The best thing that I have found about photography is the ability to capture wonderful and meaningful moments in life. I have a photograph on my bookshelf from a close girl friend’s bachelorette party. The photo itself is simple — four gals walking down the street together. And yet, the photograph evokes such nostalgia for me, reminding me of the beautiful memories from that weekend and the love I have for those friends.
The more time passes, the more I am learning the importance of capturing life’s moments. Photography, while it’s something I really appreciate and work with all the time as a graphic designer, still is something I struggle with. That’s why I asked Style Me Pretty featured photographer Jay Winter for some photography advice. And he gave a lot more than just advice! Read on as Jay provides a full insider’s guide for getting great photography, particularly how to take party photos that you’ll want to keep for years to come.
What are your best insider tips for how to get amazing photos?
People ask me all the time, “How do I capture a good photo?”
Most of these people are asking not for the purpose of selling their art or becoming a photographer, but to have quality, candid captures of their life. With that in mind, I tell them that you should capture a moment how you would like to remember it. To do this, you need to know and do a few things:
1. Know the basics of your camera
2. Ask yourself why you want to capture this moment or subject, and enjoy the process
3. Learn how to cull or discard unnecessary images (harder than it seems)
4. And good ol’ fashioned practice, practice, practice.
Let’s dive in, and I’ll break some of this down for you.
1. Camera Basics:
With a pretty basic knowledge of photography you have the ability to capture a moment in a very candid or powerful way. What do I mean by basic? First, learn how to control your light. The root meaning of photography after all is drawing or painting with light. You can control light both in and around your camera.
There are 3 main ways to control the light through your camera:
The sensitivity of your “film,” which is most likely your digital sensor now. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive it is to light.
The good: ISO helps with low light situations.
The bad: too high of an ISO can cause grain or “noise” in an image.
This is how long you open the shutter to let light in. Too fast and your image will be too dark. Too long and it will be too bright. Shutter speeds are incremented in fractions of a second. So, 1/125 will let in less light than 1/60. Just note, any shutter speed lower than 1/60 is hard to shoot by hand without blur.
Aperture or f-stop:
If you can imagine a sort of pin hole in your lens, and being able to control it’s size, that is your f-stop. This is how much light is let in through your lens while the shutter is open. The smaller the number on your aperture, or f-stop, the more light is let in. f 1.4 will let in more light than f 5.6.
Putting it all together
I realize this takes some effort, but learning how to control these 3 things allows you to mix and match settings for endless possibilities. For example, your f-stop not only controls how much light is let in, but will also control your “depth of field” — that awesome blurry background that makes your photo look like the pros’!
How to control your ambient or surrounding light will be touched on in a bit.
QUICK TIP: if you are in a crunch, and don’t feel comfortable with all this yet, turn your camera to AV mode. Set your f-stop to something like 4.0. Your camera will automatically pick which shutter speed and ISO to use. Remember you can use a lower f-stop for less depth of field (aka more blur in the background).
2. Ask why and enjoying the process:
Asking yourself why you want to capture something will often help you figure out how you’d like to capture it and if you even should capture it! And thinking through these things can help you to enjoy the experience even more.
What happens when you are annoyed or don’t really like something? Your brain tries to tune it out and actually starts to shut down information about what is going on around you. When you enjoy something and witness the joy it’s bringing to others, you will notice more details. These details can create strong emotions for you and those viewing your photos.
When you enjoy something and witness the joy it’s bringing to others, you will notice more details. These details can create strong emotions for you and those viewing your photos.
Lets take an example. When we see another person and appreciate something beautiful about them, we are taking in a million details about him or her, whether or not we realize it.
Imagine a new mom with her baby. Is the mother smiling or serious? This can tell us her mood. What about the color of her hair, and how it’s done — is it neat and tidy, or are there a couple of soft pieces that fall naturally to the side of her face? Are her eyes kind, confident, or shy? The color of her skin, and even the texture of her skin. These are details our brain is able to “capture” in a fraction of a second, and increases the appreciation of a moment.
So much of photography is details, and as the photographer, you have to decide which of those details you would like to capture individually or as a whole. Almost every event or session I do, I take a second before I start and intentionally try to appreciate that moment or the individuality of the people I’m going to be photographing. I truly feel this has helped in my success as a photographer.
3. Discard images
Culling or discarding images can be one of the harder parts of the photography process, but it is super important. To keep it simple, holding on to more images actually takes away from the few really good ones, causing everything to blend together. No one wants to see every single image you captured. Take your time, pick out the ones that speak to you, and ditch the rest. Depending on the job, I will sometimes discard up to 85 percent (or more!) of the images I have a captured.
What can I do to get good shots of people?
There are a couple beginner rules that can help you get great shots of people. Try to avoid harsh shadows. Soft, even light is the best. So, go find a shaded spot (where your background isn’t too bright) or a place indoors near some window light. There are plenty of ways to go about it, but to keep things simple, your light source should be positioned slightly behind you. So, if you are inside and using window light, have the window behind you and off to your side, up to a 45 degree angle. As your experience grows, you can try experimenting with different light source angles.
Any tips on getting people to look natural and not overly posed?
Ahhh, the “natural” pose. Not nearly as effortless as it looks, and it is usually a major factor in the difference between capturing a great portrait versus a nice portrait. Having an adaptable and easy going personality really helps here. You want your subject to feel at ease, and as much as you can, have them forget they are in front of a camera.
