MCP Guest Writer has written 431 Articles:

The Secret Weapon of Photographers: Back Button Focus For Sharper Images

Photo showing buttons on the back of a DSLR including the button used for focus

If you’ve read photography blogs, hung out on photography forums, or hung out with other photographers, you may have heard the term “back button focus” mentioned.  It’s possible you’re not sure what it’s all about, or maybe you heard that you can get sharper photos with back button focus but you’re not sure how.  You might even wonder if it’s something you need to do or not.  This post will break all that down for you.

First, what is back button focus?

Simply put, back button focus is using a button on the back of your camera to achieve focus rather than using the shutter button for focusing.  It will depend on your camera brand and model as to which button exactly you will use for this function.  I shoot Canon.  Pictured below is one of my Canon bodies; the AF-ON button on the top right is used for back button focusing (BBF) on both of my bodies.  Other Canons use a different button, depending on the model.  Different brands also have slightly different setups, so consult your camera manual to determine exactly which button is used for back button focusing.

Back button focus photo 600x400 The Secret Weapon of Photographers: Back Button Focus For Sharper Images
pin it4 The Secret Weapon of Photographers: Back Button Focus For Sharper Images

What is different about back button focusing (BBF) and how can it give me sharper images?

Technically, using the back button to focus does the exact same thing as the shutter button: it focuses.  It doesn’t use any different method that will inherently give you sharper photos.  On the surface, both buttons do the same thing.  There are a few advantages to back button focus – and they can help you get sharper.  The main advantage of BBF is that it separates the shutter button from focusing.  When you focus with the shutter button, you are both focusing and releasing the shutter with the same button.  With BBF, these two functions take place with different buttons.

You can use BBF in different focus modes.  If you are using one shot/single shot mode, you can press the back button once to lock focus and focus will remain in that specific spot until you press the back button again to refocus.  This is advantageous if you need to take a number of photos (such as portraits or landscapes) with the same composition and focal point.  You do not need to worry about the lens refocusing each time you touch the shutter button; your focus is locked until you decide to change it by pressing the back button again.

If you’re using servo/AF-C mode, back button focus can come in even more handy.  When you’re using this focus mode, your lens’ focus motor is continually running, trying to maintain focus on a subject you are tracking.  You may also be firing off a number of shots while you’re doing this focus tracking.   Say you’re using shutter button focus and you’re tracking a subject, but something comes between your lens and your subject.  With shutter button focus, your lens will attempt to focus on the obstruction as long as your finger stays on the shutter button, shooting photos.  However, when you focus with the back button, this is not a problem.  Remember how I said that BBF separates the shutter button from focusing?  This is where it comes in really handy.  With BBF, if you notice an obstruction come between your lens and your subject, you can simply remove your thumb from the back button and the lens focus motor will stop running and will not focus on the obstruction.  You can still continue to shoot if you wish.  Once the obstruction moves, you can put your thumb back on the back button and resume tracking focus on your moving subject.

Is back button focus necessary?

No.  It comes down to being a matter of preference.  There are some photographers who do benefit from it, such as sports photographers and wedding photographers, but even they don’t have to use it.  I use it because I tried it, liked it, and became accustomed to using my back button to focus.  It now feels natural to me.  Try it to see if you like it and if it fits your shooting style.  If you don’t like it, you can always go back to shutter button focus.

How do I set up back button focus on my camera?

The exact process for setup will vary depending on your camera brand and model, so it’s best to consult your manual to determine how to set up back button focus on your specific camera.  A couple of tips (I’ve learned these from experience!):  some camera models have the option of having both back button and shutter button focus active at the same time.  Be certain that you are picking the mode that is dedicated specifically to back button focus only.  Also, if you have a wireless camera remote that allows for autofocus, chances are your camera body won’t autofocus using the remove if you have BBF set up on the camera.  If you do need to autofocus and use a remote, you’ll need to change the camera back to shutter button focus temporarily.

Back button focusing is not a necessity but is an option that many photographers find indispensable.  Now that you know what it is and what its benefits are, try it out and see if it’s for you!

Amy Short is a portrait and maternity photographer in Wakefield, RI.  You can find her at www.amykristin.com and on Facebook.

