If you are a parent passionate about capturing every moment of your kids’ childhood, I hope you find this post helpful in making the most of your phone on daily basis.
Phone: it’s were it all begins. They are getting better, faster, resolution improves. Video capabilities improve. First U.S. camera phone, Sanyo SCP-5300, 18 years ago, featured chunky clamshell design, with a 0.3-megapixel camera. For comparison, iPhone 12 Pro Max’s 12-megapixel f/1.6 aperture wide camera, with a 47 percent larger sensor than its precursor from only a couple of years ago, which Apple says translates to an 87-percent improvement in low-light photos. What does this mean to you, and how does it compare to professional cameras?
Photography studios around the world work with cameras of 22-megapixel and higher. For those interested, at Dinky Feet we work with Canon camera smashing 50.6-megapixels. This is what gives your images that crisp, sharp finish and enables you to print them big. Aperture is what gives you the blurry background without the need for editing apps and external manipulation, and f/1.6 is pretty good for a professional gear and extremely good for a tool like a phone. Let’s keep in mind photo abilities are not the main function of it, either.
So to sum it up: the most recent phones available on the market got really, really good. So how can we make the most of them?
Light is the most important piece of information I am going to cover. It’s what makes or breaks your photo. It’s what separates your images from looking average and elevates them to the Instagram photo stardom.
When shooting outdoors, you want to have enough light to see the features clearly. In low light, our camera needs to compensate for it, which creates the grainy effect in photos, and this is not quite the good grain that makes them look cool. Our phones can read the ambient light, they even adjust the screens to match it. With that in mind, when shooting in low light, in the evening for example, our phone camera will adjust what’s called an ISO, which defines your camera’s sensitivity to light. When photographing a well lit scene, our camera can keep the ISO at around 100, which means our images won’t be looking like there’s a layer of granular cellulite over them. The darker it gets outside, the higher the ISO number and the more granular images get. It becomes harder to print those big, as details vanish.
Solution: you can use flash, which will help with the granularity issue, but it could also make everyone look like rabbits in headlights. It is however better than the alternative of having an underexposed image (to dark to appreciate any detail). We could also shoot in perfect lighting, morning or afternoon, or midday in winter, when the sun is not too direct, and not too harsh. Those are the ideal conditions if we can get them. Light but not burning. We can then shoot facing the Sun or with the Sun behind us, getting great results.
What about shooting at home? Window is your friend. utilise it just like the Sun. It’s especially handy in darker rooms. When days are really scorching, and you happen to have white / light curtains, use those as a diffuser.
Here’s a perfect example of not only beautifully exposed image with a great use of natural light, but also a great use of the rule of thirds.
In photography world, we tend to use this composition guideline to helps draw viewer’s eye to the image and places more emphasis on the subject. To do this, we place the focus of the image in a third of the photo, as opposed to the centre, to make it more interesting.
Here’s how it works in practice! I will use a portrait of my daughter’s best friend to demonstrate it:
You can see where the lines cross, which falls around the eye area, making this point of the image gain even more attention than it would be if the eyes fell anywhere else beyond those “crossroads”. In addition, this photo ticks another two important boxes: the line to the right aligns with the wall at the back, aiding to the composition bonanza (Avanthi you nailed it with this one!) and the negative space is in front of the subject, which is the technically correct way of doing it, although rule breaking is also what makes photography interesting!
Another thing important when photographing, at home more often than outdoors, is the direction of light. In nature, light falls from above, casting a shadow on the ground, under our nose, behind us. unless we are hanging upside down from a tree, we will rarely have the Sun beautifully exposing our nostrils. It’s not natural. Every time I see it, I can’t help but visualise Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” .
When posing babies on the floor, with siblings, or sitting up, just look around to see where is your light coming from, and if you can, aim for a 45 degree direction, which will give you the most flattering results.
Having your light coming from the direction of their feet is what producers of Chucky used to make the movie more scary. We are not after fear inducing memories.
Candid or posed? I am a huge fan of both. In studio, I will always pose. Those are the traditional photographs that will be passed through generations. But when at home, posed may give you the forced smile, almost a grimace, and no parent likes those. I love candid images. They are harder to capture, but when you get them, they are priceless.
I will sacrifice perfection for expression every time. Whether it’s the composition, angles, light: fun, happy photos win hands down.
If you have the patience though, and your children are accustomed to being photographed, posed images can be absolutely stunning. Especially with good light, and children in a happy mood. I admire sibling close ups. As a parent, I want to remember every inch of my kids, because in a day to day life, we are always too preoccupied to appreciate those details. In hope that one day, we will have the time to look through them, I capture those when I can.
Here’s a beautiful example of a great, naturally posed sibling image from Tanya Hardwick:
What about the angles? It’s good to know this little tip when photographing children: shooting from above, so shooting down at them, can make them appear more vulnerable. You are pointing your camera down, just like you would point your gaze down being an adult, when you are telling them off. It can work occasionally, but to capture them beautifully, get down on their eye level! Those are always the most magical images.
You can also get creative and shoot from even lower angle. This little adjustment in your position makes children appear more empowered. Just look at this image from my lovely client, Tanya:
Angles matter. It can give your photo a completely different feel. In this case it also aids movement, which is always great in photography (except for when your hand moves when taking the actual photograph.. images that are not sharp are the only thing editing apps cannot fix).
Editing apps. Since we mentioned the subject, it’s worth noting down a few things. The popular Snapchat filter killed at least a couple of years of memories from our children’s lives. I am exaggerating here. but it’s loaded with a personal dislike of deformed children and adults, resembling bunnies and other creatures. All I can think of is someone from 2167 finding one of those phones and looking through the images, thinking: “Man, that Corona was mean, it turned people into bunnies!”
Editing to enhance certain features is great. Editing to completely deform is not. Kids are perfect as they are, every bit of them. They don’t need bigger eyes and smaller noses.
For phone adjustments without destruction, I find Camera+ app really handy, but there are a lot of them out there.
Storage / back up. Whether you use your phone’s storage, back it up to the computer or store it on a hard drive, always have a copy of your photos in the cloud. I use Dropbox, as it’s really simple, no fuss file storage. 446,000 handsets are stolen each year, which is a staggering 1,222 per day. It doesn’t just happen to “other people”. It can easily happen to us and if it does, that £500 taken out of our account will worry us less than the 10,000 photos we had on the device, accounting for around 4-5 years of our kid’s memories. It’s our job to make those memories for them but also to protect them.
I hope you guys find this post useful. Go out there to take more photos and videos of your children. They change so much each day, those files will soon be priceless.
*Image credit: My lovely client, Tanya Hardwick; my friend Avanthi and some of them are my own as well.