Saturday, December 6, 2014

Capture emotion

I shoot with a point and shoot: a Canon PowerShot S90. When set to take small-file-size images, it can crank off quite a fast burst of shots. This is great for capturing moments like this one. Isla is excited to be doing a puzzle all by herself.

At moments like this, don't intrude. Don't interfere. Don't tell the child, "Say cheese." Just find the best angle, watch how the light plays on the child's face, aim and wait. The moment will come and you will be ready.

Note: the background was terribly sharp in the original file. I softened the background in Photoshop to imitate the look I would have achieved with a high end DSLR. My job isn't perfect. The softening was done quickly and without a lot of craft. I am not out to trick anyone. I don't mind leaving an artifact or two. It is honest dishonesty.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Don't ignore window light

Babies are beautiful, especially Seth, and granddad's are proud. A picture is a must. When grabbing such important photos, don't ignore the lighting. A window can be invaluable in such a situation.

I had granddad hold the newborn near the hospital room window. The soft light was perfect. Far better than using the on-camera flash. Remember to steady the camera by resting your hands on some sturdy. Hospital room offer lots of choices and most are on wheels. Ideal.

A picture of granddad with Seth was a little harder. Unless I moved the chair completely around, the little guy was going to be lit by room light. I made sure the glow was warm, green florescent tubes are not acceptable. Satisfied with the colour of the light, I went with the flow.

Once the colour temperature is acceptable, direct your attention to the pose and the background. Try to avoid an all too busy background. I put the background out-of-focus in Photoshop and not in my camera. My point-and-shoot simply cannot do it.

I don't mind folk looking at the camera. I find it an honest admission that a picture is being taken. It this bothers you, don't do it. Ask granddad, or whomever, to look down at the baby. This should have the extra benefit of resulting in a natural, pleasant expression on granddad's face. Again, keep that camera steady.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The picture isn't always where you think

Fiona's shot of a silhouetted gull soaring above The Falls.

I took my 5-year-old granddaughter, Fiona, to The Falls yesterday. She loved it and immediately asked for "her" camera. She has claimed my aging Canon S90 point-and-shoot as her own.

She shot this and that, and here and there, and she even shot almost straight up into the sky. I was puzzled. The Falls were immediately in front of her and yet she was swinging about excitedly shooting pictures.

But Fiona realized there were more pictures to be had than just falling water and a rainbow in the mist. There was blue sky and soaring gulls.  And Fiona shot pictures of these things too. See lead photo above.

I'm sure everyone at The Falls Saturday came away with a shot like the one on the right. The image that was missed  by many was the rainbow in the mist above the falls with soaring gulls adding extra interest.

Fiona didn't miss this picture. Now, open your eyes to all the picture possibilities around you and you, too, can shoot like a 5-year-old.

Fiona also shot The Falls proper. Nice pic but expected.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

For reporters taking pictures: the Panasonic Lumix FZ200

I worked for more than three decades as a staff photographer at a couple of daily newspapers in Ontario, Canada. I hesitate to use the term photojournalist. I was a photographer. I was more concerned with image quality -- art and with craft -- than with raw reporting.

Over the years I came to understand that many shooters working in the news business were more photographer than photojournalist. Right from my very first day on the job, I learned newspaper shooters were not adverse to setting up pictures but did so on a daily basis.

The image of the two girls chatting, one topless, ran in a Canadian paper and was distributed by the wire services in both Canada and the United States. It was claimed the image documented the topless look many Canadian women had adopted when relaxing on a Canadian beach. It was a lie. The two girls were models. The photographer hired models when it proved impossible to find topless women on any beach in the area. The photographer illustrated the story and not reality.

Ann Coulter shot with Canon S90.
I am opening this post with this story because newspaper staff photographers use incredible photo equipment. They often have two or more camera bodies complete with lens hanging from their necks. They wear photo vests bulging with extra lenses, spare batteries and at least one flash and maybe two. If they don't wear a vest, they carry a camera bag.

