Posts Tagged ‘Momtographer’

September 14, 2018

A Very Formal Month

Confession #1: I take a lot of photos. An average of 151 shots per day over the last 302 days that I’ve owned my camera. (45,701 total shutter actions to date on my camera. No regrets.) Last month I actually shot slightly more, averaging 170 shots per day.

Confession #2: I still struggled to find three photos for this months’ letter to Dana.

Why? Because I prefer photo-journalistic style candid photos for the monthly letter, and shot almost exclusively formal staged photos this past month. We did outside photos and inside photos; staged on the bed, next to the bath tub, and surrounded by flowers in the back yard; in costume and out of costume. We even donned our Halloween costume for a few photos.

Shooting mostly formal, especially for so long, is a huge departure for me. Normally I struggle with formal photos, particularly those not shot against a backdrop and have to force myself to do it. Part of that struggle is there’s just no place to do it in our house. With three kids the clutter has gotten insane. Anything formal without a backdrop requires a hefty amount of tidying up first. The bigger mental road block, however, is a lack of practice leading to a lack of confidence.

I have a photography comfort zone: landscape oriented, photo journalistic style child photography. The more practice I get in this niche, the more comfortable I am in it. I have an intuitive feel for these niche photos, whereas just about anything else requires me to stop and think about it. Even just changing camera orientation from landscape to portrait requires me to spend more time considering framing. Sometimes I get it right, other times not. The disparity in results make shooting outside my niche that much more uncomfortable. I can be very critical on myself when I don’t get the shot.

The difference this time was a perfect storm of early success doing formal photos, as well as feeling a lack of inspiration towards the traditional photos I always do. Dana enjoyed playing in the shark robe and gave me a number of funny expressions. Normally I have just one or two top photos, but I found myself with half a dozen. I had a similar experience outside. At the same time, I couldn’t think of a new candid photos to do of Dana. I already have tons of photos of her in the Jumperoo, on her activity mat, with her table. Whenever I picked up my camera to do a more casual style candid photo it felt like more of the same, and certainly nothing to get excited about.

I’m not sure how much longer this formal kick will last – after a month the idea well is starting to run a little dry – but it’s a great feeling to be so comfortable outside my normal comfort zone.

August 25, 2018

In Need of Practice Runs

I made a cardinal mistake when photographic my kids with their first day of school signs: no practice run.

The issue this time wasn’t incorrect camera settings, it was all the other things I couldn’t control. I was expecting an overcast sky like last year for a nice soft look, or at least a sun at a favorable angle. Instead I had full sun and harsh light. Lack of solid sleeping combined with over excitement made it difficult for the kids to sit still. The sun wasn’t right, and the mood wasn’t right. As a result, the picture wasn’t right. I do have many funny outtakes, though, including Alexis holding standing in profile with her sign as though it’s a mug shot.

There’s a trade off between the idealized and authentic in photography and I definitely err on the side of idealized.

When I look back at the year’s photos, I’m happier seeing the best ones, than the most authentic ones. It doesn’t bother me if a photo is a staged recreation, or taken a few days early or late. To be honest, I usually don’t remember those details anyway. It does bother me if the photo is technically flawed. It does bother me if, when I see the photo, my first thought is how I should have or wish I had taken it.

What I should have done was taken a few practice photos with our “first day of school” sign the weekend before, when we weren’t under a time constraint. If the lighting was bad that day, or the girls just weren’t in the mood, we’d be no worse off. On the other hand, if we ended up with a great photo I’d have a back-up shot I could potentially use for my highlight reel if need be. True, it wouldn’t be authentic, but it would have taken the pressure off on the actual first day of school.

Rather than practice shots this time, however, I did “retakes” a few days later which ended up much better. It was too late for my highlight reel this time, but at least I have them.

June 26, 2018

Perceived Importance

After five months of being firmly anti-binky, Dana did something unexpected yesterday. She was sleepy, but too full to nurse to sleep, so I did something I hadn’t done in weeks. I gave her a binky. She didn’t hate it! In fact, she went to right to sleep with it. Not knowing when or if it would happen again, I decided to take as much photographic evidence as possible. I have photos, videos, and even slow motion videos on my phone.

