mama (with a camera) monday: Part VII

It’s been 70 days since my last Mama (with a camera) Monday post. I figured I’d given you all so much information that you might need to take the summer off to practice. So nice of me right?

Did you buy that? Oh. Well then I’ll just confess that life with two kiddos home from school all summer and a business that didn’t slow down for one second kind of got away from me. Some things had to give and this thing was one of them. But I’m back now and I think I have a few good weeks left in me before I wrap this little series up. But first, let’s review the weeks prior with a little linkage:     

Fill the Frame

Show the Scene

Be Different

Taking the Faceless Shot

Think Offcenter

Catching the Light

My last post (in JUNE!) about Catching the Light seemed to be a hit. I talked there about how to know when your subject was sitting in “good light.” The first thing that I said was that the flash on your camera was NOT good light. It’s only there for two reasons. First, to stun babies and small children into submission and, second, to capture those priceless moments that absolutely, positively cannot be documented using only the light that’s available to you. We’ll talk about that last reason at the end of today’s post.

What I want to focus on for the bulk of this post is finding light and making it work in situations that seem less than ideal. Typically this is going to happen indoors. Most of the time when you’re outside you’re going to have plenty of light at your disposal. Not true inside. So let’s talk about how to get the best images anyway.

The reason light is so important to photography is because it directly impacts the shutter speed. And shutter speed is important because if it’s too slow your subject will end up blurry.

Allow me a brief moment for a technical interlude.

Every camera (film or digital) has a shutter that opens and closes to expose your image. In order for the image to be made properly a certain amount of light has to get through the shutter and onto the sensor. If there is ample light in the scene then the shutter can open quickly, flood the sensor with light, and then close in a fraction of a second. If there isn’t ample light in the scene the sensor still needs the same amount of light to expose the image properly. So instead of opening and shutting quickly, it opens…and stays open…until it has the light it needs and then it closes again. Meanwhile your subject is moving. Your hands are moving. You’re breathing. And all of that is being recorded into your image as the shutter is open. This creates motion blur. And you want to avoid it at all cost. (Unless, of course, you know what you’re doing and your use of motion blur is an artistic choice.)

The easiest thing an amateur photographer can do to avoid motion blur is to simply increase the available light in the scene. More light = faster shutter speed, remember? And faster shutter speed = crisper images. In list format, here are some easy ways to add more light to your scene and reduce motion blur:

Turn on the lights. It’s a no-brainer, right? Walk around and turn on every lamp and light in the room AND the adjoining rooms. It makes a difference. Then, if your camera allows it, adjust your white balance preset to the little lightbulb setting (telling it to adjust your color accordingly now that the light in your scene is a warm, artificial light). Check out your camera’s manual for more on how to do this.

–  Pull back the curtains. Throw open the doors. If it’s daytime and you’re indoors you want to use every single ounce of light available to you. Pull the blinds all the way up and move curtains so that they’re completely out of the way of the windows.

Move your subject closer to the light source. Don’t be afraid to coax your subject closer to the windows or lamps. Have them turn their face so that it’s toward the light source. Remember when we talked about looking for catchlights? Now is the time to use that info. Now I don’t generally advocate saying “Hey kids! Look this way so I can take your picture while you do whatever it is that you’re doing!” Try that and you’ll get eyerolls at best. Instead just gently ask them to move their toys/activity/game/snack to the spot you’d like them to be…and don’t tell them why. I like to keep my kiddos in the dark about why I’m moving them to the light. Hee hee.

Put yourself between the light source and the subject. This ensures that if they ever do choose to look at you they’ll also be facing the light.

Paint your walls white. Okay, that might sound drastic but it will seriously increase the amount of light you have available for photographs because the light will be reflected off of every wall and ceiling. It’s the sole reaosn I have a white hallway.

Brace yourself and hold your breath. While this isn’t a tip for increasing light in a scene it is a tip for decreasing motion blur. When your shutter speed is slower every little movement impacts the final image. And that includes the things you do. So limit your movement as you take the shot by bracing your body against a steady surface — lean against a wall, prop elbows on a table, or spread your legs into a sturdy tripod stance. Then hold your breath when you push the shutter button. You may look ridiculous but at least your image won’t. 😉

Finally, lets talk about how to know when you just don’t have enough light to make a non-flash shot work. A good rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should be at least as fast as the length of your lens. Which means that if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens you should make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/60th of a second (1/50th isn’t an actual “stop” on your camera). If you’re shooting with a point and shoot camera then 1/60th should be sufficient for you as well. If your camera displays this information for you, great! Use it! If not, you may notice a shaky little camera icon that appears and blinks on your screen when you don’t have enough light. Pay attention to that. Try the tricks I mentioned and if it’s still showing up, take the image and review it on your viewfinder. If it looks fine to you, proceed. If not, turn on the flash.

Is your on-camera flash ideal? No. But does it beat having a blurry, unrecognizable image of an important once-in-a-lifetime event like, say, your daughter’s first steps. Absolutely.

Now scram. Get out of here you little lighthunters. Find some good light and make use of it already!

Julie Hi Erin
Thanks for all your great tips! Just wondering what is your favorite lens to use indoors and your fave to use outdoors?
Thanks Jules

Shauna I have learned so much from your little lessons. Thanks for taking the time to share!

Imene Thank you so much for sharing. So glad I found your website!!

Amanda Your Mama (with a camera) posts are fabulous! Your tips and ideas are amazing, and you write with such a fun and entertaining tone. Since I know you have so much free time *wink* you really should consider writing a book for newbies getting into photography. I know it would be a hit!

Colleen Sheehy Thanks for the good stuff. I’m off to read the first posts in this series. :)

Brandi Hi Erin – I’m so happy to have found your blog via Karen Russell. I’m really enjoying your blog and am delighted with your Mama (with a camera) Monday posts!

jennifer Ecker Wow Erin, so much info for someone like me who can’t get enough. Thank you so much!!

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ten on tuesday. » The PigBear […] 4. Yesterday I finally added a new Mama (with a camera) Monday post on my business blog. Be sure to check it out. […]

Mama With a Camera… | Cupcakes and Commentary […] been checking Erin Cobb’s photography blog every couple days to see if she had made a new Mama with a Camera post. I was especially interested in this post as it discussed taking pictures inside without using the […]

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