Lessons from above 

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This photo reminds me that trees are to kids as flowers are to bees. It’s a simple snapshot of my friends’ children, however it does illustrate nine brief but useful points:

The bad points

1) The sky is blown out (overexposed, pure white). However, it’s a snapshot rather than fine art, and this case it doesn’t bother me too much. There wasn’t a lot of time before the girls moved on so it was best to make the most of the opportunity, even if that meant losing the sky: family members will probably just look at the faces and be oblivious to the background.

2) I used fill flash and overall that gave a very nice result. The one thing that a camera’s built-in flash is good for is fill light, but if people are wearing glasses you’ll often get a reflection, as in this case. I have tried cloning out such reflections, with mixed results. In this case grabbing an external flash and extension cord would have meant missing the shot, however that is often the best solution (if you hold the flash away to the right of the camera the reflection coming from the glasses will go off to the left, where the camera can’t see it).

The good points

3) You’ll notice that I’ve placed one foot in a corner of the photo, with a roughly equal amount of space to the left of and below the boot. A diagonal that runs to a point near the corner of the frame usually looks odd, but one that runs to the actual corner will usually look pleasing. In the case it’s almost as if she’s resting her foot on the edge of the photo, and that plus the diagonal running to the corner results in the edges of the frame becoming a contributing part of the image rather than some sort of hanger-on messing up the scene.

4) If the bottom of the photo was bright would tend to pull your eye away from the faces, but instead the area below the main branch is fairly dark and forms a nice solid base.

5) The centreline of the girls’ torsos and faces are roughly aligned with the verticals of a thirds grid (the rule guide of thirds).

6) Fill flash has raised the brightness of the faces to a point that matches the surroundings well, and there are nice catchlights in the eyes.

7) Generally you need to include the ground in order to give a sense of height, but in this case looking up a steep angle towards the girls has the same effect. Adults aren’t used to looking up at kids, and this unusual view of a common subject adds interest to the photo.

8) The diagonal of the branch that the girls are sitting on adds life to the photo. Lines affect the mood of photos.

9) There is a vertical branch between the girls and such an object has the potential to break any sense of relationship. However, they are both holding the branch in such a way that the branch in fact ties them together and makes it clear to us the viewers that these two are friends.

This was a situation where I had a few seconds in which to get a shot. The girls know me well and chose to strike a pose, which thankfully was a nice one: the fact that I didn’t give any direction makes the result look fairly natural and relaxed. With snapshots of family and friends the people are the most important thing, but it’s also good to look for snapshots in places where the environment adds to the image.

Using corners in sports photography

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Recently I made some photos of kids who were practising for the Weet-Bix Tryathlon, which is a light-hearted triathlon for kids. The kids were using the actual course, and before they got started I went to look for shooting positions. Today we’ll look at what I chose for the cycling and running.

It pays to be realistic and there was virtually no hope of creating “arty” photos in the conditions that I found, although I’m always on the lookout for such opportunities. My primary goals were (1) to get some nice snaps for the kids and their families and (2) to show movement in those photos.  Thankfully it was heavily overcast, which is much better than full sun.


Basically I wanted a corner with a plain background. When something in a photo has the potential to fall it adds life to a photo, and having the kids leaning into a corner would provide this even if they were too slow for motion blur.

Let’s start with a “bad” example. This girl’s family will probably like this photo, but it’s very static and it looks as if the bike is bolted to the ground:

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Let’s look at a three good examples. The driveway in the background gives a sense of depth, as does the layering caused by the shrub on the right. These shots deliver a sense of movement:

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This is a race of sorts, but the photos above don’t tell us this because they only show a single cyclist, and for all we the viewers know he could be out for a solo jaunt. See how having more than one cyclist in the frame makes the photo to tell a story that is closer to the reality of the situation:

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The kids had to run a loop around a sports field, then go over a low footbridge before turning hard left to the finish. They had to turn as soon as they came off the bridge and I figured that this turn would produce some interesting body positions. Also, the bridge was a choke point so I knew that every kid would pass in front of my shooting position. The background wasn’t ideal, but was okay when blurred.

I sat on the grass between the bridge and the finish. Sitting was a lot more comfortable for a long spell, and an unusual viewpoint adds interest to a photo (adults aren’t used to looking up at kids so when the camera is below a child’s eye line you have an unusual viewpoint). This position also meant that the kids would be looking towards the camera when cornering. When heavy rain showers came through I impersonated a mushroom by putting an umbrella up for the duration.

First, the “bad” example:

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Those two are running in a straight line and, although their families will probably like the shot, it’s nothing special. I do like the rain, which is hard to see at this size.

The contortions of cornering have a lot more visual interest:

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Click to enlarge, then click again

A final tip

Don’t switch off your brain and your camera when the sports is over. The athletes gathered at the gear dump point after they’d done all the hard work and I saw an opportunity for rounding out the story with candid shots of relaxed kids. In anticipation (a very important skill in photojournalism) I swapped the telephoto I had been using for a standard lens and this was the result:

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Click to enlarge, then click again

Dog and Log

Seeing this dog towing a “log” reminded me of the arrogance of a two-year-old.

Who does he remind you of?

Click here to see more photos of dogs

Muffin Man humour + links page updated

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IPhotographing this scene was like photographing a lion chewing on a wildebeest: the subject is quite happy to be photographed as as long as the photographer doesn’t try to take the food away :-).

I have extensively updated the links page (you can also access it via the right hand side bar).


Male Social Skills

Male Social Skills © MandenoMoments.com

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