How to capture better digital photos of your children and other adults, using natural light

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In this brief guide I am going to share some tips I have learned from professional photographers, and from a number of courses and private lessons I have been on. Before I even start, the first and foremost thing worth … Continue reading

Wonderful trip to Paris, while pregnant and with a toddler


Visiting Paris is a memorable experience, right?

Having done it with just my husband (when there was just us two) and having previously lived in Paris for seven years in my student years, doing it with a toddler in tow and pregnant was a (totally crazy) different experience.

Only joking, it was still wonderful, and not more stressful because, hold tight, we didn’t cram in too much during our 3 days there.

Packing too many things during the stay can make it stressful, so we wanted to have a relatively free and spontaneous programme, while also having a list of things to do/see. Having one key attraction per day was the perfect amount we found.

So on to what worked well for us?

Stay close to the departure/arrival station

Well, first staying somewhere close to ‘the point of entry’ i.e. for us the Eurostar arrival station, Gare du Nord. We booked an AirBnb apartment about 10 minutes walk from Gare du Nord and that was brilliant. It meant that we could ‘check-in’ first and drop our bags and have a quick refreshment/put my feet up. Also for our toddler it was exciting to discover a new place and enjoy some quiet time before we set off for an outing again.

Beautiful Canal St Martin area

The second good thing about the location of our apartment was that we were quite close to the beautiful canal St Martin, with its many coffee shops, bars and brasseries. So after a quick rest we headed out again and stopped for a late lunch in one of the canal facing, brasseries. Along the canal there is a playground, an additional attraction for our toddler who still had some remaining energies after all.

Being in a different country is interesting when you observe your own child trying to interact with other local children. And before you ask, no I wasn’t providing any kind of translation, to questions, such as “can i have a go at the swing”, that doesn’t need any translating, does it?

Balloon adventure at Parc Andre Citroen

The definite highlight of our trip was the “balloon” adventure. During my years of studying in Paris and working intermittently as an ‘au pair’ I had gained a good ‘children related’ knowledge of playgrounds and adventure parks.

One I was very familiar with was Parc Andre Citroen, in the 15th arrondissement. It is a little bit out of the way and not a main tourist attraction but for kids it is magical. 

The park has a number of gardens and a great fountain court with water jets that can be such great fun, in hot weather. You can sit on the grass and enjoy a picnic while you look at the balloon, which is not a “hot air” but a “tethered” balloon that goes up to 150 metres. The views of the Seine and the Tour Eiffel are splendid and it is not as crowded as the Tour Eiffel or Sacre Coeur Cathedral.

‘Toujours dans mon coeur’ Quartier Latin

Another favourite area I always love to visit when in Paris, is the Quartier Latin or 5th arrondissement, perhaps because I love to go back to the ‘student streets’ of la Sorbonne where I spent many splendid youthful years.

Jardin du Luxembourg cannot be sidelined and hidden in there, is another great adventure playground for kids, “Les Poussins Verts”.  This one was way too busy than the quiet and relaxing Parc Andre Citroen but it is centrally located and you also have to pay a small fee.

One thing we had not noticed on our previous trips, was the lack of escalators or lifts in the “Metro”. If you can manage not to have a buggy or can take with you a collapsible one, underground journeys will be less tiring.

By the end of the third day in Paris, while also quite pregnant, 7th months precisely, I was starting to feel the heat of the streets and the underground and it was soon time to leave.

Eurostar here we come!

Heading towards Gare du Nord and the exciting Eurostar journey, was extremely pleasant and another adventure for our toddler, the train and the tunnel under the sea!

Some photos from the trip, unseen before, enjoy!

I would love to hear if you have been to any of these places in Paris or have any others to share.

Love

Experimenting with the light – friends modelling for me


I have been continuing to experiment on the same topic as in my previous photographic assignment – playing with different types of light and directions.
To make it a bit more interesting and predictable (as opposed to using toddlers who never stay still) I have been asking friends to be my models.
My friend Lira accepted to pose for me after we went to see the Manet exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. The exhibition was fantastic, I really enjoyed it and got into the characters Manet – the father of modern painting – painted who were also friends and family.