 

How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time

Image of DSLR and lens showing the autofocus switch

Whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro, getting perfect focus for your photos is one of the most important parts of photography.  There’s a lot to know about getting sharp pictures though, and sometimes it’s confusing to know what to focus on (pun intended…ha ha) if your images do not appear to be sharp or in focus.  This post will give you a better understanding of how focus works and what you can do to improve the focus in your images.

First, the basics.

Autofocus vs. manual focus.

Modern DSLRs all have the ability to autofocus.  This means that they will automatically pick on a specific point or area chosen by either you or the camera.  The autofocus systems in DSLRs are getting more and more advanced and are quite accurate.  Most cameras have focus motors for autofocus built into the camera.  However, some do not, and require that the lens has a focus motor in order to autofocus.  Be sure to understand whether your camera autofocuses via the body or the lens so you know which lenses are appropriate for your camera if you want to be able to autofocus.

Even though DSLRs have very good autofocus systems, you still are able to manually adjust your lenses.  This means that you are controlling the focus of the lens vs. the camera focusing the lens.  Note that manual focus is not the same as shooting in manual mode.  You can shoot in manual mode and use autofocus.  You can also shoot in modes other than manual and manually focus your lens.  Switching a lens from auto to manual is easy. It is nearly always done via a small switch on the lens body, usually indicating “AF” and “MF”, as pictured below.  There are some lenses that even allow you to manually fine-tune while the lens is set to autofocus; this is called autofocus override.  If you are not sure whether your lens can do this, check its specifications.

Autofocus switch 600x400 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time
pin it4 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time

Should I even use manual focus?

This is a good question.  Autofocus systems are very good, so when and why should you choose to do things manually?  For the most part, autofocus is the way to go.  It’s fast and accurate.  Also, modern DSLR focus screens are not built to handle manual focusing like the focus screens in old manual-focus film cameras were.  It is extremely hard to manually focus DSLRs at wide apertures because their focus screens are not made for this purpose.  That said, there are times when you will want or need to use manual focus.  Some lenses are manual focus only, so your only choice will be manually focusing such a lens.  There are modern lenses that are manual focus only and there are also older lenses which can be fitted onto modern cameras that will need to be manually focused.  Another situation where manual focus comes in very handy is shooting macro.  Macro photography is a very precise discipline and the photos tend to have a very thin depth of field.  This can sometimes confuse the autofocus system, or autofocus may not land precisely where you want, so you may be better off manually focusing to get a shot you want with the focus where you want it.

There are lots of focus points.  How should I use them?

Your DSLR has lots of focus points.  Maybe even lots and lots!  The most important thing is to use them all.  Not necessarily at the same time, but you should rely on all your focus points to get perfect focus…so use them!

So what are the best ways to use them?

Above all, choose your focus point(s).  Don’t let the camera choose them for you!  I repeat, choose your focus point!  When the camera chooses your focus point for you, it’s just taking a wild guess as to where it thinks the focus should be.  Something in the photo will be in focus….but it might not be what you want.  Check out the example shots below.  In this first photo, I chose my single focus point so that the lily would be in focus.

manually chosen focus point 600x400 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time
pin it4 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time

Now look at the next photo.  Everything in the next photo is the same as the first one:  lens, settings, my position.  The only thing I changed was that I changed the focus point selection from single point to having the camera select the focus point.  As you can see, my intended lily is no longer in focus but a flower towards the middle has now become the focus point.  This is what the camera randomly chose.

camera chosen focus point 600x400 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time
pin it4 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time

Should I use single point?  Multiple points?  I’m so confused!

I don’t blame you.  There are sometimes an overwhelming number of configurations of focus points on our cameras, and it’s hard to know which one to choose.  Some cameras have less focus point configurations than others, but most all have at least the ability to choose one single point and also a somewhat larger group of points.  Single point focus can be used for a lot of photo types.  It’s king for portraits.  Put the focus point on the eye of a single subject, or focus 1/3 way into a group of people with a single point.  Use it for landscapes and put your focus just where you want it.  You can even use it for sports if you’re good at tracking subjects.  Note that when you use single point focus, it can be ANY single point, not just the center point.  Using multiple points can be helpful when shooting sports with fast moving subjects who are somewhat far away and are hard to track and keep under one single point.  If your camera has a more advanced autofocus system you may have multiple options when it comes to using more than one focus point at a time.  Take the time to understand what each one does so you can use them to their fullest.  Multiple point focus is not really one to use when shooting single or group portraits.  But if you are taking a portrait of some sort using this mode, keep this in mind:  there are times when you have multiple points enabled that it may look like there are focus points on several people’s faces.  This does NOT necessarily mean that each person will be in focus.  Even though the camera is showing multiple focus points, it’s actually only picking one of those points, the point with the most detectable contrast, to focus on.  Be sure that your depth of field is wide enough to fit your entire group.

