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Tag: photography tips

How to Take Great Photos at Family Events While Still Enjoying the Party

Taking a DSLR Photo

If you’re often too focused taking photos and then forget to enjoy the activity, I can entirely relate. So I’ve got three ways to help you have your cake and eat it too.

So you’ve decided to take on the responsibility of documenting your family get-together with your camera. Well, that decision can really get in the way of your own enjoyment. If you’re like me, you usually show up with a predetermined ‘shot list’ that you absolutely have to get. And I’ve sometimes had to remind myself to be more mindful of the moment and actually pay attention to ‘experiencing’ my family affair as opposed to ‘covering’ it.

To do that, I feel it usually comes down to staying emotionally connected to the action.

Here are three ways to help ensure that happens:

1. Snap Your Shots Early
I find the longer you wait to begin taking photos, the less likely it is that you’ll get the shots you really want, and you’ll quickly begin to stress. So whenever you see a natural moment, you’ve got to go for it. You just can’t wait and hope that another opportunity will magically appear later on.

I used to feel that the appropriate time to ask folks to say “cheese,” or gather everyone together for a group family photo was towards the end of the party.

While that may make sense from a social etiquette perspective, you may find any number of variables that foil your plan. Some people may have already left. Others may be tired and a little cranky. And if you do actually get to take the shot, it had better be perfect with nobody’s eye mid-blink, because there will be no second chances for you.
(If you orchestrate the shot earlier, then there’s still time for a second attempt later on.)

2. Take Lots of Group Selfies
You’ve got to pick the right moment, because suggesting that a ‘conversation pod’ suddenly join you for a group selfie will likely halt things. But once you’ve successfully sold the idea, it can be a really fun group activity, especially if you’ve got to jam a bunch of people into the shot. Yes, it will be entirely imperfect, but the often absurd attempt to squeeze everyone together to fit in the frame is usually a whole lot of fun. I highly recommend trying it, and the resulting goofy shots will pleasantly surprise you.

3. Set a Time Limit
This is where you draw your own line in the sand to ensure that you also get to fully participate in the event. I like to spend 20-30 minutes or so walking about the room to get the shots I want. I quickly review what I’ve got, and then I put my camera or iPhone away.

If another photo opportunity spontaneously self generates, yes, of course you can still snap it. But the important point is you’re not putting any more pressure on yourself to continue on as the family photographer after your self-imposed time limit.

It’s a Balancing Act
Where’s the value in documenting your family event if you don’t really experience it yourself? Sure, you may be contributing to the greater good, but at what cost?

So, go get the photos you want, and don’t forget to add to the life of the party.

Find your balance and enjoy!
Thanksgiving Dinner


Two Reasons Why You’re Failing as the Family Photographer

It’s not difficult to snap a picture. In fact, it’s never been easier. But if you don’t follow a photo library management plan, you’ll quickly be in a world of hurt. I’ve got seven steps that should help make your day…

No matter how hard I try, I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle as the family photographer. Sound familiar? The good news is you’re probably doing just fine taking the pictures.
(I snap a few winners here and there.)

The problem is what comes after…

Sure, you can quickly flip a photo or two out to your world from your smartphone, but if you’re like me, I like to bring my photos home for review, grading and improvements.

I have a five-point numbering system when I go through my pictures in
Adobe Lightroom:

5 = Great
4 = Good
3 = Okay
2 = Not very good
1 = Terrible

I immediately throw the 1’s and 2’s into the trash, because they’re the stinkers. But then I hold onto everything else. But after years of following this practice, I’ve discovered a severe flaw.

Only Keep Your Best Photos
My plan has allowed me to retain pictures that I just don’t need. More importantly, the sheer mass of accumulating photos clogs up my computer’s hard drive, and they simply take too long to catalog.

The 5’s are the only ones I should be focusing on.
(Sometimes, I also highlight a few of the 5’s as ‘extra special’ by making them a ‘pick.’)

If I’ve nailed the shot as a 5, why would I need to save a version of it as a 3 or 4?

New rule:
When you’re done cataloging all of your 5’s, go through everything else with the intent of deleting them. All of them!

Question why you need to save your 3’s and 4’s.

There are No Shortcuts
For me, the underlying problem in my faulty photo management process is committing enough time to do the job right.

That means taking the time to correctly ID your 5’s on the first round of review.

And at the back end, you’ve got to do the ‘clean up’ phase and not leave around a lot of useless 3’s and 4’s you’ll never use again.

Because years will go by, and you’ll realize you’re holding onto way too many pictures.
(Like thousands of them)

Sure, I know I’m a big supporter of taking ‘multiple’ shots of a particular moment to ensure you actually get what you want. But that means you need to choose the best one and then delete everything else!

You Must Find the Time
Second new rule:
This all takes discipline and a daily commitment of thirty minutes of digital photo management.

I know that can be hard to fit in to a busy schedule. So I try to carve out the time first thing after I wake up in the morning with my cup of Joe.
(Yes, you probably need to set your alarm earlier to generate these precious minutes. I do.)

Without this regimen, your system will break down in a number of ways:

  • If you don’t share your photos quickly, their value drops off over time.
    (Who wants to see last year’s photos? Your family and friends want yesterday’s pictures!)
  • Your computer’s hard drive will fill up. Or you’ll have to shell out for cloud storage.
  • You’re never going to create those photo books, as that’s usually the last step in a photo organization plan.

Keep It Simple
I just finished up a few days of ‘staycation’ expecting I would be able to catch up on all of this. Guess what?
Not possible.