I am reminded of the faux fall photos we did with Nicole. I say faux fall because it was a super warm Thanksgiving day. We dressed her in a sweater jacket, found a sad little leaf pile and carefully took pictures reminiscent of the kinds I would expect growing up in the north east.

The photos of Dana with the binky were about as authentic as Nicole in the leaves. Yes, it really did happened, but the photo conveys something that isn’t really true. She still doesn’t really take the binky. I got her to do it again yesterday afternoon, but just once, and not at all today.

(Edited to add: She appears to be teething. In retrospect she appears to be chewing on the pacifier in some of the pictures, not sucking on the pacifier.)

The experience has me thinking about the perceived importance of moments, and which moments we choose to photograph and remember. This moment felt extraordinary because it was rare. Ironically, it would have been a more meaningful moment to capture if it was more representative of our experience, yet I may not think to pick up the camera in that case. This realization has been weighing on me lately. I pick up my camera often with Dana, capturing both the every day and the extraordinary alike since we spend so much time together, but the older two? I keep meaning to take more photos each weekend, but the weekends are so busy we rarely have time to follow through. The last photos I took of the girls? I can’t remember. It feels like ages.

Things will settle down. I will find a way to make more time for photography. It is my life blood, after all.

I’ve heard disliking your older work you were once so proud of is a sign you are improving as a photographer. Seeing the flaws you didn’t see before shows you understand your craft better.

Sometimes I have the opposite problem.

Often the photos I don’t like in the moment are the ones that grow on me over time. That’s because I tend to be too focused on the technical aspects when shooting. Was the face properly in focus? Exposure correct? Any traces of blur? When something is amiss I tend to be pretty hard on myself. I don’t want to share these less than perfect pictures. I’m embarrassed I messed up, no matter how small the err. I’m annoyed I didn’t do a better job capturing my perfect little subjects. Over time I stop seeing the technical issues and start focusing on the subject matter, which these days is mostly my kids.

I recently did a set of three head shots, one for each of the girls. Once again I forgot to adjust my camera settings and the aperture is so narrow there’s a slight camera shake on Nicole’s. It kills me. We tried several more times, and never once repeated the same great candid expression. I try to put the flawed photo out of my mind, but the thought of the almost perfect image haunts me. Maybe it’s not as bad as I remember? I torture myself by opening the image file and zooming in in the eyes, where the blur is most noticeable.


The blur. It hurts.

A photographer friend recently convinced me to just print the photo out anyway. What’s the harm? He argued. All you’re out is the photo paper and ink if you don’t like it. He argued that you rarely spend millimeters in front of a photo anyway, you’re unlikely to be close enough to see the flaws.

I printed it. The slight blur made me cringe.

I mounted it in a collage frame as a place holder, I told myself, just until I managed something better. The slight blur annoyed me.

I hung it on the wall. I could still see it.

But every time I walked past it, I saw the blur less and less. My friend was right, you don’t tend to stand close enough to a photo to see all the minor issues. Distance and glass help hide minor issues. What I now see was my beautiful child’s smile. That smile makes me smile. I agonized over the mistake before, but over time I simply forgot about it. It’s not the only flawed photo on my wall. I have a ballerina with a slightly out of focus hand, and an astronaut whose lose hairs have a slight motion blur.

It’s hard sometimes to let go of the technical and just enjoy the art. Sometimes you just need time.

February 24, 2018

Too Much

This evening, as I was bending down to change Dana’s diaper and felt such a sharp pain I couldn’t help but let out a yelp and start to cry.

My pain level has been gradually increasing over the past couple of weeks. One day I’d be fine giving Dana a bath in the tub. Three days later I’d wince reaching over the edge of the tub to set her down. That yelp, which happened within earshot of my whole family, was my breaking point. I couldn’t ignore it any longer. As soon as the kids were in bed I called the advice line.

Everything is fine, but I am way, way over doing it.

