Category: photography

basic photography tips // choosing focus points

The influx of DSLR or “fancy, expensive cameras” means that moms all over the US are the ones trusting themselves to take their family pictures and sometimes with great results! I totally get it, why pay someone each year to do something that I can do myself? People have said “wow, your pictures are great…you must have a really nice camera!” more times than I could ever count. The problem I’ve seen with this mindset is that most of the time you are expecting these cameras to perform the way that a point and shoot would but with better results.

Unfortunately, this is not the case and most of the time it leaves you with very inconsistent performance. Maybe one awesome shot that you love every now and then out of hundreds that you take. The problem is that a HUGE part of photography is actually the photographer, having a nice camera will not give you amazing images.
One fall day I was at my house and I received a frantic call from a close friend:

“My husband bought me this fancy camera and I decided to take our fall pictures at the pumpkin patch today and it’s not working! Can you help?!”

As I struggled to hear her over the screaming children in the background I asked her to explain to me what was happening.

“my kids are all sitting here for a picture but the camera is focusing on a leaf and the rest of the picture is blurry, or the pumpkin is in focus but their faces aren’t…every time I take a picture it’s different…what is going on?!”

I chuckled to myself as I thought about all the moms in the pumpkin patch that day desperately trying to work these “fancy” cameras and maybe 1 of them getting a decent shot out of it. I shouldn’t laugh but this has become something I hear all the time. Let me let you into a little secret…a camera is a piece of equipment and cannot be trusted. If you have your camera set on auto focus, it will decide which object is closest to the camera and that is what will be in focus. Your camera will be the one choosing what leaf, pumpkin or if your lucky, face it wants to focus on. This means that you are completely at the mercy of this very expensive piece of equipment for whether or not you will actually be able to see your beautiful kids smiling at the pumpkin patch. This is one of my very first tips I give to people who want to take consistently good pictures so I thought I would share it with you today!

Turn auto-focus OFF and put YOU in control of what you are focusing on.
So lets start from the beginning. What is “focusing”?

Just for a second as you are looking at this screen notice your peripheral vision and the things that surround you. Do you see how the screen is clear in your vision and things that you aren’t looking at are kind of blurry? That is exactly what’s happening in your camera, where you put your focus point will be clear and everything else will kind of blur out. The amount of blur depends on the lens you have and the settings either you or your camera choose but those setting are a whole other ball game I will get into next week. When you decide to choose your focus point you are able to focus on whatever point you choose, when I take pictures of people I always set my focus point to their eye so that their face is in focus and everything else blurs from there.

I took my camera out and set it to Automatic Focus Mode and here were the results:

Looking in the back of the camera and even on the screen, some of these images might look “in focus” but lets take a closer look. I switched back over to Manual Focus Mode and focused on her eye in the picture on the left. On the right you can see the zoomed in versions of the auto-focused images. Do you see the difference now? The top image was the best of the auto-focused bunch but the hair to the left of her eye is what is completely in focus and her eyes are slightly blurred. Even I was surprised that out of 4 shots my camera didn’t manage to hit the focus perfectly!

basic photography tips // choosing focus points // crystal lake family photographer

Obviously every camera is different but I’m going to try and guide you through the basics of selecting your focus points (check your user manual for specific instructions) *AF stands for Auto Focus

  • Press the AF Point Selection button at the rear of the camera (this will differ by brand and model) and the display will confirm that multi-point Automatic AF is in use.
  • To switch from AF Auto Select to “Manual AF Point” mode in Canon and “Single Point” mode in Nikon, press the AF Point Selection button as in the previous step but then press the set button. The camera will now switch from multi-point selection to using only the central AF point for autofocus.
  • You’re not limited to using the central AF point in Manual Select mode. After switching to single-point AF, you can use the arrow keys to switch to any of the other eight (or more) AF points.
  • Manual AF point selection works in any of the various AF modes, I would recommend using “AI Focus” in Canon or “AF-C” in Nikon for fast moving subjects.
  • So that you don’t have to scroll through all the different points every time, you can lock the focus onto a certain point. You do this by holding the shutter button down slightly, recomposing the shot, then fully press the shutter to take the shot. This often works but it’s easy to come unstuck. For this to work your AF mode will need to be set to “One Shot” in Canon or “AF-S” in Nikon.
  • It’s usually more effective to pick the AF point that’s closest to the point you want to focus on, 
so any subsequent camera movement will be minimal. Selecting the most appropriate AF point not only ensures more accurate light metering, but focusing as well.

Shooting in manual focus mode is a skill that you need to learn and practice. While you will have more time to get it right when shooting still objects – it can become more difficult when shooting moving subjects – so practice, practice, practice!

choosing a photographer // don’t do what we did!