If you’re months behind, the only solution is to chip away it.

Thirty minutes.
Every day.

Delete all of your 3’s and most of your 4’s.

Remember, you only need a handful of pictures to tell a story.
Less is more.

You’ve just got to take the time to figure out which ones they are…


Seven Steps to Success
So let’s review my updated rules for effective digital photo library management:

  1. Don’t let your pictures languish on your camera’s memory card or computer.
  2. Stop grading a group of photos on a five-point scale. Find your 5’s. And that’s it. Really everything else should be deleted.
  3. Proceed with the ‘tweaking phase’ to improve your remaining ‘best photos.’
    (Cropping, color balance, exposure)
  4. Then, go find the four or five best 5’s. Those are your ‘uber 5’s.’ Share those. Family and friends rarely want to see more.
  5. Email your photos to your family and friends within the week!
  6. Don’t forget to copy your 5’s into the appropriate ‘theme’ albums or collections you’ve set up.
  7. Commit half an hour every day to your life-long photo management project as the family photographer.

Thirty minutes.
Every day.
Promise me.

Now, promise yourself.

It’s not a snap, but it’s the answer.

The Power of a Video Freeze Frame

Today’s story spans generations and species. And it all begins with a faulty memory card in my camera as I record an important video moment that foretells the arrival of our new kitten.

The memory card in my Panasonic LX10 camera blew it big time. This kind of problem has only happened one other time for me, and that was many years ago. But sometimes memory cards go bad and don’t correctly record your photo or video file.

And of course, fate requires those exasperating moments to occur when something really special happens… yes, a magic moment.
(You know, like when aliens from Mars land in front of your house looking for directions.)

An 18-Frame Conundrum
I missed this particular magic moment recording a video, which ended up having an inexplicable visual glitch every second or so.
(Actually, every 18 frames)

Here’s an example of the glitch.





The videos and photos recorded immediately after were fine. So this appeared to be a one-off problem. Nevertheless, I retired the SDXC card the next day and popped in a new one.
(I didn’t even want to consider the possibility that the culprit
was my still new Panasonic camera.)

Welcome Home, Kitty
And what exactly was this particular event? It was when my wife and I revealed to our seven-year old son that we were getting a kitten, something he’d been wanting for quite some time.

We decided not to simply tell him or reveal the cat like in a magic act.
(No, we would go to the animal shelter together to adopt our kitten.)

Instead, we brought him into the room upstairs where she’d be hanging out during her early days with us. And I had staged that room with all of the cat paraphernalia you usually need… water and food bowls, litter box, cat toys, scratching post, and a cozy bed puff.
(Thank you, Petco.)

I hoped it would be one of those Aha moments where the realization bathed over our son. I wanted to capture that happiness for posterity.

And that’s exactly what happened. It was priceless. He was so psyched. The video was amazing. Except that it wasn’t…

Keep It in Perspective
You might be thinking that this isn’t such a big deal. It’s just one of many great “moments” in a child’s life. There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of others.
(It’s not like you’re recording your own “Truman Show.”)

As a parent, you’re going to miss some along the way. Sometimes due to user error… Other times because your technology fails you.

Years from now, I know not having this video isn’t going to matter.
…I’ve already got videos of the new team in action.
(A boy and his cat)

And you move on.

The 18-Frame Solution
But for some reason I couldn’t totally let go of this.

Was the faulty video file a total loss?
Well, not necessarily…

Sure, you could still make out what happens. But it’s jarring to watch. So it’s value is limited.

But if the video glitches every 18 frames, that means there are plenty of good frames of video remaining.

Frames that could make for a good photo.

What about extracting some of those frames and using them as photos?

So I gave it a try…

How to Grab a Frame from Video
I had shot the video in 1080HD… not as high res as the photos my camera generates.
Maybe that’s another reason to start recording videos in 4K.
(Wasn’t that why I said I bought this camera over the Canon G7 X Mark II?)

There are a few ways to grab a frame off of your video file on your Mac.

  • You can do it with Final Cut Pro X or iMovie.
  • Or using QuickTime, first go to your desired frame and then to copy it… select the video window portion on your desktop with Apple/Shift/4. That creates a PNG file, which you can easily convert to a JPG or TIFF.

(Quite easily done)

Can Your Camera Do This?
Happily, my Panasonic LX10 and its new memory card have been doing fine over the past month. So I feel comfortable that the original phantom glitch is behind me, and I don’t have to worry about grabbing video frames as a back up plan.

That said, I’m not the first one to stumble upon this idea. In fact, some cameras (like my LX10) include the capability to natively generate frame grabs when you go back and review a video in-camera.

A Video Freeze Can Create a Great Portrait
Surprisingly, I’ve just realized that this technique can be quite useful when trying to capture a more natural portrait of someone who has a difficult time posing for the camera.

Sure, it’s hard to choose a frame when someone’s talking, but the trick is to grab a freeze immediately after a sentence. If it’s also at the end of a complete thought, there’s usually a second of a pause to select from.

Case in point… my eighty-four-year-old father.
He’s not one these days to happily pull off a Cary Grant smile.
(It’s usually more like a Clint Eastwood mug during his Dirty Harry days.)

So I put my new tech technique to work…
I pulled out a frame from a video I just shot of my father proudly talking about his 1962 Red MG.





I think he’s as proud of that car today as ever, and it shows!

Happy Twist of Fate
Isn’t it interesting to see how one frustrating moment of tech failure can open up a whole new world of opportunity?

Sometimes you’ve just got to go with it and see where it all takes you…
(Is there another choice?)

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