Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blissdom 2012 Recap: Shoot Like A Woman

We're back to Blissdom recaps! I talked already about how to grow your Facebook fan page, how to edit your writing, and blogging with legal confidence. The next few days will be a focus on photography sessions.

The first photography session I attended was "Shoot Like A Woman" with Me Ra Koh. This is part 2 of the sessions, as I somehow missed that there was a difference between session 1 and session 2 since the descriptions were identical. Oops! Fortunately, the content stands on its own, and there were so many great tips Me Ra (and her husband Brian) shared.

Filling the frame
For some of us, composition comes really naturally and easy and some of us, it's not so straightforward and easy.

Brian and Me Ra both take eclectic photos, but they're very different. When they started doing photography, Brian would take his pictures they would flip right through them. They would stop and look at Me Ra's. He knew how to get the exposure right, but she knew how to make them interesting. He would look at the photos he took that brides like and then find photos that he liked from wedding magazines that were similar to what he took already. He chose to be good at what he was good at already rather than trying to be good at everything.

He would first take the photo - the people would be in the center of the photo with white space around it. It's more interesting when they're off center. It's more interesting to capture something when it's happening, even if it's a minimal part of it - not capturing all the faces or the bodies or the "traditional" image but something that still captures the passion and emotion in the moment.

He has great photos of his kids playing in the sand and beach but you can't tell what beach it is - in California or in the backyard, etc. When in Thailand, he needed to take photos that show somehow that they were taken in Thailand. You can learn to be creative, which is something he figured out. He tries to do scene setting shots when things are being set up (before the people are there - he's a wedding photographer).

When he first started taking photos, he would be driving home and looking at photos they both like and finding settings they liked so they could take the same photograph. Then there was a shift - especially late at night - when he was looking at websites of other people's photos and shifted to “I want to take that photo.” He found a couple photographers whose work he liked and wanted to figure out what that photographer was feeling when he took the photo. How did they know it was going to be one that when people were flipping through photos, they'd stop on that one? He would remember those photos and try to capture that same kind of stuff until it was a muscle memory. He eventually started growing into it.

When he was in Thailand, he would back up and take a photo that would show that they were in Thailand. He would take the photos he was good at, then he'd practice with the things he wasn't so good at. He wanted to capture their experience in Thailand, but it didn't come naturally. They had to force themselves to see the wider picture. He noticed that as he started copying the work of photographers he admired and doing what they did, he would start to feel that this would make for a good photograph (or not).

It's not just talent; it's skill that goes with photography. Every year they choose something to work on. One year, it was color, and they focused on taking photos that showed color well because there is just so much color out there that we see. He did wide angle one year. To encourage you that you naturally shoot one way, don't limit yourself.

Rule of Thirds
One thing that she's thinking of a lot of times is the rule of thirds. Basically, it’s splitting your frame into thirds. Every third has to accentuate the story you're trying to tell. If it doesn't, frame it out and get tighter. There is a photo showing thirds going vertically - everything in the frame points to the woman in the upper left corner. Having kids off centered to the low right, everything else in the photo leads to those children and draws your eyes there. In that, what is the setting that is around people and how does this add to the story and the wonder and the curiosity that is created by the setting.

Me Ra really wants to see the emotions that children were thinking and feeling at the time to show that they got through things once - that they were scared and nervous and worried, and they made it. Sometimes, she'll have a big wide setting around the kids that helps show how small they are in the world. How can you fill the frame to show how small and innocent you were at this time in your life. When you're taking photos, think about how your eye travels when you're looking at photos. We read left to right. When looking at photos, we sort of swirl around and bring ourselves to a central point. Take that obvious shot of your photo with the subject in the center. Once you take that shot, you can take a look at what else you can do.

When thinking about shooting like a woman, thinking about the story is so key. Never say cheese. Photos capture the story, and it's crazy that we don't tell a story by making them pose. As women, we intuitively know the story even when we don't consciously focus on it. When you take the natural shot that tells the story, it's much more powerful. It's something that you'll look back on more than the posed photos. What is the story that your subject wants you to have them tell you? The camera is so stinking powerful.

Universally, every time you hold that camera and point it at them. People always believe that you are going to capture the worst of them. Look at where your weight is in photos - it's on the back foot. When your weight is on your front foot, it slenderizes you and makes your neck look good. When they think you're only going to show the worst and your photos show them that their spirit is the best and that you want to capture it, it's powerful.

For example, think about the time when babies' legs are chunkiest and cutest. They aren't standing, so you have someone hold them up - mom wears a black dress on a black backdrop. Baby is held under the armpits on a random table. Frame the photo when you take it so you don't have to frame it and crop it later - take the baby feet and up to his waist. That’s a story.

