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How to take a great autumnal portrait

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A few times a year, Mother nature creates the perfect conditions to capture stunning, truly memorable images. It just suddenly gets generous with colour and light and textures and makes it almost a sin not to try and capture all this beauty. These perfect windows of opportunity don’t last long but when they do, you should absolutely make sure to try and make it out to get shooting.

Autumn, especially at the peak of the season is one of those times. It just looks so pretty – the multitude of rich and saturated colours trying to make up for the fact the summer is gone. But blink it, and you miss it, so time is of the essence. After all, you want to capture the rich, saturated glory, not the sad, crumpled browns.. ( well, actually hold that thought, because you might find those worth of a few photos too). Wondering if you missed your window? Look outside – if you still see some trees with green or otherwise coloured leaves, you’re still on time. Just don’t delay it any longer.

So what to photograph? And how?

1. The autumnal portrait with soft, dreamy background:

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The kind of photos people tend to comment about when it comes to autumn, are those with a soft, dreamy, delicate background. And for good reason – a curtain of colourful leaves turned into a soft backdrops makes people really stand out and adds instant WOW factor to your images. But there is a skill in capturing pictures like these and we’re about to break to you exactly how to get what you want.

What we want to achieve is a  lovely head and shoulders portraiture with a soft, dreamy, colourful background.

How to achieve this effect:

  1. Find a bush or a tree with some lovely colour on it.
  2. If you’ve not really explored your manual camera settings, put your camera on Portrait mode. If you know what you’re doing – Aperture Priority or full Manual with as wide an aperture setting as you can get – F1.8 would be great here, but if not, just pick the lowest you have.
  3. Unless you have a very wide aperture setting, you will want to make sure that your child is not standing right by your colourful tree, but at least few feet away. Better still, pick a tree  at a bit of a distance from your child and frame the image from such an angle that their head looks set against the backdrop of the tree. More distance between your child and the background helps create a greater degree of blur to your background. 
  4. Now you need to stand a few feet away too and if your lens allows it, zoom in on your child (if you’re more technically advanced, you will want a Focal Length of at least 50mm or more). Please bear in mind that you don’t want to be too far from your child either – when zoomed in, you want the child’s face to fill approx no less than 1/3 – 1/2 of the entire frame, maybe even a little more. Yes, you can achieve it without zooming in, but trust us, you’ll get much better results if you do.
  5. Make sure the focus is definitely set on your child’s face and take the picture. If you’re not sure if your camera is getting the focus on your child, look for little light-up dots or squares on your screen or through your viewfinder as you take the photo.Voila!

2. Fun with the crunchy, fallen leaves

 

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The key to capturing these kind of images is making sure that the leaves flying in the air are captured nice and sharp and that they are actually visible against the background. In order to achieve it, you need to ensure that you’re in the right position and that the photos can be taken quickly enough.

If you’re using your camera on auto, select a Sports mode ( or similar) – your camera on that mode is pre-set to take the photos quickly and ( at least for some cameras ) that the potential camera shake is minimised. The faster you ‘re able to take the photo, the more chance of the leaves appearing pin sharp and crisp 🙂

If you’re using your camera on semi-manual settings, such as Shutter or Aperture priority, select the Shutter priority setting and make sure that it is set to a minimum 1/250s and preferably faster. being outside, with generally a good quantity and quality of light, this should be relatively easy, but if your camera is struggling, increase your ISO to 400 or even 800 if needed.

If you want both your subject and the leaves to be sharp, they should be both within the same distance from you – so, if your child is throwing the leaves up, or to it’s side, you’ll catch them both sharp. But if your child is throwing the leaves towards or away from you and as a result one of the two will be further or closer to you than the other, chances are, they won’t both be sharp. Not always a bad thing, but worth remembering!

3. Just having a bit of a laugh!

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In my experience, there is (almost) nothing that kids hate more than being asked to stand or sit still, waiting to be photographed, whilst Mum or Dad spends ages fiddling with the camera. Even if they oblige to begin with, they’re quickly bored and want to go and just have fun.

