Photography Tips - Just In Time For Your Summer Vacation

Recently I put together some quick photography tips for a friend. Years ago she had purchased a nice DSLR camera which was collecting dust. She wanted to put it to use during her upcoming summer vacation. I jotted down these quick tips to help her get started. 

Equipment basics:
1. Flash - There are some instances where a flash is useful but in most outdoor, daytime situations, it creates ugly shadows. My suggestion is to turn it off to take pictures during your summer travels where you are likely to be spending time outdoors.

2. ISO - Leave it on "AUTO".

Camera settings for shutter speed and aperture - the only 2 modes that you would need to get started.

3. Shutter speed - When taking pictures of moving objects e.g., kids running around, moving bus or train or a waterfall, set the camera in the "shutter priority mode" and use a high shutter speed. In a Nikon camera, it is the "S" mode. In a canon, it is usually the "Tv" mode. Refer to your camera manual to know what it is called. 
Do not use this mode for taking pictures of still objects or scenery.

4. Aperture - Almost always use the "Aperture priority" mode. "A" mode in Nikon/the "Av" mode in a canon.

Use only the above 2 modes, "Aperture priority" 90% of the time and "shutter priority" to capture moving objects. Do not use full "auto" or full "manual". Full auto doesn't give you the best results. Full manual is too time consuming hence not suitable for everyday/travel photography.


How I Plan And Prepare For My Photo Shoots

Picture from a recent photo shoot. 

Ever since I got into portrait photography, I have been consciously working on developing a repeatable process. My workflow has evolved quite a bit since I started out on this journey and continues to develop as I learn from new challenges. After every shoot, I jot down my notes in a little notebook and use it to refine my process.

I like to parse any photo shoot into three phases: Planning, Shooting and Post-Processing. Planning fills me with excitement and shooting gives me the most joy. However post-processing is a completely different story - it is my desire to get things done that gets me through this phase.

In this blog post, I would like to delve into the first phase. I follow a simple workflow to plan my shots:

  1. I first look at the clients’ photos they have shared on social media and look for themes. They typically tend to share the ones they like a lot. This gives me an idea of what tends to make them happy and what personal features they are proud of 😊.
  2. I then decide on the backdrops (indoors as well as outdoors) for the shoot. This involves physically visiting those spots and taking some test shots. Fortunately I am surrounded by very many picture perfect spots that serve as great backdrops.
  3. I create a board on Pinterest for each shoot and start collecting ideas. I look for examples that are suitable for the client. For instance, I pin images that have similar hairstyle and facial features to that of my subject. If clients like to collaborate on this board, I share the board with them. If not, I keep it to myself. Some clients don't want to be bothered with all of this. They just want nice pictures and trust me to figure these things out. 
  4. Next I make a list of shots I would like to take. This list includes the subject(s), orientation (landscape vs. portrait) and backdrop for each image. I end up taking a lot more photos (roughly 4x) than what I have down in my list. This list guides me well during the shoot. In case I get stuck, run out of ideas or the subjects start getting tired, I use this list to quickly change the scene or move on to other ideas.
  5. Last but not least, I spend some time right before the shoot to charge the camera batteries, clear the memory cards and pack the bag.  I also review my list and the Pinterest board one last time before heading out.
For some reason every time as I head out for these sessions, I am completely petrified😨. I wonder what if I am not able to deliver? What if I ruin the relationship? What if I don't get a single decent picture? What if this and what if that ... It is nothing but my planning and preparation that helps me overcome my doubts. Eventually, I take that step forward with the fear still lingering...and roll with my plan! 


My First Writer/Illustrator Conference

Last weekend, I attended my first children's book writers and illustrators conference. The SCBWI (Society of Children's Books Writers & Illustrators) winter conference was held at the Grand Hyatt in New York. Well over a thousand authors, illustrators, editors, agents and bloggers congregated over two days to share, learn from and inspire one another.


Here are my observations and takeaways from the conference:

The pursuit of creating children's books
During this conference, it became crystal clear to me that writing and publishing a book is not like executing a project. It is not even a long haul journey. It is a way of life. Most creators couldn't help themselves but create. 

These children's books are being created by adults for adults! Author after author and illustrator after illustrator admitted creating the content that would please or amuse themselves. When it comes to little kids, parents or caretakers are the decision makers and book buyers. These books are written with that in mind. Kids or their viewpoints don't figure anywhere in the supply chain other than at the very end. As a result there is a tendency to create and choose content that is bit too clever. Stories that are simple & straight forward, which may actually appeal to young little minds, may be a tougher sell. 

The people and their passion
It was apparent that all of the speakers and panelists genuinely loved what they did and shared what they loved. The keynote speakers, each one of them, moved me to tears. 

Almost all of the attendees were equally passionate about their pursuits. Their passion crossed over to other areas of life as well. Given the current political climate, one couldn't escape heated conversations and passionate statements. These creators were not shy about expressing their views at every available opportunity. 

The industry and its ways
It should come as no surprise that the supply of authors far outweighs the demand from publishers. However, this conference reinforced it beyond any doubt. A vast majority of the attendees were "pre-published" creators aspiring to get their book published. As some of you may know, I am one of those aspirants. The publishing industry on the other hand continues to consolidate and shrink. 

Another fact also became quite apparent to me: the publishing industry is much more complex than it needs to be. There are so many players and intermediaries that it is ripe for some large scale disruption. Self publishing, while gaining in popularity, is not an option for the fainthearted because of its own unique challenges since the writer has to don the hats of a marketer, editor, accountant and so on to make the book commercially viable. The traditional approach is equally daunting because you have to knock on many doors before even getting a response. One just has to get really lucky to get that break and I am praying for mine!

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