Friday, August 10, 2007

Secrets of Stellar Shots

Digital cameras have become so common that we often think of them as simply another electronic device. We snap, shoot, delete and download. Much of the time this works just fine, but a basic understanding of a few key photography subjects can transform your digital scrapbook from mediocre to mesmerizing.

One of the most powerful ways we can improve our photography is through composition. Composition refers to how the subjects are placed in the field of view. In the photo world, there are a number of specific ideas and opinions regarding what constitute quality composition; our goal here is to help you improve your everyday photography.

Understanding the ‘Rule of Thirds’ is a good way to begin playing with your composition technique. While some may think this rule applies to a balanced diet on a toddler’s plate (meat, veggies, starch?), the Rule of Thirds can actually serve as a guideline in creating interesting and pleasing photographs. A technique that has long been used by artists, the Rule of Thirds can provide similar benefits in your photography.

Picture a tic-tac-toe grid (or better yet, draw one on a piece of paper). You will notice that you have nine box areas. Now circle the four center crossing lines in the center (they are the four points on the center box). By placing your subject in any of the points where the lines cross, you will be able to create a heightened dramatic effect and draw the eye to that area.

You’ll see that your subject will be off center but will better command attention than had you simply shot a standard centered picture.

Before you apply the rule of thirds, consider:

· What do I want to highlight?
· Is there anything in the background of interest?
· What story do I wish to tell?

I’ve used this picture of my daughter, taken in Belgium this summer, as a way to demonstrate the concept.

Spending a few moments to ‘think from the end’ will help you decide how to position your subject and whether or not to use any secondary subjects.

Cutting the Clutter: While I could be talking about my home cleaning projects, I’m referring to the background ‘noise’ often found invading our pictures. Remember that pole that seemed to grow out of Grandma’s head at the fair? Or the trash can that kept popping up in the family reunion shots? We often only focus on the primary subject, but our camera will capture everything in the field of view, so make sure to pay close attention to the entire area.

Keeping Your Perspective: In photography terms, perspective refers to the relationship between the various subjects in the field of view. For example, if you wanted to highlight the incredible size of a castle, you might shoot the image with your family in the corner to demonstrate the difference. You can also begin to play with some techniques such as vanishing perspective (think of a long hallway where the opposite end seems to vanish). Think of using perspective as a way to nonverbally communicate the relationship between the subjects.

A little perspective also helps when trying to get your four cranky kids to smile just ‘one more time!’

Taking Summer To School

I have to admit that I have mixed feeling about school starting again. The Type A part of my personality would love the scheduled blocks of time I need to meet deadlines and work obligations; the kid in me wants to do cannonballs in the pool and take each day as it comes without consulting my email first.

If you have kids, you’re probably gearing up for the ‘Back to School’ transition. Going from flexible summer schedules to the daily school grind can be daunting for most kids. We can help them get back into the school groove by letting them take a little bit of summer with them.

Consider choosing a couple of photos of your kids doing something they loved this summer. Print one picture as a wallet sized image and have it laminated as a luggage tag. Many copy shops offer this service. You can secure one to each child’s backpack as a surprise for the first day of school.

You can then print another picture and write a few sentences about how much you loved spending time with them this summer. Tuck it in their lunch kits as a midday surprise.

This picture of my daughter running towards what is known as Stonehenge II in Hunt, Texas, reminds me of the excitement and exploration that these months bring.

Summer may be fleeting, but the memories can carry us through until next June arrives.

It’ll be sooner than we think.