaker just tell people you’re a filmmaker and dive right in. Sure you may make your living as an accountant, but that 10 hours a week you spend working on scripts and short films defines who you are. You are no longer an accountant. You are now a filmmaker. Congratulations.

I’ve always subscribed to this theory until I became a photographer. I still think it works in practice but the proliferation of affordable digital SLR cameras has made it more complicated. Now not only can people say they are photographers, they can say they are professionals despite having zero ability.

This may sound like a little photo snobbery, and it probably is. I’m not saying beautiful images can’t be created by someone with an off-the-shelf Nikon D40. I’m saying creating beautiful images consistently in many varied situations takes a combination of natural talent, technical knowledge and experience. Buying a $600 digital camera gives you none of those.

I bring this up because of the “Uncle Bob” phenomenon. Uncle Bob is the name photographers have given to that wonderful family member at every wedding who fancies him or herself a professional photographer. I normally don’t mind them and, in fact, answer a ton of gear related questions for them. However, I bring this up because I’m currently editing a wedding where Uncle Bob is in every wide shot of the ceremony. This Uncle Bob did everything except stand between the bride and groom during the kiss. This is where experience comes in. You learn you are not what the wedding is all about so you stay the heck out of the way as much as you can.

I got my start in photography the same way he did so I don’t hold that against him. I spent some money on a nice SLR and started playing. However, I didn’t shoot anywhere I wasn’t invited to do so and I made sure I always stayed behind the people being paid to be there.

Please read this Uncle Bob. I love you, but you’re killing me here.

Tomorrow: How to get started the right way.

Making time great

My time these days is incredibly limited. Because of this I’m having to work extra hard to make time with the boys special.

Last night I put all the kids to bed about 9:30. After 15 minutes I woke Colton up and told him to put his swimsuit on. We went swimming at 10PM then headed to Sonic for some late-night tater tots with cheese. Mmmmm…..

Sorry, I was distracted by the thought of cheesy tots.

Those two hours Colton and I spent together are something he’ll probably remember his whole life. I can’t say that for most things I do with my kids. Looking at my schedule I’m trying to figure out when I’m going to be absolutely covered up. Starting Tuesday this week will be like that so I’m trying to spend a little special time with each of my boys.

As soon as I’m through writing this, Conner and I are headed to Pizza Hut for a little buffet action then to Wal-Mart for some new toys.

I’m making changes to better balance my life so I can do things like this. I don’t want to look around and realize my kids have grown up and I missed it.

What do you do for special time with your kids?

Neighborhood skateboarding

This evening the neighbors and Colton decided to skateboard a little. I had almost as much fun taking pictures of them falling on their faces as they did falling on their faces. And I didn’t use the long zoom lens so I really was pretty close to having the boards hit me in the face a few times.

The last one is Colton bailing off.

You can see the rest here.

Neighborhood Skateboarding
Neighborhood Skateboarding
Neighborhood Skateboarding
Neighborhood Skateboarding
Neighborhood Skateboarding

“Mom’s brains!!!”

Zombie Conner

Apparently all it takes to be a zombie in our house is pulling your shirt over your head and making zombie noises. All morning we’ve had zombies roaming the house, randomly attacking things.

After about 10 minutes of them trying to scramble up my office chair and clawing at me I said, “Go try to eat someone else’s brains.”

They both stopped for a second, looking around the room. Their eyes settled on Becca.

“Mom’s brains!!!” they screamed, moving toward her.

Ecto Cooler

Notice the disclaimer in the top right that says this blog is about what interests me. Well this is one of those times, so you’ll just has to stick with me while I remember one of the joys of my childhood…Ecto Cooler.

Today I was walking through the kitchen and a memory of Ecto Cooler popped into my head. I’m not sure why exactly, but there it was. Memories of my youth came rushing back and I considered the wonderfully tangy concoction that was surprisingly green for an orange-flavored drink. And of course, having Slimer on the box, I had to drink it like it was water. I’m pretty sure my parents had to buy it by the case.

I first searched, hoping to find some decade-old Ecto Cooler still for sale on eBay. None was to be found. A little more research lead me to everything you could possibly need to know about Ecto Cooler, a petition to bring it back and the commercial below.

According to Wikipedia, Ecto Cooler was discontinued in 2001 but is now available as “Crazy Citrus Cooler.” I guess the marketing power of Slimer and Ghostbusters just isn’t what it was back in the 90s. Maybe with a new Ghostbusters game coming out we’ll see the resurrection of Ecto Cooler.

Now I’ve got to go to the store to get some Crazy Citrus Cooler and see how it tastes.

Do you remember Ecto Cooler?

One year

Today is June 18th, 2008. Not a particularly momentous day. However, by June 18th of next year I think my life is going to look very different. I’m zeroing in on some decisions that will change a lot of things, hopefully for the better.

This is just a post to mark the occasion so I can look back a year from now and say “yeah, I was right on,” or “wow, I was nuts.”

So how will your life look a year from now? Any big changes coming?

A world without e-mail

There’s a lot of talk on Anne’s blog about always being connected and canceling her e-mail on her cell phone (which I’m not doing, by the way). That got me thinking, what would your world look like right now if there was no e-mail?

It’s one tool we’ve come to rely on so completely. I know I probably couldn’t do what I do without it. My business would require a lot more in the way of employees without the ease of communication e-mail provides. On the other hand, the world turned just fine 20 years ago when there was no e-mail.

So how would your life look without e-mail?

Knowing why you’re there

Through our marriage we’ve had a few hospital visits between having kids and surgeries. Never have we had a completely great set of nurses to take care of us until this weekend. I wrote about them here.

I’ve been thinking of why this experience was so great and I think it boils down to the fact that our nurses this weekend knew why we where there and what that was like. They knew we were scared. They knew we didn’t want to be there. They knew one of us would be in pain.

They knew all that and reacted accordingly. They were always there to comfort us. They never let there personal lives intrude. You wouldn’t have known if they were having a bad day because they always had a smile and a comforting word for us.

Have you ever had that waitress that clearly hated her job. It never leads to good service. We’ve had nurses that were the same way and it showed. This was entirely different.

I think we need to remember that as people who work in a church. We need to acknowledge the circumstances people are in when they walk through the doors. We need to understand that they are nervous and if they’re new may not know exactly “how things are done.” We need to acknowledge that they are all looking for something and do our absolute best to help meet those needs.

My dad

Last December I got to follow my Dad around at work for a day and take pictures. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. You can see some of my favorites below or view the rest of the set here.

I’m writing this on Father’s Day but honestly could write it any day. I think about my Dad every day and I think of the example he continues to set for me. I’ve never known anyone who works harder and it inspires me to do the same for my family. For as long as I can remember, he has sacrificed to help raise us. I’ve also never known two people more in love than my parents.

When I see him now playing with my kids, well, there really isn’t anything that makes me happier.

Happy Father’s day, Pops.

Pops at work
Pops at work
Pops at work
Pops at work
Pops at work

Awesome staff

I’m sitting here at 12:30AM in the hospital. Becca is recovering nicely and hopefully we’re about to get a few hours of sleep before being discharged in the morning. In case you are wondering, I’ll be sleeping on a recliner made for a person half my height.

Having a surgery is always high stress for everyone involved. Today was no different, but it got a lot better once we made it to the surgical center. Becca’s been in the hospital a few times in our marriage and we’ve never had a staff this good. I’m talking people so good I’d like to have them all over for dinner as a thank you.

They’ve made what is never a fun situation very easy to handle. Great, great people.