Running from the Law: Going Beyond Point and Click

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Going Beyond Point and Click

You guys, I am so excited about today's post!  So, a few weeks ago I asked photographer extraordinaire (and friend) Anni Compton if she would write a little guest post  for us on how to improve your photography.  I feel like this is really fitting right now, since so many of bloggers I follow have a new year's goal to take more/better photos of their family.  And that is such an awesome goal!  You'll never regret having better photos of your little ones - they grow so quickly!  This post is great for those of you that just got a new DSLR for Christmas and for those of us that already have a DSLR, but may be stuck in a rut or want to take our photos to the next level.  Anni's broken it down into 8 little things you can do to improve your pictures.  These are really great tips.  Honestly, I cringed a little bit reading this because I am guilty of doing quite a few of the no-no's even though I know better!  I've already promised Anni that I'm going to take my camera off AV and throw my kit lens away immediately.  

As a huge bonus, Anni has graciously agreed to answer any of your questions about gear, settings, equipment and photography in general, so leave your questions in the comment section.  Take the opportunity to ask the pro!  I hope you guys enjoy this post and learn something.  I can't wait to see all your new and improved photos in 2013!

{Photo by Nirav Photography}

Hi, I’m Anni of Anni Cee Photographie. I’m a wedding photographer, but not the kind you might think of at first.  I work mostly with couples who are non-traditional in some way, whether that means they’re getting married in a field, a courthouse, a barn, or an art gallery, or just throwing a knockout shindig for their friends and families. My frequent flier miles are used often and I meet really fan-freaking-tastic people in the process, so I’m pretty damn happy.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write a tutorial that will really help you all take photos that you’re not just proud of - we’re not talking just Facebook likes here - but that will be worth printing and passing on. Speaking of which, you must (must, must!) print at least your favorite photos, and please don’t do it at Walgreens or Target. Click over to right this second, because it will blow your mind. They’re very close to my pro lab in terms of quality (I use a different lab because I get wildly ecstatic about the words “deep matte” in a way only a photo nerd can) and I can’t overstate the worth of having printed photos to thumb through over the years.

Anyway. Back to making those photos worth printing.

I know it’s important to have something in here for both those of you who just unwrapped a DSLR for the holiday AND the crowd who’s ready to take it up a notch but already knows their stuff. So this list is going to start basic, but pay close attention, because some of these (albeit, simple) tips are things that helped my own process immensely in the past few years.

1) Get that camera off auto (and P, and AV, and whatever other newfangled “easy” settings they've come out with by now).

It sounds obvious, but a big part of photography is trial and error. You have to spend a lot of time with your camera, and you have to have moments where you want to smack your forehead when you’re editing those photos because you just had a total DUH moment and realized what you should have done differently. You need those moments to get better, and when you figure out why shooting your entire family at f/1.2 is a bad idea, the whole thing will start to come a lot more easily to you.

2)  Buy some editing software (something that’s beyond an Instagram-like filter).

It doesn't have to be Photoshop, in fact, the majority of my photos are edited using Adobe Lightroom. I tend to use Photoshop for album edits only. Just make sure you can adjust things like white balance, curves, etc.

3)  Upgrade that kit lens.

I use all prime lenses, so of course I’m going to love on those. For those of you who are asking “what in the world is a prime lens?” right now, they’re fixed focal length lenses (like 35mm, 50mm, 85mm), so there’s no zooming in or out. Nothing against zoom lenses, but they’re not as fast as I’d like. Most zooms have a maximum aperture of about 2.8, whereas many of my primes stop all the way open to f/1.2 - that’s some serious low-light power, and it   provides beautiful bokeh. There’s also something to be said for pushing yourself to work with one lens at a time - you learn to frame things, and see things, differently. If you don’t have the budget for L series lenses like I use, there are cheap options like the Canon nifty fifty, AKA the plastic fantastic, which you can buy on Amazon for a steal.

4)  Use natural light. 

Sometimes, flash or other artificial lighting is unavoidable. And that’s fine, but when it’s available, use that sun.  Direct sunlight is going to be too harsh in the middle of the day, so you’ll want to find a shady spot. Magic hour, which is right around sunrise and sunset, provides lovely, warm light that’s easy to shoot in from almost any angle. And fog or clouds provide gorgeous diffused light that makes skin look amazing.

They’re all different, and it’s important to learn (by trial and error, again) how to change your approach based on the lighting. It’s okay to chimp (look at the back of the camera) to see how things are going while you get the hang of this.

Just a note on natural light, it can be tough to mix it with artificial light like lamps (white balance nightmare!), so if you’re inside and have enough sunlight coming in that you can turn the lights off, it’ll make your photo look much nicer.

5) Diffuse your light.