News shooters carry all this equipment because they claim to be photojournalists. (I would put the accent on photo and go light on the journalist.) Reporters forced to take pictures are also photojournalists but with the accent this time on journalist. The demands of a photographer/photojournalist are usually different from than those of a reporter/photojournalist.

Photographers wants the best gear, period. No compromises. To accomplish this, they carry massive amounts of photo gear. Reporters wants simplicity and compromise is often the name of the game.

Since retiring, I have done some work for an online publication and shot some stuff for folk around town as a favour. My photo kit today is essentially two cameras: a fit-in-your-pocket point-and-shoot and a heavier, bulkier super zoom.

What to look for in the perfect camera for reporters:

A fast f/1.8 wide angle and small size makes this a keeper.
1. The lens should be fast -- at least f/2.8 but faster is better. The smaller the f-stop number the faster the lens. Fast lenses let in a lot of light. This allows the use of faster shutter speeds when shooting available light. Faster shutter speeds help stop subject movement. My choice here is the Canon S120. It offers f/1.8 when the zoom lens is set to 24mm (35mm film equivalent).

2. A viewfinder and not just a large screen on the back of the camera is a plus. Unfortunately, the Canon S120 does not have a viewfinder, which brings us to the Panasonic FZ200 which does. This super zoom has an f/2.8 lens. This is one and a third stops slower than the Canon S120 but this lens has another trick up its sleeve. It offers this fast speed right across the zoom range. Set to wide angle or zoomed to the max, this lens offers a fast f/2.8 when set to wide open. When I was a working pro, my lens kit held a number of constant f/stop zooms. Not one of which was faster than f/2.8 at its fastest.

FZ200: f/2.8 offered at all lens settings
Sadly, with most amateur cameras zoom the lens from wide angle to telephoto and the maximum f/stop gets progressively slower. At the long lens settings many amateur cameras are just about unusable unless the pop-up flash is activated. If you didn't know, pop-up flashes pump out ugly light. I have always tried to stay clear of these built-in strobes.

The Panasonic FZ200 is heavier and a little slower than the Canon S120 but the f/2.8 setting available at all lens settings is a real plus. If the FZ200 weight is not a deal breaker, it tips the scales at little more than a pound (588 grams), then the FZ200 is the camera.

3. Note the pop up flash with the Canon S120. Not good. The Panasonic offers a hot shoe. This is another nice, pro-shooter touch. Panasonic offers three external flashes for this camera and these flashes are all TTL -- through the lens metering. I always looked for a flash with a rotating, tilting head. The more it can be adjusted the better. This makes bounce flash photography easy. A high guide number is also good. No one wants to get back to the newsroom without the picture. Lots of power is good insurance that your flash will be up to the job.

I've read some complaints about these Panasonic flashes. They can take too long to recharge between flashes. I assume that if one uses TTL and a wide aperture, like f/4.0 or wider, the recharge times will be shortened. With TTL the flash only pumps out the light needed to properly expose the image. Any energy not used to create the flash is recycled back into the battery.

External flashes are heavy and expensive. For these two reasons, amateurs tend to shy away from these flashes. I shake my head in disbelief. Buy a good flash, one with adequate power, and keep it handy. It does not have to be on the camera at all times. It just needs to be near by. A reporter can sling a small camera bag stuffed with a camera, a spare battery, a small charger and a flash and be set to tackle anything needed for the paper. (This assumes that the really tricky stuff requiring super fast response times and ultra-short shutter release times will still be handled by a staff photographer.)

A long lens and ability to fire a burst of shots makes this easy.
4. Any camera that has a fast lens, a good zoom range, a viewfinder and a hot-shoe for a TTL external flash will meet the needs of most reporters. The Panasonic FZ200 has a 25-600mm lens expressed as a 35mm SLR equivalent. This is a range that should never let a reporter down. In more than three decades working as a pro shooter, I almost never needed a lens longer than 600mm.