So my advice is – let them. No, scratch that – encourage them and have fun with them – you’re bound to get much better photos and kids that’ll cooperate with your photo demands more readily in the future. And if the photos aren’t perfect – oh well, I guarantee they’ll still make you smile!

 

WANT TO LEARN MORE? 

Join our photography classes – in LONDON and ONLINE Click on the images below to find out more! 

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Essential photography acronyms

We often get asked about some of these in class so we decided to compile a little “cheat sheet” to the most essential and commonly used ( or misunderstood) photography related acronyms. You can download the pretty file in pdf format from the link below and if you like it, don’t hesitate to let us know – we have a few more in the pipeline!

12 Essential Photography Acronyms

 

DSLR : stands for –  Digital Single Lens Reflex camera

WHAT IT MEANS –  Single Lens Reflex camera describes a camera where the light travels through a single lens and then is reflected by a pop up mirror, which relays the image to your viewfinder. It specifies it is a Single lens reflex camera to distinguish it from Twin lens reflex cameras developed around the same time. SLRs describe e general type of a camera, DSLR are SLRs that use a digital sensor in lieu of film.

AE : stands for –  Automatic Exposure

WHAT IT MEANS – The camera measures the light reflected off the object or scene you are pointing it at and automatically adjusts all its parameters :  the aperture, shutter speed and light sensitivity as well as whether or not to fire off the flash to take a correctly exposed photograph.

AF / MF : stands for –  Auto Focus / Manual Focus

WHAT IT MEANS – Auto focus refers to the camera’s and the lens’ capability to achieve sharp focus on a selected part of the picture using a sensor, a control system and a motor. Some lenses will allow you to switch between auto mode and manual mode, some offer only manual focus (often the case with older legacy lenses).

A ( or Av) : stands for –  Aperture priority

WHAT IT MEANS – Aperture priority is a semi-automatic camera mode which allows the photographer to select a desired aperture value and let the camera adjust the rest of the settings to achieve a correctly exposed photo. Aperture values are responsible for how much of the image will be in sharp focus and how much will be blurred and out of focus.

WB : stands for –  White Balance

WHAT IT MEANS – White balance refers to a camera setting responsible for adjusting the colour temperature of the photo to achieve a photo with the most natural looking colours (without orange, blue or green-ish tinge). Settings include : sunny, cloudy, flash, tungsten, fluorescent etc. There is also a possibility to adjust white balance based on Kalvin temperature scale.

DOF : stands for –  Depth of Field

WHAT IT MEANS – Depth of Field refers to an area in the scene we are trying to photograph, which will appear in sharp focus on the finished photo. Where only a small area of the scene appears in focus (and what is located behind and/or in front of it is blurred) we talk about “shallow depth of field”.

Exif : stands for –  Exchangeable Image File Format

WHAT IT MEANS –  Exif is a standardised system used to encode information on the parameters of the photo taken (date/time, camera settings such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO speed, metering mode, focal length, copyright etc ) onto the photo file itself, allowing you to review this data either in your camera or once uploaded onto a computer.

ISO : stands for –  literal acronym: International Organisation of Standardisation,

WHAT IT MEANS –  In photography ISO refers to a measure of light sensitivity. ISO values typically range from 100 to 16 500 and beyond and determines the level of light sensitivity of your camera. Lower values are used where a good quantity of light is available (daylight photos outside) and the higher range is used to compensate for worse light (indoor photos in poorer light).

S (or Tv) : stands for –  Shutter Speed Priority

WHAT IT MEANS –  A semi automatic camera mode where the photographer sets the desired shutter speed value and lets the camera adjust the rest of the settings (aperture, ISO) accordingly to achieve a correct exposure. Expressed in fractions of a second, the smaller the fraction, the faster you are able to take the photo and capture movement.

P : stands for –  Program mode

WHAT IT MEANS –   A more complex automatic exposure mode. It sets the aperture and shutter speed automatically but still allows you to change some of the settings such as whether or not you want the flash to pop up or what ISO setting to select.

