Get the most out of your camera this summer. Award-winning photographerKatie Vajda shows you how.
What makes a photograph ‘great’ is a tricky question because essentially there are so many measures.
As a fine art photographer the way I interrogate visual culture often leads me to steer away from the mainstream in my work. However, when it comes to travel and family shots we are all in the same boat, jostling to capture that perfect moment just in time, documenting life’s little details, ensuring memories are archived. Photography becomes a way of celebrating and sharing a life well lived.
So, with this in mind I hope I can offer you some short, sharp tips to think about this summer when you whip out your iPhone, Samsung or DSLR!
I get a lot of questions about what camera to buy, but to be honest, for family and travel shots it’s not my DSLR that I usually shoot with, but my iPhone. As parents, we are basically dealing with constantly moving subjects – the kids – and moments of incredible fleeting beauty – their daily life and adventures. This requires speed and technical agility over long lenses and manual modes. So very often the best camera is the phone in your pocket. And these days we are spoilt by the functionality and power of this little unit.
When talking about ‘photography’, the first point to bring up is light. Photography literally translates from Greek into ‘writing with light’. Lighting and exposing for the right light is the foundation to ensure your shot works.
Quick tips on this include make sure you select where you want the focus and exposure by tapping the screen of your phone on the subject. You can also adjust exposure by dragging your finger up and down, allowing the phone to auto focus will give inconsistent results. Also, unless you’re choosing to shoot into the light to create silhouettes and so forth, make sure the light source is behind you, taking note of the direction and shadows. Always look for the good light.
This refers to the balance and rhythm of an image, and often determines how visually surprising or pleasing it is. Composition is always at the fore when professional photographers and artists express their ideas, this is a skill that has been built over time. If you struggle with composition, there is no doubt that your ‘way of seeing’ will improve the more photos you take.
Quick tips on this include consciously picking you subject. Once you find your subject or the most interesting aspect in the frame, follow and wait of the right moment – again, ensure your focus and exposure is set for this subject.
Another handy tip is to use the naturally occurring lines in the frame to enhance the drama or feeling of the shot. Vertical, diagonal or horizontal lines can lead the eye and work well when shooting a city or landscape scene. Using the ‘rule of thirds’ is a nice way to hone your eye and also pay attention to your foreground and background, having interesting elements up close can add depth to your shots. Try to see things from a new angle and don’t be afraid of space, too many visual elements can be distracting.
From selfies to group family shots, I think the most important element here is to have fun. My favourite pictures are the playful ones that tell a story of the moment, not a constructed reality – a genuine smile or laugh will mean so much more to you down the track. If by chance you find yourself with the onerous task of shooting a big group, getting everyone in focus is important. Quick tips here include creating a pose and trying to keep them on the same visual plane; line them up, get the kids at the front, don’t be too stiff. If there is a wall to lean on or chairs to sit on, use them, as this can make for a more interesting image. Choose a focal point – the closest family member to you can work – and ensure everyone is in focus behind that point.
Editing and sharing
It’s important to get to know your camera or phone’s editing capacity. Beyond that, some of the editing apps with the best reviews include Adobe Photoshop Express, Adobe Lightroom Mobile, VSCO, Snapseed and Instagram.
For a beautiful print, something you might frame, I would recommend print lab colorsix.com in Hong Kong.
Katie Vajda is a Hong Kong-based visual artist and award-winning photographer. She has exhibited in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In 2014 she won the prestigious Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize, and in 2016 was the winner of the Hong Kong Arts Festival Photography Campaign Gold Award. Follow her on Instagram @katievajda, or see katievajda.com