What are the autofocus drive modes about?

These modes govern how the focus motor in the lens/camera performs.  Depending on your camera brand, the modes will have different names.  Single shot/AF-S mode means that the focus motor comes on just once when you use your shutter button or back button to focus.  It does not keep running.  Focus is in this single place until the camera refocuses with another half press of the shutter button or press of the back button.  This mode is great for portraits and landscapes.  AI Servo/AF-C mode means that the focus motor continues to run while focus is tracked on a moving subject.  In this mode, the shutter button or back button is kept pressed while tracking the subject in order to keep the focus motor running.  This mode is great for any subject that moves (sports, animals, children on the move).  It is not generally used for portraits.

What is toggling my focus points about?  How about focus and recompose?

Toggling your focus points means that you are choosing your focus point yourself and you are moving, or “toggling” that point around until you pick the point that is over your intended area of focus.  Today’s cameras are made for toggling!  There are so many focus points in them…use them!  Toggle away!

Focus and recompose is a method where you lock focus on a subject (usually, but not always, using the center point), then keep the shutter button half-pressed while you recompose the shot to place the subjects where you wish.  Then you take the photo.  In theory, focus should stay locked on where you initially placed it.  However, this method can sometimes become problematic, especially when you’re using wide apertures with very thin focal planes.  Focus is on a plane…think of a piece of glass that extends up and down and side to side infinitely, but its thickness depends on several factors, including aperture.  When your aperture is very wide, that “piece of glass” is very, very thin.  Recomposing can cause the focal plane to shift (think of moving that thin piece of glass slightly), and that can cause your intended focus point to shift.  Both photos below were taken with the same settings.  The focal length was 85mm, and the aperture was 1.4.  The first shot was taken by toggling my focus point to my subject’s eye.  His eyes are in sharp focus.  In the second photo, I focused and recomposed.  In that photo, his eyebrows are in sharp focus but his eyes are fuzzy.  My focal plane, which is very thin at 1.4, was shifted when I recomposed.

toggle focus points 600x400 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time
pin it4 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time

focus recompose 600x400 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time
pin it4 How To Get Perfect Focus Every Time

Sometimes it is necessary to focus and recompose.  I occasionally take photos where my subject is somewhere outside the range of where my camera’s focus points reach.  So, I will focus and recompose in those situations.  If doing so, it’s just important to try as hard as possible to not move your focal plane, and if possible, use a somewhat narrower aperture which will help.

My photos aren’t in focus.  What should I do?

There could be a number of reasons  why your photos are not in focus.  Try to troubleshoot using the following list:

  • Your depth of field with the aperture you’re using is too thin to get everything you wanted in focus.
  • Your camera is choosing your focus point and is not putting it where you want it.
  • You are trying to focus on something closer than your lens’ minimum focus distance (all lenses have a minimum focus distance.  In general, except with macro lenses, the longer the focal distance, the farther away the minimum focus distance.  Some lenses have it marked on the lens barrel.  If not, you can check online or in your lens’ manual for this information.)
  • Your shutter speed is too slow, causing motion blur
  • You were shooting in very low light and it was difficult for your camera to lock focus.
  • You may have the autofocus drive mode set incorrectly (i.e. using single shot on a moving subject, or using Servo/continuous focus on a still subject.  Both of these can cause blur.)
  • You are shooting on a tripod and have IS/VR on.  This function should be switched off when the lens is on a tripod.
  • Your lens has a true autofocus issue.  Often this is just a slight issue where the lens is focusing a bit in front of or in back of where you would like it to focus.  To test that it is the lens, you should put your lens on a tripod and take photos of something such as a ruler to see if your focus falls where you intend.  You can also find charts online to test focus.  If you find your lens’ focus is off, you can perform adjustments yourself if your camera has autofocus microadjustment or fine tuning options.  If your camera does not have this option, you will need to either send the camera to the manufacturer or bring it to a camera shop to have the adjustment done.  If the issue is that the autofocus on the camera is actually damaged or broken, this would need to be corrected by the manufacturer or a camera repair shop and would not be able to be corrected by micro adjustment.

