Family Pictures – 5 Tips for Using That New Camera

New Camera! Now What?

You got your wish! For so long now you’ve been dying for a camera so you can finally start taking quality pictures of your own family. Your elation turns to fear as you realize you have no earthly idea how to use this new piece of memory making magic! As a photographer, although I’d love for you to hire me for your family pictures or life-changing events, you don’t need to hire a pro for ALL of your photos. For your day in and day out shots, all you need is a little guidance. With that in mind, here are 5 tips for using that new camera to take your family pictures!

1. Ditch the Auto

Ok, this needs to be said. Get off of auto mode. Pronto! The only way you’re going to learn to really use a real camera is to stop letting it think for you. If you want something that thinks for you, just use your phone! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using your phone for snapshots. But, when you want to start taking some pictures that have a prayer of ending up on your wall, roll up your sleeves and start thinking for yourself! Flip that dial to M and keep moving!

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2. Sell the Kit Lens

You were so stoked that the camera you got came with a lens! Get rid of it. Most kit lenses just aren’t very good for getting you that creamy, shallow depth of field that you’re after. There are plenty of cheap options for getting some great imagery. I would start with a “Nifty Fifty.” That’s photographer speak for a 50mm f/1.8 lens. You can buy them new for $200 or less for most brands. Here’s a Nikon option. Here’s a Canon option. A 50mm lens is also great for getting familiar with the camera as it functions similarly to how our eyes do.

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3. Speed Up That Shutter

Nothing causes blurry, out of focus photos quicker than a shutter speed that’s too slow. Use what’s called the “Reciprocal Rule.” Your shutter speed should be AT LEAST as fast as your focal length. So, if you have a 50mm lens, you should be shooting no slower than 1/50th of a second. I would say, though, to be safe double it! So if you have a 50mm, shoot no slower than 1/100th of a second. When you’re just starting out, your hands may not be steady yet. Shooting at slower speeds may introduce motion blur, ruining otherwise amazing family pictures.

4. Put the Sun Behind Your Subject

There are plenty of ways to light your subject, but direct sunlight, while nice to admire when you’re walking around town, can be harsh for family pictures. Until you learn to deal with direct sun in other ways, it’s safer to place the sun behind your subject or shoot closer to sunrise or sunset. That way, the harshest light will be highlighting your subject from behind while the softer light is on your subject’s face. Careful not to shoot directly into the sun. Not only can it hurt your eyes, but it can also introduce flare into your photos, lowering contrast and messing up your photo.

Get that sun behind your subjects!

5. Stop Down a Touch!

Just because your lens’s aperture can open up all the way to 1.8 doesn’t necessarily mean you should shoot there. All lenses are at their worst “wide open.” If you “stop down” a bit, ie. close your aperture, your image quality will get dramatically better. So, rather than shooting at 1.8, try 2.2. It’s a small change but can affect your overall image quality in big ways. Your image will be sharper with more contrast in no time. Also, when shooting family pictures you’re frequently shooting in small groups. Stopping down can help get more of your group in focus.

If you’d like to learn more steps to dramatically boost your fledgling photography skills, why not check out my workshop in Wake Forest, NC, on September 8?

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