Fun Friday: Photography Tips for Better Pictures

Third Friday of the month:  Recreation / Hobby

What I'm going to share here is not from a formal workshop, nor is it a photography class.  It was a very casual tutorial session among friends -- a group of moms who simply enjoy taking photos (lots!), either for business, for blogs and websites, or for personal files.
Practicing on food shots
Like many photo enthusiasts out there, my friends and I were all eager to learn how to take better pictures using our digital cameras -- point-and-shoot or dSLR, whatever we have, it doesn't matter. We're not planning to be pros so these basic tips and tricks are very helpful for us to maximize use of our cameras and photograph with confidence.

Our group was met by ace photographer Stanley Ong at Fun Ranch in Frontera Verde, Pasig City. He was very patient and accommodating in answering our (serious and silly) questions, and was generous with sharing his knowledge and expertise.  He taught us some basic techniques that we can apply while taking photos of our kids, food, products and other stuff, whether indoors or outdoors, using DIY tools and available light.

What I learned from Stan Ong:

1. Composition and the Rule of Thirds
  • Framing - creates focus on the subject; the "frame" highlights the subject or sets the backdrop
Sample:  Framing, with diffused backdrop
  • Rule of Thirds - imagine invisible lines on your frame, creating 3 parts horizontally and vertically, then position your points of interest on the intersections or along the lines. Most cameras have a grid to guide you. You can focus on centering, or get creative by off-centered subjects.
Stan illustrates the Rule of Thirds;  Sample: off-centered shot from a pre-nuptial pictorial
  • "S" formation - creates movement and leads the eye towards the subject; or allows the eye to follow a path or trail of objects for a more interesting shot
  • Grouping of subjects - try to arrange the people, or balance objects, in different heights; as long as they don't look lined up like a firing squad
Sample: "S" formation
Sample:  Family / Group shot, saturated colors for softer effect
2. Lighting
  • Use available natural light - if not outdoors, find the area in your house where light comes in, by the window or near a door
  • Light Tent and Reflectors - tent is great for diffusing or softening the light on the subject (it comes in different shapes and sizes); make your own light tent with tracing paper and boxes, or even cartolinas / illustration boards, and even mirrors. Reflectors help bounce or redirect light towards the subject, to highlight or diffuse.
My tea catching light by the window
Taking shots inside the tent softens harsh day light and produces balanced lighting on the product
4. Camera Settings

For semi-auto use of camera for non-pros like me, set on either:
Aperture priority or Shutter Speed priority. (I won't be able to thoroughly explain those terms for you so you're better off with Google, heehee)

Stan suggests: "You can use the shutter speed priority especially if you want to freeze action or capture motion.  But personally, I use more aperture priority since I shoot a lot of portraiture and I want to control depth of field."
Sample: Freeze action - jump shot
Sample: Baby's portrait
Stan also recommended a 50mm lens for me since I take a lot to tight shots, food shots, and portraits of my kids. And I'm so glad I got one last month!

Here are recent photographs using my new 50mm, f/1.8 II lens here.
Cupcake shot and the boy, using the new lens, with shallow depth of field (sharp foreground, blurry background, using wide aperture = smaller F-stop number).

5. Special Effects

For added texture and effect on the subject, like this glass bottle, Stan suggested spraying on water to create that "cold, dewy, frosty" look on the bottle. You'll find this trick useful on food and product shots.

Here are my sample shots of plain bottle, and with water mist.

Aside from photography tricks, you can easily manipulate the photo with the help of editing softwares like Photoshop, Gimp, etc.

If you want to evoke a mood, or background looks cluttered, Stan suggests you render the image in black and white, or apply various color effects on your image.

Sample: Vintage effect, highlights the subject, theme or backdrop
Sepia look for this shot to downplay the clutter on the table
6. Basic Cleaning Tools

If you use your camera often, it's recommended that you have it professionally cleaned at least once a year. This will help maintain your unit and produce consistent quality images. There are also the lens pen, microfiber cloth and lens tissue paper that Stan uses to regularly clean camera crevices and lens. Available in photography shops.

Outtakes from our session, with Stan and the moms:

6 moms, 2 boys, and 1 photographer at Fun Ranch
I am a self-confessed "pathological picture-taker" and these tips shared to us by Stan really helped improve my mediocre skills in taking better photos.

Hope you learned a thing or two here as well. If you have some tips and tricks, do share it here, we can all learn something new!

Here are my attempts at taking better photos, and an appreciation for digital photography with my babies:
Tales of a Pathological Picture-taker
Double Take

All Sample shots courtesy of Stan Ong.
View more of his photographs from his gallery: Facebook- StanleyOngPhotography
Flicker - Stan Ong's Photostream
Stanley Ong Photography
Email:  stanong@yahoo.com
Mobile:  +63917-5330213
About the photographer:
Stanley Ong's interest in photography started in 2001 when he got his first film camera, a Canon EOS88.  
He describes his photography as a reflection of his personality and a way for him to express how he views the world.  In every photo he captures, he means to inspire and intends to make it meaningful to other people.

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