Lots of times, male colleagues come in with shot lists, but we are so good as women at pulling out the bits and pieces that are about the people. Me Ra looks at how the woman looks at her husband and how she covers her mouth when she laughs and more. Those are the photos to take. Ask what the mom loves to do most with the baby - this is the story of their life right now, and for her they loved being in the bath and she started singing to the baby, and that's the story that she captured. The husband was crying because this is his family – and it wasn’t in his shot list.

How do we piece together the story that we're capturing, not just an object that we're trying to capture. Don't need people looking at the camera - it's about the connection between the people.

Ask a three year old where they should sit for the photo. Their parents will never like it. And that's going to make a photo telling the story of the family. Tell the parents to just go with it because this is hilarious and tells the story of where they are. As the children grow up, they will become more socially aware and part of the family lives, but this is where they are as a family right now. Capturing real life is what makes the story.

This camera gives me the opportunity to give a child a voice. In this digital age, we're taking so many photos of our kids, and they feel somewhat invisible in that process. How can we give the children a voice and a platform to tell them that we see that they have a story and a voice and that we don't want to be anywhere else right now but there with them?

When we're done shooting, we want to hold them and love them and show them that we aren't just trying to take from them. We want them to feel like we're serving them and giving them a space in this world where people see them and they aren't invisible.

Choosing Our Shots
As women, we get to play and be random. We don't compartmentalize really well. If we've had a bad day, we'll bring that into a shoot. We can get ideas that we wouldn't necessarily otherwise. It's ok to go through that process with people. Showing scale of kids to their parents or their life is a great way to shoot. Again, using the thirds principle helps - there isn't excess background, just what tells the story.

There is an obvious photo - the father and daughter cheek to cheek smiling at the camera. Take that photo, then see how they interact with their children afterwards. Use that interaction to figure out how to tell that story. The obvious one is cute, but there's no story. The one where the dad is serious and looking into the distance and she's leaning on him and comfortable with him looking into the camera, that's what tells the story about their relationship and how he's the rock for her. That's the picture that she'll take to college.

The closer you are to a subject, the less of the subject will be in focus - it brings the background fuzzed and changes the photo. It can be a really powerful use of focus to tell a story.

Tips On Shooting Photos of Kids
When you're taking photos, kids won't always give you the photo you want right away. Always start pairing them with the person they're most comfortable with - usually Mom - and take those photos. After that, play with them to get them. If your face is behind the camera, you lose the child. Get your shot set, then move your face to the side and keep that engagement with them.

As a tip when you're taking photos with your children, use a timer. Tell them that in 30 minutes they'll be done. They know that there is an endpoint. You can't break the promise to them, but it helps free them and builds some trust.

When doing the blurry backgrounds, still ensure you use the rule of thirds. Focus on the subject in the center, hold the button down halfway, then move the camera off center to get the rule of thirds and take the photo.

Improving Your Photography
She isn't for herself personally, she isn't shooting for the print judges; she isn't shooting for the online forums. She's shooting for the kids and the babies who feel like they don't have anyone listening to or focusing on their stories.

Can the camera become an extension of you instead of an awkward piece of technology. The camera is a vehicle. It brought healing to her life and healing to others and it's amazing how that multiplies. It's an incredible vehicle to women who are on their way there. Photography is not about how much you can learn. The camera wants you to use it as a vehicle, and she isn't sure where it's going to take her, but what a powerful vehicle that can do it.

Professional portrait photographer who had a intense mom and dad who screamed at their kids the entire shoot. When she managed to push them to the side, she got great joyful moments. By the end of the shoot, she was traumatized. How do you manage parents like that?
If there is a high strung mom, have her bring multiple changes of clothes. When they get out of the car, send dad with the kids to go breathe. Go through the clothes with the mom. It gives her a chance to give to the mom and compliment her without the camera there that's just taking from her because the camera is so intimidating. Then say to her, I've done this a lot and I need your help. She wants Mom to be the helper and will tell her when she needs her help so the kids know to only look at the photographer for directions and that she's the safe one to follow. It also helps put Mom at ease.

Do you shoot in RAW or .jpg?
She shoots in RAW. To keep it simple, the RAW is much larger than .jpg, but in post process, she can click brighter or darker 6 times one way or the other with RAW without doing anything destructive to the photo. For .jpg photos, you can only click one time one way or the other before the photo starts disintegrating.

How do you do successful self-portraits?
They are so important. Everyone always asks how she gets her subjects to relax in front of the camera, and it's because she puts herself in front of the camera so she can stay in touch with how awkward this feels. If you don't know if you should smile with teeth or without teeth or whether you need to move your angle a little more, it's key to help others feel relaxed because you know how much direction the subject needs.

