Photography Technique: A Kid’s Eye View

A while ago I learned a great photography tip…

When taking pictures of kids, don’t be lazy and take the shot from your standing height. Instead, get down to their eye level to take the shot.

Depending on what the kid is doing at that very moment, this might mean getting down on your knees, sitting on your butt, or even lying on your belly to take the picture from their eye level.

It can be a dirty job, but trust me, the quality of photos you take will be worth the extra loads of laundry and occasional scraped knee.

To test the theory, I recently did a little experiment.

My son and I were in a park and he was sitting on a bench waiting for his turn on the swing. He REALLY wanted to use that swing, so he wasn’t enjoying the seemingly eternal 3-minute wait. We’ve all been there, of course.

I took these two shots in quick succession. The first one from a standing position and the second from my knees.

photography technique - taking pictures of kids

Taken from standing position

Taken from my knees

Taken from my knees

I’ve pondered for a long time the reasons this technique makes for more compelling pictures. I think it comes down to this:

  • You get a better look at their facial expression.
  • You feel more “in the moment” rather than looking “at” the moment.
  • The background is typically more attractive than looking at the ground or the floor.
  • The background is typically further away, so you benefit from larger depth of field in the image.
  • You get a better perspective on how big or small the child is.

What do you think? Do you agree that the shot taken from my knees is a more compelling photo? What other tips do you have for taking pictures of kids?

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Blackberry vs. iPhone 5 (from a Toddler’s perspective)

Blackberry vs. iPhone 5 (from a Toddler's perspective)

Mom, really?? You’re gonna hand me down your Blackberry rather than getting me an iPhone 5?

Blackberry vs. iPhone 5 (from a Toddler's perspective)

Well… I can type a lot faster on this, so I guess that’s ok.

Blackberry vs. iPhone 5 (from a Toddler's perspective)

But there’s no Angry Birds game!

Blackberry vs. iPhone 5 (from a Toddler's perspective)

Okay, okay… if you’re going take it away, I’ll stop complaining.

Blackberry vs. iPhone 5 (from a Toddler's perspective)

Now… how do I send Tweets from this thing?

The Wonders of Discovery

Photography, depth of field

One thing that I find absolutely amazing about being a Dad is watching my 21-month-old son “discover” new things.

The Wonders of Childhood Discovery

Not so sure about water yet…

Whether it be eating peanut butter for the first time, playing with water in its many forms, or “clinking” drinking glasses as if to say, “Cheers!”, there’s new discovery in his life every single day.

Eating Peanut Butter for the First Time

Eating peanut butter for the first time

Cheers!

Cheers!

Click on the link below for a little montage of a toddler “discovering” new things. (many of the images require no caption to understand what’s going through his head…)

View my Flickr photo album => “DISCOVERY”

Photography Technique: Bokeh

Example of Bokeh photography

What the heck is Bokeh?

Aside from being one of my favourite words to say, Bokeh (pronounced boke-uh) in photography is the blur, or aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image. The term originates from the Japanese words boke which means “blur” or “haze”, and the word boke-aji which means “blur quality”. Bokeh occurs in the parts of the scene that lie outside the depth of field. Refer to my recent post on depth of field to learn more.

When photographers intentionally use a shallow depth of field to create prominent out-of-focus areas in an image, bokeh can often appear around small highlights such as reflections or light sources in either the foreground or background of the scene.

Here’s an example of bokeh in a pair of recent pictures I snapped: (click on the image for full-size view)

Image #1: no bokeh, but good shallow depth of field

Image #2: BOKEH!

Good vs. Bad Bokeh

If the blur of an image is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and augments the overall image, it’s considered “good bokeh”. However, if the blur in an image is unpleasant or detracts from the quality of the image, it’s considered “bad bokeh”.

There are several variables that can affect the quality of your bokeh, but the biggest influence is the shape of the aperture when the image is shot. It’s because the shape of the bokeh in an image tends to look like the shape of the aperture that is passing light through.

In low-end or mid-range lenses, when the aperture opening (or f-stop) is set to less than the maximum opening, the shape of the aperture becomes a polygon rather than a circle. In some high-end lenses, there are more blades that move in and out to shape the aperture opening, so it appears closer to a circle than polygon when less than fully opened.

Five and Seven-Bladed Camera Aperture Openings

Five and Seven-Bladed Aperture Openings (credit: tested.com)

Equipment You Need

I’ve been experimenting with my new camera lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. It takes really great pictures for such an affordable lens ($150). Until very recently, I had no idea how important the f-stop was to the quality of images you capture. You can spend more money to get an f/1.4, and even more to get an f/1.2. The lower the f-stop number, the better. Among other qualities, small f-stop lenses have larger and higher quality apertures. Thankfully, my f/1.8 lens was cheap, but it delivers excellent quality pictures, nonetheless.

Here’s a basic pricing comparison (as of today):

  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II – approx. $150
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM – approx. $500
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L – approx. $1,800

Great Example of Bokeh

Normally, I would only post my own work, but in this case I can’t resist borrowing from (and crediting) others. Here are a couple of other great examples of bokeh that I’ve seen:

Good example of bokeh in photography

Christmas bokeh
(credit: Wikipedia)

Example of Bokeh photography

“Day Fifty Five” by Jnap

Example of bokeh photography

“A Cup of Bokeh, please?” by Shermeee

Example of bokeh photography

“The Fingers of Summer” by Ryan Brenizer

So, now that you know how to do it, go out and take some “bokeh-licious” photos!