The ability to fire off a burst of five or six pictures is also a plus. But this feature should be offered by any camera that answers the first three demands. Check to make sure that I am not wrong but I'd be surprised to learn otherwise. The FZ200 can crank off up to 12 frames per second. If auto-focus tracking is needed, the maximum rate drops to 5.5 fps.

What I would carry if I were a reporter forced to take pictures.

  • a small camera bag holding . . .
  • a Panasonic Lumix FZ200
  • an external rotating, tilting head TTL flash
  • two extra Panasonic Li-ion Battery Packs plus a charger
  • a cable to download photos (this will come packaged with camera)
  • one extra SD card
  • a small umbrella for those hard to light shots (I'd keep this in the trunk of my car most of the time. I'll post a link to instructions on hand holding a photo umbrella.)
  • a small tripod. Must be strong enough to carry weight of camera. Keep in car trunk with umbrella.There are little wire-legged tripods that will do quite nicely in a pinch.

I no longer have an expensive DSLR from Canon or Nikon. I get by with a point and shoot and a super zoom. I have yet to fail to come back with a picture. I am no longer shooting hockey, a tough sport even using the best equipment, so I cannot say my replacement kit does all my previous $25,000 kit did. But, for under a thousand dollars, my present kit delivers.

A super zoom using a short burst of shots quickly delivered this image.

The small sensors in amateur cameras mean one must fill the frame for good reproduction.
Dancers shot with Fuji FinePix HS10. A Panasonic FZ200 would have done even better.
Shot of fireworks at a neighbourhood park taken with simple Canon SD10.
A zoom lens can almost do it all. A camera bag full of lenses is no longer necessary.

Monday, September 15, 2014

No selfie necessary; I had a 5-year-old handy

It was a great party and the perfect time to take a selfie but I didn't. I handed my camera to my five-year-old granddaughter and ask her to grab a quick shot. Somehow the fact that this is a moment captured by my granddaughter adds immensely to this photo.

But, the above wasn't the only picture she captured that day. Earlier she grabbed what was easily one of my favourite pictures from the event -- a celebration of an upcoming marriage -- she got a fine picture of the young bride, overcome with emotion, being hugged by her oh-so-camera-shy husband to be.

I wish I'd taken that picture but I couldn't. Fiona had gotten her hands on my little point and shoot and wasn't relinquishing ownership. There were pictures to be taken and she wanted to take 'em.

"Gugga, you can use your big camera," she told me. Then she knelt down on one knee and fired away with my little Canon PowerShot S90 which she had claimed for her own.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cameras: buy 'em good and keep 'em forever

My Canon S90 is aging. It has been dropped, its lens has been touched and cleaned numerous times, its batteries no longer keep a good charge, but it still takes good pictures.

I believe the direct descendent of my old workhorse is the present Canon S120. The lens now opens up to f/1.8 when set to wide angle (24mm -- 35mm equivalent). The processor is now a DIGIC 6. The autofocus is faster, although I never found it all that difficult to live with before, and the frames per second rate is hitting 9.4. Warning: The S200 is a lesser camera and not an upgrade from the S120.

Before buying a camera, ask yourself what you will be shooting. Do you like to shoot available and steer clear of the on-camera flash? If so, make sure the camera you buy has a fast lens; The faster the better. And don't forget to check the lens speed when the camera is zoomed out to a longer lens setting. The only point and shoot I know of that doesn't lose lens speed as the lens is zoomed out is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 with its constant f/2.8 throughout the zoom range.

I was careful when I retired from The London Free Press. As a photographer put out to pasture, I found myself without a camera for the first time in my life. As a retired fellow forced to accept a reduced pension, buying a kit similar to the one I had at the paper was financially impossible. I looked over the point and shoots and committed myself to working within the limitations of the decidedly amateur equipment.

I can't do all I once could but I'm still shooting pictures and that keeps me happy.

