Portrait of man sitting at White Sands National Park

How to Take More Meaningful Pictures

“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography

Every day thousands, if not millions, of pictures are being taken around the world. With each advent of new technology, it is becoming easier and easier to record every tiny event or thing around us. But just because it is easier doesn’t mean we are taking better pictures, it just means we have less room on our hard drives. So how do we make sure we are taking more meaningful pictures? How do we take pictures that we want to keep, share or even put up on our walls?

We need to start asking why we are taking pictures in the first place.

I remember traveling to Lake Louise with my mother many years ago. Lake Louise is a stunning glacier-fed lake located in Banff National Park, Alberta. Thousands of pictures have been taken of this lake and the hotel that sits facing it. It is “picture perfect”.

So it wasn’t surprising that shortly after arriving we were asked by some visiting tourists to take their picture in front of the lake. Then they took a picture of us, then we took a picture of all of us. It was a bit surreal. After that, they got back on their bus and traveled away.

 

This scenario is repeated over and over at every tourist attraction around the world. Taking pictures has become less about recording the experience as it is about getting a quick souvenir, the “I was there” t-shirt, before rushing off to the next attraction.

Travel isn’t just about the destination, it’s about the journey. It’s about being present in the moment, being mindful of the environment and taking a moment to breathe.

Photography is the same. When you stop to take in a scene before you snap a picture, you get a better feel for it and you can start to see what makes it special. Spin around, crouch down, look up. All of these movements will allow you to see things that the tourist platform misses.

Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to take a picture. What compelled you to stop there? Understand why that person or element caught your eye. What do you want to say about them? Once you know what you want to express, you can choose the camera settings that you feel do that the best.

I would argue that this approach can be used for all situations, not just travel. Even when you are shooting friends and family at home you can ask yourself questions before you press the button. What is it about that moment that you want to save? What makes it special? Is it the fact you are all together, the uniqueness of the place, or the crazy weather? Taking the time to think it through will allow you to set up the shot in a way that not only records the event but also expresses what you are feeling. And those are the images you will want to keep.

Man on beach in Tofino, BC

Sometimes you need to take a few shots before you see your vision. I am not saying don’t take as many pictures as you need to express the moment, just start with the Why before you jump into the shooting. As David DuChemin says in his book, Vision Driven Photography,

Before our photographs can say we want them to, and in so-doing to look like we want them to, we need to understand what we want to say, and how we want to say it.

The more you consciously make decisions about your photographs, the more you will learn what works for you and what doesn’t. As a result, you will take more images that have meaning for you and that you will want to celebrate and share.

A starter guide for taking more meaningful pictures:
  • Be aware of the things that pull your eye, what attracts your attention
  • Don’t judge yourself or compare – shoot what you want to see
  • Play and take risks. Use settings you don’t normally use.
  • Look at other photographers’ work as well as paintings. See what compositions and lighting appeal to you
  • Practice, edit, practice, edit
  • Delete all images that don’t meet your vision
Still life of lock on photo album

How to Protect Your Images

It all starts with a gasp. A tightening of the chest, prickly skin, perhaps even a cold sweat.

No!

What happened to my images?

If you are like me, your smart phone is never far from hand and you take pictures daily. Sometimes it’s just a shot of a pretty flower or interesting shadow. Other times it’s of something you don’t want to miss, a reunion with friends, a child’s first step. Whatever the images on your phone, they are important, precious. What if your phone suddenly died? What if you no longer could view your images? It’s almost incomprehensible. Not to worry, there are simple ways to protect your images from loss.

The most important thing when it comes to your images is to make sure they are backed up to some device other than your phone. Phones get stolen, they get lost, and yes, they get dropped into toilets.

I have been a photographer since I was 15. I have taken many, many photos. You would think that I had my process down pat and that I was a paragon of virtue when it comes to backing up my images. Nope. I also get distracted by life and I put off the simple tasks well, because I would rather be out shooting. If you have been procrastinating about your photos, you may find this article useful.

If you are ready to move forward, as the diagram below shows, it starts with getting your images onto your computer and the cloud. 

Graphic showing how to back up images

1.Make sure the images on your phone are backed up to either the cloud or your computer. 

If you are uncertain what the cloud is, check out this article.

2.Collect all your digital images from SD cards, hard drives and old computers and put them on a primary reliable computer.

3. Scan all prints and slides from the era before digital and add the files to your primary computer.

4. Back up all your digital images to your cloud account.

5. Save a copy of all your digital files to one or two external hard drives. Regularly update these hard drives. Store a hard drive off site, either a bank vault or a friends place.

Get this done and all your photos will be protected. Whew!

But before you pull a Flaming Elmo or run away, keep in mind that the extent of your photo management process depends on how you take pictures.

I like to think that there are three different types of photographers. I call them the Socialite, the Adventurer, and the Pro.

The Socialite

The Socialite likes to record her social activities and share them on social media but she doesn’t use any other type of camera. She may have photo albums from the distant past when she used a film or digital camera.

