Hi! I'm Jen Lebo. I'm here to help you with all things
photography! Life is more beautiful when you share it, so let's
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Two of my last three blog posts were about photography, specifically lighting. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about composition. No, not every blog post will be about photography. I do love geeking out on all things involving a camera, but there are other things to talk about, and talk about them we will.
However, today let me share with you a few simple tips on how to improve your everyday photos with composition.
Simply put, composition is the placement of objects and elements in a work of art. So how you decide to compose your photo can mean the difference between a throwaway snapshot and a beautiful portrait. There are a lot of tips out there when it comes to composition. Today I’m going to share five simple ones.
Who or what is your subject? What do you want your viewer focused on? One of the best ways to take the guesswork out of this is to get closer to your subject. Let her fill up your frame. I often tell myself to get close enough to feel like I’m too close. Then get a little closer. Leave no room for question. Let your subject take over.
It is often the case when people are in photographs together that they are uncomfortable with getting too close. But the closer they are, the sweeter the image. So tell them what I just told you. Get them close enough to feel like they are too close. Them get them closer. Have them hug. Get them cheek to cheek. Having them feel this close will sometimes even get them laughing over it, which just adds to a nicely composed portrait. So get them closer.
Another great way to compose you portrait is with plenty of negative space. Negative space is the area which surrounds your subject (your subject being the positive space). While filling your frame with your subject is one way to compose, allowing for negative space is another way. Having both positive and negative space in your image creates a nice balance. And if the negative space is truly that (empty), you evoke stronger contrast between it and your subject. This is one time where bringing in some negativity is a good thing.
Rarely would I advise you to stoop down to your children’s level, but this is one of those times when it’s a great idea. I’m speaking literally here. Get down on the ground. Squat down or sit down with them. Get eye to eye and go into their world. Rather than getting a photo from your perspective, you’ll be suddenly getting a portrait from their perspective. And perspective can be a game changer.
This one might apply to life in general with kids. Don’t fake it. Be real with them. If you want them to smile, don’t tell them to say cheese. Do something to make them smile. Often enough, all that takes is a simple smile yourself. Make them laugh by being funny, or by laughing for them. Laughter, as we all know, is contagious! Get thoughtful expressions by asking them questions that make them stop and think. Engage with them, whoever they are. The more you engage with your subject, the more genuine you are with them, the more genuine the expressions you’ll evoke from them. Perhaps this is a rule for composing life. Be real.
When I was first starting out on my own personal photography journey, I read a quote that stayed with me. “Once you begin to see light as a photographer, you will never see it the same way again”. I am reminded often of this quote, because it proves true for me day after day. I am often caught off guard by the way light splashes across my children’s faces, or by the way it pours in through the leaves on a tree. I usually determine whether a place is beautiful by the kind of light it draws in, rather than the colors or details surrounding it. I am captivated by light, or maybe haunted by it. I love to play with it, and I would love to encourage you to play with it too.
Today I want to teach you the first step to recognizing light when you’re taking photos. Today I want to teach you a few things about front lighting. Front lighting is just what it sounds like, lighting your subject from the front, having your light source behind you and the camera. It is the most common way that most people choose to use light in their photos, since in some ways it’s the safest. Your subject’s face is fully lit, you won’t get any silhouette or unflattering shadows, and the “flat” (not a lot of contrast) lighting is soft on those of us with… er, less young skin.
But for all of its safety and flattery, front lighting is not 100% perfect light. For starters, flat light can be a bit boring, although you probably already figured that out since safe is boring (sometimes). And sometimes front lighting is anything but safe. Like at 8am on a winter morning, when the sun is just rising, and in doing so blinds anyone looking anywhere near it. The light is safely directed at them, and the colors are beautiful, but what you get are squinty and somewhat angry subjects. Doesn’t sound too much like a fun portrait session to me.
So how to keep it safe, flattering, and less than blinding? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when front lighting.
The earlier in the morning, the better off you are. Same goes for later in the evening. As the sun rises in the morning, your subject will have to squint to handle the strong light. Then, as it rises still, you’ll be doing a bit more “top lighting”, which is basically just shining a light down on your subject, creating crazy shadows and “raccoon eyes”. Skip that altogether.
Have your subject look away from you. If the sun is too strong behind you, then don't make her look at it. Have her look to her side, or downwards, or have her close her eyes all together. She can even wear sunglasses! Just don't force her to stare into the sun.
I know some of you might be thinking, “I have a great solution! I’ll put the sun behind my subject and front light her with my flash!” Don’t do it. While using an off camera flash as fill flash (putting the sun behind your subject) would be very flattering, that pop up flash will do nothing but make your subject look like a deer in the headlights. That pop up flash should just never ever ever ever be used (ever- got it?).
