It feels weird to be writing about beach photos on this 50-degree October day. My fingers are too cold to type about summer vacation! But that’s what I get for procrastinating a couple weeks. Here is the second half of my photos from our vacation last month to Corolla, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. You can find part 1 of these photos here. I’m writing a little bit about the compositional and technical choices I made for each of my vacation photos. The first set of pictures went over well, so I hope you enjoy the second set.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I brought only one camera body (Canon 5DII) and two lenses (70-200 f4 and 16-35 f2.8) on this trip. I brought no flash or other lighting equipment. I thought the technical simplicity of these photos would make them helpful examples for novice photographers to learn about my shooting process.
This sunset photo is one of my favorites from the trip. It was the view from the backyard of our rental house, which faced the Currituck Sound on the west side of Corolla. I love the way the sun dissolves into the water. My goal here was symmetry. I kept the horizon in the center of the screen, and an even amount of orange on the top and the bottom. The sun is one third of the way from the left, which is sort of consistent with the Rule of Thirds. (Except I wanted the sun centered vertically.) I shot it at 200mm to eliminate any light blue sky or water, and to make the sun look as big as possible. As with any landscape photo, I kept the horizon straight. Crooked horizons are a no-no for most pictures.
Last week we spent the final days of summer on vacation with my family in Corolla, North Carolina. We stayed in a waterfront rental house with my dad and my cousin and her family. Unfortunately my mother wasn’t able to attend, due to a work conflict. We missed her! But the rest of us had a wonderful week of beach time, biking, kayaking, and sight-seeing. Danny hasn’t stopped talking about the beesh (beach) and the bool (pool) ever since we got home. I loved seeing him so happy.
I thought that I would post the pictures along with brief descriptions of the technical and compositional decisions behind each one. I hope this will be helpful for novice photographers out there!
I took only two lenses on this trip: a Canon 16-35mm f2.8, and a Canon 70-200mm f4. That’s my most common way of packing light when I travel for vacation. If I want to pack very light, I bring only the Canon 24-70mm f2.8, because it is a great mid-range lens with lots of general usefulness. If I have room for two lenses, I prefer bringing a wide angle and a lightweight telephoto. Lenses with extreme focal lengths make for more dramatic photos than normal focal length lenses can offer. I like a little drama.
For this photo of the geese, I used the 70-200 at f4. I saw the flock of geese resting on the lawn by the Whalehead Club while the landscape crew was mowing the grass. I knew that the lawnmowers would eventually inspire the geese to fly away, so I hurried over toward them and waited. Sure enough, they took off shortly thereafter. I squatted low in the grass to make sure the geese would appear above the horizon in my photo, to enhance the sense of flight.
A couple weeks ago, I was feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. Danny had been grouchy and tantrumy for a few days, and I was tired. One evening I put him to bed around 7, and considered going to sleep as well. Then I decided that I would feel happier if I went out and created something instead. So I grabbed my tripod and a camera with a fisheye lens, and stood in the middle of the children’s fountain in Lake Anne Plaza. Then I felt rejuvenated.
This first photo was taken at ISO 400, 4 seconds, f/8. The long exposure created a blur of falling water in the fountain. The smallish aperture made sure that most of the image was in focus.
There were several people dining outside at the restaurants that surround the fountain. I got right in the water and gave them a good show. No one said anything to me except for the little girl who was playing in the fountain while I was shooting. She was about six and was drenched. I was almost as wet as she was.
“WHAT are you doing?” she asked, clearly puzzled by this strange grown-up invading her fountain. “Taking pictures,” was my simple response. “Why?” was her obvious next question. I didn’t really have an answer to that. I just chuckled and told her that it made perfect sense to me.
The photo on the left was taken with an iPhone 4s.
The photo on the right was taken with a Canon 5DII and an 85mm f1.8 lens.
There is a difference.
Sure, lots of people say that it’s not the camera that matters, but the person behind the camera. That’s true, to a point. But the same person (me) took the two photos above, in the same conditions, with the same amount of talent. The DSLR just had the sensor clarity, lens sharpness, aperture, and shutter responsiveness required to make the picture vastly better.
If you are taking all your family photos with your cell phone, please consider investing in a good camera. Current phone camera technology is way behind the rest of the camera industry. The quality is just not close to what you’d get with other cameras. Even a $100 point-and-shoot camera is a huge improvement over your $300 camera phone. The lens in a point-and-shoot is sharper and the sensor are clearer than anything you’ll find in a 2012 cell phone.
If you can afford a DSLR with a fast lens, that is even better. You can look into used cameras to save money. Look into cameras from 2009 or 2010 if you’re interested in used gear. A consumer DSLR, such as the Canon Rebel, is a great choice for amateurs. Be sure to choose quality lenses, because the quality of an image is highly dependent on the quality of the lens. For the sake of this demonstration, I used a 2009 camera body and a $350 lens. You don’t have to choose the most expensive gear on the market for great photos.
Here are a few of the reasons why this DSLR picture is better than the cell phone picture:
The phone picture is fuzzy and dull. The DSLR picture is crisp, clear, and vibrant, due to its superior sensor and lens.
2. Motion blur
The phone didn’t stop the blur of his hands. The DSLR’s high ISO and fast lens enabled me to use a fast enough shutter speed.