If the fog or clouds aren't doing it for you, leaving a white or sheer curtain up on the window can make a world of difference when you’re shooting inside. Outside, using backlight can work wonders in the right situation. That means your subject faces you looking away from the sun so that you’re shooting into it. Be careful that you’re exposing   for their face though - if you’re letting your camera decide for you, it might come out much too dark.

6) Expose for the blinkies.

There’s a setting on most cameras called “highlight alert” and when you set it, the photo that pops up on your camera LCD after you take a picture will flash in the places that are overexposed. Sometimes it’s okay for this to go off - the sky will be overexposed when you’re exposing for your subject’s skin - but if you see the blinkies on someone’s face, or if you want to see the details of the clouds, the sky, a white dress, etc, you’ll pay attention to that flashing light and adjust accordingly. 

7) Learn to use back button focus.

This one made a world of difference for me. Most cameras automatically focus using the shutter button, which makes it difficult to focus on one part of the scene and then recompose your camera to frame it differently. I do this because I use Canon cameras, which have notoriously finnicky autofocus, and I trust that center point focus button the most. By setting the AF-ON button to be my focus, I can set the focus to any part of the frame I like, and keep it locked on that spot. Now all the shutter button does is fire the shutter to take the photo.

8) Kill your babies.

This is the most important tip I have by far.

I’m going to say it again: kill your babies.

Errr, please don’t take that the wrong way, I think Baby Mac is adorable and I have nothing against your actual kids, but I see far too many photographers (both amateurs and pros) who post way too many  bad photos.

Whether you’re posting a blog post or an album to Facebook, ask yourself why you’re including each photo. Does it add something to the story? Do you have another photo just like it you’ve already added? Is there a glaring technical fault (i.e., did you miss focus, or over/under-expose it?)

I know someone who does some photography work for fun. She set up a website for herself and has a Facebook page. Some of her work is really good, but she includes the outtakes, too. Those photos that are unflattering, boring, or poorly taken.

I get it, it sucks when a photo is almost right, but it’s not. And sometimes, if it’s your dog or your kid, it’s fine to post it anyway. But if you want to be a better photographer, you’ll learn to ruthlessly cull out those photos before posting. I promise you, 20 or 30 of your very best vacation photos will captivate your readers (and your friends) much more than 75 mediocre ones. 

It’s hard to find the gems when they’re surrounded by bad outtakes.  Edit.

That’s all I have for you right now - please feel free to ask me any questions you might have, and a huge thank you to Sara for having me on as a guest poster!

*All photos courtesy of Anni Cee Photographie


  1. THANK YOU Sara for this post! One of my New Year's Resolutions is to take more pictures with my "fancy camera" and take it off of Auto!

    Anni, these are wonderful and helpful tips. You take beautiful pictures! I can't wait to try these out.

  2. Thanks so much for this post! Its very helpful. I would love to know more about how to use the back button focus.

  3. I'm with Amy. The whole back button focus is so confusing to me!

  4. Thanks for these tips! I got a DSLR for Christmas (YAY!) & am totally clueless as to how to use it - I'm proud that I figured out where the battery goes & which memory card to get! LOL I'm signing up for a class & can't wait to learn how to use it properly!

  5. This post is so helpful, way to go Sara for seeking Annie's expertise!

  6. What is the back button focus? Is it that little asterisk looking button?

    Also, I have the nifty fifty, but what would be another recommended lens? I of course take pictures mostly of my son, but I seem to always just get his face in the photos, I want more of a wider angle I guess. I just love the bokeh this one gives and that I can use it in pretty low light.

  7. Mateya and Amy, back button focus is pretty easy to set, but the exact process depends on your camera model. I use a Canon 5D Mark ii and Mark iii, and the menu path on there under custom function. The exact path is menu>C.Fn2 Display/Operation>Custom Controls - from there you can select the shutter button to simply meter for light, and the AF-ON button to auto focus. This probably differs according to each camera model, but it's not too hard to find if you're playing around with it.

    Mateya, as for what other lens to use, it definitely sounds like you want a wider angle! You'll get that nice bokeh using any prime lens at a wide aperture, so if you pick up a 35mm prime, it sounds like it'd be perfect for you.

    Hope that helped. :)

  8. Some amazing advice - thanks so much.

  9. Amy, Shutterbugwife, Mateya - I watched this tutorial the other day on focusing and thought that it really helped explain things.

    Hope that helps!

  10. Love love love this post!!
    The last tip especially!

    I really try to edit down to the REALLY good pictures but there's always a family member that says "didn't you take a pic of us in front of the steps?? WHERE is it?!" <- well, that picture was blurry and you blinked so I left it out. :P

    End rant.

    I love you Anni! Love you Sara!! :D

  11. I love it! I'm really trying to do the editing thing and not post every single picture I took. But I do need to take some time and learn my camera. I'm working on program mode but I'm still not very good with the f stops and things.