I can hardly believe how fast this year has gone by! Wasn’t I just complaining about the heat, the poor quality summer weather, and hoping we wouldn’t have any summer fires here in the BC Interior. Now I am bundling up in the cold, driving icy roads, and getting ready for Christmas and New Year’s Day parties. I bring up this subject every year, but I think it’s good to consider how to create lasting photographs of family and friends instead of unusable snapshots, and, all to frequently, will be discarded this holiday season.
There are so many opportunities for photography joining family and friends at all those year-end festive events, and many photographers’ dive in, digital camera in hands, happily filling memory cards with candid photos of friends. The act of picture taking has become so much fun, to rush over to take a picture of someone, look at the LCD, and then quickly slide back to show others those tiny images.
Photography for many people is more about the process of using the digital camera than it is about creating art or even documenting the party; it’s more about standing in front of people, taking lots of quick snapshots and using the camera than it is about making memorable photographs.
Most images made in this fashion never become anything more than space-taking files stored on computers that after quickly being looked at, laughed at, or smiled at, are tucked away with good intentions to be used in some fashion in the future, but after viewing them a time or two they loose their value because there are so many pictures and very few are good enough to give to others anyway.
How do we approach photography at the next party? Yes, we should continue to make candid photographs of people having fun, but, perhaps, we also should think about making pictures that tell a story, capture an exciting moment, and importantly, flatter your subjects. Most people don’t mind seeing a picture of themselves being silly or having fun, but they don’t like pictures that make them look stupid or unattractive.
My approach is to begin by taking a moment to look at the room in which I intend to make photographs, and then, as soon as I get a chance, I make a couple of test shots with longer shutter speeds so that I can include some ambient light when I make exposures using just the on-camera flash, and not end up with brightly lit faces surrounded by a black environment.
I suggest taking a few group shots with two or three people. Get them to squeeze together and compose the shot tightly, including only a little background or foreground. Don’t shoot fast, brace yourself, and select a shutter speed that includes the ambient light, even as low as 1/60th of a second.
Shutter speeds less than of 1/30th of a second won’t work for children playing in the snow during the day because moving subjects will be blurry, but with limited lighting moving subjects will only be exposed when the flash goes off.
Lighting everything with complicated studio equipment would be great, but that would ruin the party for me and everyone else. It would be more about the photography then about the fun and festivities. So I manage this by using an on-camera flash and make adjustments as I go. I want to join in on the fun, not act like a photojournalist.
Family and friends don’t mind having their pictures taken as long as it’s enjoyable and I want pictures that show them having a good time. So, along with those quick candids I make posed portraits with smiling faces, and if I select some pictures to give away later I want people to like them enough to honestly thank me.
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