If I were buying a camera tomorrow, I'd get two cameras: A Canon S120 and Lumix FZ200. The Canon with its f/1.8 wide angle is great for shooting available light. Take it to birthday parties and the like. It is a wonderful piece of equipment.

The Lumix with its constant f/2.8 all the way from 25-600mm is damn close to my old constant f/stop professional lenses.

Both cameras will fit into one very small camera bag. Add a spare battery for each and you're ready to rock an' roll.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Capturing the minimum for maximum impact

I love my lilies. I planted this one for the lovely ruffles, the gentle creases running the length of the pedals and for the burst of bright yellow hidden in the centre of the white bloom.

If I could capture those three elements in one image, I would have my picture. As you can see, I did and I do.

This was shot with my aging Canon S90. It was a pretty sophisticated point and shoot for its time and today it is still delivering the goods.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Finding routes to a good picture

I like faces. For the most part, faces full of expression add real zing to a picture. I am always asking myself, "Can I find a shooting position that will get capture the subject's face and reveal the emotions of the moment?"

Almost always the answer is yes. But Saturday at the Junction Climbing Centre open house the answer was "No." The place was busy, filled with visitors eager to test themselves by tackling one of the many colour-codes routes up the climbing wall. To include my granddaughter's face in a picture I had to be right against the wall and that was impossible. The wall was truly crawling with climbers.

But one does have others visual tools to give a little oomph to a photo. There's form, colour, action and more. Wall climbing offers a photographer a myriad of routes that all lead to a good picture. And note that I said good. The pictures I grabbed at the open house are only good. Not a one is great.

The story, as I see it, at the climbing facility is the soaring height kids can attain if they tackle a wall correctly. I saw some young climbers making it right to the top of the easiest of the 30-foot high climbs. The safety of the sport is also an important factor to include. And if one can find a way to make the small size of some of the participants obvious, one's found another good route to a fine photo.

I now think a better angle for shooting this is a low angle showing the incredible height of the climb ahead of my adventurous granddaughter. Including the instructor would add the contrast and make her small size immediately clear. With a little luck, the great picture would also show some of the action taking place further down along the wall. Context is often good and here it would be a great plus.

Unfortunately, getting Fiona's expression-filled face in the picture will not be easy no matter what approach the photographer takes. Unless the photographer straps on a harness and tackles the climb immediately beside the fearless little climber. If the photographer shoots from above, all the ingredients for a great picture fall immediately into place.

The problem for me is I'm 67 and an old 67. Climbing the wall, holding on with one hand while twisted around shooting pictures with a camera gripped tightly in the other hand, may be one route to great picture that is out of my reach today.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A naturally posed moment makes a picture

As a former newspaper photographer, I know well the pressures to produce. If one is covering an event, say a sporting event, and one player is the focus of the story, then one has to return with a publishable picture of that player.

Clearly an action shot is best. A shot clearing illustrating why they are worth a story is by far the best shot. Sadly, this is not always possible. Sometimes time constraints force the photographer to spend just moments at a game. The pressure of covering the next assignment forces the photographer to go with a second best image.

It is at times like this that the shooter looks for a naturally posed moment. If an action shot is not to be then at least one must return with an image that will look good on the page. Second best must not look like second best.

This thinking can give a newspaper shooter an image to keep the sports page editor smiling and this approach can also produce a family album picture from almost any event. The naturally posed moment used to illustrate this article put a smile on every one's face from parents to grandparents to even the young soccer player.

The naturally posed moment is also a good backup photo. It is a solid image from the event that can be used if the other shots, the action shots, fail. Never let image blinders prevent one from seeing all the photo moments.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Adding extra meaning to family photos

It was John and Ashley's anniversary. Some good friends were there. Their parents were present. Their two young daughters were at the table. A cake and a camera appeared. The only thing missing was a photographer. Fiona, the couple's 4-year-old daughter stepped up and took control with a little help from her grandfather, a retired photographer (me).