Put something between your subject and the sun to defuse some of that light between her eyes and that fiery ball of light blinding her. If you don’t have an actual diffuser, then use something like a white sheet. Have someone hold it up behind you and between her eyes and the sun. It won’t affect your photo, but it will help soothe your subject. Be creative if you have to.
Another great tip for getting great portraits of your loved ones in strong morning light is NOT TO FRONT LIGHT! Great tip right? Don’t do it! But really, I have come to love backlighting my subjects in early morning sun or late evening light. In my next photography blog post, I’ll teach you a little about backlighting. You’ll love it too!
Until then, try your hand at front lighting, and have fun!
The other day I was chatting with a friend who had just had her first baby. After we gushed over the little guy for a while (seriously, he is the CUTEST thing!), I mentioned to her that I was going to be creating some teaching resources for women, and that she might want to check them out, as this little man was only getting cuter by the second, and she was going to want to have every moment documented. She was delighted to hear about this, but when I assured her that all she would need is a DSLR, her smile turned into this sort of blank stare.
More blank stares. And then I realized my mistake. I’d assumed that everyone had a DSLR- and that everyone knew what a DSLR was! And we all know the problem with assuming…
It seems that if I’m going to start teaching the basics of photography, I can’t assume that everyone has the one item truly necessary to do so.
A DSLR is a digital single-lens reflex camera, or a fancy way of saying what everyone else calls “a nice camera”. Not a little “point and shoot”, and definitely not your phone. I know we all have cameras in our pockets now, but if you want to take your family photos to the next level, you need to upgrade to “the nice camera”.
Why in the world would anyone need a fancy camera, when we all have phones right in our pockets! Well, I’ll tell you why. Phone cameras are great for snapshots, for catching those moments that catch you off guard. And some phone cameras are fantastic- in fact, most are. But they do not give YOU control. A DSLR will give you the option to change your own settings. You can open up your aperture, or increase your shutter speed. Bump up the ISO when you’re in a dimly lit space, or when the sun is starting to go down. You can play with the exposure compensation if you like things a little more overexposed, or maybe underexposed.
Wait. Woah. What??? What the heck is aperture, and ISO, and exposure compensation? See, these are things I’m excited to teach you about in coming months, but you can’t learn how to control them if you don’t own a camera that gives you the control to manually change them.
And chances are high that you’ll find yourself in the most beautiful moment, and the light won’t be perfect, or you’ll wish the sun was on the opposite side of the sky, or that it was just a little brighter. Your baby will be taking his first steps, or heading off to his first boy/girl dance, and you won’t be able to control the light (or have five minutes to get a shot before he rolls his eyes and heads off with some girl!!). You’ll want “a good camera” and you’ll want to know how to use it.
Here’s another great feature of the DSLR. These cameras have interchangeable lenses. As you learn more about your camera, and the kinds of photos you like to take, you can find the lens that works best for you. You can use your 50mm lens for taking wonderful clean and crisp portraits of your babies, and then switch to a 24mm lens for taking landscapes portraits on your family vacation. You can buy a zoom lens to incorporate more options, and you never have need to change the camera body. One camera, endless options.
That’s why you need a DSLR.
Yikes. A “good camera”? That sounds expensive. And yes, a professional grade DSLR can be crazy expensive! But there are so many wonderful entry level DSLRs out there, and they are very affordable. You can get a great entry level DSLR camera and lens kit for a few hundred dollars. That includes the camera body and the basic lens that can then be removed and exchanged for whatever fancy pants lenses you decide to purchase later on.
Be assured though, that that basic lens can do great things right out of the gate, so you don’t need to go out and start buying fancy lenses. And those fancy lenses? Well, they can get as expensive as you like, or as affordable as you like. Most of my favorite lenses are the least expensive ones out there. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get quality camera gear. You just need to know how to rock whatcha got. That’s what I do. And that’s what I’ll teach you to do.
Ok, so yeah, a quick search on Amazon will bring you up a myriad of choices, from Nikon to Canon, Sony to Olympus, and more. Which is the best? Where are the scams? Which should you buy?
Well, I can tell you that all the big name brands really are the real deal. They are good. They are all good. The two top companies are Nikon and Canon, and you really cannot go wrong with either. You will hear that Canon has better autofocus, or that Nikon has a better entry level camera. Nikon cameras handle noise better, but Canon’s are better for sports photography.
You can find endless comparisons online, and spend hours doing the research, but the fact is that both brands are fantastic. If I were to suggest what camera to buy, it would be EITHER a Canon or a Nikon.
