Monday, July 18, 2011

Isolating for Effect

Hey guys,

I want to talk about isolation in your images. This post addresses single subject isolation for effect.

Any good photo has a subject. (I know, painfully obvious statement.) Sometimes the subject is rather obvious, while it may be less obvious and/or more abstract in others. One of our jobs as photographers is to tell the viewer where to look. Good composition does this.

Now, you've surely seen photographers who shoot everything wide open (widest possible aperture on a given lens) because of the bokeh. Yes, bokeh is nice but it can very easily become a crutch. That's because shooting wide open all the time doesn't require a photographer to carefully consider the background. It's thrown so far out of focus that your eye cannot help but go right to the subject, which is often the only in-focus object. Easy. And sometimes just plain lazy. Whether you shoot wide open, stopped down a couple stops or at "f/8 and be there," you should know WHY you're doing it.

1. Choose your backgrounds carefully. To isolate a subject, the simpler the better.
Here is a shot of my son while on a trip to Texas. His great grandmother had given him a new skateboard and this is all he did for the few days we were there. I stayed back to let him play and used a 135mm lens. I shot from a side angle because I liked the shape of the houses behind him and because the background was uncluttered, he stood out well.

2. Separation.
I shot this is my son while in Texas. The sun was brilliant and warm. I was shooting close to wide open but I still carefully placed him clear of the sign posts and poles.

3. Get close.
Getting close to your subject can separate him/her from the background. Part of this lies in the fact that the closer you are, the faster depth of field drops off, even stopped down to f/4-f/5.6. One of the biggest benefits this has is proximity to the lens often catches the eye of the viewer more quickly. This shot below captures a quiet moment of a cousin with her puppy. She and the dog share a moment, completely separate of anyone playing around her. The image conveys that.

4. Choose your angle.
Below, you see a girl on a slide, alone in her thoughts. What you don't see is the house behind that slide, surrounding trees, other playground equipment or children playing. The low angle eliminated those distractions and set her apart from them all. The result is another quiet, contemplative image.

The shot below illustrates isolation at its rawest. Simplicity. White walls, a backwards glance, and nothing else. These moments are always both fortuitous and equally intentional. You can't expect them to fall into line regularly and you can't wait until the stars align. As a photographer, your job is to MAKE it happen.

Hope this is helpful.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Which Camera for Family Photojournalism?

Recently, we received the question: "Can (insert camera here) be used to shoot Family Photojournalism?"

The answer is a resounding YES, regardless of which camera you own or use!

While you may use literally ANY camera, I primarily use a Canon DSLR (1ds2 and 5d2) with an assortment of prime lenses. I choose to use these because it gives me a lot of flexibility when shooting in a wide variety of lighting conditions. For example, I might start photographing my family in my home early in the morning where light is low, but the scene may shift quickly as they move outside. By using a prime lens with a wide aperture setting, I do not have to change lenses when my subjects move into different light.

With that said, ANY camera will work, but there just might be some limitations. My advice would be to understand and work within the confines of those limitations. For example, if you own a Canon DSLR and the standard 18-55mm kit lens, shooting inside without flash will be difficult. Therefore you might want to opt for more outside documentation. Or if you have an old manual focus film camera, you might want to photograph your family when the are more subdued and not participating in an action packed event.

While I do prefer my Canon DSLRs, I occasionally shoot other cameras. I owned two different Leica M6 film cameras with 35mm lenses and REALLY enjoyed them. One of the limitations of the Leica M is that the lenses are manual focus. Additionally, since it is a film camera, you cannot adjust your ISO on the fly. Posted below is one of my favorite sets from last summer. The photos were taken while we were on vacation. We decided to take a late evening beach walk. I only had about a half of the roll of film left in the Leica M6, so these are all the shots from the session. The film used was Fuji Pro 400

So, to recap, any camera will do! Now go photograph your family!


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Using Multi-Layered Content in Your Family Photojournalism

All too often, I get satisfied with capturing 'single themed photographs' where there is one major piece of content in the photo. For example, let's say my child is digging for worms in the back yard and the light is perfect. I quickly raise my camera, position my little guy in the frame where I want them...and SNAP....I have a decent photo.

But does this photo tell a story?

One thing I try to accomplish when attempting family photojournalism is to tell a story with an image. As I analyze my own work, I'm finding that singular themed photographs (while nice in many cases) just are not that deep and do not always tell the whole story.

More and more I am attempting to focus on having at least two pieces of content in my photographs. I'm finding that the more I concentrate on this, the 'deeper' my photos are becoming.

Take the photo below as an example. I came home from work and went on the back deck to find my wife feeding our youngest child on the table while my two other children circled her like wild banshees. I was first drawn to my wife feeding our child in his new seat (first time he was in it) but I literally told myself, "eh, thats boring, the light is dull, and I have TONS of photos of my children eating." But there was more there. My other children were riding scooters, so I began to think about how to incorporate them into the scene. I knew that my primary piece of content was my wife feeding my child, but I needed a second piece. I grabbed my camera (1ds2 + 24L) and sat down against the rails of my deck and I waited for my children to pass by the frame. When my middle child entered the frame, he looked at me, I pressed the shutter. Think just how different this photo would be if it was just my wife feeding my child WITHOUT my son looking into the camera, riding a scooter, WEARING A SCUBA MASK!:

As another example, the photo below illustrates how multiple layers of content can add to the strength of an image. My wife was snuggling with our youngest on the couch. I even took photos of them...just her and him...on the couch...boring! But when I stepped back from the scene, there was SO MUCH MORE THERE. My other children were playing the most bizarre game of go fish and were really enjoying themselves. The 1ds2 + 24L was the weapon of choice again. My primary piece of content is my wife and newborn with my secondary piece of content being my older children playing cards. I used a center composition with my older children framing my primary piece of content:

Finally, the image below is really special to our family. My wife was just a few days away from delivering our third child (the little guy pictured above). Our house was a wreck, yet there was still so much to do. My wife worked tirelessly to make sure our little guy came home to a place conducive to raising a child! This was the end of a very long day for all of us. The older children were snuggled up watching a movie, but my wife was busy folding laundry. Think how different this scene would be if I just photographed my wife, or just the kids. Camera was the 5d2 + 24L:

So, my challenge to you all would be to wait before you press that shutter. Look around, try to find something else that is going on so that you can add some depth to your photographs! But be patient, it ain't easy!