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Picture Perfect | giggle Blogs

Latest Posts: Picture Perfect

March 2, 2011

Choosing a Professional Photographer for a Child with Special Needs

I’ve been photographing children now for 20 years, and some of my best shoots have been with special needs children. I find it particularly rewarding to work with kids who have challenges not experienced by most children. They are amazing little souls, who are sometimes far wiser than their years would suggest.  Many have developed amazing gifts in the face of debilitating conditions.  I have worked with many children on the autism spectrum, children in wheel chairs and children undergoing cancer treatment.  I have also worked with other milder conditions such as strabismus and skin disorders.

Here are my key tips:

  • Please choose your photographer wisely!  Be sure to carefully interview the photographer you are thinking about booking with.  Be sure that they specialize in working with children and that they are experienced in working with special needs children.  Child photographers are far more likely to be patient in the face of challenges that may arise in the shoot simply because they are used to it!  You should be able to tell on the phone or in a face to face meeting whether they will approach the shoot with patience and love. 
  • Share your child’s challenges thoroughly with the photographer when you are interviewing them.  You will be able to gauge the photographer’s personality better when you do this and you will avoid the element of surprise at the shoot.  The photographer needs to get mentally and physically ready to handle the additional challenges of the shoot.  For instance, many children on the autism spectrum are very sensitive to studio flash.  It is best that the photographer knows far in advance that this may be an issue so that she can plan on shooting using just natural light.  If wheelchairs or hospital equipment will necessarily be part of the photo, it is far better if the photographer knows this in advance.  Sometimes, additional time is required at the shoot. 
  • The more planning the pro can do, the better the outcome and the more enjoyable the experience for your child.

Note: I’m excited to announce that I’m opening a new Classic Kids studio in Hinsdale, Illinois!

November 30, 2010

Get Cozy!

I’m still shooting outdoors, but it is definitely time to start thinking about coming inside!  When your hands get too cold to push the shutter release button, it is time to get creative with your cozy indoor spaces!  What could be a sweeter than a big fluffy bed, covered with down comforters?

Read more…

November 3, 2010

The Beach is Beautiful!

What an amazing October we have had in Chicagoland! I’ve been soaking up every last bit of the nice weather trying to squeeze in a few more beach shoots.  There is such great texture at the beach near my studio.  The sea grass, sand, glorious trees, and bright blue skies and water make for the perfect photo shoot setting.  One hour before sunset is just so magical with the golden light making everything seem so rich.

The beach is often overlooked in the fall and winter as a great place for a photo shoot. Beach shots in swimming suits are really great, but the beach is also fantastic with coats, scarves and mittens!  I think the beach is even more romantic in the off-season.
What could be more perfect than the surprise appearance of one of the last monarch butterflies of the season?  This poor guy was clearly left behind due to his one malformed wing.  Nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed his company for awhile and he didn’t seem to mind!  Playing with the butterfly made for some really natural giggles!

I have heard that you can order live butterflies on-line for photo shoots!  Is there anything you can’t get online?  I guess if they are kept at a low temperature, they won’t fly away.  Hmmmm.  I assure you, our friend was found in nature!

October 8, 2010

Welcome Fall!

Those lazy days of summer are rapidly fading into autumn, and the chill in the air at night portends what the days will soon be like.  I love this time of the year!  Summer’s heat has finally given way to perfect cooler temperatures, and those pesky bugs are starting to vanish.  Yeah!

This is a great time to get outside and shoot some photos! In the Chicago area, the leaves are really starting to turn beautiful colors. Kids love a big leaf pile to jump in.  Tossing leaves into the air or at each other is such a blast and makes for great pictures!  You are sure to capture plenty of action and giggles!   Find a big park or a forest preserve with a tree lined gravel road and take shots of your child running up and down the road.  A darling knit hat, sweater scarf and mittens will set the mood just right.  A funky pair of boots may be just the thing. Even better if they are very colorful.  Kids LOVE to run and you will capture some amazing natural smiles!

To photograph your child running, set the shutter to continuous release if your camera has that capability.  You are much more likely to have several awesome shots to chose from.  Dappled sunlight coming through the trees is less likely to ruin your shot in this mode.  You’ll likely have some shots where the dapples appear in unfortunate places on the face, but many will be just fine.  To capture all the action without blurring when your child is running or throwing leaves into the air, be sure to use a fast shutter speed.  Something above 1/250th of a second should do it.  This may be the time to use the setting “Shutterspeed Priority.” 