I find that putting someone in his or her element helps with this process. For example, when it comes to engagement shoots, if a couple is outgoing and fun, I might have them riding some cruiser bikes down a street or ask her to jump on his back and wrap her arms around him. With these types of couples, the laughs and candid smiles come pretty easy. On the other hand, if I have a quiet couple who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, I don’t want to force that “scene” on them. I want to capture the essence of them. So, I might go to a quiet coffee shop, or set up a cozy picnic where they are cuddled up on a blanket. Think about the people that you are shooting and what they like to do, and the inspiration for natural looking photos should come easily.
Lastly, educate the person you are photographing a little bit. I find that most of the people I photograph think that every. single. photo. needs to count when, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Even the most experienced photographers discard the majority of their images and choose the ones that really captured the moment the way they intended. So, I explain this and tell people to just be as natural as possible. There will be bad images that we get rid of, but there will be little magical moments as well. They are always there, and it’s my job to recognize and capture them.
How can I be present at an event and yet still capture photos that tell the story of the day?
This is a great question. When photographing, I pay more attention to details, the overall mood, and energy around me. If you are capturing a small event, like a bridal shower for a friend or family member, no need to overdue it. Enjoy yourself, and capture things here and there. A stressed out photographer is a serious buzz kill to a fun celebration. Remember, more is not always better.
Here’s what I do: I imagine I am looking through a little album of the event and try to picture what images would tell its story. I show up just a bit before the event is supposed to start. I’ll grab a shot of the venue, just a couple photos of people setting up, then some of the details that portray the theme or feel of the event. From there, enjoy the party! Capture a few candid shots and small smiling-for-the-camera group shots. I like to get one or two wide photos of the main area where people are congregating. With that, you should be good to go! You can make a little album combining details, people, and the overall scene. If you really want to, you can take one intentional photo that you would use for the album cover.
How do I get good candid shots?
Candid shots can be hard, but here are a couple things that help me: if you have a zoom lens, you can capture people without them knowing, which is truly candid. If you know how to use your camera and have the correct settings (wow, that keeps coming up), you can walk around and take a quick snap of something before they notice or change what they are doing. When you fumble around and take awhile to get the shot, people get uncomfortable and usually do something that ends with you discarding the image. Lastly, don’t take photos of people eating. Even models who are paid to do it for a living don’t look good half the time.
What type of clothing photographs best?
Typically clothing that isn’t too “loud.” Big patterns and really bright colors can take away from the subject. Some color and smaller patterns are fun, but you want them to be an accessory, not the main focus. The only time you want them to be the focus is if you are capturing an image to “say” something or make your audience feel something specific. For example, if you want a fun, “it’s summertime!” feel, a polka dot sundress says that. Outside of those situations, simple clothing is usually a good bet.
What makeup is good for photography?
Well, I can tell you what is not good — fake tanners! I get this a lot. They want to look super tan for their photo shoot and slap on some artificial tanner. More times than not, their skin comes out looking like they just auditioned for Jersey Shore. It’s orange, really distracting, and adds a lot of time editing if you decide to try and fix it.
Most of the time, you want everything to look soft and natural with a few “pops” here and there. Your “pops” can be eyes and eyelashes, a little color to define the cheeks, your hair, or a nice, natural tone for the lips. Remember makeup is like clothes, and too much can take away from the subject.
Any iPhone photo tips?
iPhone pics. Honestly, some photographers hate them, but I think that they definitely have their time and place, and the quality for a phone now is pretty insane. I can’t carry my camera all the time, and I use my iPhone to capture little moments of my daughter during those times. The new iPhone has “portrait” mode, which is crazy! This gives that depth of field or blurry background look that (as mentioned above) is one of the distinguishing factors of a professional looking photo. I haven’t used it yet, but knowing Apple (in their pursuit to take over the world), it’s probably going to be a nice feature.
So, quick tips. Everything is really automatic with iPhones, so you just want to help that process. Again, soft light with no harsh shadows helps. If you tap on your subject, a box will pop up on the screen around it with a little sun symbol to the right. Already, your iPhone will have autofocused on your subject and tried to auto-expose for brightness. But you can change the exposure by moving the little sun symbol up or down. As the “selfie” generation grows, most know a slightly elevated and angle off to the side tends to be pretty flattering. If you want to go a step beyond insta filters, you can edit your image through Apple’s iPhone software, or there are some really cool image editing apps out there as well. Check out Lightroom and VSCO.
Any more insider tips/secrets?
If you really want to get into photography, even just as a hobby, save some money and get a decent DSLR camera. In today’s digital world, you can get a pretty decent camera at some affordable prices. And if you can, try to get a decent lens as well. No use getting a good camera body if what passes through the lens is low quality.
Ask professionals around you. Most photographers are happy to share some tips! If that is too much of a daunting task, you can always turn to the wonderful world of YouTube. If there are videos on how to build an airplane, or train your pet elephant, I’m sure they have a few videos on photography 😉
Don’t just read about it, get out there and do it!
A little about Jay Winter
Jay is a professional portrait photographer living on the Central Coast of California. Besides being granted multiple awards and features on wedding websites like Style Me Pretty, he is also a down-to-earth, generous, godly, and awesome friend. (My husband’s and my personal opinion — not part of his official bio 😛 .) He lives with his wife, Caitlin, and little daughter, Penny (pictured below and above).
If you know someone that needs a photographer, or just want to check out his work, you can visit his website here!
Want more party advice from industry professionals? Check out 10 insider tips on floral arranging from a pro!