We're generally not the most outdoorsy family. At best I'd describe ourselves as semi outdoorsy. That means that come October, you're much more likely to find us indoors - anywhere that's sheltered from the elements! But in the summer - that's a different story.
In the summer, we go and do stuff ouside pretty much daily (or as much as work etc allows). But of there is an option to be outside or to do the same thing indoors - OUT always wins. And yes, we will wrap up in 7 layers and have an al-fresco lunch in the pub garden with the wind howling around us. One must have principles!
But enough about me. I know, that I'm not alone in rediscovering the pleasures of exploring nature in the summer, even if it's just the local park. Many of us will be day-tripping to somewhere pretty and green or wet or flowery.
And whilst often, the beauty of nature is enough to make for a wonderful backdrop, anybody who has ever dragged their children to a flower field only to be faced with uninterested children and 'now what?' question bouncing around their brain - will understand what I mean.
So this first week of our Summer Project is dedicated to that - making the most of the beautiful natural surroundings when photographing your children ( and getting you used to thinking about that - it'll come in handy for the reminder of the summer weeks too!) On the next page, we'll give you some specific suggestions of photos to take, but first, let's talk a few things that will come in handy.
1. Out and about - be prepared. Be very prepared
When you are shooting indoors everything is close. The kitchen with the snack drawer, the jumper to keep your kid warm, the spare memory card and a helpful outlet to plug your camera's battery charger in. But the moment you step outside that door, the world of possibilities shrinks down. Yes, there are shops and cafes etc, but it's always a hassle.
So here is my first tip: make yourself a checklist for you ( camera bits) and for your kids ( snacks, clothes etc) and pin it on the inside of the door. You never know a pain like having your children behave well, somewhere breathtakinggly stunning and realising that your camera battery is flat OR you left it at home, or your memory card is full. And Yes, I may have done
all some of these things in the past.
Don't be like me, be smart. Write a checklist.
2. Big wide world - make your camera sees what you see
I will be touching on your camera set up for the different photo suggestions on the next page, but there is one thing I really want you to think about ahead of that, and that's your lens and how it will affect the way your camera will see your family's outdoor adventures.
And there is one key term which - if you don't know it yet - you should familiarise yourself with. That's Focal length.
I won't go into much technical detail here - it's not what this Summer Project is for, but I want you to know this:
Your Focal length is specific to your lens and describes ( broadly speaking) how zoomed in or not your lens is. But that's just part of the story. Depending on how zoomed in or not your camera is, it will see the world differently, and even, it will change its size - crazy, right?
Your focal length is expressed in mm - if you look at your lens right now, you should see some numbers on the side of it or its rim - it could be anything from 12mm to 200mm and more ( if you have a camera with just one fixed lens that you can't detach and change, you may not always have this information displayed there) - ask me on our facebook group if you're not sure!
The first thing those numbers tell you is how zoomed in your lens is.
The smaller the numbers ; in 'teens' and 'early twenties' - the LEAST zoomed in the image will be - this means your camera is not trying to bring your subject 'visually' closer.
The higher the numbers go, the more your camera is going to be bringing your subject closer - visually pulling them towards you.
But that's not where these things end. You may be thinking - well, if I'm not zooming in, then the camera will see the world like I do? Well, that would make sense, but unfortunately that's not quite how it works.
The second thing your Focal Length ( FL for short) numbers will tell you is HOW MUCH of the space your camera will see.
When your FL numbers are quite smalle - we're again talking 'teens' and 'early 20s' - your lens will actually EXPAND the space - it will make the space in front of you look wider and bigger and deeper than it actually is. ( estate agen't best friend) . It's absolutely wonderful at capturing the beautiful, wide, open spaces, big sky, sunsets, great wide deep woods, an expanse of water... These are the sort of focal lengths that Landscape photographers really love because they really help them show the beauty and greatness of the places they photograph.
But when you zoom in, you compress that space - both in terms of its depth ( think of it as if you had lassood the background and are dragging it back closer to yourself, making a harmonica out of the space) . But not only that, whilst the zoom is dragging the space closer to you, it also trims the sides - you will be seeing significantly less in your frame with a longer zoom than with a short one - just compare the two images below.
You may be thinking that therefore it shouldn't necessarily work for photographing the great outdoors, but again, you'd be mistaken. And that's because by creating that compression, we can create texture and increase the depth perception of your images. Thats because, by zooming in, you can more easily create a distinctive foreground and background and blur one or both of them out, thus making your subject stand out. We can also 'dense up' ( for lack of better word) an area like a flower field, making it look more close together, with fewer gaps, more compacted.
I'll be signalling your focal length choice suggestions this with the images we talk about in the next page but I want you to think about it ahead of time.