I’ll share with you that I’m a Nikon girl, but that doesn’t make a difference. Canon’s are amazing. So I’d suggest going with either of those. But understand this. If you buy a Nikon body, you need to then always buy Nikon lenses, or other brand lenses that are compatible with Nikon. You can’t buy a Canon lens for a Nikon body, or vice versa. So once you choose your brand, you are sort of married to it. Not a huge deal, as both systems have great products, but just know that when you choose, you’re choosing any future lenses as well.
How about a few options to check out right here? I’m an Amazon Prime girl myself, and would suggest checking there for this purchase. No need to go to some fancy camera store and have some salesman throw numbers and terms at you that will make your head spin. You can get the same great stuff online. I love shopping in my PJs. Don’t you?
I’m not a sponsor of Nikon (as if!), nor would I receive anything should you choose to purchase any of the products below. I simply thought it would be helpful to you if you had some options right here to check out. These are camera kits that I would consider purchasing if I were back at the beginning. These are trustworthy brands, and affordable products, and ones that will last you a good while.
I hope this blog post has helped you. I’m excited to be finally writing it. I’ve had a LOT of friends and clients ask me about cameras in years past, and now I have a place to send them to when they do. If I’ve missed anything, or you have other questions, please put them in the comment section below and I’ll answer them for you. This way we’ll have a little Q&A section to help future camera seekers. Thanks!
Hello and happy Monday! I've got another momtography tip for you today, and it's a great one for summer!
I'm not sure about the rest of you, but the sun is looming large and wonderfully here in our beautiful Rocky Mountain State, and so today's tip is about embracing that sun and playing with it a little bit.
Today I'm going to talk with you about backlighting.
Simply put, backlighting is when your light source (the sun in this case) is actually behind your subject and you are shooting into that light. It can be tricky, but it's fun to play around with, and you can capture some soft and stunning images this way.
A few simple tips to help you on your way to backlighting.
I know that not all of you own fancy photographer's reflectors, and that's ok. I've used white poster board, or even just my white shirt. If I know I'm going to try backlighting and won't have an actual reflector (or someone else to hold one), I make sure to wear white. Even that will help to reflect some of the light behind your subject onto her face.
When you are trying to backlight, your camera will want to expose for the scene behind your subject, especially if you are shooting with your phone or on automatic. What will happen then, is that you'll have a lovely sky and a dark, underexposed subject. Not what you want for a portrait. So make sure you expose for her. On your phone or on auto, that means making sure that red square that lights up is on her face, not the sky. You'll overexpose the sky and background a bit, but your subject will be nicely lit.
Backlighting is not easy, but it's worth trying out. Don't get discouraged if you struggle at first. You might underexpose your subject, or completely blow out the entire shot. So what? That's the fun of digital photography! We're not wasting film anymore, so you can practice until you understand it better.
Backlighting offers a completely different look to the typical front lit images. Rather than deep contrasts, you'll have a much softer image, where your lines almost blur. It's not easy, but it can be a lot of fun.
Try your hand at backlighting today. And then keep trying. You'll love it!
It goes one of two ways. You've just returned home from the most fantastic family vacation and you can't wait to share your images with the world (gotta love Facebook!). So you post some pics from that day you spent at Niagra Falls. Or Fenway Park. Or The Field of Dreams. And you get one of two responses.
Either people say "Wow, great photo of your kids there, but where is that?", because you went for the cute faces and so lost the entire landmark.
Or, you remembered to actually include the landmark, and so people comment with, "Wow, how cool that you went to Fenway Park, but which of the tiny heads are your kids?" You got the giant sign or feature, but lost the kids in the process.
There's an easy solution to this, but bear with me that my visuals will have more to do with soccer fields and athletic equipment because that's about the only way I can get my model to cooperate for me. You'll get the idea, though.
In the first image, you can see that I went for my son's portrait and in the process, I missed the entire landmark, which here is the soccer net. It's actually necessary for the shot because without it, he's just a kid standing here with a soccer ball. There is no story. No "landmark". No point to the image.
Now in the shot below, I remembered to shoot the "landmark", but in the process I shrunk my kid and he's an insignificant part of the photo now. It's no longer a portrait of my son in his happy place. It's just a photo of a giant soccer net, with a kid standing in front. No impact. No story. No power.
The solution to this is super simple.
Move yourself and your subject away from the landmark! Back away from sign of Fenway Park, or from the baseball park at The Field of Dreams. Keep your subject close to you and the landmark farther away. Then shoot the subject with the full landmark in the shot far behind him. Now you're creating a story with your image. Now you've got a portrait of your fabulous kids with the significant environment included. Now your comments will just be "Wow!"
Super simple tip, but super effective!
Remember this the next time you find yourself somewhere significant and want to capture a portrait of your loves there.
Happy summer vacationing!