The Royal Academy of Arts entrance.

A painter’s sculpture in front of the RAA.
We had our boys with us as well but after having had something to eat and drink, they were happy and so were we.
So I asked Lira if she could be my model and she agreed. We went to Green Park trying to make the most of a spare moment. I didn’t have any set ideas of what I wanted to do so it was all spontaneous. I wanted to make Lira feel comfortable as I know it is daunting to pose for someone just like that out of the blue. I was concentrating on the light so our focus was there, to try different directions.

So here the light is coming from the left. It is a soft light as there is no direct exposure, the sun is hidden behind clouds.

Here it is the same direction, light is coming from the side but I am a bit closer and I chose square cropping so that we can have a bit more details on her posture.

Although I didn’t have any pre-set idea for these portraits I wanted to be able to create something with a dream-like effect or a photo where the model is immersed in something bigger, woods, grass, flowers etc. But as you can see the results were far from that idea because of the setting obviously, we were in a park and not in a forest and the light, which was diffuse and not strong/contrasting enough to create any effects.

After this first shoot with a model I realised that I need to be more prepared in terms of what I want to do/photos I want to take and have a story ready to distact the model. Also have a few possible scenarios ready to deal with the different types of light.

The Easter egg hunt – was my photography assignment achieved?


In between doing my work and looking after my family, I have been taking a few lessons from an amazing photographer – Georgina Cranston. I stumbled upon her work after watching on the Guardian website a video she had produced, that tells the story of a homeless woman – Lucy’s story. 
 
At the last lesson we talked about light, the different types of light and directions and the effects light can create on a subject. So after the lesson I had to work on an assignment experimenting with different types of light. 
 
We had planned to go down to Wales for the Easter weekend something that seemed a perfect opportunity to take beautiful pictures and get on with my assignment. I had a plan about the assignment – take portraits of a model, my son and/or his older cousins – with the light coming from different directions. 
 
Side lighting – light that comes from a window is very good as it diffuses naturally on to the subject and creates a warm atmosphere. 
Here is Edward enjoying an Easter egg. The light is coming from his left and lights up half of his face. It is a shame for the distracting background of the highchair and the radiator. Next time I will use a piece of white fabric in the background but with children you never know where they will stand or sit so it becomes difficult to control every setting. 
Taking photos when the sun is high in the sky brings bout the issue of shadows and can be unflattering for the subject as it exposes unflattering details, wrinkles, shade under the eyes etc. But here as the models are my beautiful boys, even on a bright sunny day they look fantastic! 

The light coming from the side on these daffodils makes them look bright and colorful – what about the cream eggs hidden in the earth?? I can only see one of them properly … 

This is another example of light coming from above but the shades and unflattering details are not an issue as I am not doing a portrait of someone. I like this picture very much because of the lines the path defines and the dog looking away at the man with a child on his shoulders. 

The rest of the pictures are landscapes taken at about the same time, around midday. The coastal path in Pembrokshire is spectacular.  

Front lighting – here my subjects are facing the window where the light comes from and apart from not being able to have the three of them concentrate on one same thing, the effect is pretty warm?! 

Back lighting – the light is facing me and the back of my subject and it creates a bright effect around him. I love this picture for the expression of my very cute nephew but I should have stood back a bit more as it feels that we are a bit too close to him. So what is the verdict? Did I achieve what I wanted on this assignment? I certainly did experiment with the light, back-lighting, side-lighting, front-lighting, lighting from above but as to the results, I am not an objective judge. I am looking forward to hear Georgina’s views. One thing is for sure, taking photos of children is challenging, that is why my favorite pictures from this assignment are ‘dog and man with child’ and ‘cute nephew’ who is older and can sit still for a while. 

Clapham photo club meets for the first time with Charlie Round-Turner photographer


Here is a link to a note that Charlie shared with us. It gives some easy to grasp descriptions of aperture, shutter speed, ISO; the range of different types of lenses from wide lenses to standard and telephoto ones; a little exercise to try different apertures and shutter speeds to get the same effect; short advice on light directions and finally the rule of thumb ‘keep it simple’! 
 