When I called, I was told I shouldn’t be doing chores like vacuuming or laundry. I had just changed a load in the dryer a couple hours prior to changing that diaper. I had also spent the morning photographing my newest favorite subject, and all the moving, bend and contorting that entails to get the right angle for the shot. (Yes, I said I was done. Momtographer is never done. Besides, that was newborn photography, I’ve moved on to baby photography!)

Just when I was starting to get that nesting energy back I’m told that I need to start taking it easy again.

I’m trying to take it easy, I really am. I know the dust bunnies won’t cause any harm. But the task list that’s falling onto Domingo is totally unfair. He’s doing the cooking and the dish washing and the bed time routines and the homework and the pick up drop offs. He’s doing all my chores on top of his, and that isn’t exactly fair. He may not have given birth, but he’s had the kids’ cold now for what feels like months. Besides, I miss the dance parties with the girls. I don’t want to be taking care of myself and Dana at their expense. They need their mama too!

This week I’ll be setting my camera down. I had hoped to try again for a family photo (it gets so much harder with each additional person), but realistically next weekend will work just as well and Dana will still look just as ‘newborn’ as she does this weekend.

I told Nicole that the doctor wants mommy to have a special helper, and she’s super excited to fill the role. She likes to run upstairs and ask if I need anything. Alexis likes to ask to see my owie and give it a kiss. I have the best little helpers looking after me.


One month before birth, one month after

It wasn’t looking promising, but somehow Dana and I managed to capture the majority of her newborn photos just as the newborn phase was ending. It feels like a pretty amazing feet considering all that was stacked against: baby colds, and lack of mobility. The better camera helped. I didn’t need so many practice shots, or blury shots necessitating redos.

Where we’re lacking still is sleeping baby photos. Dana has an amazing ability to resist naps in general, and naps on set especially. I’d set the thermostat high to get that toasty, naked baby approved temperature. Place a heating pad on set to make it extra cozy. Fill the tummy, rocked to sleep, place her down, pick up the camera and it’s “Good morning, Mommy!” Normally I would have continued well into the second month, but Dana isn’t having it and I don’t want to torture her.

Of course that means the photos were not lacking in are alert baby with beautiful eye contact!

I have now also learned why my 1-month-olds tend to look younger in photographs than my newborns. At least to my eye. When they’re first born they tend to be leaner. When there’s not an object in frame for comparison leaner translates to longer, which can make them seem older. By one month they’ve put on some chub before having a chance to really start growing. In photographs they seem smaller. It seems so obvious in retrospect. The classic newborn pose, resting in a slight dip, also helps them look more squished and smaller.

While I was happy with the newborn photos, I was starting to feel a bit guilty about the lack of maternity photos this time around. I really only took three styles: low-key, by the tree and the one above. I regret not powering through when I was feeling uncomfortable and at least taking some with the girls and I together, but I cannot go back in time. Since I was so lacking in maternity photos, and Dana was not too keen on sleeping for more newborn photos, I thought I’d do one of those before & after comparisons.

These were surprisingly difficult to do by myself. I am self conscious about my postpartum body, so I’m holding Dana on my left side rather than directly center in order to hide some of my tummy. It’s causing a bit of torque, which is putting pressure in places I don’t need pressure. With the added stress of juggling the remote I was feeling sore for a few days.

Worth it.

I know a lot of other people would disagree, but the pain is only temporary. The photos will keep forever.

Usually I love being the family photographer. I get the pride of showing off my camera skills, and exactly the photos I want, rather than to anyone else’s artistic vision. I’ve never really cared much about being in the photos myself, so having more of D with the girls and less of me was never that big a drawback. This month, however, I’m experiencing another drawback to being the family photographer: sometimes you get injured. Without a back up, that’s it. Be prepared to go without.