September 6, 2010

Glorious Sunshine

Dreamy sunlit summer days, spent jumping, playing and running without a care in the world should be a part of every person’s childhood memories.  Trying to capture this on film, however, is not without its challenges.

As mentioned in my last post, shooting into the sun is one of the trickier things to do in photography.  It is very hard to properly expose the skin tones of the child in your photograph, as the camera’s in camera meter, when set in one of the automatic modes, will be greatly influenced by all the bright light in the background.  This results, to some degree, in a silhouette.

In addition to using the exposure compensation button to “add light to your subject,” you can shoot in manual exposure mode after you determine the proper exposure.  You determine the proper exposure by playing around with ISO, shutter speed and aperture, and keep checking the monitor and histogram on your camera back to visually determine what your exposure should be.  If you have plenty of light, you might chose to stay with an ISO of 200 or 400, pick a shutter speed fast enough to capture all the action like 1/250, and then play with different apertures to see what results in the best skin tone……..all the while keeping your little subjects happy and doing darling things!  And every time the light changes, or they move, you start the process all over again!  Piece of cake! Yes, there is a reason why there are professionals!

 One interesting tip:  to best capture sun rays and sun spots, the very best aperture for doing this is f/11.  I took the photograph above of my son frolicking in the late day son in a meadow near Lake Tahoe.  It was early August and the sun was very low in the sky as it was nearly 7 pm.  You can actually see half of the sun shining in the cloudless sky.  My ISO was 400, shutter speed 1/320th of a second, aperture f/11 and I used a 24-70 mm lens at 32 mm. Very tricky!  I just love the sun, sun rays and sun spots!!

August 17, 2010

Golden Light

Shooting into the sunlight (backlighting) is one of the trickier things in photography. As mentioned in my last post, it is really challenging to expose the skin tones of your subject properly when there is bright sunlight in the background.  If you rely solely on your camera’s in-camera light meter, no matter how sophisticated your camera is, you will end up with a photo were the skin tones are underexposed, resulting in a silhouette.  

If you have an interchangeable lens camera, you can generally change your in-camera meter to spot metering or center weighted metering to get a better automatic exposure, but this won’t do the entire trick. Along with that, you can very successfully use your exposure compensation button (usually a little (+/-) labeled button on the top of an interchangeable lens camera) to add more light to your subject.  As you do this, however, your background will become overexposed as the skin tone becomes more properly exposed.  There is really very little you can do to avoid that. The beauty of digital photography is that you can totally play with your exposure compensation button to keep changing the amount of light added until you see a proper skin tone appear on your camera monitor.

Another thing you can do to add more light to your subject’s face is to use a reflector.  You can buy a reflector at any specialty camera store or you can even use a large piece of white cardboard.  Reflectors are enormously valuable for bouncing light back into the face of your subject.  You may not have to overexpose the background quite as much if you have a reflector to help you with the task of providing more light to the face.

Backlighting can also result in too much direct sunlight entering your lens which often causes the image to appear hazy, smoky and out of focus.  It can also be really cool if you can actually see rays of sunlight and sunspots in your image without terribly overexposing the skin tones of your subject.  It is a fine line between ruining your image and making it awesome. To avoid the hazy images, I just try to change the angle of the camera slightly so that it is to one side or the other of the direct sun rays.  You can actually see through the viewfinder, and then on the monitor, whether your angling has worked!  Again, the beauty of digital is that you don’t have to wait to get the film back to discover whether you have been successful!

July 28, 2010

Shooting Light and Airy

One of the most basic “tricks” to shooting light and airy outdoor photos is to shoot on sunny days at the time of day when the light is soft and diffuse, yet bright.  I have written about this before.  Shoot 2-3 hours after sunrise or sunset.  Morning light seems bluer and late afternoon light seems more yellow.  My preference is always that golden yellow light of late afternoon, early evening.

You can shoot out in the open, such as in an open field, but be aware that, unless it is quite early or late, you may have contrasty images and shadows.  To soften the light in that circumstance, you can purchase a diffusion screen, or just have someone hold up a bed sheet.  The diffusion will take away harsh shadows, but will leave most of the light to work with.  If you shoot in a shady area, you will have beautiful light, but you may have to shoot with a wide open aperture in order to have a sharp photograph if the light is getting low.  The photograph of the baby was taken in the shade of a house.

