Such a Rebel. Christmas card photo tips.

This "maybe tutorial" was put together for all the people (moms and dads) that just want to take decent family photos a couple of times a year (or everyday) for their Christmas cards and for the grand parents. All you need is your DSLR with a kit lens. I know you have saved and wished for one FOREVER to get it, and you can’t afford a new lens right now. So lets work with what you have!! The one I used for this tutorial is the RebelXT 350D...its $50 on Ebay.

     This is the first time I have touched my Rebel and kit lens since 2008. I was given the camera and lens set as a wedding gift in 2006. In January of 2008, I started my photo school in Hawaii, investing in my 24-70 and 70 -200 so I never touched my kit lens after that...or before that.  I was deathly afraid of ever taking a photo. I literally rolled up at photo school not knowing what a shutter speed was. Thats another story for another time.  A couple of years ago I discovered a youtube series called, "pro photographer cheap camera” Its really funny, you should check it out. The point of the series was that the tool is an extension of the artist. So it didn’t matter that these were cheap cameras, the pros showcased their artistry by making killer images with their limited resources. Anyways my point to this tutorial/something I just put together is NOT meant for professionals. Because kit lenses restrict you in your ability to tell the camera what you want.

Side note*** I got rid of the original kit lens like 5 years ago and needed one for my photobooth so the kit lens I have is from 2012. Still a kit len. 

Double side note** Professionally, I shoot with my 5d Mark 3 and a collection of my L glass, mainly my 70-200mm f/2.8L. Daily I shoot with my iPhone, so the Rebel is a happy medium.

 

Here she is. My rebel that I refuse to part with since 2006. (and its only $30 on Ebay...I don't need the money, that much. This was taken with my phone.

Here she is. My rebel that I refuse to part with since 2006. (and its only $30 on Ebay...I don't need the money, that much. This was taken with my phone.

These are some pics that come out of this camera::

1) Wait for it.

Some things that are worth waiting for:

1) The love of your life.

2) Rita’s Italian ice re-opening after a long winter. 

3) Your raw seafood to cook….unless its Blue Fin Tuna…You can just bite into that sucker the moment you catch it. 

4) An hour before sunset so you can use the magic light God bestows upon us to take your family photos.

Just think about it. You spend GOBBS of money on matching outfits for your kid lets. Its the first time in 4 years that you have been able to get your husband into a button up shirt and you haven’t worn a dress since…your wedding day. Its also your first family reunion in 8 year.  Everything is ready to go at noon so lets do this while everyone is happy, right? WRONG!

If you have contacted me for a family session at all, you will hear the first words out of my mouth are: "I shoot an hour before sunset.”  In July it falls around 7:45pm (!!) start time and in November, 5:30pm.

Timing really is everything. Its the difference between a crap photo and a great photo. No one is squinting, everyone is generally comfortable and the light is even so all you have to focus on is getting the moments :). 

In my example below, the photos were taken at 5:20pm around the end of June. 

Granted my kids had been running around for 2 hours straight before then and sweating up a storm, it perfectly illustrates the tragedy of what your photos will look like if you don’t wait. Even if their hair was brushed and you put their Christening dress on them, it would literally look like a HOT MESS.

Of course you can run for the shade at any time in the day. I do think that you are limited in your background choice and the temperature is still high, so the heat and humidity would really make it obnoxious, fast. I did wait a little later than I should have to do the almost sunset pics, but its still preferable to the 5pm shots. The only exception to this rule is…shooting at sunrise :).

Below are examples of HORRIBLE LIGHTING...AKA before the magic hour. Don't do it!! The light is so harsh and unflattering, all you can think about is how horrible they are.

All taken at 5:20pm.....I think i'll go watch Frozen and part of The lego movie and come out in a few hours. Its so hot Uriah couldn't keep clothes on. Notice the squinting, the uneven lighting the YELLOWNESS.

All taken at 5:20pm.....I think i'll go watch Frozen and part of The lego movie and come out in a few hours. Its so hot Uriah couldn't keep clothes on.
Notice the squinting, the uneven lighting the YELLOWNESS.

This was taken at the same time but in a patch of shade was only where our less than desirable background was our fence. No thanks, I'll wait. It did look more desirable the further we got from it...but then we walked into the sun :).

This was taken at the same time but in a patch of shade was only where our less than desirable background was our fence. No thanks, I'll wait. It did look more desirable the further we got from it...but then we walked into the sun :).

2) Separate your people/Subject from their Background. 

With kit lenses, you are limited in how wide your aperture can be and when they vary from one focal length to another it is annoying. One thing that will make your images pop and blur out the background a little more is to  separate them. Like a lot. Below you will see my sad yard not unlike many in subdivisions around this great nation. I didn’t think the fence really added to the photo or my neighbors siding so I placed them about 30 feet in front of the trees on the left. I did get on my knees and shoot up because Wanted just them and the trees. at f/5.6 it worked out great. That fence really did bother me so I even had them sit down and photographed them with the grass around them. 

