20 November, 2006

Picture It

Is it Monday already? Ugh. This weekend did not prove to be much different from any other weekend in the Monogram household. We went out for our weekly Mexican fix on Friday night, hit Sam’s Club with the masses on Saturday, ran into Lowe’s, froze our rear ends off at the park with the mini’s, and did our last bit or yard work and trimming for the year. As for me, I completely hit full-on panic mode concerning the boys Christmas outfits and Christmas cards. Forget Thanksgiving, I’m too worried about Christmas! Oh well, as my friend Kristi told me on Sunday, it will come together. It always does.

If I had to include a 101st thing about me, I would most likely share with you that I shoot children and pet photography in my “free time.” Clearly, you can tell that means I don’t do as much of it as I would like seeing as how I don’t exactly have a lot of “free time” these days. The mini’s keep me pretty occupied. But My love of photography has really grown and developed over the years. What first began as a love of travel photography, I started spending more and more time capturing children and pets, as I started my own family (and we started traveling a lot less!). My main goal is trying to capture each child or pet’s individual spirit and personality through candid shots. To do this, I prefer to shoot in natural settings with natural light, as opposed to a controlled studio with props. I enjoy watching the kids and pets act themselves, because those are the memories you're going to have forever.
At every sitting, it is my goal to capture that one-of-a-kind personality that your child or pet embodies. That hint of a smile, those shining eyes, and even that stubborn streak that you secretly love. After all, aren’t these the things we love about our children and pets? Of course they are! Therefore, these are the qualities that I believe in capturing on film. I do a lot of “tight” shots, with faces and expressions, and eyes and hands filling the entire frame. If I can even be lucky enough to catch a little drool in the shot too, then I consider the day to be a success!

But the point in me sharing this 101st thing about myself is to offer you all a few pointers in taking your Holiday card photos. I mean, Thursday is Thanksgiving so that is the perfect opportunity for you all to be getting your holiday pictures accomplished while everyone is dressed and looking cute in their fall finery, leaving you ample time to have them ready for your holiday cards. I think we’ve all had our share of bad experiences where Holiday card photo’s are concerned. Especially if there is a dog and/or child(ren) involved, right? Yeah, I know. Total disaster. Christmas 2003 meant I had a newborn and a 1 ½ yr old. That in itself was not pretty. But after 3 rolls of trying to take a descent family Christmas card photo, I finally chose a picture of mini #1 refusing to sit down so he is front and center crying (think mouth open, tears rolling down face, eyes squinted from crying) in front of Mr. Monogram who is smirking while holding onto preppy puppy by the scruff of her neck who is trying to run away for dear life. Then seated on the arm of the chair was me, laughing, while I try to hold a screaming bloody murder newborn mini #2. So after 3 rolls of film pretty much looking like this, I chose this horrible picture, went with it and all I said on the card was “Well, We Tried!” and off it went in the mail. It was probably the most honest card I could have sent out at the time since it was a truly accurate depiction of what our family looked like that Christmas. WOW, how much do I NOT miss those days? But to this day, I still have people tell me that was their favorite card. So like I said, I totally feel your pain in this department and I’m here to help.

-Truly the best place to shoot a portrait, or picture of any kind, is outside in natural light. And by natural light, I do not mean a bright sunny day. Either an early morning picture, late afternoon picture, or cloudy, overcast day are your best options for outdoor shooting. And by all means, if you do shoot in the middle of the day, do NOT shot facing directly into the sun or you will end up with a dark semi-silhouette effect and I doubt that’s what you’re going for with your holiday card picture. If you do opt to shoot indoors, turn on every light you can, open up the blinds all the way, and in general, make sure it is very well lit. This will prevent the flash from popping up and causing red eye. I beg of you… PLEASE do not send out a cute card with red eye in your dog or children. It just makes monogram momma very unhappy to see that when I know all the trouble you’ve gone to to get them all dressed and looking cute, but then you send out a card with your family looking like the spawns of Satan. But beware. Shooting indoors is likely to create lots of shadows and change your colors so you will need to be very careful and pay lots of attention to where your shadows are falling and if the light is actually too bright.

-If you are shooting with a digital camera, set your camera to shoot at the highest possible resolution when taking portraits. Remember this: The higher the resolution, the better quality and clarity of picture you are going to get, especially when it’s being reprinted onto a card. If your digital has an option for shooting in portrait mode (typically there will be a little icon that looks like a head), then I suggest using it. What that does is give you a super clear and focused portrait, while slightly blurring the background, giving you a very nice effect.

-Speaking of the background, NO CLUTTER. Pay attention to where you are sitting your kids or arranging them. Taking a portrait of your kids on the sofa with the messy kitchen and toys splattered around behind them is NOT a good thing. So either clear the clutter, or find a new place to shoot. The focus of your holiday card should not be the dishes sitting in the sink, but rather the smile on your family’s faces, right? This also applies to what’s in the foreground. Don’t leave a coffee table cluttered with magazines and toys. Again, it’s very distracting and will take away from your picture. Clean it up or take the kids outside. Or if they insist on not moving from their current location, fine! Zoom in tight for a close-up frame of their faces only. These particular shots look great in black and white and you might find are even worthy of framing.

