Snap Shot Tips for the Holiday Season & Beyond by Scott Teichman, Photographer
It’s that time of year again with the holidays and festivities looming just around the corner. Many of us will have parties and family get-togethers to look forward to where we grab our cameras and start snapping away. It’s a great way to remember what happened to Gina from accounting or Uncle Joe’s glasses falling into the eggnog. Contrary to popular belief though, you don’t need an expensive camera to take great shots. I carry a small point-and-shoot wherever I go, it’s smaller and lighter than my SLR camera and much easier to use. A snapshot by its very definition is a spontaneous, quickly taken photograph with no artistic intent. It may be out of focus or poorly composed, the sole purpose is to capture the moment. With that said though, there are a number of basic tips that I can pass along that may improve your chances of getting that “keeper”. I’m not going to discuss aperture or shutter speed or even reading the manual beyond the quick-start guide. These are just the basics that everyone should keep in mind while shooting. Assuming that you have read the quick-start guide you’ll see that your camera probably has pre-set modes for various situations. By choosing a specific mode such as “Party” or “Night Portrait” (two actual settings on my Panasonic Lumix camera), you’re giving the camera an idea of what the subject is. It then begins to make basic exposure adjustments prior to pushing the shutter half way and reading the scene. You’ll greatly increase your chances of getting a decent shot over keeping it on the default automatic mode. While you’re in the menu choosing your scene mode, you may as well select the highest image size and quality as well. Higher resolution images will fill your memory card faster but the improved quality is a fair trade off and you’ll be able to enlarge them as well without losing too much image quality. OK, so you’ve chosen the scene mode and raised the image quality, the main thing to realize now is the camera has to be stable. On most point-and-shoots you’re not looking through a viewfinder but an LCD screen around back. On an SLR camera where you do look through a viewfinder, you’re not only supporting the camera with both hands (one under the lens, the other on the camera) but it’s also resting against your face creating a triangle that helps stabilize the shot. Image stabilization available in most small cameras will help but they still take time to focus and need to be held still while they do. My advice here is to hold the camera in both hands with your elbows at your side and the camera relatively close to your face. Now let’s work on the shot itself. My number one piece of advice here is to watch the background. Keep it clean. Nothing will ruin a shot more than a tree branch seemingly growing out of someone’s ear. Obviously it’s an easy enough fix, just change your position or angle but you have to be aware and look for it. You can also try zooming in as the longer focal length will keep the subject in focus while blurring the background, putting separation between the two. The next thing to consider is composition. Zoom in to fill the frame but try not to plop your subject dead centre. You can use what’s called the rule of thirds to help you with this. Imagine a tic tac toe type of grid on your frame, now place your subject over one of the vertical lines. In the example shown, the boy’s eye is positioned near the top right intersection and the vertical line runs down the centre of his head. The negative space on the left creates a more interesting shot while, again, the zooming in blurs the background. And lastly, try not to shoot people straight on. Shooting at a slight angle adds dimension to their features and is a lot more flattering for your subject. So I said I wouldn’t discuss reading your manual but I lied. Read your manual. Take the camera beyond the automatic settings and experiment. Have fun. When you control what the camera does you can then take ownership of your photos and say with confidence… “I took that”. Have a great Holiday and New Year! About Scott Teichman: Scott has always had a passion for photography. He took this to heart recently by switching careers from advertising to opening his own photography business. His work within the pages of Village Living is complimented by his own portrait and commercial photography clients.