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    2. Imagination is all you need...

      GETTING GOOD PORTRAITS

      So, you've worked hard and made something fantastic - and now you want to show everyone. Once, that just meant wearing your new hat every time you went out, or being sure to dress your baby in her new sweater before church. These days, though, a huge amount of sharing and socializing goes on over the internet, so you need a good picture and you don't want to go to a studio to get it. If you've been having trouble getting photographs at home that do your hard work justice, read on! (I'm going to focus specifically on tips for getting portraits, but much of the advice will help in any picture you try to get.)

      First, pick a spot to take your photos where you can get the best light. Natural light is the best (unless you have the cash for a professional lighting setup), and that means the sun. I have a large sliding glass window in my living room that faces east. Because so much light comes in, I like to take pictures by it when I can't go outside for my photos. On clear days I have to wait until the sun has risen far enough that I'm not getting bright, direct sunlight on the area I want to shoot - on overcast days I shoot in the early morning when the diffused sunlight is strongest. Spend a day or two studying the lighting conditions around your home to see which places and what times of day will give you the best light. Once you know when and where to get the best lighting, you can use that knowledge every time to take pictures. (Again, you want bright light, but not strong enough to cast distinct shadows.)

      Once you have your spot, clear it off.

      It's important to make sure that everything you include in your picture is deliberate. Too many items will make your photo seem cluttered and messy, and it will distract from the desired focus.

      Once your spot is clear, you can reintroduce the elements you want in your pictures.

      I like to use a nursing pillow in my baby portraits. It elevates their heads slightly, holds them together, and keeps them from wiggling around too much. (What you choose will depend on who - or what - your subject is.) However, the pillow has a distracting print on it, and the carpet behind adds more detail than I want, so I usually cover it with a solid-colored blanket.

      Once your backdrop is ready, go get your subjects.

      When photographing babies, especially, make sure they're as happy as you can. Feed them, change them, make sure they've recently rested, and that they're as comfortable as they can be. (Slightly older kids you can threaten or scold into holding still for you, but I don't recommend it - they're not good at keeping annoyance off their faces. I find bribes or conversation about the thing you made for them works much better for a happy, natural look in the pictures.)

      This is what my setup looks like before I begin taking portraits.

      Once they're in place, be ready to act quickly. The longer you take to get your pictures, the less chance you have of getting them at all. Briefly assess your subjects. Are all the buttons buttoned? Hairs in place? Boogers cleared from their faces? It's very frustrating to have a picture that's perfect except for (fill in the blank), so try and fix any of these problems before you start. Then zoom in, make sure your flash is off, and go at it. (I mean it about the flash. Don't use it. It fills in all the shadows and removes the texture in your finished object as well as your subject's face. No flash is MUCH MUCH better.)

      The best piece of advice I ever received regarding photography is that if you want one good picture, you have to take a ton of bad ones. If your camera is digital, you have the luxury of taking as many pictures as you like, and it's a luxury you should take advantage of. I took about fifteen pictures to get the one I wanted. Here are some examples of ones that didn't quite turn out right.

      Here the older brothers are doing something interesting off to the left.

      Oh! What happened to the collar there? (Such a cute picture otherwise, too...)

      Here's a nice motion-blur. The light today was a little too low for my camera to pick up movement that fast without a flash.

      Eventually, though, we got a good shot!

      Good job, boys. Take five.

      There's more to see!


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