Now go out there and get those sharp images you’ve always wanted!

Amy Short is a portrait and maternity photographer from Wakefield, RI.  You can find her at www.amykristin.com and on Facebook.

 

Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips

newborn-photography

One of the hardest things to master in newborn photography are angles. We often get caught up in the poses, the props, the fabrics and all the other details and sometimes we forget about angles. It is amazing how moving our bodies and cameras ever so slightly can dramatically impact the look and feel of an image. A simple change in angles can turn a good image into a breath taking image. Here are a few tips on how to achieve the best angles when photographing newborns.

1. Always avoid shooting up the nose. It really isn’t flattering when the angle of the image shows up the babies nose and their nostrils. One way to avoid this, especially in top down images is to stand right over top of the baby making sure your camera is right above the babies brow shooting directly down and focusing on the corner of one eye rather then having your camera at their chin and shooting up. Always be sure to wear your camera strap, especially during these top down shots.

angle1 600x800 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips
pin it4 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips

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pin it4 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips

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pin it4 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips

2. Be sure to move around. I always shoot from many different perspectives with the same pose. I usually know by looking through the view finder which angle I will prefer but many times when I am going through the images during editing I will find a different angle that I fall in love with. Don’t be afraid to move around and try new angles.

angle 3 600x470 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips
pin it4 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips
3. Focus and recompose using your center focal point so you compose images in camera. If you are comfortable toggling your focus you can also achieve many different looks by toggling your focus. During one pose I will shoot straight on and then I will focus, tilt and recompose. A simple camera tilt will change the look of an image. I will do several variations of this with each pose.

angle4 600x800 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips
pin it4 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips
angles 5 600x800 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips
pin it4 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips

*In both of the above examples the babies never moved. The only thing that changed was my camera angle.

4. When doing prop shots I pose the babies according to what angles I will be shooting. For example, if I am shooting top down in a basket then I always know to make sure the babies face is tilted upwards toward the camera so that I see their face.

angle 6 600x326 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips
pin it4 Improve Your Newborn Photography with These 4 Easy Tips

Have fun and be creative! Don’t be afraid to move around. You may surprise yourself with a new favorite pose-angle.

If you want to learn even more about newborn photography, without having to travel and spend thousands, check out out NEWBORN PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP to learn how to get incredible images of newborns.

Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

DIY-light-stand

A Do It Yourself Solution — Easily transport your off camera flash lighting equipment…

It’s hard to carry all the lighting gear from session to session… it’s cumbersome and heavy.

If you shoot portraits with artificial lights, you share the same disdain as me for carrying the cumbersome equipment for anything and everything off-camera-flash.  Not only are we carrying a camera or two, we have a lens bag, lights, light stand, umbrella or softbox, and of course, after a couple wind-generated accidents and broken parts, a 20 lb. sandbag.  And when we need to move to a different location, contemplating whether we collapse the light stand or just carry it to the next location, make a second trip for the sandbag, or just carry everything and looking like an unbalanced penguin.

Or better yet, just leave all the lighting gear behind, label ourself a natural light photographer, and just play up the nice romantic blown-out backgrounds, or better yet, just shoot only at the perfect golden hour.

Sigh… let’s just say “been there, done that…”

So in a quest to solve this dilemma, I had been searching for that perfect light stand that’s going to move with me easily from place to place.  A rollable stand that I can carry my gear on and also use the gear weight to replace the evil sandbag.  A stand light enough that I can stow and remove easily from my car.  A stand that’s quick to setup.  A stand that’s not going to cost me an arm and a leg to make, since obviously there’s none for sale that I know of.

