Take better pictures of your family...

This is real life.

There is something you all need to know. Nobody loves the hundreds of photos you have on your phone of your kids grimacing out the word “cheese”. Even less so the ones with the ‘cute’ snapchat filter on that makes them look like some kind of weird pixie cat. While we’re here, I’m just going to throw it out there that with that filter on, you look ridiculous too.

So there it is – I’m just telling you what you already know. And if you didn’t… you do now.

Here is how you fix it.

Taking pictures of your family, whether it be your kids or your Grandma, or you sister or your dog, should not be just about how pretty it looks. It should not be about how to manipulate them into looking like creatures from another planet. Family photography should be about capturing the moment. Immortalising snippets of your life so that you can go back and remember what it was like, for real, when the kids have grown up and flown the nest. With all the incredible mobile phones and point-and-click cameras available on the market, there should be no excuse for taking naff, meaningless photos.

Here are a few ways to improve yours:

Make sure there is enough light.

Taking photos outside, at daytime, should mean that you get crisp, clear, bright images. You will notice that the photos you take in the sunshine are always the sharpest ones right? Light is important. If you don’t have enough, switch on your flash or turn on some lamps/lights. If you don’t you risk your pics being blurry.

Focus!

It might seem obvious, but try and take the time to focus your images. On a phone, this usually means tapping on the area of the image you want to be sharp, before you take the photo. With most cameras, it means holding the shutter button down halfway to focus and then pressing it down all the way to take the picture. A lot of the modern cameraphones (such as the iPhone X) have some incredible new features, including depth of field. This means that you can focus on your subject and choose how blurry you want the background to be. Very cool for a phone.

Compose.

Think about the scene. Is there a lamppost sticking out of the top of his head? Is the top of her head cut off? Where have his feet gone?! Make sure that you have everything you want to photograph INSIDE the frame. Equally, think about what might be in the frame that you might not want in there. (What a lovely photo of your little boy! Shame the dude in the background is knuckle deep up his nostril, digging out a booger).

DON’T say ‘Cheese’!

This will NEVER get you a natural smile. Try making silly noises, making a joke, distracting or getting them to say a rude/silly word, and then take the picture when they’re laughing afterwards. It’s all about natural smiles.

Don’t get frustrated.

Let’s face it, children especially can be sooooo frustrating when you are trying to get a good photo of them. But getting ratty will not get you natural smiles. Walk away and try again later or get someone else to take the pic.

Capture the natural.

The absolute best photos of life are taken when no-one realises you are doing it. Observe, appreciate and document what happens in real life but try not to orchestrate. At the end of the day, you want to look back at these photos and remember exactly how it used to be. When your children have all grown up and flown the nest, you WILL go back over old photos. How sad would it be if all you had was photos of you and your children looking NOTHING like yourselves but highly resembling something somewhere between a cat and a Pokémon.

Answer: It would be tragic.

Last of all, if you really want some good photos of your family, whether it be portraits or lifestyle, pay to have a professional do them for you. It is one of the soundest investments you will ever make. Whether it’s documentary style or a studio shoot, you will never, ever regret having them done and on your wall.


The 'Rock God' Shoot

The gear

This little look was created in my cabin studio in a space no bigger than about 4×4 metres. I used:

  • 2 x Godox TT600 speedlights with in-built wireless transmitters
  • 1 x Godox X System receiver
  • 2 x basic light-stands
  • Magmod Sphere
  • Magmod creative gel kit
  • Nikon D810
  • Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8
  • Atmosphere In A Can (‘Canned Fog’)

Why this? Why now?

As a natural light photographer, working with flash and gels has not been something I’ve dabbled with much before.

So I did what I usually do when something evades me, I went and got some training from some industry leaders and went to town trying to make it work.

The first thing I will say is that in the 12 or so years I’ve been taking pictures, I realised that I have NEVER shot for me. I always have clients needs in mind, so am fairly limited in what I can create for them. I mean, not everyone wants to be photographed in a steampunk dress with crazy hair, holding a chicken do they?! (Unless you do… in which case, get in touch NOW).

Here is a little run down on what I did to create our ‘Rock God’ look…

This shot was set up with a basic light stand set about two feet behind Henry on both the left, and the right of him. A speedlite was connected to the top of each stand and pointing inwards towards him. Each speedlite had a different coloured gel on, in this case, one was pink and one was blue. This was shot at 70mm with the ISO set at 100, the aperture at f/14 and the shutter speed at 1/250 of a second. I had each speedlite set somewhere between 1/8th and 1/16th of power. To add to the image I had my assistant spray some canned fog across into the mid-point between the two speedlites, behind Henry.

What worked?

We were all pretty pleased with this result as it gave Henry quite a nice rim light on each side and in contrasting colours. The fog was lit up nicely on either side too providing a really nice, textured backdrop.

What could have been improved?

Looking at it now, I wish that I had added a neutral key light at the front to illuminate Henry’s face a little and the front of the guitar, including where his hands are placed. I would not have used the Magmod Spheres on both of the speedlites either as I would have achieved a wonderful flare from each of the lights if I hadn’t. As a result of this oversight, I have had to crop out the brightest point of light on each side as you can clearly see the Spheres in place on either side.

This image was shot at 70mm, at an ISO of 100, a shutter speed of 1/250 and the aperture at f/14. Exactly the same as the last one. The only thing we changed here was the positioning of the light. I left the speedlite with the blue gel where it was, slightly behind and to the left of Henry. Then I moved the pink one around to the front, in the opposite position to the one behind Henry. This was then used as the key light and illuminated Henry from an angle.

What worked?

Again, we really liked this one, especially the contrast of colours against one another. It was also nice to see Henry’s face and what he is doing here. It gives quite a nice ‘live gig’ feel which was the main aim of this shoot.

