Woohoo! It’s finally happening: the Better Picture Project! Up first is one of my closest online friends, the hilarious, kind and gorgeous Heather. She blogs at Handmade by Heather B, but chances are you also know her (and Froggie!) as KnitNBee on Twitter and Instagram.
This month’s Better Picture Project theme is getting out and about to take pictures in public. I think it’s one of the simplest ways to get more varied and interesting photos – unless, of course, you have a particularly beautiful house or backyard! I’m in an apartment, so nice pics really rely on leaving home. It’s more than a little scary though – but seeing Heather regularly talk about her Sunday morning photo sessions around town really made me feel like I could handle it too. I’ve been trying hard to find secluded parks this summer, but I’m nervous about what I’ll do come winter. Will I dare to take pictures *inside* public spaces??? Heather is here with a pep talk.
(Pictures from 2012, before Heather started taking pics outside. I think we’ve all got shots like this on plenty of posts! Functional, not very inspirational.)
1. Heather, when did you first start taking pics beyond your own yard, and what motivated you? It was late 2013 when I slowly started transitioning from taking pictures in my house or on my back porch. While I liked the safety of taking picture on my property, neither location was conducive to good quality pictures. It was irksome that all the time and effort I was putting into projects wasn’t showing up well on film. Since I couldn’t get a better camera at the time, I needed to figure out what sort of lighting conditions/backdrops worked the best with my cheap point and shoot. After some trial and error I was able to figured out that the camera performed best outside where there was plenty of light. However it helped to photograph in full shade so that I didn’t get harsh shadows or blown out colors. (It also helps my super light sensitive eyes.)
At the time Desmond was still taking afternoon naps, so I’d sneak next door and use my neighbors fence. It was always in full shadow in the afternoon and the background was fairly non distracting. That worked for awhile but then the neighbor started catching me taking pictures and was concerned I was going to sue him for something. My explanation that the pictures were for my sewing blog only seemed to confuse him. After that it seemed wise to branch out to new photo locations. Now I either go downtown and use store fronts in Media as backdrops or go to one of the large public parks that is a short drive from my home.
(Heather’s trusty neighborhood fence location, circa 2013.)
2. It can be seriously awkward taking pics in public. How do you deal with spectators and the bemused public? How do most people react?
I do try to take pictures when foot traffic is not going to be high normally. My standard photo taking day is Sunday morning. Most people in my area are either sleeping in, going to church or eating brunch at that time. I can take photos in most places with very little interaction from others. If Sunday is a wash I try to go out early on a weekday morning. The upside of this is that I can use some of the pretty local churches as backdrops, which wouldn’t be appropriate on a Sunday.
Overtime I’ve also developed a thicker skin about people passing by if they are going about their business. Most bikers/dog walkers have a mutual, ignore me and I’ll ignore you policy. People in cars also don’t cause too much anxiety because they are zipping past and can’t gawk for long. (I have had people yell compliments out of their vehicle windows several times, but that’s nice.)
Taking photos in high foot traffic areas is still too stressful for me. Up to a point I can ignore people stopping and staring, but I’ll start to tense up and not get very good photos. Overall I found that taking photos on the main drag in Media wasn’t worth the effort of dealing with a whole group of onlookers. Instead I’ll go a few blocks off of the main drag and only get groups of one or two people stopping/asking questions. I always try to be polite and explain that I’m taking pictures for my sewing blog. Most people don’t know what this means at all but are polite in return. Some offer me complements on my clothing and then walk away leaving me in continue taking pictures.
(Now we’re talking! I like seeing how Heather reuses her favourite Sunday morning locations. Smart to have a trusty spot where you know the light is good and traffic is thin!)
3. Any funny stories about being “caught” taking pics in public?
There are two stories that pop into my mind.
The first one happened when photographing my Gertie winter coat in front of one of the local Baptist churches. I had more than one person stop and ask if I was taking pictures to sell the church. This was highly amusing to me since 50% of the pictures taken that day were me twirling around in front of the doors. I’m sure professional realtors do that all the time.
The second happened when I was taking pictures across the street from some homes. An older gentleman was hanging out on his porch and after about 5 minutes he ran across the street to talk to me. He said, “I knew it would drive me crazy if I didn’t come find out what you were doing.” We ended up talking for about 15 minutes because he was just delighted by the fact that I was sewing clothing.
(Gotta love a good wall! The red bricks of my apartment building are often a bit too warm for the colours that I sew, but I’d love to find a nice stone wall like Heathers for matching cooler tones!)
4. What do you pack to take with you for a photoshoot?
I’m not always good about remembering everything, but this is my ideal packing list.
2. Camera Card – I have forgotten to grab card and have had to come back to get it. Super annoying.
3. Tri-pod – I have a inexpensive one from Amazon that works well for me.
4. Camera Remote.
5. Sunglass, water, handkerchief. Usually I need this things either for the shoot or in between taking pictures.
6. Lipstick/hand mirror for touch ups. I don’t always need to touch up during photoshoots, but it has come in handy more than once.
7. Shoes and/or other accessories. If I’m planning on wearing very high heels for pictures then I pack them separate. It’s easier to drive and explore locations in flat shoes and then switch them out when it’s picture time.
5. How do you chose a location?
Even though I’ve upgraded to a Canon DSLR, I still tend to frequent the same photo locations used with my cheap point and shoot. These are all places that have a decent amount of shadow even on a fully sunny day. The shade means that I don’t have to fiddle with camera settings much and that my eyes won’t start watering after contact with direct sunlight. I like having a location with a wall or door semi close behind me. My DSLR does perform better with deeper backgrounds, but there is often issues with it focusing on leaves moving in the distance than my face.
(I loved this photo spot Heather used for her Me-Made May shots this year – handy to have somewhere right near home but still with an interesting scene and lots of depth.)
6. Any other photo tips that you find helpful?
- You take the best photos when you are feeling comfortable with yourself. So try to find locations that aren’t too scary at first. Bring a friend if that makes you feel more secure. Go alone if you’d rather not have someone distracting you or yelling unhelpful posing suggestions (I’m a fan of taking photos alone, if you haven’t guessed.) Take some deep breaths to calm down or think of something funny. Often I laugh about stupid things while taking pictures. That particular picture might look like crap, but the good mood carries over to the pictures you take later.
- Take a lot of pictures, A LOT! Your odds of having some nice ones goes up significantly.
- If you do like to take photos by yourself then upgrading to a camera with a remote is worth the money. I did use a self timer for years and years and years. However it slows the picture taking process down and ruins any photo taking flow you might have gotten into Having a remote makes my picture taking a lot less stressful.
- Remember that everyone has bad picture days sometimes. Maybe you’re in a bad mood or there’s too many construction workers weirding you out. Brush it off and try again another day.
(Heather always posts at least one silly shot tagged #Sundaysareforderps on IG… it’s one of this things that makes me feel ok about getting cuckoo shots mixed in!)
Thank you, Heather, for answering all my questions! Here’s my take-away:
- Find low-traffic areas and a good time of day.
- Go back to the same trusty locations.
- Keep experimenting!
And here’s my September homework, for myself and for anyone who wants to join me:
Find a new photo location within 5 minutes from home – and use it! A park, a street, a building, a neighbor’s fence… anywhere that would be easy to visit again and again. I’ll be using my new spot (when I find it! 😉 for blog pics sometime this month. If you venture out of your comfort zone to take pics, I’d love to see proof. Use the hashtag #betterpicturesproject on social media and tag me as @gilliancrafts, or if you blog about it, leave a link below!
Do you have any questions for Heather about taking pictures out and about? Where would you go nearby to take pics? Tell me all about it!