Photo Tips: Exposure & Scenes

May 24, 2011 in Dad Tips  

Photo Tips: Exposure & Scenes

Welcome back for more tips on how to take better pictures of your kids. I think the bush has been well and truly beaten at this stage, and you’re probably raring to get started on actually taking some photos. Rubber, meet road.

Exposure 101

Taking a picture is all about capturing light on a sensor (could be a frame of film, but for the purposes of these articles I’m talking about digital camera sensors. The principles are identical). There’s a ‘correct’ amount of light you want to capture so that the picture won’t be too dark or too light, and that’s known as exposure.

You have 3 ways to control your exposure (how much light is captured) – aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

These can be simply explained with the metaphor of filling up a paddling pool in the back garden from your hosepipe.

  • Aperture is the width of the hosepipe
  • Shutter speed is how long you turn on the tap for
  • ISO, or sensitivity, is the depth of the paddling pool.

Changing any of these factors determines how long you have to stand there while your 3 year old whines that they want to have a swim Daddy, how much longer, Mummy said they could HAVE A SWIM DADDY!!! Getting back to the point, it determines how quickly you capture the correct amount of light – your exposure.

Each of these settings has an effect on how your photo looks, and they’re all inter-dependent. It’s a complex set of variables, and it takes a loooooot of experience to be able to set them all correctly if you’re doing it manually. Luckily for you, your digital camera contains a small but perfectly formed computer, which works out the best overall exposure for what it sees in the frame.

Taking control

Your camera has a number of shooting modes. Some of these allow you to directly control all the exposure settings I mentioned before, and then there are the Automatic modes that leave it all up to the camera and its tiny computer to figure out.

There’s a good chance that you’re not interested in hours and hours of practice to learn how to control your camera manually. But since you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume that you’re a little frustrated with getting images that didn’t work out quite as planned. I have one major tip for getting more satisfying results without having to go away for 3 years and do a photography degree:

Get Out Of Idiot Mode.

Idiot Mode is how pro photographers sneeringly refer to the green square, or full Auto, or whatever mode it is where you just point, shoot and let the camera do the rest. The problem with Idiot Mode is that the camera will actually get it wrong a surprising amount of the time. Unless you’re shooting a static object in bright, even light, Idiot Mode is quite likely to give you blurry pictures, pictures that look like you live on the surface of the Sun, or that look like you took them down a well at midnight. Children are not static. Their natural habitat is not bright, even light BECAUSE THEY KEEP WAKING ME UP AT 5AM (could just be mine). You have better options than Idiot Mode.

Scene it

Your camera probably has some ‘Scene’ modes – those icons of flowers, mountains and whatnot.

I’m going to recommend sticking to the following two modes for the majority of your images. Firstly, there’s Portrait mode. It normally has an icon that looks like a pretty lady’s head:

I think I’m a little in love with her because she’s so silky smooth. This mode will draw attention to the subject (i.e. your child) by blurring the background. You should use Portrait mode for most of your images when kids aren’t moving around too much, or when it’s getting dark.

Secondly we have Sports mode. It should have an icon like a toddler sprinting for the knife drawer, something like this:

This mode attempts to freeze action by increasing the shutter speed. If you’re shooting a child on a bike, running around in the garden, being hurled around on a rollercoaster, basically anything involving fast motion, this is the one to go for. I’d also recommend using flash in this mode, as this will also help to stop fast movement.

It really doesn’t take much effort to flick between one of these two modes depending on your situation. But consistently using this one tip will give very sizable improvements in the quality and consistency of your photographs. give it a go, let me know how it works out for you, and next time maybe we’ll actually start looking up from the controls.

Have fun!

David Bier is a professional children’s photographer based in London. So you can imagine how many pictures he has of his son Isaac. You can find out more about his children’s photography at his website.

Please Comment & Add Your Voice!

Tad June 8, 2011 at 7:46 am

Fantastic! You’ve totally just inspired me to write a post on the same subject. For the last two years, so much of my life has revolved around trying to get halfway decent pics of the kids, and I’ve had a few tips of my own I wanted to add. GREAT primer post though!


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