Category Archives: family

Using Flash for Better Outdoor Photographs

I always thought flash was for indoor photography. The only time I remember seeing my Dad use it was at Christmas photographing three generations of the family sitting down to Christmas dinner. We look so miserable staring back at the camera, probably the prospect of playing Monopoly. It wasn’t something he was used to using so every year he had to learn how to open the fan-like reflector, push a flash bulb into the housing, plug in the sync lead and calculate exposure.  I doubt there was ever very much spontaneity to capture but it would certainly have drained away by the time my Dad lifted the camera to his eye.

family child photography Teddington southwest London flash

this needs a little complimentary light to bring up the eyes

What’s a flash bulb?

Oh yes, you might not be as old as me.  Before electronic flash guns were invented photographers had a little glass bulb containing magnesium wire in oxygen.  The glass was coated in blue plastic in case it shattered, they could only be used once.  They had a cost so my Dad wouldn’t dream of using a flash outside in the sun.  Sunshine has always been free!


Push the ISO and turn off the flash

Modern digital cameras are getting better and better in low light.  In-doors I’d much rather turn on the lights, turn up the ISO and turn off the flash.  Camera-mounted flash is so harsh – it produces flat pictures with no subtlety or nuance of character.  It’s often adopted as a style for fashion or music photography.  I think it’s horrid.

family child photography Teddington southwest London holiday

too dark – turn on the flash!

Sun out – flash on

On the other hand, outdoors I almost always use flash.  It improves so many pictures by lifting the shadows, especially those thrown across a face by the sunshine.  It’s often called fill-in flash, but it shouldn’t fill the shadows completely, they’re vital to give a picture tonal depth.  Blasting a shot with flash out doors produces the same harshness as it does in doors.

family child photography Teddington southwest London park flash

the flash adds enough light to stop it being a silhouette

Complimentary Light

The right amount of additional light to throw on an outdoor subject is an amount that is just enough to make it look right.  That’s maybe not the most profound thing you’ve read in a photography blog!  The thing is, while I’m advocating lifting the shadows by using flash in outdoor photography, there are often times when you want a nice deep shadow.  Well that’s a good aesthetic choice for you to make, but you only have a choice about how dark to make the shadows if you capture some shadow detail in the first place.  At the risk of stating the obvious, a well-exposed picture has nothing too bright and nothing too dark so you can then choose to burn out the bright parts or turn shadows into pools of darkness.

wedding photography southwest london flashIt demanded a lot of skill in the days of film to apply flash outdoors with any subtlety.  Digital cameras make it possible and practice will make it quicker. When you’re out in the sun, turn on the flash, take the picture, find some shade and have a look at what you’ve got.  Look at the shadows; you should be able to see some detail but it shouldn’t be anywhere near as bright as the sunlit areas.  If it is, lower the power of the flashgun and take it again.  If you can’t manually control the power of the flash then try putting pieces of opaque tape over the flashgun.  Professional level flashguns can be set to balance the flash output with the ambient light, in my experience of the Nikon’s they work really well.

Throwing light into darkness doesn’t necessarily demand a flashgun.  A reflector is just as effective for portraiture, it’s much cheaper than a flashgun but does need either an adjustable mount and stand or someone to hold it.  Reflectors can be white, silver or gold.  The white versions give a softer light than the silver and the gold produces a ‘sunset’ colour cast.  I’ve asked someone in a white shirt to stand-in for a reflector or propped up pieces of white card.  Mirrors can also work, but they give a very hard light, are often heavy and present a real danger if they’re dropped!


Sunshine means sun-glasses

What are eyes if not windows on the soul?  So make people take off their cool shades, and remember to allow time for the little red marks either side of the nose to fade.  That should also allow enough time for their eyes to adjust to the brighter light, you don’t want your subject to be squinting in the sun!

Don’t Forget to Photograph Family and Friends this Christmas, it’s the Best Time to Catch Them!

A present from me to all my friends and family over the holiday period is to always have my camera to hand.

David with skateboard at xmas

When they get what they want, they’re happy!

I’m going to make more effort to photograph family and friends this Christmas.  Whether or not they want me too!

Looking back at Christmases past there are plenty of photographs showing our children when they were small.  Toddlers only have to be tearing wrapping from presents to look sweet. Still more cute when they’re wearing the jumper knit by Granny. Unsurprisingly there are fewer pictures in our family collection of the children as teenagers.  “Dad! Stop taking pictures!”  It’s not just the awkwardness of adolescents that stopped me snapping pics of Christmas celebrations, it’s a bit of laziness.  Well lethargy at least. Often it’s such a relief to get to the 25th December with work finished and presents bought, wrapped, hidden and delivered (to Santa obviously) that it’s easy to forget about the camera.

