Dear Father-in-Law: At one point during all of our vacations and at every big family event, you ask me the same question, “How come my photos look awful, and yours look so good?”
While there’s never been an easy way to explain it to you at those moments (and I do love seeing you put your eye up to the LCD monitor to compose) I have always felt that your frustrations don’t lie with your camera, nor in any inherent ability of mine; but with just a few simple mechanical, physical, and emotional recalculations, your photos will improve from bad to pretty good in no time at all.
Below is a very understated list of ideas that will help you do what you want to do—take a photo of your gathered family that you will be proud to show to your friends and colleagues.
- Make sure your camera is on automatic or Program (P) mode. (In other words, check that the dial hasn’t accidentally changed while the camera has been in your drawer for the past several months.)
- Turn off the camera’s built-in flash!
- Check the general direction of the ambient light and how that may create a shadow or flare on the faces of your subjects. (In general, have the light behind you, the photographer.)
- Engage in your composition. Place your subject in the frame with a purpose and re-think your shooting angle. (Not all shots need to be taken from a standing position with camera up to your eye.)
- Keep your hands and body steady. Tuck your elbows against your rib cage with the camera at your eye or use the neck strap, pulled taut, if you are viewing through the LCD.
- Lightly press the shutter button halfway to autofocus on subject and hold it without pushing all the way, in preparation for releasing the shutter.
- Take a breath, a last look, and get everyone to smile; not with “smiiile” or “say cheeeeese”, but by glancing over the camera at your loved ones and making one of your classic jokes or simply by smiling at them. (If your middle daughter still doesn’t want to smile or a grandkid makes a goofy face, let ’em be.)
- Depress the shutter button all the way and hold steady. Think of it like the follow-through on your golf swing. Don’t just push fast and release—this might cause blur. I realize modern cameras can be quiet and a flash makes it clear when the shot has been taken and that without it you are not so sure, so give it a beat and listen for the digitized sound of the shutter.
That’s it. You probably have a good photo now, but if you don’t think you got it the first time, try again quickly. But no more than three times! We start to get fidgety by then.
Oh, and one more thing, and this can apply to all of the photographers out there. Let’s call it:
The real #1): Photograph what you care about!
But you know what? You’ve already got that covered. Your camera only comes out when your daughters, grandkids, family, and friends are gathered; the location doesn’t matter. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Actually, it’s always been my favorite thing about you—how pleased, proud and, simply contented you are when we are all together. The camera is not just an extension of your eye, but an extension of your heart. Just infuse that love you feel into the squeeze of the shutter.