I had this idea of setting up a local photo club to share and learn from others with an interest in photography in particular mums who would be in a similar position in terms of available time.
 
So I asked the question on NappyValleyNet – the site for mums in South West London and I had very surprising results.
 
First mums showed an interest. Second a great photographer Charlie Round-Turner (http://charlieroundturner.com/) offered a free photography basics class. Third we found the perfect place to host it, Eat Play and Love on Battersea Road, spacious, with a soft play area for the children and nicely decorated. And amazing staff!
 
So as a result the ‘Clapham photo-club’ held its first meeting last week and hosted a very practical lesson for its members.
 
Charlie was very focused, gave us practical tips about composition
 
– Keep it simple 
– Try to reduce the scene in simple elements, or shapes, or lines 
– Adopt an interesting perspective 
– Use the soft light that comes from a window for example 
– Play with aperture and shutter speed until you get the results you want 
– If the scene appears dark shoot again and increase the exposure and if too bright decrease it
 
Although we were in a cafe, as you would expect full of people, kids, objects etc he pushed us to take pictures and apply some of the rules. 
 
Here are 4 out of maybe 50 or 60 of the photos I took which I thought I could share. 

This is part of a nicely decorated wall, in Eat Play and Love cafe. 

My son playing with a balloon.  

A happy cat playing the guitar part of another nicely decorated wall.  

Son smiling after the flying balloon. I should have moved so that the bag and buggy in the background were not in the frame (I tried cropping but unless I chopped part of the little head, they were still there), but that was difficult to notice at the time and is a lesson for next time. 

Now that it exists the Clapham photo club will meet again for other exciting activities. So if you want to join or have any suggestions please do get in touch. 

Practicing photography (4) – People I see everyday


This is a short post about a picture, the picture of a regular person I see everyday on my way to work. This picture will be part of  ‘project 52’ which is about publishing a photo every week with a story. Photomonthly magazine are inviting people to take part in this project and they will be reviewing photos from April for a year until April next year and will select winners.

So here is my first entry for project52. 

Living in a big metropolis is often synonymous with busy and hectic lives where people don’t have the time to stop. Although that is true it is also true that despite the fast-paced lives people like to connect and perform what is a basic human need. 

Almost everyday on my way to work I walk by a fruit stand by the tube entrance where a nice man chats to people – ‘morning love’, ‘hello princess’, ‘hi mate’ – and sells fruits and some veg. He is not the farmer that grows them in his garden, of course he is the seller who buys the products in a bigger wholesale market and sells them to us, little people populating the trains, streets and office buildings. And we know these fruits come from other countries as far as Spain, Israel or Ecuador. But he is nice and chatty and I like him. He is a regular on my way to work and I appreciate that I can see a few familiar faces everyday as opposed to the constant flow of people I have never seen before.

So I decided to take his picture one day, break the ice and ask him if he wanted to pose for me. And he said yes.

He was pleased and a bit shy which made the experience of taking his photo quite amusing.

More photos will follow for this project. 

Practicing photography (3) – Brixton Market


Brixton has always been attractive for many reasons, the market, musical venues (Brixton Academy), its history, the blend of different cultures and the way it has changed. For me it is a place with a lot of interest but also somewhere I walk to every day after dropping the little one off in the morning. I catch the tube in Brixton station and I have to say it is much better than the Northern Line, more space and more trains. 

A website with info and old photos from Brixton tells me more about the market, the lifeblood of Brixton. The main bit of the market is on Electric Avenue which was the first shopping street to be lit by electricity. It used to be a high end shopping street for I would guess wealthy Edwardians and Victorians. It is quite different these days, being a fresh-produce market with music and clothes, displaying bright colours and a range of varied foods reflecting Brixton’s multiethnic population. You can find fresh as well as dried fish (which I need to learn how to cook), thai pastes such as tom yum, jerk seasoning, jamaican patties, argentinian empanadas and all types of fruits and vegetables.  

One of the alleyways on Reliance Arcade. You can buy freshly made popcorn at the top of the arcade, a temptation every time I walk past in the evening.

