Everybody say “Cheese!” Now, point and shoot.
That’s how most of us take vacation snapshots.
But there’s a little bit more involved in taking great pictures.
After sifting through a big stack of photos from a recent trip, I noticed a few too many shots with people sliding out of the frame, objects out of focus and gorgeous sunsets that didn’t reproduce on film.
What was going on? I thought clicking away with my point-and-shoot camera was a no-brainer.
After checking with some pros - professional photographers and film developers - I discovered I’m not the only one making mistakes while trying to capture those vacation memories.
It’s important to start at the beginning. That means studying the owner’s manual that came with your camera.
“Some people never realize that when you look through the viewfinder, you’re seeing only 90 percent of the shot, or, if the camera has a zoom lens, you might see even less,” said Chic Burge, an avid photographer who works at the Camera Corral in Coeur d’Alene. “The owner’s manual should give you some guidelines on how to frame your shot.”
You might also learn not to get too close to your subject. Typically, if you can reach out and touch the person you’re shooting, you’re too close. Of course, you don’t want to be so far away that you can’t see faces.
Then, there’s the matter of getting the right film. Don’t buy bargain basement celluloid.
Burge said for best results, stick with brand names such as Kodak and Fuji.
“The bargain film might seem like a good deal, but it’s not consistent,” he said.
And when you’re buying, pay attention to the film’s sensitivity to light, or its ISO. Those are the numbers on the outside of the box: 100, 200, 400 or 1000.
“You should use 100 on a bright sunny day, not 400, which is designed for low light,” Burge said.
Penny Corwin, the manager of the downtown Spokane Super Color One Hour Photo, said it’s also important to use fresh film and, for best results, have it developed as soon as possible after taking the pictures.
“Film starts to deteriorate after three months,” she said.
Other steps should be taken to safeguard your film.
“Don’t leave your film in a hot car. Heat can destroy film,” Corwin said.
Also, when passing through airport security, Burge makes it a point of keeping his film in a clear bag. He asks for it to be hand-inspected.
“It can go through the X-ray machine a number of times before it’s affected, but there’s no use taking any chances,” he said.
He always packs it in his carry-on luggage because the machines used to X-ray checked baggage are much stronger, especially at international airports.
OK, so you’ve made it to your exotic destination with film and camera and you’re ready to start recording those special moments.
Ideally, it’s best to take photographs in the morning hours or the early evening, when the sun is less intense and the light is softer.
“If you want to create an image, you should wait for the right time,” Burge said. Avoid shooting between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
But if you want to capture the kids enjoying a picnic lunch, that’s unrealistic.
“There are all kinds of rules about what time is the best time to take photos, but don’t worry about those,” said Fran Ho, a respected photographer who teaches at Washington State University.
Ho is more concerned with documenting experiences than getting the perfect shot. He would rather watch the sunset than record it on film.
“I would rather buy a postcard for something like that,” he said.
If you’re going to snap at high noon, there are a few tricks you can use.
Corwin said if you use a flash outside, it will take the shadows off people’s faces.
To cut down on the glare “you should shade your lens,” said Burge, “whether you stand under a tree or have someone else shade it with their hand.”
Oh, and don’t shoot facing the sun.
“That’s probably the biggest mistake people make,” Corwin said.
In composing your shot, aim for some variety. Don’t always have Mom and the kids and the dog smack in the middle of the frame. Take verticals and horizontals and experiment with different angles. Put yourself in the scenes.
“You want to remember that you were part of the whole fun package,” said Ho, who typically takes a generous amount of film when he travels.
“I burn a lot of film, using a machine-gun approach almost,” he said. “You might not ever have the chance to go back. I don’t worry about using a lot of film.”
Along with bringing extra film, you might also considering throwing in a back-up battery.
“A battery that might cost you $7.95 here and in Canada, it’s $22,” Burge said.
So, you’ve got the gang lined up, the light’s lovely and the big moment has arrived to click. Burge recommended squeezing the shutter ever-so gently to avoid moving the camera and blurring the image.
“It’s almost the same way you fire a pistol,” he said. “Use only the tip of your finger and push down slowly. Keep your finger there until the camera’s done shooting.”
Corwin said when taking group photos, you should take at least three separate exposures to help ensure there’s one shot where Aunt Suzie’s eyes are open and junior’s not sticking out his tongue.
Finally, take your potential works of art to a film processor you trust.
“When you take them to the drug store or supermarket, they are not going to take the time to correct the colors,” Burge said.
After taking all these steps, if you still get pictures where everyone’s a big blur, Burge suggested checking to see whether the lens or other parts of the camera are perfectly clean.
“You want to keep your case clean. One little grain of sand can get into a zoom mechanism and break it,” he said. “If you’re going to be spending time at the beach, you might want to keep your camera in a plastic bag in the case.”
Or, you could grab one of those inexpensive disposable cameras.
“Those can be a lot of fun, especially if you get one of those waterproof cameras,” Corwin said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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