Gramps encouraged the couple to get close, they snuggled and Fiona shot. I could have shot the picture, I did help stage it, but having Fiona shoot the photo added an extra layer of meaning and memories to the moment.

Plus a dog-faced photographer was bound to elicit a smile from the happy couple. Did I mention our 4-year-old photographer had recently had her face painted?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Making use of the background

I like clean images. This is not always the best way to shoot a subject and it certainly is never the only way to approach photography, but it is usually my overriding goal when taking a picture. I want the subject of my photo to be immediately clear. No ambiguity. I like my subjects to pop.

Each spring I wait patiently for the magnolia tree in my backyard to burst into bloom. The purple flowers are downright exciting to see after a long, cold and colourless winter. The dramatic break from white is welcome. (My oldest granddaughter screamed with delighted excitement on seeing the flowering magnolia for the first time.)

My favourite images of these magnolia flowers contain only one or two blooms but they are presented to the viewer in a dramatic fashion. This year I managed to capture quite the dramatic moment. I found the angle, the point of view, that placed a striking flower against a background of deep shadow. I found the deep shadow below the evergreens that blanket the hill.

A low shooting angle placed the bright, colourful bloom dramatically against the intense, black background. A recent rainfall decorated the petals with drops of beaded water and the overcast day supplied wonderful, colour-enhancing lighting. (With soft, diffuse light colour defines shape. On a bright day the highlights and shadows carry a much larger share of the visual load.)

To show you exactly what I did, I have included a photo of the entire magnolia tree as it looks in my backyard. Note the hill, the evergreens and the deep shadow behind. Whenever you are taking pictures, watch your background. In many cases, you can control the background by carefully choosing your camera angle.

One last thing in passing, note the colour of the blossom in the close-up and the colour of the blossoms in the overall shot of the tree. The blossoms appear more pink-red in the bottom image and definitely more magenta-purple in the close-up. The purplish flower is much closer to reality.

Digital cameras often have a difficult time accurately depicting colours in the red region of the spectrum. If colour is important, as it is here, taking an image into Photoshop, or another image enhancing program, is the answer. (You may be forced to select the colour in question and to fix the hue without degrading the rest of the image. Colour correction can be tricky.)

Problems with colour accuracy are not new. Photography was plagued with colour shift errors in the days of film. There was a reason that Paul Simon sang the praises of Kodachrome. Shooters loved the colour palette it brought to a scene.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Soft can work online but wilts when printed

Today was my granddaughter's first day of soccer. She was excited. She was up early and dressed for action before 9 a.m. This is not the usual way she starts a Saturday.

I tried to document her first day on the field but it was difficult with only a glorified point and shoot. There is a reason that working pros insist on using DSLR cameras with a strong 35mm heritage. Even when used in auto mode, these high-end cameras can be trusted to always deliver the goods.

The action shot, left, is a really nice picture moment. Sadly, it is out of focus. It works as a small image on the net, but it fails as a print. All too bad but excuses don't make a picture better.

Knowing how iffy it can be to grab a sharp action photo with my superzoom camera, a Fujifilm Finepix HS10, I shot lots. Another image, this one lacking action, shows a great smile that captures the mood of the day.

There are a number of lessons here:

  • Shoot lots. This is always the right approach but in difficult picture-taking situations it is paramount.
  • Try for action when action is the core of the activity but watch for other photo moments as well.
  • Stay alert for pictures and you won't go home empty handed even if you come up blank when it comes to capturing the action.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Photoshop as an electronic darkroom

The electronic darkroom. It was a promise made in the past and kept and still being fulfilled today. Yet, the idea of a program like Photoshop being essentially an electronic darkroom has faded.

The Photoshop software is associated with manipulating photos and not simply printing images to bring out the best. Let me give you an example.

The other day we had lunch at a small, dark restaurant and the meal that I ordered looked photo-worthy. Sadly the room was dark, and worse, it was lit with old style tungsten lights. I took a picture despite all the problems.