Photography Technique: Shallow Depth of Field

Example of bokeh photography

In photography, Depth of Field (DOF) is essentially the Depth of Focus. It’s the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in the scene that appear acceptably sharp in the image. A shallow DOF tends to focus your attention on the primary subject of the image while effectively hiding from view the less important objects in the foreground or background. Alternatively, a large or deep DOF keeps most or all of the image in focus, allowing the viewer to see all objects in the frame.

Depth of field

Depth of Field / Depth of Focus (credit: Wikipedia)

Shallow vs. Deep DOF; Which to Choose?

Depending on your camera, you may have no choice. Inexpensive cameras typically take all photos with a deep DOF, and the images usually have all the objects in the scene in focus.

Shallow DOF photos are typically used in portrait or artistic photography, while deep DOF photos are typically used in applications such as landscape photography, where the scene requires everything in the frame to be in focus.

To achieve shallow DOF, you need either a lens with a small f-stop, a telephoto zoom, or a macro lens. A small f-stop lens (e.g. f/1.8 vs. f/5.6) has a large aperture, or opening, which focuses light more acutely on the optical sensor, causing objects in the foreground and background to be out of focus. You might be asking, “Why does a larger aperture cause a shallow depth of field? I won’t bore everyone with the details, but if you’re interested here’s a good forum conversation with a drawing that does a good job of explaining the physics.

Equipment I Use

Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T2i ($600 approx.)

Lens: Canon Prime 50mm f1.8 ($150 approx.)

Examples of Shallow DOF: (click on images)

Depth of Field

Eat, Drink, and Be Irish

Wine bottles

Good red wine from Beringer Vineyards, Napa Valley

Photography Technique: Depth of Field

The barrel cave, O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery, Napa Valley

Photography Technique: Depth of Field

Table art

Reflections

Magnolia

The Boy

Learning to Walk in the Sand

The Boy of a Thousand Faces

Kids photography, photography

As of today, our son Bennett is 14 months old. So far, I’ve taken roughly 7000 pictures of him. That’s a little over 16 pictures per day, on average! Yes, call me crazy, I deserve it… But it’s so much FUN capturing all these amazing moments of discovery! Also, when he was born, my lovely and generous wife bought me a really nice DSLR camera that takes amazing pictures (Canon Rebel T2i), so that really adds to the fun.

One thing about photographing a baby/toddler is that they’re SO expressive. I call Bennett “The Boy of a Thousand Faces”. With every new discovery, every emotion, every thought, and every attempt at communicating with us, there’s a new expression on his face. Actually, I think the number 1000 isn’t nearly adequate to describe the number of his expressions I’ve seen on his face.

The other day I had just finished feeding him breakfast and he was a very happy boy. Much like his Daddy, he gets cranky when he gets hungry. So, in his happy state, he started chatting away. More like babbling, I suppose, because he hasn’t said his first word yet. Well, I actually think he’s said Da-Da many times already, but that might be a stretch.

Check out this amazing sequence of roughly 20 photos I snapped of him while he was “talking” away. The sequence was over a timeframe of only about 1 or 2 minutes.

Any guesses as to what he’s trying to say? (comment below)

Instagram is great

Instagram is the best

Do you like photography? Do you have an iPhone or Android phone?

If the answer is yes, you NEED Instagram. Actually, if you answered yes to those two questions, I’d be surprised if you weren’t already using Instagram, or at least dabbling in it.

It’s a social network centered solely around photography. Right now, you’re thinking… another social network?  I already spend too much time “thyping” on my smartphone or staying up too late at night on my computer, “networking”.

Why do I like Instagram?

I’m active in a few social networks… Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn mostly. I like Facebook to stay up to date with friends and extended family, and to see pictures of their kids and their travels. I like Twitter for its more global network and the mix of personal and business use. I use it to follow my hobbies/interests, for learning, for business, and to get my daily dose of news and sports. I use LinkedIn to network professionally, and obviously for business purposes.

“Why Instagram?” you ask. Well, sometimes I need a break from the fast flowing information overload of Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. It’s actually quite relaxing to browse around in the “Popular” section to see what pictures people are snapping and sharing. You can also see all the photos that other people “Like”. Most people upload the best of the best of their work to Instagram, so for the most part, it’s like reading a magazine full of excellent photos.

How does it work?

Users share their photos from their iPhone. They could be photos shot from their actual phone or photos from a more professional camera, as long as they’re accessible from their iPhone (Hint: Dropbox is great for this!). You can discover good photographers by seeing who has “Liked” or “Commented” on photos. You can “Follow” people, connect with your friends, or easily search your contacts in other social networks for Instagram users.

Check it out…

Even if you’re not an avid photographer, I recommend that you sign up and check it out.  It’s really a nice diversion from the same old, same old of Facebook and Twitter.

By the way, Instagram only runs on an iPhone (or iPad). However, I recently discovered a desktop app called Web.stagram.com that allows you to browse through your Instagram account from a web browser. Cool.