Ok, so one (or maybe two) final entries involving photo tips, then I’ll shut up about it already.
If you take a good look at the photos I consider my favorites, almost all of them were taken outside. The reason they are usually nicer than indoor photos is because they utilize “natural” light, as opposed to the bright, harsh light from the camera flash. You can get good natural light indoors, if you take pictures near a (preferably north-facing window) but most of my good shots are taken outdoors, probably because this house only has one window on the entire north side of the house what is up with that, it's almost as ridiculous as the fact it was built without any linen, sheet, or towel closets who in their right mind designs a house without linen, sheet, or towel closets, but I’ve beat that dead horse long enough and need to just Let. It. Go.
Outdoor light is at its most flattering in the hour or two after sun up, and the hour or two before sunrise. The light from the sun during mid-day is often too harsh and causes glare and shadows, but the warm light in the morning or evening casts a soft, gentle glow and is usually very complimentary to your subject. I recently purchased an external flash to use with indoor portraits, which can be tilted and angled to bring more light indoors, and it does help. But until I’m ready to pony up for higher-quality studio lights, my best bet is going outside with the kids after dinner. Preferably on a clear evening, and preferably on a night they haven’t spilled dinner all down the front of their shirts.
And, photos taken outdoors usually have the nicest backgrounds. Now, we can’t all live on a working cattle ranch like Pioneer Woman (seriously, if you haven’t checked out her site, and beautiful photos yet, then there’s no hope for you) with oodles and oodles of NATURE and fabulous photo ops surrounding us, but outdoor photos are still better. Find a park, or a corner of your backyard, it doesn’t matter. Watch out that your subject isn’t standing in too much shade; and get your subject placed at an angle from the early morning or early evening sun, so it lights up the side of their face. If they face the sun, they’ll squint. If it is shining behind them, their face will be back-lit and dark. Get the light coming from the side, and you’ll be fine.
Also, pay attention to what will be in the background of your pictures. You don’t want tree branches or a stop sign coming out of your subject’s head like horns. One of my favorite photos of Kellen has our trash can sitting at the curb in the background…. If I had angled myself differently, I could have avoided that. Make sure there’s not another person walking past in the background, etc. Try to dress your subject in a solid-colored shirt; patterns are distracting, especially obnoxious phrases and big-head cartoons like those kids from South Park or the Simpsons or whatever. Some of these situations can be corrected with a photo editing program; lots of them can be avoided just by paying attention in the first place.
There is a difference, in my opinion, between my favorite outdoor shots I’ve been able to get, and with the photos I take of my kids on Christmas morning opening presents, or eating birthday cake around the dining room table, or wrestling with the dog in the living room …. Those are snapshots. Taken indoors, with lousy lighting, and distracting background objects like sofa pillows and shoes on the floor and backpacks on the table. Although they are not as “pretty” as the outdoor shots, to me, they are equally as important because they document activities in our lives that are important to us.
And that’s my last point today …. Work hard to create good photo taking situations, but don’t hesitate to take pictures because something isn’t perfect. For every one good shot I get of my kids laughing or playing outside, I have dozens of them goofing off in their bedroom or classroom at school, or showing off an art project, or playing soccer in the house. Maybe those photos don’t make it into my Flickr photostream and onto this website as a touted “favorite”, but I love them just the same, because they are of the people I cherish, doing what we do in our every day life.
And isn’t *that* what makes a great photo?