The camera, a Canon S90, cleaned up the colours admirably. The mild amount of yellow cast was easily removed by Photoshop using Levels and the white eye dropper. Using Levels again, the white point was raised to brighten the overall image and give it some snap. Finally, the deepest shadows were selected and opened up just a little using Curves

I burned the edges to enhance the detail in the rice and, other than sharpening, nothing more was done. I didn't even have to saturate the colours. The camera and its software and hardware did that just as film once punched up colours. There was a reason Paul Simon sang the praises of Kodachrome.

Could the image be better? I think so. If I made another "print", I'd brighten the overall image in Curves. Back in the days of film and paper, chemicals and filters, I would have done essentially the same thing. Well not exactly the same. It would have taken longer, cost more, and been harder on the environment.

Photoshop and my home computer, a team that makes a true electronic darkroom.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wide angle great for kids taking photos despite distortion

Fiona, 4, used a Canon PowerShot S90 set to wide angle to take this picture of her sister.

Wide angle lenses used to shoot almost full frame pictures of people can introduce apparent distortions, distortions that can be very distracting. This shot of my youngest granddaughter was shot with a Canon S90 with the lens set to 28mm. A mistake, sorta. (If you don't see the problem, look at the little girl's left forearm. Close to the camera, the arm is unnaturally large, almost deformed.)

Still, I say " a mistake, sorta" because the picture was taken by the baby's 4-year-old sister. A child using a camera has some very specific needs with a fast shutter speed being one of them. Little kids have a hard time holding a camera rock solid, even when that camera is a small point-and-shoot.

The Canon S90 has a program favouring the use of the f/2.0 aperture teamed with a corresponding faster shutter speed. The downside to this setting is that the file size is reduced. Still, it is a trade-off worth making. (If you don't have an f/2.0 aperture, you have yet another problem. Slow lenses make me want to scream.)

Even being wielded by a child, my PowerShot S90 was able to stop both camera shake and subject movement despite the low level of available light illuminating the subject.

Another problem faced by a child taking pictures is focus. Getting an image tightly focused has always been a challenge for photographers in certain situations. A wide angle lens and the attendant great depth of field can really help.

A poor image that is blur-free and sharp is still a poor image. Too much distortion is an image killer. Some distorted images can be saved with careful cropping but others will be lost. The flip side is that fewer images are lost to camera and subject movement or to unsharp focus. All in all I think the decision to use the wide angle in this situation was a good one.

Now, if you are an adult the story changes -- especially, if you have a DSLR with a fast 85mm lens. Go with the 85mm.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Have an eye

Good pictures occur constantly. Some we see, most we don't and almost all slip by uncaptured. It takes a photographer, a hunter of images, to bag a prize photo with a perfect shot.

Fiona, my granddaughter loves the park. There is one looped metal bar that she always likes to poke her head through when heading for the slides. Behind the looped bar there is a translucent sheet of bright blue plastic and a round, translucent, white window. Catch the little girl at just the right moment and you have a picture.

Composition and colour: First, the beautiful blue didn't just appear by accident. I picked the camera angle with the background in mind. Also, the arc of bright white in the lower right wasn't just happenstance. The only major colour that I did not control was the bright pink of Fiona's coat. It was perfect and it was luck.

Today's point and shoots take care of the focus and the f/stop and shutter speed. In this case, this loss of control posed no problem. In most cases, the photographer still controls the length of lens, unless the camera has a fixed lens rather than the more common zoom. Remember, portraits look best shot with an 85mm to a 105mm lens.

These numbers actually refer to lens used on 35mm cameras but with many point and shoots an adjustment is made to allow the use of 35mm lens size terminology. This photo of my granddaughter was shot at a slightly long lens setting which was comparable to an 85mm lens on a 35mm camera.

The camera set the sensitivity at ISO640, the shutter speed at 1/500th second and the aperture to f/5.6. I couldn't have done better if I'd done it myself.