**for the month of March we will be sharing some of our photography tips and tricks. This first post is for those of you looking to hire a wedding photographer**

One thing we hear SUPER frequently with wedding photography from brides is that they are going to have their friend “who is just starting out but is really good” do their wedding. Now, hear me on this…in the beginning I was that friend. I did a few weddings for free in the beginning just to have images to use for my portfolio so this isn’t a bashing post against using your free friends to photograph your wedding. Everybody’s got to start somewhere and I get that. However, I hear stories all the time from married people who wish they hadn’t chosen their friend to shoot their wedding and had instead cut cost in other areas so that they could pay for a professional photographer. If you really think about it, your wedding dress will sit in a box on a shelf for the next 30 years, the cake will be eaten in 10 minutes flat and people won’t talk for years about how amazing your DJ was. But people will always want to see your wedding pictures…we’ve been married for 10 years and I just had a friend come over last week and she asked to see our wedding pictures. As you can tell, I’m pretty passionate about this topic…I wonder why?!

When Gabriel and I got married 10 years ago we had no money and we just happened to have a friend that wanted to get into photography. At that time I didn’t know anything about photography and didn’t have any money so having someone take pictures for a couple hundred bucks seemed like a great idea. Here are the two biggest things that I would change about our wedding photographer and my advice for what to look for when you are hiring yours.

crystal lake illinois wedding photography // choosing a photographer

1// The camera they use
When I first started out in photography I used a Nikon D60. It was awesome for taking pictures of my kids but as soon as I stepped into the arena as a wedding photographer I knew that wouldn’t cut it. I borrowed a Canon Rebel for my second wedding and quickly saw that it wasn’t good enough either. The main problems I found with using an entry level DSLR at a wedding is that the sensor isn’t quick enough and the images are lower quality. In a contained environment like a family session or even an engagement session there isn’t much movement going on and you can easily redo a pose. With a wedding it’s completely the opposite. Everything is fast pace and moments pass in a split second. If your photographer doesn’t have a high-performing camera built for professional use it will be easy for those moments to be blurry or even worse, completely missed. My experience as a wedding photographer has taught me to be ahead of the moment. To already be waiting for specific emotions or looks is critical so that I don’t miss anything! This has only come with lots of experience and practice. When looking for a photographer I would encourage you to ask about their equipment. If they will be renting equipment for your wedding, ask about their experience with the camera and find out why they don’t own one for themselves. Are they using your wedding as a practice shoot? Do they understand how it works and are they used to using that camera? What is their past experience with the camera? Not all cameras are built the same and it’s imperative that the camera they are using is one they are completely comfortable with because they will have to change settings and focus points quickly.

crystal lake wedding photographer // choosing a photographer

Let me talk about quality of images real quick. This was probably one of the biggest things about our pictures that I would change. Because the camera that was used was an entry-level DSLR our images looked great printed in 5×7 and even 8×10 but anything bigger than that and the images look terrible, “mushy” is the professional word I like to use for that ;) . Most people desire to have their images printed and put on their wall or even better, to be able to print a big canvas an image. With most of the entry-level DSLR’s the quality of image will not be able to translate to a large print. In the image below I’ve shown you a comparison between our wedding images and an image I took…do you see the difference in quality when I blow up a section of the image? The camera I use has such high resolution images that they can even be put on a billboard if you wanted to!

crystal lake wedding photographer // choosing a photographer

The camera I have chosen to shoot with is Canon 5D Mark III. Canon 5D’s are well known in the photography industry for their professional use. A Canon 5D was the first of its type produced in 2005, Mark II was the upgrade in 2008 and the Mark III is the newest upgrade on the market.

2// Experience with posing
After our actual ceremony we went out into the garden to take our portraits and the person who was taking our pictures looked at me with a blank stare. Lucky for us (do you see how much we left up to chance here?!) my mother-in-law took over in that moment and directed us in all sorts of poses so we got some good shots of us together. When someone is new in photography they are still learning how to build rapport with clients and what poses work for different situations. Having shot more than 20 weddings has granted me tons of experience and I’ve been put into many different situations with many different personality types. It’s important to not just search on pinterest and find good poses to replicate (I totally did that in the beginning) but to also be able to be bold enough to try new things. With experience also comes the ability to put people at ease. This has been a huge learning lesson for me. I’m naturally an introvert so in the beginning it was very hard for me to help another introvert get them out of their shell. I allowed my weakness to become a strength by recognizing that also being an introvert helps me connect with how they are feeling in that moment. Someone taking your picture is absolutely uncomfortable, I know exactly how it feels and I can give them tips that I have learned over the years.

crystal lake wedding photographer // choosing a photographer

Now, I’m not suggesting that we never trust new photographers. If that was the case then how could anyone get started? What I am saying is that before you allow someone to document one of the most important days of your life, make sure that they have the equipment and experience to capture it. Shooting lots of individual sessions first is a huge help, especially family sessions. You really need to be quick moving to capture kids’ expressions and it’s awesome training and from there they should be assisting people who are shooting weddings. One of the biggest learning experiences for me as I was starting out was the opportunity to assist a well-known photographer and ask him to give me feedback of the images I took. I was so nervous to hear someone else’s opinion of my work and could’ve easily shied away from that but the input that I received changed my work and made me a better photographer and for that, it was worth it. In short, be very picky about your photographer, ask tons of questions and be willing to cut back on some of the other expenses that won’t last a lifetime to ensure you get a quality wedding photographer!

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