Sunshine coming from behind your subject can be a gorgeous look.  It is really hard to achieve this look with a point and shoot camera, however.  Most often, your camera will be exposing mostly for the bright sky and will underexpose your subject, leading to a silhouette.  If you expose for the skin, the sky will be way overexposed.  The answer?  Expose for skin and let the background do what it is going to do.  Some areas of overexposure in the background lend to the dreamy, airy feel of the photo. Shoot in aperture priority and use your exposure compensation button to achieve the right exposure on the skin.

For those who are interested in what I do in the studio, check out this new movie short which will show you a typical studio shoot.  Yes, that is me doing the photos!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYP-OyDuVvI

July 20, 2010

Montana Magic

Wow, what a fun week I just had “working” in Montana.  A few months ago, I decided that a midsummer photography retreat in Montana was just the thing to get me thinking about new creative techniques to incorporate into my outdoor, digital photography.  The retreat was being held by Aussie Barb Uil of Jinky Art Photography. www.jinkyart.com/au.  Her work is really intriguing and unique as it succeeds in putting a modern, hip edge on the highly stylized and prop laden (think sepia toned images of little boys decked out in tuxedos, babies in antique prams and little girls with fairy wings) images popularized in the 1980’s and 90’s. Barb’s work is very light and airy and definitely a wonderful and unique take on that genre.

 Anyway, I had a blast hanging out with other photographers and indulging my insatiable desire for continued learning and creating.  It is great to take a break from the real world for a few days and just indulge my own creativity. In the next few blog posts, I will attempt to pass on some of the basics necessary to achieve this look.

June 27, 2010

Seize the Moment!

There is nothing I love more than a good Midwestern thunderstorm.  This may be genetic, because my 3 year old loves them too.  When he grows up, maybe we can be a mother/son team of tornado chasers!

The perfect storm came up this Sunday morning.  Both of us watched in awe from the safety of the garage.  Our new little Yorkie puppy, turns out, is also fond of a good storm.  After the lightning had passed, when just a gentle rain persisted, the puppy and my boy (still in his jammies) had a blast running around in the rain drops, splashing in all the brand new puddles.  It was about ten minutes of pure, unbridled joy!

The largest puddle was at the bottom of our driveway on the quiet road we live on.  It was a dirty puddle and it took all I had to let the moment live on, especially when he sat in the middle of it and dipped his hair into it. 

Never far from my camera, I shot some amazing images.  It was fairly dark outside, so I had to choose an ISO of 800, just to get a shutter speed that would stop some of the action.  I shot at the most open f-stop the zoom lens would allow, which in this case was about a 4.8.  In aperature priority, the shutter speed ranged from an unacceptable 1/40th of a second, to a barely acceptable 1/100th of a second.  Some of the resulting images were still a bit blurry, but I still captured the pure delight of the moment.  It seems to me that my film camera requires only 1/60th to keep most shots sharp, but this is not true with my digital camera which seems to need   1/100th of a second or faster.

Keep that camera handy and learn to change your settings quickly so you can take advantage of those completely unexpected moments which capture so much of the wonder of childhood!

June 17, 2010

Angle for the Best Shot

Camera angles can make or break your photos.  Shooting down on a sitting child can enhance the feeling of smallness, vulnerability and innocence.  Shooting up on a child can make them seem stronger and more powerful.  Sometimes the juxtaposition of seeing a small child towering over the camera in a power position can be quite comical.  For kicks, try both approaches and see how different the feeling in the photos can be.

A camera angle that is almost never successful is to have a child seated facing you with his feet toward the camera.  I call these shots “big footed baby” shots.  The perspective in the shots is distorted as the child’s feet appear huge in relation to the rest of the body.  I’ll never forget one of my very first professional shoots, when the newly walking toddler finally stopped running around and sat down for photographs in my studio, feet toward the camera.  I was so delighted that he was finally taking a break from all that running that I began to snap away.  Each expression was cuter than the last.  I was so focused on his face, I did not notice the perspective issues.  When the film came back, I was horrified to see his feet were hugely disproportional to his body size and, to top it all, they were dirty from all of that running around on the bare floors of the rented studio space!  The things I asked my printer to do to “fix” those shots!  In this digital age, it is a lot easier to clean up dirty feet (I still don’t recommend dirty feet, however), but it is virtually impossible with film.