When my labor went sideways, so did my chance of hospital photos. Domingo usually takes the birth photos, the ones of our girls being weighed and checked over the first time, and of me holding each one moments after birth. Even if he wasn’t preoccupied supporting me through Dana’s birth, there wasn’t the opportunity this time around. Afterwards I spent Dana’s first day mostly in bed and didn’t pick up my camera at all until her second day of life. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t do much physically or mentally. I was too sore and tired. I did “fake it” by taking photos of her pediatric check up right before discharge that looked like they might have been from the delivery room (if you ignore her post-bath cleaned up look, and different weight)

Now that we’re home I’m picking my camera up more, but I still can’t do all I want to do. I had bought wraps and rugs with the anticipation of having full range of motion. Most of my newborn photo ideas involve sitting or lying on the floor, but I just can’t do that.

If there is a silver lining I am getting stronger by the day, and I know from past experiences I’ll still be able to get the “newborn” look, even a few weeks down the line. With Dana starting off so small I may get a little extra wiggle room for her to still appear newborn after she sheds that title. I also know myself well enough to know that I’d rather push the envelope and risk setting back my recovery than not having the photos at all. Photography is therapeutic for me, and the photos will last a life time, whereas this little bump in the road will not.

I will overcome. And if not, a local photography studio I’ve used in the past just sent out a flier for a free newborn session. Heck, maybe I’ll overcome and sign up for that session. One can never have too many photos.

I kick myself every time I mess up the settings on my camera. On Nicole’s first day of school I mistakenly left my camera in full manual mode, with the shutter speed set for indoor photography of stationary objects. The photo on the left is my favorite pose wise. Nicole is so happy. But the photo is so over exposed with a slight motion blur given the slow shutter speed. Fortunately I realized my mistake, adjusted my settings and was able to also capture the photo on the right.

Current state of the art photo editing techniques cannot save the photo on the left. The skin on the left side of her face is so over exposed the sRGB value is pure white. The computer simply has no way to figure out what color was supposed to be there, so there’s no way to automatically fix the white patch. Nicole could have cyan colored skin for all the computer knows. Or checker pattern skin, for that matter.

As an machine learning person, I find this limitation incredibly irritating. Chances are, when you, a human, first looked at the image on the left Nicole’s skin did not appear pure white to you. Your brain filled in a likely color based on the right side of the photo where her skin isn’t as badly over exposed and what you know of human skin tones. With the two photos side by side you can easily imagine a combined photo with the pose from the left and the coloring on the right.

Current state of the art image recognition can recognize faces. It should be able to map point for point the location of the eyes, mouth, nose, hands, etc between the two photos. Given that, it seems plausible for a AI enabled photo editing software to merge the two photos and create the ideal image.

Even without the image on the right, a sufficiently advanced AI based system should be able to recognize the subject matter much the way a human would. The system should then be able to generate a hyper realistic plausible image. It might not be the “correct” image, the image that would have been created if my settings were correct in the first place. I doubt for most people that would matter. A realistic enough resulting image that was plausibly correct would likely be sufficient for most momtographers like me.

December 19, 2016

Coming Together

Don’t you just love it when things work out?

santababy

There’s nothing like waiting until the last minute to ratcheted that stress level up to eleventy. Today starts our winter vacation, tomorrow we get on a plane to visit family. Before leaving I wanted to get a nice photo of the girls in their Christmas pjs to print and frame. I have been planning this for a few weeks. Today was our first attempt, you know, hours before I needed the photo. I am smart. S-M-R-T.

The chips were stacked against us. The thermostat went a little AWOL last night again, and the low extra temperature combined with Christmas vacation excitement meant for light sleep all around. The girls were a little wired to begin with, and not in the most cooperative moods though happy(ish). We did have a few temper tantrums today, not going to lie. Such is life with over tired little kids.

I took 110 frames in 8 minutes and 22 seconds (fastest shutter finger in the West, thank you very much), and most were pretty bad. Alexis thought it would be fun to pull her hat down completely over her head. Big sister thought it was hilarious and started copying, just as we convinced Alexis to leave her hat atop her head. At various times one or both of the girls would leap up from in front of the tree and run away. We got 109 frames of out takes and one perfect shot. I was shooting in continuous mode, like always, and this is still the only frame of both girls looking directly at the camera and smiling. The fact that it’s also the best cropped photo in the bunch and in focus? Icing on the cake.