The main part of the market on Electric Avenue.
This is the same avenue c.1912 – courtesy of urban75 (Lambeth archives).

I love this colourful, thick leggins! 

Fresh and nicely displayed fish. 

Yam, plantane bananas,  squash and other vegetables. 

Fresh meat and a man that accepted to pose for me.  I should have been closer and not include the fridge bar that cuts through the image (next time…) 

Another arcade on Market Row. Many new bars and restaurants open here as this is becoming a trendy place. At the end of the Arcade at Franco Manca pizzeria, you can eat delicious pizzas with a very fine crust. 
The same arcade in the 1960s – love the pram and tricycles. 

Another new and trendy place to eat with a very ‘literary’ name – Bukowski. 

A special focus on peppers for their colours and taste. We have been using them quite a bit recently for an Albanian dish – stuffed peppers. 

My second journey into photography – what did I learn?


This time around I was ready to really understand the basics of photography: depth of field, shutter speed, aperture etc. 
What I needed was someone talking me through the different elements of photography and I had more realistic expectations than those during my first journey (see previous post). I wasn’t going to be the photographer I may have dreamt about in my younger years.
 
My main subject was going to be the little baby that has taken 
centre stage in my life. Because he is growing fast and time just flies, I wanted to capture all the beautiful moments, his cheeky smile, his first claps (the first time he clapped he was really excited)


… his first time in the sea, etc. 


So we decided to invest in a Canon 650D and I decided to enroll in a course: Introduction to digital photography. A friend wanted to do the same, so we both signed up for it.
 
The start was quite slow, we kept coming back to the same points (aperture and shutter speed) as they are a little bit counter-intuitive and difficult to remember. But perhaps the repetition was good for remembering!
 
As photography is quite technical and has a long history of adapting to different technologies, the way things work doesn’t make much sense to the modern user. So it is important to structure the course so that the technicalities don’t become a barrier. The best way of learning was by practicing and sharing images in the class. After the course which allowed me to understand the basics, it was important to practice which I did.
I took photos everywhere, on holiday, at the park, at home. Some of the holiday photos were overexposed, especially those taken on the beach as it was really bright. And on a few occasions I missed the moment, while deciding on the settings.
So two lessons so far, be careful about overexposure and use automatic mode when need to capture quickly. 
 
But what else did I learn from the course?
 
Before you start, using the camera in manual mode, start by checking the ISO values first. I then set my aperture and last shutter speed. 
 
The triangle
 
The triangle of exposure is key. Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are the three elements which can be used to control the amount of light coming in through the camera and the effects, one wants to achieve.  
 
Aperture (or the f stop) – an easy way to remember  
 
The way I remember this, avoiding the technicalities is: when I want to take a picture that focuses on a subject and I want to throw everything else out of focus, I use a small number for the F stop (fsomething like f3.5, f4 or F5.6; for other lenses it can be different and the smaller the number the better the effect, the lowest being f1.4).

When I want to have everything in focus and not lose any details I use higher numbers (f16, f22). The values in the middle produce a bit less of each effect and a bit more of the other.
 
ISO values
 
The ISO sets the sensitivity of the sensor (the modern version of the film) to light. So on a dark day, indoors higher values of ISO (400-1600 and over 1600) will increase the brightness of the picture. On a sunny day and outdoors the lowest values will be enough (100-400).  
 
Shutter speed – an easy way to remember 
 
For values of shutter speed at about 1/60, 1/125  a lot of light comes into the camera. For values of 1000 and more, less light goes through. What’s important is to have a high enough shutter speed to freeze the moment and have a sharp image – values above 1/125. 
 
Depth of field 

One thing I remember well because I like using it, is depth of field and how you can make an image have different layers. This is like using various values of aperture but in addition you decide how close you want to be to the main object of your photo and make the rest looks unimportant. I like images with shallow depth of field, where an element is clear and the rest out of focus.


I also like taking landscapes and again with shallow depth of field, focusing on a flower or a leave.

Also street reporting is interesting but also difficult to do unless you have a really good long lens so that you don’t have to be really close to people’s faces. 