For the Socialite, making sure her images are backed up to the cloud and keeping a copy on her computer is a good start. Scanning her historic images is something she can do over time.

The Adventurer

The Adventurer takes pictures with her phone but she also has a digital camera and she travels with both. Sometimes she has hundreds if not thousands of images to deal with after her vacation. If she was organized in the past, she has many scrapbooks to show for her travels. 

She needs to gather all of her images onto her computer. She needs to copy her SD cards and scan her historical images into digital format. Once all her images are in the same place she can rename and organize them. From there she should save a copy to the cloud as well as an external hard drive.

There are many types of Adventurers and that will determine what software they use to manage their photos and how many places they back up their files.

The Pro

The Pro already knows what to do and isn’t reading this article. They are the Adventurer x10 and because they shoot for clients, there are legal and security protocols built into their process for managing photos.

Whatever type of photographer you are, the fundamentals don’t change when it comes to protecting your images. We all need to back up our photos to one or more places other than our phones to make sure they are safe.

a woman sitting between statues

How to Take Better Pictures of Your Family

It’s summertime and that means vacations with family. We have always taken pictures of our friends and family and now it’s even easier with smartphone cameras. But are we taking better pictures or just more pictures? Are we editing down the unflattering ones or cluttering up our hard drives with terrible pictures. Taking people pictures or portraits is not easy. It takes planning and thought because not every moment is a Kodak moment.

Selfies and posed images might record the moment but they do get a little boring after a while. If you want to take it up a notch this summer or really, any time you are taking pictures of people, try to keep the following in mind.

 

First, the basics:

Don’t take pictures while people are eating

picture of man eating

Wait till everyone has finished chewing as it’s never a good look.  Having your subject holding a drink can be a personal call as it either adds to the story or takes away from it. A table full of messy half-empty glasses doesn’t always make for a good atmosphere.

Photos taken during conversations are more casual but still problematic

A posed shot can be nice but I like the informal nature of shots while people are talking. However, with talking you get lots of hand movement, closed eyes, and twisted mouths. Use the continuous shooting approach (Burst mode on the iphone) and then pick the best of the bunch.

Watch your backgrounds

The best portraits focus on the person and keep the background neutral. Look for solid walls, a blanket of trees or water for the background. Watch for poles, trees or branches that might look like they are coming out of someone’s head. Use a short depth of field (portrait mode on your smartphone) or use the software in post to put the background out of focus.

Watch out for high contrast

We love those sunny, hot summer days but they also produce very high contrast that puts people’s faces in shadow. Look for shade when you can but watch out for coloured umbrellas. Red, blue or green tints are never flattering. Sometimes it is best to shoot in the early morning or wait till late in the day when the light is warm and soft.

Remember the sunglasses

Unless you want to make the glasses an element of the image, it’s usually better to see people’s eyes.

 

And then, when you want to have some fun:

Change your perspective

With pets and children, get down to their level. Eye to eye is a much more pleasing vantage point. With adults, it can be tricky. Generally, people look better looking up than down but each perspective can change how that person looks. You don’t want to spend time posing people so often it is better if YOU move to get a more flattering angle.

Different perspective portrait of Mother and Son

 
Try some action shots

Perspective is everything in action shots. Move around to get a variety of images. Get out on the water to shoot people jumping off docks. Get in the middle of the path and have people bike past you. Don’t just stand on the sidelines. Get into the action and either shoot in continuous mode or shoot video and select the best image in post.

Boy on Swing

 
Not everyone has to be in focus

Out of focus Portraits

Of course, most portraits work with people in focus and the background blurred out, but it doesn’t have to be a hard and fast rule. Sometimes the shape of people is what makes them interesting. With smartphone cameras, if you want the subject to be out of focus, tap on the screen in the area around the person or blur the image in post.

Fun with Posing

When posing family or friends don’t always ask for the line up. Look for different levels, chairs, ask people to sit on the ground. Think about the dynamic of the group and break them out. Have fun with it. I like to ask for the Vanity Fair pose…if you were a celebrity, how would you position yourself?

Family Portrait

 
Silhouettes

If there is no shade to be had, or the sun is setting, or you find yourself around a bonfire, seek out the silhouettes. Make sure the subject has space between their limbs so that you can see their shape. Try for profiles of a face or ask the person to walk in front of the camera.

Silhouette image of young boys
 
Close ups

Who says the whole face has to be in the image? With real cameras, you can get quite close with a regular lens or you can use a telephoto. When using smartphone cameras, watch out for the extreme wide-angle distortion effect. The closer the camera to the subject the more the distortion. Sometimes this can be a fun effect, especially with pets, but more often then not, it is unflattering to humans. Get as close as possible then crop the image in post.

Closeup Portrait of Woman

 
Play with the background and foreground

Think outside the box and look for fun patterns. There are no rules for creativity.

Woman in front of graffiti

 
Double exposure

double exposure of woman and tree

And the final challenge is double exposure. There are all sorts of possibilities for this one. It’s best to search online for some examples of the effect with people and see what type of images you need to take. Sometimes it works to combine a silhouette with another image to get a pleasing effect. Play with the story a bit and see what happens. Depending on your camera, you can shoot in camera or play around in Photoshop during post. For smartphone cameras, there are apps such as these that allow you to create all sorts of special effects on your phone after you have taken the picture.