She rarely does a self-portrait where it sits on a tripod but does it with someone else. Collaborate with a friend. Don't look at the first 20 photos they take. Let your friend get into a groove. After that, you get into a groove and it gets better.

What is your favorite F-stop to shoot with? What's your favorite shots? Favorite f-stop for landscape?
With a 70 lens, the 2.4. If she uses a fixed lens, she shoots at a 1.6 or 1.8. It's about the depth of field and not about getting everything in focus or take a few steps back and get them in focus. With landscapes she still shoots low like that because she forgets to move the f-stop.

How can you improve without a DSLR?
Point and shoots have come so far. Put it in the shooting mode with the head because it helps make the background blurrier. Or use the tulip (macro setting) - what it really does is make the background blurrier and close up items more in focus.

What are some tips for florescent lighting?
Keep camera in auto white balance and correct it afterwards. You can either get caught up in trying to finesse the lighting the whole time or stay dialed into the story. You'll never get the lighting right in florescent lights, but it's so easy to fix in post processing. The first thing she does is open up curtains to let as much natural light in as possible. Bring the subjects as close to that light as possible, but you can still fix it. Have your back at the window and shoot at them facing the window. As much as you can, don't get hung up on "photographer" label because she doesn't even know what that is. It's really not so much about "is it ok to call myself a photographer" - and there's also a big difference between being a photographer and being paid to take photos as a pro. There's a lot of room to play around those labels, so don't get hung up.

What do you do with all the great photos you take? How do you pick and choose what goes in the house?
She looks at photos that really tell the story - detail shots, shots that tell the story of what they're doing, and a shot that shows the setting of what they were. Details and action or conflict and setting are the keys. That's how she puts together the stories of the photos on the wall. She also loves mixing up the media - canvas and metals. She also likes to go really big like 4'x5' with accent pieces around them. She'll have to change it up as you grow as a family.

What is your tip about external flash and the corners of the walls?
Point the external flash anywhere but at the people. We aren't trying to emulate natural light, but we want to have enough light to illuminate the person. You want to think about where you could throw a super ball against a wall and have it hit her in the face. That's where you aim the flash. Point up at corners or behind you because she loves the light bouncing off the wall and how it illuminates with no shadow. You can't bounce off a window because the light there keeps going. The problem with pointing it straight up is that it bounces straight down, which isn't good light.

Any good tips for photographing whole rooms in a home?
Unless you want to set up lighting, you have to work around the time of day when that room has the best light. The more you have to set up lights, the more overwhelming it gets unless you're doing that kind of photography all the time. Even when the kids were little, she knew that 10:30am, the light was best through the sliding glass doors, and she would set out special toys for them to play with at that time. Photographers do that all the time. They constantly set themselves up for success. Wait for the best light or set up external lights.

What is your process to curate the memories to pass them to your children so the photos don't just live on your computer?
She has tried first to be on top of how you organize the photos when they come in. It doesn't matter what your organization is, but whatever you do, stick with it. In that, she'll have a photo of the favorites. Towards the end of the year, she'll create some kind of a book from all those photos. She's sort of sad that we don't touch photos anymore. It's just a different way of interacting with them today. Even if it's just throwing images together in a book, kids love flipping through the books - copies for the memory boxes for when they're adults and a copy to keep around the house to flip through regularly.


Note: the photos in this post are some of the well over 300 photos I took at Blissdom (286 of which I haven't yet deleted). They are ones that I felt - hoped? - demonstrated some of the principles Me Ra and Brian were discussing.

I loved these tips. Some of them I knew already, but I need the reminder. My camera actually has a grid that shows the thirds, and I try to use it. It does make a huge difference. And some of my favorite photos are the goofy ones of the wee ones - never the posed ones! Which of these tips is most relevant to your photography?


Tami March 7, 2012 at 1:04 PM  

I've heard of a lot of these tips from my husband. He has taken a lot of photography classes. He loves taking pictures and I love scrapping them!

septembermom March 7, 2012 at 3:09 PM  

This is the kind of post that reminds me to jump on the photography bandwagon soon. Sounds like fun. So many bloggers love it. What a great creative outlet. Hope all is well Michelle :)

Carmen March 10, 2012 at 6:18 PM  

I hate that pic of me so much. :( But I *LOVED* seeing you, and the session was magnificent.

Gina March 13, 2012 at 12:30 PM  

I seriously need to take a class. I know how to to the technical stuff, but I can't seem to force myself to do it and end up shooting on auto all the time.

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