Emma opening a present fom Gran at Christmas

Is the dress made out of Christmas wrapping?

It seems to me that concealed inside the Christmas routine are some great photo opportunities. Especially for anyone who likes photographing people. The good humour that pervades most souls makes them a little more patient with the persistent photographer.  Playing with a new toy, or exploring a new gadget is very distracting anyway – so there’s a good chance to capture pictures of people while they concentrate on the operating system or lose themselves in their new book.  There are better pictures to be taken if you can encourage people to sit by a window in natural light.  Generally, don’t bother with the camera’s built-in flash.  Sometimes by chance the light from a standard or table lamp will light a face nicely, if the camera’s ready you needn’t miss it.

If you’re getting together with family or friends it’s a real shame not to get a picture of everyone, especially if you don’t often see each other. Open the door to visitors with a camera in your hands. There’s a lovely picture of smiles, kisses and handshakes as guests arrive. It also establishes from the start that you intend to take pictures, and of course gives the visitors permission to do the same. When you’re the visitor you have to make a judgment about the appropriateness of taking the camera.  Usually I find people are pleased when they see my Nikon round my neck.  Perhaps because they know they’re looking good and the house is tidy!

Granny and Granddad at Christmas

Memories to treasure

The secret is knowing when to stop taking pictures, I don’t like photographs of people eating. In between courses, while one person is holding everyone’s attention with a good story, you can quietly turn the lens towards the listeners. But then it’s time to put the camera down.  Except for getting everyone to pose for a group picture, that’s always fun. Prop the camera on some books and use the self-timer. In years to come the pictures will develop all the more poignance.

Christmas walk

Grandma and mum, daughter and mum, granddaughter and daughter

Along with millions of others we go for a walk after lunch on Christmas day.  New bikes and scooters usually abound, but best not to take pictures of children falling off. Have the camera at the ready for the unexpected encounter with a neighbour in their Christmas jumper.  No one will mind you taking pictures. They can’t, it’s Christmas!

A Perfect Family Portrait

You Don’t Need A Perfect Family For A Perfect Family Portrait

Any idea how many pictures you have on your phone or on your computer? How often do you look at them? Most of us have hundreds of photographs of our family that chart growth on development, but how many can qualify as a perfect family portrait?

It’s great to snap away while your kids are small; once mine got bigger they stopped being quite so co-operative. Now I tell myself that one day I’ll sort through the folders and folders of photos lurking in every corner and crevice of my computer’s hard-drives. If not during the long winter nights then I’ll do it when I retire. Of course going through old pictures of your family is a sheer delight, a luxuriant bathe in nostalgia. “Oh look at this picture.” I’ll say to my daughter. “That’s a picture of you when you were nice.” And she’ll reply; “You should remember who’ll be choosing your nursing home in a few years!” If we take enough, we’re bound to get some good pictures. Surely?
Just occasionally it’s worth investing a little more time to get a really special portrait of your family. It can be a lovely present for grandparents, or a picture of the kids with the grandparents for mum on Mother’s Day or dad on Father’s day can make great presents for your partner. They’ll all love it, they have to!

So how to get that special picture? It’s got to be more than just clicking away for longer. Firstly, make everyone aware that it’s important to you and get their co-operation. Bribery, blackmail and coercion are the most useful tools. Plan it for some time ahead so no one has to change a plan they’ve made to go to the skate-park or out with a boyfriend. Remind everyone of how much the picture will be appreciated by mum/dad/grandparents. Think carefully about where and when to stage the portrait. Do it in the daytime to take advantage of natural light. 

Beware that direct sunlight will look horrible with strong contrast and shadows. Positioning people in or near a north or east facing window will give a lovely soft light that still shows the shapes and textures. Try to include things like photographs of late relatives, souvenirs from holidays, odd bits of sports or hobby equipment or anything that represents your lives. These are the touches that will make the picture much more meaningful and poignant as the years pass.

If you’re to be in the picture yourself, you’ll need a camera with a shutter time delay or a remote control. A tripod is useful but you can balance the camera on a chair, table or even a stepladder. You could set up the shot and then get your daughter’s boyfriend to press the button; it’s a good excuse to leave him out of the picture! Compose the picture with care so that everyone can be seen and be in focus. The more natural the shot looks the better, and you can overcome some of the awkwardness by getting everyone to play the family’s favourite board game. Keep everyone in position for as long as possible; as they get bored they’ll stop posing for the camera, then as conversations start and niggles begin to reveal themselves you’ll get photographs that look much more real. The portrait will show everyone interacting with each other and being a family. Of course small children won’t keep still for very long, so best to just let them move around, they’ll add some spontaneity and help distract everyone from the camera. The important thing is to keep shooting so you’ve got lots of shots to choose from, and save the bad shots for blackmail next time!

family portrait Richmond photographer