If you want good pictures and your aren't getting them, don't blame your point and shoot. Blame yourself. You simply have to have an eye.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Kingsmill's department store closing, video at six

Paper covering the windows at Kingsmill's is removed prior to the store opening.

After 148 years the Kingsmill's department store in downtown London, Ontario, is closing its doors. This was big news in London and in the local media, both print and television.

I watched in amazement as one of the TV crews shot exterior shots for the on-air coverage. They shot a lot of their interior stuff before the store opened and then they left the store and crossed the street. Well away from any action they put their camera up on a tripod and grabbed some exterior shots.

It looked like they were capturing some pretty boring stuff. I shook my head with a mix of disgust and disbelief.

Years ago I got a degree in film from Ryerson in Toronto. I learned that one should shoot video for TV with some of the same goals as one would shoot a movie.

First, tell a story. Each shot should serve to advance the narrative. Next, strive for visual interest in each shot. Ideally, you are shooting fantastic stills at the rate of 24 frames per second. And don't overlook action.

For instance, when the paper was removed from the windows, that was a moment worth capturing. One would have to be quick to grab an overall shot, a medium shot and some quick close-ups of the action but it would be worth it. It would make a great little video moment.

The action of the store employees preparing for the opening could be contrasted with the patient waiting of the small crowd waiting for the doors to open. Done right, this would add a little tension to the piece.

Oh well, the television folk that I watched appeared to want nothing more than to shoot some on-air filler. Sad.

The number of shoppers swelled in the moments before the store opening.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Photos save memories

"Stop, grandma! There's a pin!"

I earned my living as a photographer. I documented the lives of others. Sadly, I was awful at documenting my own life. Of course, photography was a lot of trouble when I was young. Film and trips to the store for prints and oodles of expense. Still, none of that provides me with a good excuse.

Today's digital cameras have made all the above history. Today it is point, shoot and download. There are no excuses for not grabbing family photos. My granddaughter, Fiona, understands the value of photos. Images taken today jog one's memory tomorrow.

Recently Fiona helped her grandmother Judy sew some pajamas. Fiona watched for pins and told her grandmother when a pin had to be removed before it could possibly bend or break the needle. When it was time to reverse stitch, Fiona had her hand on the control.

There was one thing left to be done before the two finished the p.j.'s. Fiona had to get her grandfather, me, to take a picture of her sitting on grandma's knee while they completed the pajamas. Fiona said she wanted a picture so that when she was older she could take out the picture and remember the day.

The little kid understands the power of photography. Family photos jog the memory, encouraging us to recall pleasures from the past. (And, as one commenter very correctly pointed out, make a good print or two ASAP or risk losing the image in a disk drive malfunction. Save the image in multiple ways in multiple locations.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Moments captured

When I told my four-year-old granddaughter that I had earned my living taking pictures, she was amazed. "Gug got paid to take pictures!" she exclaimed. She thought a moment before declaring, "I'm a photographer, too. I take pictures."

She does take pictures and lots. She has been taking pictures now for about a year. I rather like some of the stuff she grabs. For the shot of the family sitting around the table after Sunday dinner, Fiona got down quite low and steadied the camera by bracing herself on the oh-so-solid table.

There are lessons here for everyone.

  • Available light is a nicer light than on-camera flash.
  • In low light situations, brace the camera to lesson camera shake.
  • Moments captured will be great images in the future. Much nicer than say-cheese snaps.
  • Point and shoots, like those in the S-series from Canon, benefit from the fast f/2.0 aperture at wide-angle.
  • Shoot lots. With today's SD cards there is no excuse not to shoot a lot and no flash means minimal bother to your subjects.

Now, get out there and shoot like a four-year-old.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Try a lens a little on the long side

Shooting babies is like shooting anyone. A slightly long lens is preferable to a wide angle. The wide angle will encourage one to get too close to fill the frame. Getting too close will distort the subject's features. Use a slightly long lens, in this case a 105mm when compared to a 35mm SLR.