The inspiration:

One interesting solution I saw online was made out of a golf cart.  As a golfer (okay, that’s a stretch), I know that golf carts can bear the weight of a heavy golf bag while traversing over smooth concrete surfaces, the not-so-smooth wet and dry grass fields, dirt, rocks, and even balance over steps.  Plus, they’re designed to be lightweight, so you can haul it in and out of a car, and they’re designed to hold a pretty heavy golf bag.

Anyway, the original version of this golf push cart light stand was made by a fellow photographer, Peter Nguyen, and a follow-on by Joseph Philbert.  Both these solutions use a version of a Bag Boy brand golf cart, which can be pretty pricey brand new, but you can sometimes find them on Craigslist if you’re lucky.  And they both use a solution that requires some drilling.  I don’t mind drilling, but I wanted to avoid doing that if somehow the solution I came up with didn’t work, and I needed to return something.

My solution — based on the inspiration described above:

I found a similar solution using a CaddyTek SuperLite Deluxe Golf Push Cart Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution, which sells for approximately $80 on Amazon new.  The solution still called for drilling a hole, but I challenged myself to come up with a simpler solution that didn’t require drilling.  If I couldn’t come up with the solution, this would be what I would’ve gone with.

So thus began my mad research online, and three days later, I have this, using the same CaddyTek Golf Cart…

AWP 9420 4103 600x900 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

 

No drilling required, and the total cost of parts for this DIY solution — about $170, of course, not including light, battery, softbox, gear bag, reflector, and water bottle.  While that might seem a little pricey to some, the benefit of a more stress-free shoot outweighs what amounts to a small fraction of what I’ve spent on photography gear.

So, the cart was identified, but what would I use for hanging the light?  Backing up a little, as I was contemplating what I can use for a light stand, I found that my Impact Telescopic Collapsible Reflector Holder Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution which for some reason hasn’t seem light of day, could be extended to like a light stand and with the 3/8″ diameter tip, I can mount and secure a speedlite adapter or a strobe.  It’s not the typical 5/8″ diameter you see with light stands, but I mounted and screwed my speedlite adapter and my Paul C. Buff Einstein strobe, and they both seem to attach pretty solidly.

Here’s how the Impact Telescopic Collapsible Reflector Holder Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution looks.

AWP 9442 600x273 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

And here’s the 3/8″ tip where the speedlite adapter or strobe would attach to.

AWP 9443 600x399 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

 

Now, I just needed a clamp that would tighten on the golf cart and at the same time provide a long enough stub to mount the reflector holder.

I had remembered that a Manfrotto 035RL Super Clamp Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution came with a short stub just for mounting speedlites to wherever the Super Clamp can be clamped on.

AWP 9422 600x399 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

 

And sure enough, that would work, but I felt I needed a longer stub to offset the reflector holder.  Luckily, I found a cheap solution with the Avenger E600C 5/8-Inch Snap-In Steel Pin for Super Clamp Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution.  This is how they look connected.

AWP 9423 600x399 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

 

The Super Clamp comes with a little wedge that can be placed in the jaw to clamp onto a flat surface.  Make sure that wedge is in place.  The above photos show it in place, but it doesn’t come pre-connected to the clamp.  Here’s how the wedge looks separated from the clamp.

Screen Shot 2014 07 29 at 1.19.26 PM Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

Now you’re ready to connect the clamp to the shaft of the golf cart.  I find that it’s good to stick a strong velcro to the shaft on both sides before clamping so make sure the clamp doesn’t slide around the smooth shaft.  I use the Velcro Brand Industrial Strength Tape Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution.  You may have something like this lying around the house.

And make sure to tighten as much as you can without bending the shaft.  This is what’s going to secure the reflector holder and softbox while they’re swaying in the wind.  Connect the reflector holder to the stud and tighten.

Screen Shot 2014 07 29 at 1.20.54 PM Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

 

Straighten the post of the reflector holder.  It should be vertical.

AWP 9435 600x399 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

 

And adjust the post to be about 6 inches off the floor.  The post should be touching the golf cart’s lower shaft.  Secure the post to the shaft with a long strip of velcro.  This will help limit sideway movement of the post and will put less pressure on the clamp should the wind picks up. Make sure this velcro does not have the sticky glue and is easily removable so you can disconnect the reflector holder from the golf cart.

This is how everything should look assembled.