 

 

The rule of thirds 

The rule of thirds stuck with me as an aesthetics general rule to keep in mind. It seems that images are more pleasing to the eye when the subject is in one or two thirds of the image frame rather than dead in the centre. I really like using this as it gives me something to focus on when I take a picture and have to decide framing my image. Which bits matter most, what should I keep in, leave out?  

So here is my resume of a photography course and lessons from practice. I am hoping to keep practicing and perhaps will share more tips in the future! 

What about you, do you use your camera in manual mode? What are your tips? 

My first journey into photography


I recently started a photography course, Encouraged by a friend, but also following an earlier passion of mine. I had always wanted to be good at taking pictures and perhaps a few many times I had lived in the dream of being a photographer. This is when I was a student in Paris studying Economics which I used to find boring and un-interesting. Contrary to that dull theory of numbers, photography seemed a much more exciting and creative option. And so seemed to me all other humanities subjects from social studies to history, literature and art.

Photography though held a special place in my subjects ‘pantheon’ – that of being accessible, anyone can be a photographer, all you need is a good camera. I had a great desire to be spending my time doing photography stuff, documenting faces, particular happenings, people on the margins, unusual interactions. I wanted to photograph the beautiful but not only, also what was less attractive and striking. I didn’t get very close on this first journey, but it is still work in progress.

Meeting similar people and being part of artistic groups was interesting but not really. From my limited experience of artistic circles my impressions had been of self-blown snob artists that talked with an air of superiority. They didn’t gain my trust so being part of their company wasn’t very inspiring. For some reasons conversing with people that write, rather than artists has been easier.

So back in those student days I invested in a semi professional Nikon F65 film camera. That was in 2001 when digital photography had just started. I didn’t think of the digital option as I wasn’t aware of it. I also believed I wanted to be a proper artistic photographer taking film camera photos, developing myself (which I did at various occasions in a squat on Rue de Rivoli) and taking such good pictures that the doors of the photography world would one day open and welcome me.

Of course being a student is often a phase in life when we have lots of dreams and ideals. And mine were plenty and varied.

I made a good use of that first camera. I bought two second hand photography books and embarked on a self-discovery journey of photography. I used to love going out in the streets of Paris and later Tirana, documenting things that I saw and struck me.


In front of Centre Georges Pompidou on a snowy day


Old couple resting in Pont Neuf

Street fun at Île Saint-Louis 


Grand father with grand children near an Italian restaurant ‘Casa della pasta’ where I used to work

But the self discovery journey didn’t prove easy. Photography is quite technical and I couldn’t quite turn into practice what I read about in the books, various focal lengths and depths of field.

Then things changed, my time in Paris came to an end, back home in Tirana I felt like a fish out of water. Passion for Photography was still there but I embarked on a different journey, closer to literature. I translated from French to Albanian a book from George Bataille, an eccentric french writer of the first half of 20th century. His books are about the dark side of human beings, their sexual desires and perversions and the neurosis and unusual behaviors of his characters resulting from the suppression of their dark side. I translated ‘La littérature et le Mal’, which will be the subject of another blog post.


So photography passion was superseded by Bataille and later on when I returned to Paris by my Master’s in Epistemology and Philosophy of Economics, a re-visit of my economic studies but under a much better angle. Major finding – I realised what I didn’t like was finance and not political economy!

Last stop for my first photographic journey was an evening in Paris on ‘la Fête de la musique’ in 2006 when my dear Nikon F65 was stolen from me. While I was celebrating and dancing to the sound of music in front of the fire station in ‘le Marais’ some very agile young men managed to isolate me from my camera bag by standing between me and the corner where I had put it. They won and I lost and so ended with tears and anger my first photographic journey.

Some other pictures I took back then are here


L’Île Saint-Louis one of my favorite places in Paris back then – we used to sit on the river’s banks, drink beers and chat to everyone


Men fishing in Île Saint-Louis 


Boy selling cigarettes in Tirana


Boy under the statue of the Albanian national hero Skenderbeg

Five years later in a very different place and context I embarked on my second journey into photography… To follow on next post.