M : stands for –  Manual mode

WHAT IT MEANS –  A fully manual camera mode which allows the photographer to set every single camera parameter based on their needs. The photographer manually selects the aperture value, the shutter speed and the ISO value as well as whether or not to use flash.

RAW ( not an acronym, but often used like one)

WHAT IT MEANS –  Often thought to be an acronym, Raw file format refers to a picture file which is preserved by the camera “as shot” – without processing it or compressing into a more portable format such as jpg. Shooting in Raw will require from you to have photo processing software capable of working with this format.

 

Download pdf 

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Photographing Christmas

We contributed a guest post for the West London Mums blog talking about strategies for taking great holiday photos this winter. Thank you Monique for featuring us! Photos by our lovely instructor Katia Muscara.

Photographing Christmas

Let me ask you first – what do you think about when you think: Christmas?

For me it’s the twinkling lights  strewn around the house and outdoors, it’s the shiny baubles on the tall and clumsily decorated Christmas tree, it’s the anticipation of the Christmas morning and then the look of joy on my daughter’s face as she tears into the presents – wrapping paper franticly torn with eager little fingers – all rosy cheeks and wide eyed. It’s also all the festive food and the whole extended family squeezing in around the table. And when I think of Christmas photos – that’s what I want to see. For you it might be something slightly different but do this first, before you start shooting, picture it first in your head and plan accordingly.

1. Be prepared

It should go without saying, but it’s all too easy to forget in the heat of the Christmas preparations, so I’ll stick it here anyway: make sure your camera battery is charged and your memory card clean. In fact do it now, whilst you’re thinking about it. Done? OK – let’s move on. Will you be taking photos indoors? What’s the light like? If you need to use flash indoors, think about softening its effect by either bouncing it off the ceiling (if you have a detachable flash), or even just using some semi-transparent paper to stick over your pop-up flash to ‘mute’ it a little.

2. Tell a story

Family Christmas to me is a story of love, generosity and special family traditions. How will you tell this story? Think about how this holiday unfolds for you and take photos before, during and after. It’s great to have photos of both the prep stage, or before the main celebrations begin and everyone is still just milling around, and the main event itself. ANTICIPATE : want to get the picture of kids just realising ‘Santa has been!’ – get in there early with your camera at the ready. Then again, telling stories is not just about the sequence of events. Sometimes you capture it in just one photo – a carefully composed image that shows both the action and the context – it’s not enough just to show a child’s face brighten up in amazement if you don’t show what they’re in awe of.

3. Focus in on the detail

It’s the million details and props that make the festive atmosphere – colourful decorations, hand-written letter to Santa and milk and biscuits left out for him, special Christmas table dressing and Dad’s special reindeer slippers. Use the depth of field to your advantage to isolate the festive details and show them either on their own or with the rest of the action happening in the background. And remember to get in there early when photographing festive foods as the turkey carcass rarely makes an attractive photo.

4. Let it be light

To me, a big part of the Christmas ambiance is the thousands of twinkling lights. I love them so much I dread the day each year, when I have to take them down in January. They can be tricky to capture in all their glory but there are a few tricks that may help.

First of all : kill the flash. The bright light from the flash will completely wash them out, making them barely visible. Instead, try to plan to photograph them when it’s still relatively bright so that you can get by without flash. If you can, increase your ISO (or if shooting with a compact camera, see if you can find a high light sensitivity mode) and extend the exposure time – a tripod will be your best friend here.

5. Cultivate family traditions – or create new ones!

Does your family have a holiday tradition? Matching Christmas jumpers? Mince pies for breakfast whilst the kids break into presents? A trip out to see the town’s Christmas lights? If so, make absolutely sure you photograph that. If it’s something you do each year, it may be a fun idea to think of a photo you could replicate each year, that will show how the kids grow and how some things just remain constant. You’ll thank yourself in years to come.

Christmas is such a fun period – we tend to forget about it a little when we’re all grown up, but having kids really brings it all back. So enjoy it. Capture it. Share it. And make absolutely sure you pass that camera to someone else from time to time so you remember you were there too!

Happy Christmas!