Screen Shot 2014 07 29 at 1.17.12 PM Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution
pin it4 Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

The really cool thing is that the main parts used can be re-used for other purposes since everything comes apart really easily.  The reflector holder can still be used on top of a light stand if you want to hang it down or at an angle.  The super clamp can be used to hang speedlites inconspicuously in a lot of places, for instance if you’re shooting an event.  And of course, you can go for a round of 18 with the golf cart. icon smile Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

So just to re-cap, here’s the shopping list for this project.

Keep in mind that not all golf cart shafts will work with the Manfrotto Super Clamp, so if you don’t opt for the CaddyTek cart, you may run into problem getting the light stand at the right angle.

  1. CaddyTek SuperLite Deluxe Golf Push Cart
  2. Impact Telescopic Collapsible Reflector Holder
  3. Manfrotto 035RL Super Clamp
  4. Avenger E600C 5/8-Inch Snap-In Steel Pin for Super Clamp
  5. Velcro Brand Industrial Strength Tape Never Struggle to Carry Your Off Camera Lights Again! A DIY Solution

Now go make one!

 

Alex Win is the owner and photographer at Alex Win Photography and runs a for-photographer-only blog at Say Cheese where you can see more enhancements made to this push cart as well as other for-photographer-only fun.  You can follow Alex Win Photography on Facebook here.

5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families

Stepping In Front of the Lens by Lindsay Williams

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pin it4 5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families

In the span of time between the first moment I picked up a camera and today, I have taken hundreds of thousands of photographs. When I was little, I took photos of my cousins at family gatherings. As I grew older, I took snapshots of my friends in school, my boyfriend (now husband) playing in a rock band, and my beloved dog, Brady. Once my two boys came along, the number of photographs in my collection shot off the charts, and when I started my photography business, I added thousands of photos of my clients.

Do you know what was missing from my collection? Me.

A little over two years ago, a friend of mine was killed while out for a morning jog. As I sat at her funeral and watched a slideshow of her life, I was hit with the realization that the photos she left behind were suddenly priceless artifacts that her children, family, and friends would treasure forever.

Then, in October 2013, Jodi Friedman, MCP’s owner, wrote a very personal post about being photographed. To this day, that post still stands as my favorite from this blog, and it had a very powerful influence on both how I viewed myself and how I felt about being in photos.

I had been thinking about my friend’s death and the photos she left behind for her children, and I realized that I needed to stop letting my own insecurities keep me behind the camera and out of photos, for the sake of my loved ones—especially my children. However, my attempts at getting in photos using the timer on my camera were completely exhausting me.

During our trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia last summer, I decided I would take our own family photos on the beach using that method.

Instead of the fabulous photos I envisioned, this was the best I could do:

family at beach 600x400 5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families
pin it4 5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families

And although this photo represents the memory of that one time when I wore myself out completely and sweated through my dress while running back and forth between my camera and three incredibly frustrated guys, it wasn’t the beautiful photo I wanted to hang on my wall.

Fast forward to this year…

This year, when we planned our vacation to Jekyll Island, I planned a photo session with a local photographer while there. For the first time since launching my own photography business, I was a photography client.  In addition to photos of my kiddos playing on the beach that I took myself, this year I got incredible photos of my entire family.

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pin it4 5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families

As a result of my fabulous experience being in front of the camera for a change, there are a few lessons I learned that I would love to share. Here are some tips to help you get in photos and fall in love with them.

1. Hire a Photographer

  • My experience of trying to take my own family beach photos last summer was exhausting and frustrating.  I’m glad that I have plenty of great photos of my husband and children to pass on to my boys one day, but I also want them to remember how frizzy the ocean air makes my hair and the way my nose scrunches up a little when I laugh.  Most importantly, I want them to have photographic evidence of my love for them to remind them long after I’m gone. I want my grandchildren to see the love I have for their parents and their grandfather.
  • Always being behind the camera keeps that from happening. Although there are tons of photographers who have mastered the art of the self-timer or the remote shutter release, I am not one of those photographers. If you are not either, save yourself the stress and exhaustion and hire a photographer to capture those things for you.

