How to Turn Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Photographs
Summertime is approaching and your calendar is already filling with family vacations, weddings, July 4th celebrations and so many other quintessential events of the season. Now, think ahead for a moment to September. During those quieter post-back-to-school days you will finally unload full memory cards and perhaps create photo albums. Will that stream of photos tell the story of your whole summer?
You captured the vacation, the birthday party, the graduation, yes, but what about that day your five-year-old brought you a handful of worms she dug out of the garden? Did you catch her proud, earth-smudged smile? How about a shot of your son carrying his teetering pile of books out of the library? He was so excited to have his own library card and all those books to read. Didn't your heart swell with pride? Remember that? And you created works of art at the dinner table night after hot summer's night with all that colorful farmer's market produce. Where are the pictures of all that pretty food?
My point is, the story of your summer will happen every day and in between the vacations and parties and events that take up all that calendar space. Pictures can tell the whole story without ever requiring a thesaurus or spell-check (thank goodness), but if you forget to notice the many small moments in your days that are so very largely summer, your story will be incomplete.
This summer, I plan to record every chapter of our family story, in all of its muddy, messy, ordinariness. I challenge you to do the same.
So, where to begin? First, you need to shift your thinking when it comes to what you plan to photograph. When you are intentional about documenting the everyday, you are grabbing a camera as you head out for ice cream or for an hour at the park. You'll know you've successfully made the shift when you find yourself carrying that camera into the grocery store or snapping photos of sandal-clad feet dangling from the dentist chair! And this is when it really gets fun. This is when you begin to see the world around you in a completely new way. You will habitually frame your surroundings into photos, pinning them up on the walls of your brain long before you take them. All those lazy summer afternoons when you didn't do a thing become the hours you cherish most when you look back and see just how much really happened.
What are we looking for? Well, have you ever noticed how early and how bright the sun shines on a clear summer morning? Do you pay attention to the shadows falling across your breakfast table, the rainbows cast by your water glass? (Try it and you might get some great shots in the camera before your kids are even out of bed!) Slow down, adjust your point of view, and be intentional. It's these simple things that make all the difference. After all, it's the simple joys of summer that you are trying to capture. Don't wait for photo-worthy moments to happen -- seek them out, create them, and be ready for them.
Without getting into loads of technical details that you can find more than enough of elsewhere, I will just offer these few things. First, I have to admit that I am a wide-angle zoom addict (I want to get it all in!), but when it comes to really noticing and capturing details that tell a story, you've got to get in close. I'm using my 50mm lens more often lately because it forces me to move around, fight for great composition, and concentrate my focus (not to mention capturing all that sparkly sunshiny bokeh!) Second, manual mode is a must. Bright sunshine, reflective water, fast-moving kids -- these are all things that come to mind when you think summer, right? Well, these are also some of the very things that trick our camera's auto settings into blowing out dramatic skies or casting shadows over smiling faces. You are smarter than your camera. You are! You have to be the one telling it what to do.
My final suggestion: Give yourself an assignment. Decide to take pictures for a week based on a particular summer theme, such as water, play, fruit, or the color green. The possibilities are endless and a single word can spark a million photographs. After a week, choose your favorite shot and then choose a new topic. Better still, you can join one of the many online groups that post a weekly topic for you. Your skills will grow as you seek to interpret the themes and you will be amazed by what others come up with.
I'm looking ahead to September again, and I see a photo album coming alive. I see pictures that make my mouth water for tomatoes and basil. My skin prickles at the memory of baking sunshine and scratchy grass. I can hear, clear as day, children giggling in a summer sunshower, and sleepy whispers under the stars. I breathe deep at the thought of tangled hair smelling of sunscreen. I don't just remember summer, I relive it, and it is beautiful.