I may be a professional photographer, but I am also a mom... with a cell phone camera. This means from time to time, I take pictures that are not exactly "pro" quality, and sometimes I even post them on facebook (yikes!). Even worse, I have been known to put my camera on a semi-automatic setting like "P" or "AV" when I am chasing my kids around the yard or taking pictures in their school classrooms. The funny thing is, some of my not so great pictures get lots of compliments, just like those with more perfect technical quality. Why???? Because the kids are adorable, of course. :)
While preparing for an upcoming photography workshop, I looked for examples to show what to look for in pictures that are both adorable and technically good. Here is an example of what to look for in your pictures.
#1 - Exposure
The number one factor to consider when taking pictures is lighting. I have written posts about this and will likely write more, but having adequate lighting is critical to good pictures. If the brightness or darkness of the background distracts from the subject, there is likely an issue with exposure. Underexposure (too dark) and overexposure (too bright) reduce the details of pictures. If the lighting of the background and subject are extremely different, the exposure on the subject is most important. Sometimes you may have to create your own lighting to get adequate exposure (that means use a flash or reflector). You can also make the most of your lighting by positioning your subject so there is a reflection (catch light) in the eyes. That makes them sparkle!
#2 - Focus
This one drives me crazy! Great pictures are always in focus. No exceptions. If you are taking pictures of a person, the eyes should be in sharp focus. The focus might be a little "softer" or less sharp when subjects are at a distance, but the people should still be in focus (see the example at the bottom). A popular trend in photography is shooting close up photos with a large aperture. Using this technique creates blurry backgrounds (bokeh) like that in the picture above, but overdoing it or doing it incorrectly also creates blurry faces. Achieving sharp focus is one of the hardest things to master when you begin using the manual controls on a DSLR camera. Now, there are exceptions, but they should be purposeful. The one that comes to mind is the trendy picture of the kids standing in front of parents with the kids in sharp focus and the parents out of focus or visa versa. Unless there is a reason for the exception, focus, focus, focus!
#3 - White Balance
This one is easy. Ooompa-Loompas and the Incredible Hulk are not real. If you see orange or green people in the pictures, there is something wrong with the white balance. Use your cameras color balance or correct it in your editing software.
#4 - Composition
Composition is the thing that is easiest to recognize and often what makes people like a picture at first glance. Composition is simply what is in the picture and where is it placed. There are books about proper ways to compose or frame your subject, but this is the most subjective of all the things. Some people love pictures that are close up with non-traditional crops. Others would never consider buying a picture that has the top of their child's skull cropped out of the frame. Most experts say you should have the most interesting part of your subject off center (rule of thirds), but I suspect most of the framed pictures in your home are centered. So what do you look for? A great photograph should visually emphasize the most important aspect of the picture.
#5 - Artistic Editing
This one is also subjective, but thanks to Instagram and other photo editors, unusual looks are making a comeback. It is fairly common for new photographers to create artistry by adding textures, funky coloring, creative black and whites, etc. These effects are great if you like them but they, like a blurry background, should be done purposefully. Some people even use special effects to attempt to cover up poorly exposed or blurry pictures. I just don't know why anyone would want the quality of a 70s Polaroid from a picture taken with a camera that has 40 years of advanced technology, but if that's your thing, go for it!
Even group pictures should be in focus. When using manual settings, be sure to decrease your aperture (increase the depth of field) when taking pictures of groups.
Now don't get discouraged if you suddenly start seeing faults in many your pictures. The more you know what to look for, the harder it is to achieve perfection. Trust me, sometimes my goal as a photographer is just to stink less everyday. I will try not to take is personally if your comments on my pictures start sounding more like "cute kids" and less like "great photo." Before throwing out your memory cards, just remember, an average picture that captures a special moment is better than no picture at all. And the best and only way to get better is to keep taking pictures! :) Happy shooting!
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Rocky Mount, NC Photographer