2. Do Your Research

  • When I first started trying to find a photographer in the Jekyll Island area, I knew I wanted a lifestyle photographer; however, no amount of searching turned up the “right” one. I found a ton of wedding photographers, several formal portrait photographers, and a few others family photographers, but none of their photos were exactly what I was personally looking for. So, I didn’t hire anyone. In fact, I decided not to have photos taken on vacation at all and started researching local photographers instead. Then, on a whim one day, I did a search for lifestyle photographers in the Jekyll Island area again. This time, the very first result of my search was a photographer named Jennifer Tacbas. I took one look at her website and fell in love.
  • This piggy-backs off “Hire a Photographer.” Don’t hire just any photographer. Do your research and hire the photographer whose work you connect with the most. If you make the decision to hire a professional to do photos for you, don’t hire anyone until you find the photographer who fits the style you want for your photos. I didn’t want formal portraits. I wanted a lifestyle photographer. Instead of hiring someone from the options available, I waited until I found the best of who was available for me, personally.

3. Communicate

  • During my very first e-mail to Jennifer, I let her know that my youngest son, Finley, is autistic. I wanted her to know that getting his attention and any sort of eye contact is next to impossible, especially in a fairly new environment like I knew any location while on vacation would be. Throughout our following conversations, I reinforced the idea that “perfect” photos with everyone smiling at the camera were important to me. I wanted authentic photos that showed our interactions as a family, which I already knew Jennifer would capture after viewing her work. I also wanted her stress level minimized. I wanted her to enjoy our session as well, and I didn’t want her to fear I would be disappointed if a “perfect” photo didn’t happen. The photos that resulted were still perfect, in every way—just a different definition of the word.
  • Be sure to make your photographer aware of any issues that might be important to you. Do you have a child who is nervous around strangers? How about a personal insecurity, such as hating your nose or smile? Or do you have an issue such as mine? Let your photographer know up front. By doing so, you can ensure that your photographer has the knowledge needed to make your session the best it can possibly be.

4. Have Fun!

  • Instead of ending our session exhausted and sweaty from running back and forth to my camera, I ended our session exhausted and sweaty from having an incredible amount of fun with my family. We played in the sand, twirled around in circles, and had tickle fights. We explored Driftwood Beach and the grounds of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, gave nose kisses, and chased crabs. In short, we had a blast.
  • If you choose to hire a photographer, a big reason for doing so is to save yourself from feeling stressed out. What does that mean? Don’t stress. Have fun. Not only will doing so produce photos that show genuine interactions, but it can also help any members of your family who might not be as excited about having family photos taken as you.

5. Love Your Photos

  • Those who love me know that I can be incredibly critical of my own appearance, which is one of the reasons I am usually happy to be behind the lens instead of in front of it. However, Jodi Friedman’s post about her experience having her own photos taken was a true eye-opener for me, so before viewing the photos from our session, I made the mental decision to love the way I looked in them. And I did. Because ultimately, my kids don’t care about my love handles. They will never notice if I have a double chin or goofy look on my face in a photo.  I shouldn’t either. I didn’t have photos taken for friends on social media (or readers of this post) who might criticize my appearance. Ultimately, I had photos taken for my sons, Gavin and Finley. So ultimately, Gavin’s and Finley’s opinions are the only ones that matter to me.
  • Whether you love or hate your appearance, make the decision to love the photos that preserve who you are. Read Jodi’s post, if you need the same inspiration that enabled me to do so.

My experience in front of the camera as a photography client provided me with precious memories, gorgeous photos that now hang on my wall, and a new perspective as a photographer. Our photographer treated us with kindness, patience, and professionalism and I can only hope I make my own clients feel the way she made us feel, both during the session and every time we look at her beautiful work.

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pin it4 5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families

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pin it4 5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families

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pin it4 5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families

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pin it4 5 Tips for Photographers to Get In Photos with Their Families

 

Get out from behind the camera for a change. If doing so means hiring someone else, hire someone whose work you love. Communicate your expectations, have fun during your session, and love yourself and the photos you are in.

Your loved ones will be glad you did.

Photos by Jennifer Tacbas included with permission from the photographer.

Lindsay Williams lives in south central Kentucky with her husband, David, and their two sons, Gavin and Finley. When she isn’t teaching high school English or spending time with her family, she owns and operates Lindsay Williams Photography, which specializes in lifestyle photography. You can check out her work on her website. You can view more work by Jennifer Tacbas on Jennifer’s website.

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