If you’ve flipped through your family photos in search of the best one, you’ve probably looked at your handiwork with a rather critical eye. And, chances are, you’ve spotted a pattern: the kids posing at the beach, relatives standing stiffly in front of a huge dhow, poorly lit images or blurry, out of focus shots. It seems the list for the photography hall of shame is inexhaustible.
Luckily, with the school break and family holidays upon us, summer brings with it some fantastic photo opportunities and ample time to discover your inner shutterbug. So whether it’s simply a day at the park with your trusty camera phone or a family vacation with a digital point-and-shoot, remember these handy tips from the experts and create stunning images you can proudly share.
There’s an assumption that the more complicated and expensive the camera, the better the photos. That may hold true for the professionals but if you’re only just starting out, the experts suggest keeping it simple and narrowing down your options.
‘Stay out of the DSLR market and find a great point-and-shoot camera to suit your needs,’ says David Strongman, creative consultant at KV Photo in Ibn Battuta. ‘Keep it simple, focus on the basics of light and composition, learn just enough to make your camera work for you and get out there and shoot.’ The more you enjoy your camera, the more you’ll be inclined to learn how to use it, he adds.
But for those in the market for a specific camera that’s guaranteed to give you a bang for your buck, one of our very own Time Out photographers, Juliet Dunne, recommends the Canon G12 PowerShot. ‘It’s a great and compact little camera with both auto and manual controls so parents can really experiment with their photography.’
And what about the ultra convenient camera phone? While BlackBerry and Android both feature excellent built-in cameras, we’ve asked the experts and the decision was unanimous: the iPhone wins hands down for its sharp images and high resolution. Time for an upgrade, perhaps?
All in good time
An often-overlooked aspect of photography, timing is key to creating images that are more natural and less likely contenders for satirical blog, Awkward Family Photos.
If the urge arises to grab the camera and shoot, don’t settle for just the one shot. Instead, keep that finger on the button and click away. ‘Take lots of photos in quick succession,’ suggests Takashi Yoshida, Managing Director at Nikon Middle East. ‘It’s a great way to catch people as they relax.’
But what about kids pulling faces at the camera the instant you say ‘cheese’? Well, it’s definitely cute the first few times, but in order to avoid too many similar shots, try a sneak tactic to catch them off-guard. ‘Watch your subject – they don’t have to be looking at the camera,’ advises Juliet. ‘Once you have the camera and set up ready, you’ll see the perfect shot and you’ll be ready for it.’
Lighting the way
When choosing the right lighting for your photos, beginners should keep it simple by practicing with natural light. ‘Lighting is everything when it comes to the perfect picture,’ says Takashi.
So take a moment to check the setting on your camera and ensure that you have sufficient light to illuminate your subject and let your creativity flow.
Also, get to know your camera while getting closer to nature. David suggests exploring the outdoors with your camera and studying the changing light. ‘Because of the lighter colours of the landscapes and hazy skies in the Gulf, if you know when and where to create your portraits, the natural light can be an amazing tool to create stunning imagery,’ he explains.
Cloudy day getting you down? Make the most of it and get out there and take advantage of the soft and natural lighting, it’s ideal for portraits. ‘Avoid direct overhead sunlight,’ warns Takashi. ‘This will create dark shadows on your subjects’ faces.’
The perfect fit
When it comes to those awkwardly posed shots, we’re all guilty of owning an endless series of photos featuring the entire family staring directly at the camera in front of varying landscapes and monuments. It may be ideal for documenting each destination but it’s also incredibly dull and fails to capture the mood. Instead, find ways to distract your subjects.
Keep kids entertained with props, suggests Juliet. ‘You only have a small window of opportunity when doing a shoot with little ones,’ she explains. ‘You can only hold their attention for a certain amount of time so keep it fun.’
On the other hand, when in doubt, discover the wonders of your camera’s zoom function. ‘Explore unconventional uses for this feature so zoom in and out until you like what you see,’ suggests Takashi.
Follow the magical rule of thirds. ‘Imagine your photo is divided into three equal zones from left to right,’ says David. ‘Place your subject in the first zone on the left or the last zone on the right – it’s a failsafe way to add some creativity to your photos.’
Finally, David suggests embracing the spontaneity. ‘Family trips are a gong-show and nothing ever goes as expected so photograph it all. Make sure other family members also have access to a camera and encourage them to tell their side of the story – I bet you’d be surprised with how their version of the vacation differs radically from yours.’
Five ways to better photos
1 Remember the rule of thirds
When done right, placing the subject in the first or last third of a frame can create instant drama.
2 Take charge
With young kids and family, things can quickly get out of hand. ‘People respond well to direction and it buys you time to figure out your shot,’ says photographer David Strongman.
3 Ensure you have ample storage
Few things are more frustrating than not having enough space in your camera. Ensure you have sufficient space on your memory card and keep photos safe in an external drive or online photo sharing sites like Picasa.
4 Soft lighting flatters
Skip harsh and unforgiving lighting – low-key lighting creates the ideal setting for portrait shots.
5 Get close and personal
Don’t like the background? Play around with the zoom feature to see things in a different way.
With the popularity of camera phones, everyone can take photos whenever the mood strikes. These apps allow you to crop, edit and share your memories on the go.
Instagram – the photo-sharing app that has taken photography communities by storm, it allows you to add a vintage touch to your pictures with filters such as Sierra and Earlybird. It also allows you to upload photos in an instant. Available for Androids and iPhones
LensBoost – BlackBerry’s answer to Instagram, LensBoost is a user-friendly app that lets you play with filters, overlays and frames. Available for BlackBerry.