-As for poses and props, I will tell you that I do not shoot with props when I do portraits. That’s just my own little pet peeve. More power to you if that’s what you like, but it just isn’t my thing. I also don’t really like to pose my kids (or the kids I’m shooting), but rather let them interact as they naturally would in a natural setting. This is why I really love to shoot in natural light because people and pets photograph so much better and naturally. It also provides me many more opportunities to get creative with shots, which is what I encourage you to do also. Throw your kids in a big pile of leaves, pull over on the side of the road and put your hazards on for a few minutes if you see a little stream with mossy covered rocks. Or if you happen to know of some local gardens or old historic home that they allow visitors too, then find a neat little niche there and shoot away. Moving around and exploring to find new and neat little spots to take pictures for your kids will make it much more fun for them and you will find they are much more cooperative too. There’s no reason you can’t send out a Christmas card of your kids running down a hill after each other, as long as you take it close enough. Or even skipping rocks in a stream! instead of stnading behind them, roll up those pant legs, throw on your wellies and off you go into the stream to fetch that million dollar holiday card shot! The more you open yourself up to candid shots of your family just interacting and being themselves, and the more prepared you are and always have your camera ready at hand, the better your shots are going to be.

-Photo attire. This is a big one for me I admit and let me tell you why. 9 years ago when Mr. Monogram and I were doing our engagement portraits, we were having them shot at a gorgeous outdoor pond with lots of ducks and weeping willows. Truly breathtaking. But as cute as we looked and as beautiful as the setting was, to this day, the only thing I see when I look at those pictures is how we do not coordinate or match so it is very distracting. Separately, we looked cute but together, we looked like we didn’t even talk about the photo shoot and just showed up separately. Let’s just say I learned my lesson. So here’s my advice on portrait attire when I am shooting for other people (and myself): Keep it simple! My best recommendation is that you stick to solid colors. Denim, white, khaki, navy and black are your best choices when photographing. These timeless classic colors help create pictures that focus on the person and not the outfit. Try to avoid plaids and patterns especially as they really tend to be a big distraction in the final result and just do not photograph well overall. And by all means, leave the graphic t-shirts at home.

-Okay, so my final word of advice is to remember this. Where there are arms there are hands, and where there are legs there are feet. Basically, don’t chop off hands and feet for portraits. If you’re going to show legs, show feet. If you’re going to show arms, show hands. Really the only time it’s OK to chop off appendages in portraits is if they are being enlarged and in which case, that is unavoidable from the enlarging process.

Well, now you should be armed with a few basics and easy tips to follow. So grab your camera, the kids, the dog, or whoever it is you want in your holiday card picture, and head out the door with confidence that you are going to take have the best holiday card yet.


SLC said...

Thanks so much for the photography pointers. I usually try to take a picture of the kids on Thanksgiving for use in Christmas cards. I hope they turn out as cute as last year.

Melissa said...

Did you take all the pictures in your post? They are wonderful.

cel said...

mm- you outdid yourself! thanks for the great instructions &you have a great eye!

Monogram Momma said...

Thanks guys! Good luck slc with your pictures this week and yes, Melissa, these are my shots (although not my children).

lisa82367 said...

Thanks for the great advice. My pictures over the years have been far less than stellar. Now if you could just tell me how to get the minis in my house, who, by the way, are no longer mini at age 19 and 11 to relent on their boycott of this year's holiday photo. According to these protestors, there will be no holiday photo this year! It is just terrible when your children grow up and have minds of their own LOL!

That's Sew Sally said...

I saw Martha's episode on picture taking and you have said it better and easier to understand than she did. Not that I take many pictures but I do like your helpful hints. Check out http://www.childrenscornerfabric.com/ for that jeffrey pattern we talked about. Or when you are in my fair city check out Pintucks and Pinafores in Vinings Jubliee for specialty fabrics, smocking plates and patterns.

Monogram Momma said...

Lisa, Have you tried bribery? I find that to be pretty successful for kids of all ages! Only I'm sure a Thomas train isn't quite going to do it for your kids anymore so you might need to resort to cold hard cash!

Thanks, sally! I'll be heading over to Childrens Corner today (how have I not heard of this place before?!) and yes, I do LOVE pintucks and pinafores! Pricey but OH SO WORTH it! We actaully used to live over there, as that's where our first house (the historic home/money pit as we affectionately call it) was maaaaaaaaaaaaany years ago.

Preppy Rider said...

What wonderful advice and gorgeous pictures! I wish we lived near by, I would love some gorgeous pictures when the Baby arrives and we have two Wheatens we often try to wrangle into pictures - you have a true gift!