Using a point and shoot with a long lens, pay careful attention to the shutter speed selected. As one zooms most lenses out, the fastest f/stop available gets progressively slower. The smaller f/stop will demand a slower shutter speed and both subject movement and camera movement can become problems.

The answer can be as simple as restricting one's shooting, or at least concentrating one's shooting, to a moment during the day. Choose locations that are bright, indoors try and get the subject to face a window. The baby in this shot was being lit by a nearby window that was letting a stream of soft light fill the room.

The camera was using a shutter speed of 1/125th second. That is fast enough to stop camera shake. It wasn't fast enough to stop subject movement, though. The solution? I shot lots. Clearly at the moment this picture was taken, the little baby wasn't moving.

Luck and a long lens delivered this successful picture.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Document those family moments

Recently I got the following e-mail:

"Thank you so much Ken.  Although we do not often express it, we are so grateful that you take the time and effort to document our family occasions.  All these photos will be cherished memories.  Thank you."

Documenting family moments is important. It is one of the main reasons we take pictures. Sadly, all too many pictures taken at family events are of the "say cheese" variety.

In the above image, grandfather is celebrating his 70th birthday and his 4-year-old granddaughter is helping him blow out the candles while his other granddaughter, only 7-months-old, looks on. Including the little girl on the far right was important. She is part of the story. She was kept in the picture on purpose.

When shooting moments like this try to capture complete moments and that means doing your best to get by without resorting to relying on your camera's flash. The light is damn ugly. I asked that the room lights not be turned off for the candle-blowing ceremony. The presence of room light made it possible to shoot in burst-mode with my Canon S90. This helps to guarantee the capture of a peak moment.

I saved this image as a jpg image and not a RAW file. I also saved it as a smallish file; My S90 will either save big files or smaller ones. Shooting jpg and smaller files gives a faster burst rate. The f/2.0 aperture available in low light situations when shooting at wide angle also played a part in getting this image. The new Canon S120, the latest in the S-line, has a marginally faster lens. It opens to f/1.8.

Remember, the smaller the f/stop number, the larger the aperture and the more light entering the camera. Large apertures, like f/2.0, are for dark situations. Smaller apertures, like f/16, are for greater depth of field. But the small sensors in most point and shoot cameras make deep depth of field more the norm, even when the lens is used at wide open.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Shooting lots to get good pictures

Taken by a 4-year-old.

My granddaughter is only four but she knows her way around a simple point and shoot camera. She has been taking pictures with my Canon S90 since she was three.

Taken by a 4-year-old.
If you're giving a kid a camera, also give them some instruction to go along with the simple camera. Don't set the kid up to fail. And above all encourage them to shoots lots of pictures.

My Canon S90 is ideal for a 4-year-old. Set to wide angle, the 28mm lens is fast: f/2.0 fast. (The newer S120 is even better. It has an f.1.8 aperture at wide angle.) This means that even indoors the camera is able to shoot on automatic at shutter speeds fast enough to eliminate any camera movement. And trust me, when a child of four is taking the pictures, camera shake is a problem.

It also has a bright, large screen that encourages the kid to pay attention to what she is shooting. At least this is true indoors. Outside seeing the image in the rear screen can be a challenge.

Even with all the above going for her, my granddaughter still managed to cut off the top of my head in the best shot she captured of me holding her baby sister. Oh well, Isla and I are both bald. The viewer isn't missing much.

If you've got a kid who is interested in photography, give them a suitable camera, let them shoot lots and then pull the best images. Later, explain what impressed you and discuss briefly why certain images were worth keeping while others were not.

I'm keeping an eye open for a rough and tumble camera with a good fast, fixed lens to give my granddaughter as a gift. But until that camera comes along, I'll let her keep using my Canon. It seems to be a durable little beauty.

Taken by a 4-year-old.