How rare is it to get a photo I’m completely happy with? Let’s put it this way, I’m getting quite good at head swapping. The one with the good expression is the one where my camera settings are wrong, or it’s poorly framed. As long as it’s not a motion blur or depth of field issue I can usually fix it up in post processing. That’s usually my goal: fixable in post processing.

The above exposure is one of those rare times where the good expression coincides with the good settings and the good cropping. I brightened the image a scotch to post it online, but the original raw was what I used for both family and face book.

The good thing about taking a lot of photos? Sometimes you get lucky!

November 16, 2016

My Burst Mode Preference

I’m apologetically a fan of shooting in continuous (burst) mode. For me, a typical photographic moment of a human or animal suggest might consist of:

* A single frame of a moment the instant I decide I want to capture it. It’s usually poorly framed, uninteresting shot from a photography perspective as it’s literally more instinct than thought at this moment. The goal of this frame is to have a record of the moment in case it passes before I have a chance to “get it right”. It’s the I-don’t-want-to-forget-this-spontaneous moment photo.
* A couple frames of the same moment where I’m in the process of moving and re-framing to get a more interesting photo. Each frame is usually progressively better, but there’s always a risk of camera shake ruining the shot since I’m usually moving and shooting at the same time.
* A couple frames when I’ve re-framed the photo as I want it to guard against blinks, shifting gazing or any other quick momentary issues that might otherwise ruin a photo.

The usual result is usually around 4-5 frames. I maintain that anyone who insists that multiple frames should not be necessary does not shoot very young kids often.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on some portrait orientation photos of the kids. My mother-in-law gave me a lovely photo collage frame last Christmas and I it’s beyond time to fill it. I’ve placed a step stool on the floor to keep the girls somewhat contained, but they only stay put for a moment. It’s a game: sit, smile, get up, giggle at Mommy’s reaction, run away, come back and repeat. Fine by me, games make for better expressions.

Here’s frames #1, #2 and #4 from a four frame block of Alexis. Frame #3 is nearly identical to #2, but contains motion blur not noticeable in the thumbnail.

alexisburst

Frame #1 is my least favorite. Her gaze is too high. #2 is the shot I was going for. Frame #4 with that smirk is a keeper from a mom perspective, but not the type of photo I was after for the collage. She’s also leaning forward slightly in #4 because she’s about to spring up from the stool and run off. (That’s probably the origin of the slightly blur to #3). Even in this relatively paused moment there’s still a lot of variation.

The initial shutter lag of my camera is 0.25 seconds, but drops to 0.11 for successive photos in contiguous mode. That’s not including the lag tag for my eyes to communicate what they’re seeing to my brain, and my brain to send the single for my finger to push the button. That may sound pedantic, but the human response time to visual stimuli is about a .25 second. All total, there’s a half second delay from identifying the “perfect moment” and having the shutter react. If I shot a single frame, I’d have just as high a probability of capturing frame #3 as #2.

Since I’m doing formal photos I don’t need to worry about capturing the spontaneous moment, but I still have that first, not quite framed right photo. Had it been the one with the best expression, I would have re-cropped it and kept it for my wall.

I think most of the critics of burst mode are favoring process over results. For a lot of photographers, the idea of shooting in continuous or boost mode is synonymous with “spray and pray”. Spray and pray refers to shooting first and frequently (spraying) without thought in the hopes of getting lucky (praying). Critics of spray and pray point out that it can be a crutch and does have a penalty associated with it. Each extra shutter action does create ware and tare on your camera (although the vast majority of us will never shoot enough for the extra ware and tare to matter.) Each file does take up additional space on your hard drive (if you’re like me and never delete anything ever that’s a significant issue). Finally, it costs you more time to go through each frame to find the best one. I’m guilty of this one too.

For us momtographers it’s not always about learning, or honing your skills. Sometimes you just want to have that beautiful photo for the wall, process be damned.

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