I hope that this post has given you some ideas to play with when documenting your visits with friends and family this summer.

Remember to edit out the bad images, celebrate the successes and of course, always remember to back up your image to hard drives and the cloud.

Memories are precious, make sure you take care of them.

image of macbook pro, ipad, iphone with lock

Is Apple Your Privacy Protector?

All the tech giants say they are protecting your privacy but Apple has made it part of their corporate values. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook has said that privacy is a “fundamental human right”. For those that are worried about the security of their data in the cloud and on their devices, this is music to their ears.

The two main places for the average user to store their documents in the cloud are Google Photos and Apple Photos. In this Photo Sharing Overview, I broke down a comparison of cloud software out there for people to consider. For ease of use, functionality and affordability, Google and Apple were at the top. I spoke about using Google Photos and their approach to privacy in this post. Now we need to look at Apple.

The essential difference between the two cloud services providers, besides Apple’s CEO’s passion for privacy, is how they make their money. Google makes money off of your data by selling target audience compilations to advertisers. Apple’s primary income comes from hardware.

The company’s main argument for why it’s a better steward of customers’ privacy is that it has no interest in collecting personal data across its browser or developer network. It simply doesn’t need to, because it doesn’t make its money off advertising.(1)

So Apple has the benefit of not needing your data to exist or move forward. Like Google they have created an easy to read Privacy Policy and Transparency Report. But unlike their competition, Apple has gone further by developing new technologies for security on their devices such as Touch ID and Face ID as well as designing data protection embeded in their ios operating software and Safari.(3) Apple goes out of its way to make sure your devices can’t be hacked and that your information is secure. Apple has been keen on protecting your data since the days of Steve Jobs.

In their Privacy Policy they break down how the data they do collect regarding your home, health, icloud keychain (passwords), online payments, siri info, and wifi must use end to end encryption. This means that no third party can read the information in transit. Only the user can view the information when they are signed into their account. Two factor authentication is also encouraged for their devices.

The data they do collect to improve your “experience” is not connected to your personal ID and is generalized. The data that is collected via Apple Pay, imessage or Facetime is encrypted and protected by “Secure Enclave” on the device. It is not saved to Apple servers or backed up to icloud. In their Transparency report that describes the requests for information they receive from government bodies they speak of how they don’t allow for any direct or back door access and that all requests must meet applicable laws and that apple only provides the narrowest possibly set of data.

You can control your privacy settings through your apple account and it is very much worth your time to read through their Privacy Policy as it does make clear those moments when they do use your information.

As is true of most internet services, we gather some information automatically and store it in log files. This information includes Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, browser type and language, Internet service provider (ISP), referring and exit websites and applications, operating system, date/time stamp, and clickstream data.

We use this information to understand and analyze trends, to administer the site, to learn about user behavior on the site, to improve our product and services, and to gather demographic information about our user base as a whole. Apple may use this information in our marketing and advertising services.

Of course, no company is perfect and though, in light of the Facebook / Cambridge Analytics crisis this year, many companies, including Apple, are buckling down on how their privacy settings work, Apple still has its weaknesses.

The problem is with the apps that are developed for the apple devices. These may have access to your contact info and any sensitive information you have stored there. Apple says it forbids these companies from collecting, using or selling this information but it has no way of controlling it. Once it has approved an app there is little oversight. This is the same scenario that got Facebook in trouble. (4) Apple has said,

The relationship between the app developer and the user is direct, and it is the developer’s obligation to collect and use data responsibly.

So user beware. As with all things online, don’t assume anything. Make sure you understand what you are buying into. Check the settings of the apps you use to make sure you are not sharing your contacts with third parties. Unfortunately, any change to your settings now will not delete any information you may have already shared.

As a side note, it is a good idea not to use your social media passwords as sign in for other apps and websites. If you are concerned about information that is shared with third party apps, there are ways of shutting them down by going into your account information and clicking on Settings and then Apps. This works for Facebook and other social media sites.

Full disclosure, if you hadn’t guessed, I am a Mac user. I used PC devices most of my career and only moved to Mac reluctantly. However, I have become a convert to their ease of use if not their cost. As for Privacy, I like what Apple is saying. I like it way better than Google. Maybe that’s my age speaking but I see no reason to share my personal information with the world. I don’t need product suggestions or auto fill for my forms and searching. I don’t need to give up information for convenience. I want to think for myself. It takes more work but in the end I get to have more control over my environment. As Tim Cook says, the question comes down to what kind of world do we want to live in.

Technology is capable of doing great things. But it doesn’t want to do great things. It doesn’t want anything. That part takes all of us.(5)

Other Reading:

Facebook’s app cleanup maybe be harder than Mark Zuckerberg thinks

Why Europe not Congress will rein in big tech

Transcript of Tim Cooks’ EU privacy speec