Quarantined! Taking better photos while we're all stuck at home...
Mar 24, 2020 | By: Time Stops Photography
So, these are some insane times, right?! I'm having a hard time fully processing what is happening around the entire globe! While we are all told to shelter in place, I thought it might be a perfect time to share some tips and tricks on how to take better photos at home. You may be thinking that there isn't a lot of photo worthy events happen inside your abode right now, but I would beg to differ. I've seen post after post about the family time we are getting with one another, hobbies we've found a renewed or brand new interest in, new dishes created, yummy treats baked and on and on and on. In my own home, my 15 year old twins are hanging out more than they have in quite some time, getting creative about what they are doing together and I'm loving every minute of it! We just started a 2000 piece puzzle as a family a few nights ago. So truly, while the world seems upside down, this is a another chapter in each of our lives that has it's own look and feel and the images you capture you'll look back on and smile one day (when it's all over!)
A couple of general thoughts to start. First, it doesn't matter if you don't have a fancy camera. There's a saying that goes "The best camera is the one you have in your hand." That's so very true. Whether it's a phone camera or a DSLR, it doesn't matter. It will do the trick for capturing the moments around you. Second, do you know what the word photography actually means? It comes from 2 words. Photo means light. Graphy means writing. So you are literally writing with light. Photography is all about seeing the light around you and how it shapes and bends around what you are capturing. So, with those 2 things in mind, let's jump in.
1. DON'T WAIT FOR THE EXTRAORDINARY MOMENTS
Now that my kids are 15, I can look back and see how each age brings a different look and feeling with it in our house. Breakfast looks different than when they were 3 (they aren't in high chairs and get their own breakfast), Saturday mornings REALLY look different since they no longer sit and watch cartoons (I mean, they barely wake up before 11) and after school (when there actually IS an after school) looks like a quick hello to me before they head up to their rooms, close the doors, do homework and connect with their friends.
Once upon a time I had a marketing job for a national restaurant company. Now, I work for myself, as a full time photographer. My life looks really different than it did 10 years ago. I have time to go to the gym, I work in a lot of coffee shops, I have a home office and don't always get out of my pajamas (shhhhhh!). My husband has a renewed interest in running and biking and has found great joy in building all kinds of ninja obstacles for our daughter, who is an American Ninja Warrior. (for reals. When Season 12 eventually happens, she'll be one of the competitors!)
Now that we are all quarantined at home, there are going to be a lot of every day moments. I promise they are worth capturing! Have you ever played Watch Ya Mouth? It's HILARIOUS! We had a family night with my mom, right before the stay at home order came through.
And then, in searching through photos for images for this blog post, I came across this shot of my son and one of our kitties. I'm so glad I took that one. Just an ordinary moment that makes my heart feel happy now.
2. FIND THE LIGHT/HELP YOUR CAMERA
Sometimes, you just have to take the shot or you'll miss the moment. I get it. But if you have time, take a moment to really look at the scene and see where the Light is coming from and how it's falling on whatever you are photographing. If your kids are on the floor playing legos, your best spot is likely going to be with your back to the window. Shooting towards the windows is rarely a good idea. Your subjects will be dark and the windows will be big white blobs. If possible, I always make sure the light source is at my back. Try having the kids turn their bodies towards the light while they keep playing or doing homework or chatting with a sibling.
You can also tell your camera where it should "read the light" from in the scene. This mostly applies to your camera phones. For DSLRs you would need to change either the aperature, shutter speed or both. That's a topic for a different post. For the camera in your phone, when you lift it up and point it towards what you want to take a photo of, the camera inside automatically reads the light of the scene so it can figure out the exposure. Sometimes what you see on your screen is way too bright. Sometimes it's far too dark. If you want to take control of where it's reading the light from so you get a more proper exposure, touch your screen in the spot where YOU want it to read the light from. That would generally be a more neutral spot of light, something in-between the too bright and too dark areas. You can also touch the screen anywhere and a little yellow box with a sun will show up. Drag your finger up or down on that sun to increase or decrease the brightness of the scene. That gives you more control over how the photo looks in the end. Finally, there are tools within the photo apps that allow you make adjustments to the brightness, contrast, highlights, shadows, etc. after the fact. But, the goal is always to get it "correct in the camera" by about 90% so minimal time is spent in post-processing. That's just for the fine tuning and tweaking.
I see this view of Spooner just about every day. The light highlighting his sweet face perfectly just had to be captured.
3. FOCUS ON THE DETAILS
Every photo doesn't need to be the entire scene. Get in close on the hand mixing the cookies dough when you bake. Crop into the little hands (barely) holding the fork as your munchkin tries to feed himself. Get in close to your daughter's face as she's biting her lip, concentrating so hard to get the flower petal she's drawing just right. Look for the little things that are unique and perhaps quirky about your kiddo, things you notice they do all the time without knowing they are doing it! Or, perhaps you photograph one of your favorite coffee mugs (that looks like a camera lens) with coffee in it from your favorite coffee shop while you are quarantined at home because you miss your coffee shops so dang much!
4. CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE
We often come upon a scene, see it from where we are standing and take the photo. However, what would it look like if you got up high (maybe shooting over the side of the stairs) to take the photo. What if you got down low, possibly all the way on the ground to take the shot? Maybe you get right into the middle of the action and get a close up detailed shot of what is happening. Move around. Change your levels. Look at the scene from the opposite side of the room from where you entered. You might just be surprised at how different it looks or what a better shot it is! And then, you might get photobombed by your cat who can't figure out what you are doing on the floor!
5. BE A FLY ON THE WALL
Whenever I talk to people about photos or they describe some of their favorite images, rarely is it one where everyone is sitting, smiling and looking at the camera. It's the image where two people are laughing, or looking at each other but definitely not at me. I far prefer those as well. I feel like a fly on the wall, silently observing the moments that are coming along naturally. ("Fly on the Wall Photography" would be a terrible name, really, but you get the point). That's when you get the real smiles, the real laughter, the truthful looks. The authentic moments and I can see who people really are, the essence of the relationships. Those are my favorite. They are the ones that really feel like you are watching life in motion. I have no doubt my kids have lost count of the number of times I've told them "Pretend I'm not here." Or "Don't look at me...just keep doing what you are doing." Capturing people from behind often accomplishes that feeling for me as well.
That might also be one of the reasons I love photographing theater and dance so much. I'm just there to capture the honest moments of the artists on stage. I've often said that I feel like theater just has all this emotion up there for the taking. (To all the kids who's shows have been cancelled or postponed, I feel your pain and I'm so truly sorry. I miss you all). Back to photos in your home...
6. HAND OVER THE CAMERA
I often joke that there's very little proof that I exist in my family. Being the mom AND the photographer, I'm the one behind the camera probably 98% of the time. But I'm working to change that. And please, resist the urge you have to say, "No, no, no, I don't want to be in the photo." Because, you know what? You are just as much a part of your family's story as anyone else. And the kids want to be able to look back on photographs later in life and see YOU too! Having your photograph taken doesn't mean you have to look perfect. It just means you have to look like you and that's what your family will always want to see.
While this seems like it's perhaps a time we'll all want to forget, I do believe that more good is coming out of this global pandemic than we can see right now. And I bet you'll smile when you look back on the photos you captured during these crazy times!
All this being said, rules are meant to be broken. So these guidelines are just that, guidelines. Not hard and fast rules. But when you have the tools to take better photos, you also have more control when you decide to experiment and play with them.
Life is constantly happening, capture it as it is. Right now. One day it will look entirely different again.