Every dad blog worth its weight in bratwurst ought to have a moose photo on its pages.
I think Hemingway said that. Or maybe Socrates. It could have been Jimmy Carter, but anyway … it’s true, and I feel as if, today, I have arrived.
Please welcome Tamara from Tamara Camera Blog. I’ve said before that I can’t categorize her as a photo blogger who can write like a champ, or an awesome writer who takes incredible pictures. She’s all this. She’s the ace of the pitching staff who also hits cleanup, but on the big stage, not just a 1A high school in rural Iowa.
Be sure to visit her social-media links and check out her amazing work. I would have had this excellent post up yesterday, but I was blissfully lost out of the reach of civilization. Tamara’s words are a great way to return to my world.
Once upon a time, I figured out that I wanted to be a photographer. It is a story that I’ve told a thousand times and I’ll tell it a thousand times more – it started when I saw the sun shining through the school bus window and lighting the long, blond eyelashes of a classmate as he stood and waited for his stop. I thought instantly that it should be photographed but I wasn’t in the habit of taking one of my prized cameras onto school buses, and also not in the habit of having that boy (or anyone else on the bus, for that matter) think that I “like” liked him. I actually didn’t know him very well, but this is how rumors get started, right?
Photographing a boy’s eyelashes on a school bus. I’d be that girl. “She did WHAT on a bus?” Yup, that would have been me.
At merely 10 years old.
And so I kept silent. For a long time. And then years passed without a decent outlet for my stress/joy/love/beauty/wonder/disgust, etc. until the day an ex-boyfriend (then current) gave me my first serious camera. All heck broke loose the moment my finger found the shutter button. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t stop. I took photos of everything – trees, buildings, sunsets, events. Then I moved to portraits of animals and people. I thought they both had their advantages and challenges. I liked challenges. I would drive 10 hours to the middle-of-nowhere Maine just to photograph a moose. It’s not easy to photograph a moose. It’s not easy to find a moose.
I consider myself inspired by many things. However if you had asked me once what I would photograph if I was told I had to spend my life only photographing one thing? I would have chosen moose, hands down. I would have spent my life huddled around wild swamps at daybreak and again at twilight. It would have been a happy life – moose and me. And then life had other plans in the shape of a handsome man and a plan to settle in and find new inspiration. I found something I wanted to photograph more than moose.
Along came my baby girl. A bundle of joy. Out came a newer, more serious camera. The inspiration came hurtling out of its gated jail and it never left. It never will. I learned so much about photographing babies and then toddlers. Then I had a second baby. A boy bundle of joy. A messier, droolier and lazier version of his sister. He is wonderful, though. Dirt-smudged and all. Toothy-grinned.
And now that we have two mouths to feed, it isn’t just inspiration. It’s survival. I’m here to take these photography skills further than they’ve gone before. Create a successful business. Sit in front of a computer until I’ve missed three days of my life doing batch processing. Then, taking a break only to dive back down to the depths of this deep, mysterious and vastly unknown dream of mine.
I photograph families, children and children-related events most of all. Like the elusive moose, there has to be discovery and intuition.
Each year … no, each month (let’s be real here, each day) – has new challenges on the horizon as children grow. I run after them to keep up, and I’m learning all the while. There are some tried-and-true methods that work for me to get the best photography I can of the various personalities I meet. Just like I once did with moose, I take in and give out tips I’ve learned to get better photos:
1. I don’t have preconceived ideas of how I want to pose kids. I never have them say “cheese.” Kids cannot easily be molded or bended into uncomfortable positions, at least with any kind of easy or natural result. I wait to see what they’ll do – climb a tree, giggle on the ground, point to the sky. I may pretend I’m checking settings, even when I’m snapping away. I may gently ask them to move an arm or a leg and I may nudge them into a certain position, but you can bet they were there or on their way there to begin with.
… alternately, I don’t have preconceived ideas of how I want to pose moose. I never have them say “cheese.” Their limbs are not easily molded or bended. I take what I can get and marvel at its easy and natural result:
2. Relax. And wait. Patience is key. So is continuous shooting mode. I find that a fast shutter speed (at least 1/250) is important to avoid blur. Find your moment. Find your moments. Shoot, shoot away.
Similarly with moose, patience is important. Those suckers are really, really hard to find unless you don’t want to find them which is only while you’re driving alone on a deep, dark road and one steps out in front of your car. Generally you want to try dawn or dusk – in wet, swampy areas to actually see them, although the photographic results won’t be ideal. Always, always ask the locals. Moose can be unpredictable but if they go to a certain watering hole every day at the same time, chances are you’ll get results by going there. Obviously broad daylight is best for properly exposed and relatively non-blurry photos.
3. Get close. Find those flattering angles – generally when you shoot from too low, you get unflattering up-the-nose shots. I use a prime portrait lens in 35mm or 50mm. When you’re close and right in their faces, talk to them. Whether they’re babies or toddlers or older kids or adults (or moose), just talk, talk away. It will show in your photos.
However, don’t do this with moose. Don’t get close. And if you do, for some silly reason, you can take up-the-nose shots if you want. Don’t try to be taller than a moose. Unless you have a ladder. And the moose is stuffed. With moose, use a zoom lens or a long prime.
4. Have a helper! Once I did a photo shoot with a one-year-old, and her older cousin held her favorite stuffed animal just over my shoulder. In every photo, she is laughing and glowing and clapping her hands. Sometimes I can’t entertain and shoot at the same time, especially not if my subject requires me to dance and make faces. Having a relative or friend or assistant is wonderful. I also confess that I’m not above bribery.
Helpers come in handy when looking for moose too! I generally like a helper to drive the car and slam on the brakes every time a large, dark patch of something or other flashes in between our eyes. When you look for moose all day, sometimes you start to hallucinate logs as moose. True story. A helper will park the car safely and far enough away from the moose so as not to disturb them (remember, you have a zoom lens, right??) and will stay patiently while you take photos. Mama moose with babies and male moose in mating season are very dangerous. In reality, all moose are unpredictable. So leave your moose pheromones and moose mating call whistles at home. (Yes, they exist here and here.) You should be above that kind of bribery.
5. This should be obvious but if it isn’t, use natural light as a first choice. Second choice can easily be an external flash or portable flash or just anything that bounces away from the children’s faces. Flash can eliminate eye-catching shadows and give the skin a flat look. If it’s bright enough, natural light and a simple prop or two will work wonders.
And you know what’s coming. Moose like natural light too. If you shoot a flash in their face, they may charge you. And even worse, their eyes will glow creepily in your photos. Er … even worse is that they will charge you. I would also recommend against taking a moose into your photo studio.
So I sincerely hope that clears up a few mysteries for you, should you ever come across an unpredictable child or an unpredictable moose with your camera. And if not, feel free to drop me a line anytime!
Tamara is a professional photographer, a mama of two, a writer/blogger at Tamara Camera Blog and a nearly professional cookie taster. She’s been known to be all four of those things at all hours of the day and night. After two cross country moves, due to intense Bi-Coastal Disorder, she lives with her husband, daughter and son in glorious western Massachusetts. Pets are soon to follow. She dreams about northern lights, moose and whales always.