3. Shutter lag
The phone doesn’t respond instantly when I push the button, so I couldn’t catch his eyes open. The DSLR responds immediately.
Your kids deserve great photos of their childhoods. When they are all grown up, they’ll look back at 2012 phone camera technology and think how primitive it was. Because it is. But the rest of our digital camera technology is excellent, and I urge you to use it. Give your family photos that they will still love 50 years in the future.
Pull out your good camera for special occasions. If you can’t afford a good camera, hire a professional. Ideally, hire a professional once a year, even if you do have a nice camera. If you can’t afford to hire someone, borrow a friend’s camera once in a while. Just don’t rely entirely on your phone.
It’s important for me to mention that no matter what camera you buy, the quality of your photos will depend on your understanding of the equipment. Read the manual, take classes, learn what you’re doing. Or hire a professional. Because your kids are worth it.
My good friend Christy is attending the wedding of a family member next weekend. The bride and groom couldn’t afford to hire a professional wedding photographer, so they hired an inexperienced new photographer. Then a few days ago, that photographer got nervous, and canceled on her clients just two weeks before the wedding. That’s just horrible.
Apparently the bride and groom are unable to pay for anyone else. They asked Christy to help. Christy is an incredibly kind person who agreed to shoot the wedding, even though she is not a photographer and has never done anything like this.
Ordinarily, when someone contacts me and says, “My friend can’t afford a photographer, so I’m thinking of shooting her wedding. Do you have any advice for me?” I reply, “My advice is to say no.” I mean it. Shooting a wedding is a difficult and stressful responsibility, and you risk lifelong disappointment for the couple if the photos do not turn out.
But when Christy found herself in this situation, with a family member needing help at the last minute, I could empathize with her decision. Before I was a professional photographer, I found myself helping friends and family in need, too. I’m sure lots of other amateurs have been in this situation. After all, I understand that not everyone can afford to hire a photographer. After today’s conversation, I’ve decided to write a list of tips that could help people like Christy.
These are NOT my tips for professional photographers or new photographers who are starting a business. You can see my advice for new photographers here: How to Get Started in Wedding Photography.
These are my tips for amateurs who have no intention of becoming professional photographers, and are just trying to help desperate friends. Disclaimer: This information will not prepare you to become a professional, and it won’t guarantee that you’ll do a good job of shooting a wedding. But it could help you get through the experience.
I need to get outside early more often. I took this picture last weekend as I walked along Lake Newport. As everyone else slept, I felt like I had the sunrise all to myself.
I loved the way the sunlight illuminated the hanging willow leaves, so I was sure to include them in the image. I warmed up the image slightly in Lightroom, and cropped it into a pano to simplify it.
Morning light on the fountain, combined with winds that blew the water sideways. The result was a kayaker in a rainbow. Magic.
I imagined this photo before it happened. This boy was kayaking near the plaza, and I hoped he’d approach the rainbow in the fountain. I stood opposite the fountain and waited. Sure enough, he paddled toward the fountain. (Kids always do!) I waited until he was near the bottom of the rainbow and facing the sunlight, and clicked.
On Sunday I photographed the Reston Sprint Triathlon for Reston Patch. I got up at 5:30am and walked over to Lake Newport pool, stopping first to enjoy the sunrise over the lake. When I got to the race site at 6:30, it was already packed with excited people who were getting their race numbers written on their bodies.
It was inspiring to be surrounded by so many healthy, fit, and motivated people. The participants ranged in age from 13 to 80!
This photo assignment came at a great time in my life, with my newfound love of running and racing. Every time kids tackled their parents at the finish line, I choked up like a fool. It was so much fun to witness. I found myself forgetting any journalistic objectivity and cheering for everyone as they ran past. If only I could swim and owned a racing bike, I would consider entering the race next year. For now, I’ll stick with running and photographing.
My technical strategy for these photos was fast shutter speed and AI servo focus. You can see the photo gallery on Reston Patch here, or click through to see them here:
Danny sat patiently in his stroller as I lay on my stomach on a dock to get this shot. It’s a water lily on Lake Newport, here in Reston, Virginia. I love the way the reflection of the green trees creates a wavy leading line to draw attention to the blossom. The early morning light is beautiful here.
The key to this photo was my low angle. Lying on my stomach on the dock got me low enough to reveal much of the flower’s reflection. The flower was in direct sunlight that was soft and lovely because it was so early in the morning. If I had taken the picture later in the day, the harsh midday sun would wash out the white flower and be far less pretty. The green leading line toward the flower is a reflection of the green trees beyond the lake. My wide aperture kept that reflection out of focus and therefore enhancing the flower, rather than distracting from it.
This photo is available for sale here: Lake Newport water lily
Our friends here at Lake Anne have a magnificient kwanzan cherry tree in their front yard. As much as I love the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms, they have nothing on Michelle’s and Charlie’s tree.
I took this photo in March just after sunset, when the sky was a lovely twilight blue. I used a tripod with a 30 second exposure at ISO 1000. An f stop of 1/16 gave lots of depth of field to keep most of the blossoms in focus. During the long exposure, I used a small flashlight to illuminate the blossoms. I dusted a little light on each branch. It felt like painting.
This photo is available for sale here: Kwanzan cherry tree
Hi, I’m Charlotte! I’m a photographer in Reston, Virginia. I love hiking, running, and exploring the world with my husband and young son.