What could have been improved?

If I’d had another TT600, I may have one where the pink one was originally, again with a blue gel so that Henry had a rim light on both sides of him. This would have created some much needed separation between his arm, the neck and head of the guitar and the background. I would have also maybe increased the power of the key (pink) light or decreased the power of the rim light. This would have meant the focus would have been more on Henry and his guitar.

This image was shot at 50mm as I wanted to fit Henry completely into the frame. The ISO remains at 100, the aperture has been changed to f/10 here so that the backdrop is slightly more visible but the shutter speed remains at 1/250 of a second.

To make things even more simple, I ditched one of the speedlites and placed the remaining one (complete with blue gel) directly behind Henry, about halfway up his back and facing him.

What worked?

Gladly, most of it! I was deliberately aiming for a silhouette style image and this is what I got. It has a wonderful gig poster feel to it which works perfectly in this context.

What could have been improved?

Having blown this up and inspected it, I can notice that the light behind Henry has illuminated his ears so I would have covered the back of his ears with dark electrical tape to prevent this (yep, apparently that’s a ‘thing’ in the world of studio photography)!. Also, there is a very small amount of light reflecting from the ceiling onto his forehead and shoes so I may have had to use flags to prevent this. The only other thing is that I had used a muslin backdrop which had fallen down onto the smooth wooden flooring and had to ‘clean’ this up in PhotoShop. I would have perhaps used an all-in-one solution to prevent this.

Exactly the same as the silhouette image, this was shot at 50mm to fit Henry entirely into the frame. The ISO was set at 100, the aperture at f/10 for a little more background detail and a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. The speedlite with the blue gel was left exactly where it was, behind Henry and about halfway up his back. The ‘ditched’ speedlite was brought back into play, extended up quite a bit higher and placed to my right, facing Henry at about a 45 degree angle. The gel was taken off so that a neutral/warm light illuminated Henry from the front through the Sphere. A grid was added to prevent the spill of light from affecting anything other than Henry.

What worked?

This was, by far, my absolute favourite image of the set. It is almost perfect (in my eyes and wearing my ‘Mummy Goggles’ of course). The pose, the expression on Henry’s face, the colours and the composition just work for me and I’m really proud of it. It’s one that has already been printed, ready to frame for the wall.

What could have been improved?

There are only two things that I think I would have changed on this image. The first is that I think I would have swapped out the Magmod Sphere on the key light for a larger modifier, perhaps even a strip box to illuminated Henry from his head down to at least the bottom of the guitar.

The second, and probably most irritating oversight being that I wish I had plugged the bloody guitar in.  (!!?#@!!)

Still, we live and learn right?


Katie & James

Saturday 26th January 2019 - St. Peter's Brewery

Katie and James are two of the most beautiful people I have ever met, not only that, but they are my friends. I was lucky enough to be asked to capture their special day for them and I am so happy that I got the opportunity.

Getting ready…

Katie and her bridesmaids got ready at home and Katie had her make-up done by her niece, up-and-coming make-up artist, Aimee Gibbs. Mum made bacon sarnies for everyone (once Katie’s brother got to grips with the new grill), and the vibe was chilled and relaxed. Katie and James’ daughter Eloise spent the morning excitedly showing me her ‘wedding dress’ and swishing and twirling in it until she was dizzy.

The venue…

The ceremony took place at St. Peter’s Brewery in Bungay, an incredible building that dates back as far as 1280 and was extended in 1539 using ‘architectural salvage’ from Flixton Priory. Not only that, but they also brew incredible beer.

The place was absolutely perfect, from the dark wood panelling, to the giant fireplaces and the London style pub. Katie and James had a small reveal prior to the ceremony where James saw that Katie was actually wearing a proper wedding dress, something that was not at all planned and of which James had no idea. It got emotional.

The ceremony…

Katie was given away by her father in the ceremony room and the rings were delivered by their son Jensen. Katie’s bridesmaids consisted of her nieces Aimee and Poppy, sister Susie, best friend Jenna and daughter, Eloise.

All in all, the day was incredible. The laughter, the tears, the absolute joy of it all was just amazing to be part of. Plus, the gargantuan pork pie and cheese wheel wedding cake was possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen at a wedding.

Mr & Mrs Anderson-Cousins; you guys rock.


Autumn Adventures

And about time too...

I love the autumn. Nothing is more beautiful than the warm colours of this season and it makes the perfect backdrop for family photos. I finally managed to get my kids and their cousins to Reydon Woods in Suffolk and captured them den-building and having fun amongst the trees. The kids absolutely loved it, and we managed to get some lovely images in the process.

Win, win.


Surf's Up with Suffolk Secrets!

Take to the waves...

Everyone loves spending time at the seaside. Especially in the hot, Summer months when they can paddle, swim and frolic around in the water with their families. But how many of us actually know what to do if we were to get into trouble?

Local holiday letting agency Suffolk Secrets started something incredible last Summer. They joined forces with the Waveney Surf Life Saving Club to bring about a series of free ‘Junior Lifeguard Camps’ for children aged 7-14.

These one and a half hour fun sessions took place on Lowestoft and Southwold beach and are based on the Surf Life Saving GB Surf Cadet programme, providing the children with the tools and knowledge to be safe in and by the sea.

Each session saw the children paddling on rescue boards and body surfing, while providing education about rip currents, waves and other dangers. The children were also able to play fast-paced and exciting beach games, both in the water and on the sand.

Children who took part received a goody bag and a certificate and were visited by the RNLI‘s ‘Stormy Stan’.

What an incredible event it was too! The kids absolutely loved every second of it and it gave them such invaluable skills which would last them a lifetime.

All we want to know now is where we sign up for this year’s sessions!