But what if you don't have the numbers of your lens? Or if your camera just gives you x zoom. While there are ways of working out your precise FL based on those, all you really need to know is this - are you zooming in or not? If you're not zooming in, chances are, you are extending the space (compared to what you see with your naked eye). If you zoom in just a bit, you are probably seeing the world close to our 'normal' perception, and if you're zooming in more, you're compressing and visually tightening the space.
3. Think in 3 dimensions
Ok, so now you know what your lens and zoom choices do, let's push it further. What I want you to do is to consider your world - through your camera - in three dimensions. So not just how wide and tall it is, but specifically how DEEP is your world.
I want you to consider what you see and in each space notice foreground, middle ground ( where your subject is) and background.
In some images, the foreground will be missing - if all we have is thin air between the lens and your subject, then that's not much of a foreground.
If your subject is standing with their back pressed against a wall, that's not much of a background since it ends 5 inches behind the tip of their nose.
But if you are able to include foreground and / or background, you are inviting the viewer on a journey inside your photograph and it can be especially powerful when you want to use nature to show your subject off.
5. Freeflow vs Posed vs Directed / Encouraged interaction
OK, now we dealt with the space, let's talk about our children in it. Last week I received a panicked text from one of my (non photographer) friends.' I'm in the lavender field. Now what?? The kids are not interested in smelling the flowers!!!'
I knew EXACTLY where she was coming from. Because for an adult, a prospect of frolicking through a field of flowers seems like an attractive proposition, but for most kids, the attraction will wear off in 5 minutes flat.
So what do you actually do when you get out somewhere pretty? Do you NEED to get out to one of these places? Do you need to bring props? Pose your childre? Bribe them? Guilt them into smiling to the camera?
At Photography for Parents, we're not really big on posing children. First of all, because posing works best if you can control the environment and your subject (so working with children who are used to take direction (and that often works better if it comes from someone who isn't their parent - different level of authority), ideally within a confined space and with an assistant on hand. There are some very talented photographer parents who can make it work very well, but not all children will be compliant enough (you can guess what my 2 year old thinks of posing just by looking at the picture above) but in most cases a parent photographer will struggle. Secondly, this very rarely is what the child is interested in and while you can make a child sit and smile for 30s for that one picture for Grandma, that's usually the extent of their attention span.
So what do you do instead? Go freeflow? Just follow your children?
Going fully freeflow means not directing, not telling them what to do, simply letting them do what they feel like and following their adventures. It's being a fly on the wall and letting your kids take you places. But also being aware that where your kids might want to take you is as far away as they can from the pretty space you found because it's 'booring mum' and straight to the ice cream truck in the in the parking area. If you can let go, and just go with their flow, great, but I know that lack of direction and lack of control can be frustrating and unnerving for many parents.
So if you're not wanting to pose but not wanting to give up all control either, what do you do?
Let's call it 'directed freeflow' - that means you're still in charge, gently encouraging, suggestion, setting up things for them to do, things that will engage and interest them. So no specific instructions like- 'look at mummy, touch that flower, look wistfully into the disctance' and instead 'let's see how fast you can run - I'll time you from that tree to here', 'Can you count how many bees are buzzing around that bush?' 'I bet you can't jump over that paddle' , 'how many times can you turn around in place before you get dizzy?'
These are just some examples that worked well for kids I know, but they may be something different for you!
If you're photographing your kids, you KNOW what makes them tick. You know what kind of things they're into and what are they likely to say yes to. Think of activities, games, objects they would naturally be drawn to. And frame the trips with those 'adventures' in mind.
A couple of suggestions for you.
- scavenger hunt - if your kids are old enough, make it a game to spot and find things - you can think of them ahead of time and print them out for your kids to follow - they can be very simple, or more elaborate - for instance : Find the tallest tree vs when you see yellow flowers, jusmp on one leg
- hide and seek - they can hide or you can hide, you can give little treats for best camouflage!
- treasure hunt - make a list of 'treasures you want to find - a round pebble, a stiick as tall as you, red flower petal, a leaf shaped like a hand etc - the possibilities are endless. If you know the space you'll be in and can have access to it before your kids get there, do a non seasonal treats hunt ( think Easter Egg hunt, just without eggs)
- making flower / leaf crowns / fairy gardens, dens, muscakes - whatever's suitable for their age, ability and interest levels
- going insect spotting armed with magnifying glass and / or pretending to be animals or insects
- Simon says - but with really silly suggestions thrown in - like grow your arms extra tall, pretend you're your sister /Daddy
- Silly Walk Club ( borrewed that one from Monty Python )
The possibilities are endless!
The key is - do what works for YOUR kids and don;t get frustrated when they don;t want to play ball. They're entitled not to want camera in their face all the time - so if they resist, let them. If the outing is about the activity and not the camera and what you had in mind with your photos, the camera is much more likely to be tolerated!