Yep...the setting for this amazing shoot. Not a magical wonderland, just my backyard with a view of my fancy neighbors perfect yard.

Yep...the setting for this amazing shoot. Not a magical wonderland, just my backyard with a view of my fancy neighbors perfect yard.

I want the focus to be Judah, and I think the fence is distracting, so I would personally find a different spot for him where the background wasn't so front and centre.

I want the focus to be Judah, and I think the fence is distracting, so I would personally find a different spot for him where the background wasn't so front and centre.

Great lengths.

  If you have been around me for more than 30 seconds while I shoot, you will notice VERY fast that I am partial to my bohemoth 70-200mm 2.8L. Thats not because I enjoy lifting weights or pretending to be paparazzi. Its because this lens makes people beautiful. Its my favorite. If I was stranded on a desert island with my family and an unlimited supply of caffeine, but was only allowed one lens?…that would be my 70-200.

That being said, the kit lens is NOT the 70-200, but on a X1.6 crop sensor like the Rebel (google that), I would 100 percent of the time shoot it at 55mm and its widest, which is f/5.6, for people photos. The wider you shoot, on the 18mm end the more distortion you get, meaning the people would get stretched out on both ends of your frame, not flattering if you are at the end of the group shot! On the wider end it is cute artistically, if you want to include the surrounding, like NOT your over grown yard. I would only shoot a couple wide shots, because if you are doing Christmas pics, the chances are you want the focus to be on the people. This is if you only have the 18-55mm, if you have kit lenses that go up to 300mm…I say go for it! That will look even more amazing.

**Even if I was using my 70-200mm f/ 2.8 I would still shoot at f/4 for any set up with more than 1 person because I want people in focus. So f/5.6 is not that big of a stretch.

This is a cute pic (and I intentionally shot it this way.) I wanted to illustrate at 18mm how distorted the image gets the further you move from the outside....his hands aren't that big in relations to the rest of his body :).

This is a cute pic (and I intentionally shot it this way.) I wanted to illustrate at 18mm how distorted the image gets the further you move from the outside....his hands aren't that big in relations to the rest of his body :).

Ready, set, GO! 

 

Once I decided what my timing is ( Sunset or sunrise) . Background (far far away from the subject) and focal length 55mm (because I don’t have a choice, and I don’t want to make people wider than they are). I set me camera to manual (M) mode and set my shutter and aperture. The best part about manual mode is once you find the sweet spot, it NEVER changes unless you dial it in, or you change the focal length and the aperture will vary. The photos below were taken at 8pm to 8:20pm and the Aperture is F/5.6 because thats the widest the lens will let me. The shutter speed is 1/200th SEC and I did have to jack my ISO to 800 because I wanted the shutter to be fast, so motion blur won’t be a problem….Please google Shutter, Aperture and ISO for their relationships…there are LOTS better explanations out there than what I can write for you.

 

So all these pics below are:: 55mm iso 800, 1/200th SEC/ f/5.6 (if its too dark lower your shutter, too bright make your shutter speed higher)  …for me that worked in the situation so it freed me to talk to my kids quote their favorite lines from The Lego movie and Frozen and ask them to tell jokes. When Malachi walked out to tell me something, they started just talking to their dad and thats when the real goofiness and expressions came out. I do have to say that making them laugh Instead of, you know? threatening to take away their inheritance, gets genuine smiles. Think the end of Monster inc. when they figured out it was more productive to collect laughs, than screams. We want them to enjoy the process and reward them for their participation. Bribes are good…I would try to save it for the end, but sometimes in life, you need to break the rules.

Also, BE FAST don’t drag this on. if you want to test the settings on an older member of the family, then all you would have to do is place the kids where you want them and keep clicking away! My first click was 8:04pm and my last click was 8:17pm…and they were MORE than done with me. 

Work it.

Afterwards I put all the photos in Lightroom and added http://www.redleafboutique.com/ presets. I pushed the exposure on the darker images just by a little bit…below are a few before and afters. Top/Left is BEFORE and bottom/right images is after the preset and exposure adjustment is light room. Notice that I only put a "style" preset on, I didn't "fix" the images in lightroom. If your images are good to begin with you don't have anything to fix. I took 165 images in the 15 minutes I was photographing and I picked 65 keepers. the rest were mostly blinks and repeats of certain images.

I guess most of these pointers apply even if you are shooting with  your iPhone (except for the focal length and settings)...Because you can always control what time of day you shoot and the background and of course, the expressions. 

I am not talking about keeping your camera hidden till sunset, because great moments happen all day, everyday!!!  I am simply talking about the couple times a year you might want good pics of your family and you can control the environment and timing. Let me know if you have any questions at all in the comment box and I will try to get to it. I hope I haven't left you with more questions than answers. Good luck :).

When you can afford better lenses that give you choices in your shooting situations, I say go for it. But if all you have is a kit lens, then thats more than enough. When you have great photos of great moments, no ones going to care what camera you used,