I'm here to talk to you about getting INTO your photos; whether it's with your family, your kids, a special event like an engagement, or just every day moments. While it is wonderful to be able to hire a professional with the proper equipment and know-how for your special once-a-year (or once-in-a-lifetime) occasions - what about all the days in between?
As a professional photographer I ADORE doing engagement sessions and, though we were blessed to have a fellow photographer do photos for us, I still wanted to try my hand at doing them myself. I have to admit, I was really happy with the final result. Doing your own photos takes some preparation, a bit of know-how and a lot of patience but there is no reason why you can't have beautiful, crisp, well-compositioned shots of you and your loved ones! Now I must preface this by saying - there are a dozen ways to approach this but I'm going to give my own personal tried-and-true tips for getting a great shot.
Equipment you will need: A basic SLR camera with a remote and a tripod.
You can use the self-timer on your camera but a remote is much easier to work with. Remotes are inexpensive and, if you are committed to inserting yourself into photos, they are well worth the investment. Get a wireless remote with a 2 second delay button so you have time to hide the remote before the shutter clicks!
First, pick your location and determine the right time of day for optimum light. For the purpose of this tutorial we are going to focus on outdoor locations. The first rays of sunlight in the morning and the last of the day are the easiest to work with and the most flattering. Depending on where you live you might get early morning or late afternoon clouds that will give a totally different quality of light to your images. Take the time to notice the sunlight at different times of the day and determine what will add to the overall affect you are trying to achieve. I wanted the golden warmth of the late day Arizona sun for these images. The light was glinting off the clovers in this field creating an image that looks more like a painting that a photo. Remember that your background matters but light matters more! If you find a beautiful tree that you want to stand in front of but the sun will be straight in your face...find another tree.
Second, set up your tripod and camera. Ideally you will have an understanding of manual exposure so that you can set your shutter speed, aperture and ISO for the ideal result. If not, set your camera to Program mode ("P" on the dial at the top of most cameras) and the camera will adjust the exposure automatically when you focus on the area where you will be sitting or standing. I recommend using Program mode as opposed to fully Automatic to avoid unplanned pop-up flash, but feel free to try different settings. I always shoot in Manual mode, for the image above I set the shutter speed to 1/200 in order to bring down the ambient light and allow the beautiful background colors to pop, I set the aperture at f/4.5 to give just enough soft detail to the background and had an ISO of 100 to avoid any grain or noise in the image. I used a small flash on a light stand to the right of the camera diffused with a shoot-thru umbrella to add a pop of light to our faces since we were backlit in this position (meaning that the sun was at our backs). Flash is certainly not mandatory, but in this type of setting it allows YOU to be the brightest area of the image without blowing out the background.
Third, set your focus. This is absolutely the most important piece of the puzzle. To ensure you get the absolute sharpest focus I suggest putting your camera into manual focus mode. You will need something (or someone) in the approximate spot you will be in for the photo so that you have something to focus on. In this situation I had Chris get into position, focused tightly on his eyes, threatened his life if he moved and jumped into the shot...ROMANTIC ;)
Turn your camera to the wireless remote mode or set the self-timer and then align yourself on the same focal plane as whatever (or whomever) you set the focus on. An easy way to understand "focal plane" is if you imagine pushing your face up against a window, that window is the focal plane and whatever you want to be in focus needs to be at approximately the same distance from the glass. If your face is in front or behind of where you focused the camera, you will most likely end up blurry.
Now is the fun part - relax, smile and have fun! Make sure you periodically check your images on the back of your camera to ensure you haven't moved off the focal plane or you will end up with blurry images. Take a LOT of photos and make sure you spend a few moments really scrutinizing them before you move on. I took several images where the remote was clearly visible in my hand, thankfully I had plenty of images to pick from.
I hope this encourages you to get into more photos and have fun with your camera. Photos taken with your phone will memorialize an event but are certainly not going to be framed over your fireplace for years to come. Beautiful photographs preserve memories and require a bit of thought and effort. Your family deserves it and you deserve it.