Sunday, 20 December 2015

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Day eight, tip eight: The Festive Photo

The Festive Photo (pets and kids).

You might like to think of today's blog as a continuation of the traditional family portrait becuase I couldn't finish  that without touching a little on pets at Christmas!

I know that pets are extremely important to many of us in our day to day lives and for people who don't have kids like myself it is my dog who is likely to make it onto a personalised Christmas card or Facebook Christmas post this year.

So how do we include these furry friends in the Christmas fun........well with a bit of imagination, patience and a couple of biscuits.

From very early on my Henry realised that on special occasions such as Christmas he would be called upon to wear something silly and show off a few of his moves in exchange for a yummy treat and easy life...

This is Henry, not yet a year old here, in our first Christmas card. This image was troublesome for a few reasons and took a lot of editing so we won't focus on it but the process I followed was: I put the hat on Henry, had the treat in my hand which he was watching the whole time and then I gently moved back asking him to 'stay' which he did. I grabbed my camera and took the pic. 

(the light was behind Henry so this meant I had to lighten the photo up after to be able to see his face ok which isn't ideal)

The following year these two images were our Christmas offering: 


I took these knowing I was going to add some text to the image so if you know you want to make your photo into a card you need to think about the frame of the shot and where you might place the text after - unless you include the text in the shot as you go like this image 

Props wise the image (above left) involved silly antlers which we got a local pet shop.
The other image involves Christmas lights. 

I adore Christmas lights and I use them in lots of ways we can't forget they are attached to an electricity supply so if in doubt you can actually get these kinds of light that are powered by battery. With Henry dog I felt I could trust him enough to not to run off and even of he had I could have grabbed him quickly to stop the lights being pulled. Just remember animals and kids can be unpredictable. 

If you like the lights idea but are concerned about wrapping them around your pet or child why not try this:

We mocked this up very quickly with my parent's dog this morning:

Mia dog was sitting like a good girl and I placed the Christmas lights on a foot rest and positioned it in front of her. By making sure  the lights were very close to the camera and that she was the thing in focus it ensured the lights blurred well. If using an  smart phone or tablet make sure you touch the screen on the animal's fave to ensure it is the main point in sharp focus in shot.

With the two images above of Henry, I look at these now and think, why did I have the main light on? If I'd turned all the harsh lighting down and instead lit the scene gently with lamp light it would have meant the xmas lights would have blurred better and be shown off to their maximum -  similar the photo above. 

The key to taking fab photos of you pets at Christmas is making sure you get as much of 'Christmas' in the frame as you can like this pic of Hen. Here we have the tree, pressies and Xmas lights at his feet all in shot.

 It is the same principle if you are trying to compose a Christmas card type photo using your Children.

Try to fit as much 'Christmas' in the frame and you can't go wrong with Christmas lights for impact

Here Martha kindly posed for a photo to show us how beautiful Christmas lights can make a beautiful Christmassy photo - look at the colours on Martha's face and the light catching in her eyes in both these photos.

Thankfully there are some amazingly creative Christmas photo ideas out there so you don't have to rely on any of the ideas i've show you here with Henry!

I look forward to trying some of these myself this Christmas! :D

If you try any of these tips do send me your photos I'd love to see them and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.

However, if you are in that, 'OMG, I totally want a great family photo' place but are overwhelmed by doing it yourself then never fear, help is here! Click here to contact me so you can check this off your list. Easy Peasey

Saturday, 19 December 2015

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Day seven, tip seven: The Traditional Family Portrait Part 3. Putting the fun into family photography.

The Traditional Family Portrait Part 3. Putting the fun into family photography.

So far I've covered formal family portraiture arrangements and ways of how to photograph children which yield the most aesthetic results.  For me however there is nothing more perfect than a family photo where true smiles and real laughter are present.

True laughter; the crinkly eyed, wide mouth, teeth on show kind is something that can't be faked. So essentially the only way to make sure you're ready when it happens is to be alert and ready with your camera for these moments and to have an idea of what makes different people laugh or smile.

This shot of baby Gaby is from an old  summer shoot. Here,
Gaby's mums genuine wide smile which oozes
love and contentment along with baby Gaby's 
real smile make this a highly successful shot for me.

 When it comes to family photography and the smaller family arrangements I genuinely long for a shoot where a crazy family moment erupts. If I have to be pinned down on when these moments might come I'd say most often near the end of time shooting. I think this is  when families are getting bit tired and bored of posing. This wonderful shot is from a family shoot from 2 years ago where a regular family portrait broke out into a friendly brawl and brother foot fight. 

This image cracks me up every time I see it, I feel like I 
was privy to special family moment of silliness. 

From the same shoot we had another moment of madness - a staged photo highjacked by Granddad and the resulting photo is far more precious as a 'real' and silly family moment than a staged shot would have been. 

FYI: Grandparents can become very unpredictable as a shoot goes on - always keep a close eye on them to  be safe ;)

In truth it is the little ones who really do become rather unpredictable as shoot goes on which is totally understandable especially if they have been super compliant with smiles and being moved about but these unpredictable outbursts, so long as they aren't the teary, tired kind, have worked to my 
advantage in the past.

Here little Lyla had been a dream modelling for me for nearly an hour 
for a Mothering Sunday shoot. We got some beautiful photos above
and below with her Nan and then.....

 .....suddenly in just one shot she took this moment to lick, yes lick, her mum. What I loved was that her mum adored that photo explaining that is was so typical of little Lyla. Love it.

I think it has been important to cover both the silly and the formal with family photography because I know that families often fall into these two different camps at different times. There is place for aesthetically pleasing photos where everyone is compliant, smiling and well arranged, the ones that live on the mantel piece. There is also a place for those real, laughing out loud photos that capture a precious moment in time that embodies love and laughter.

......and finally there are those creative types who believe in making a funny photo to make people smile and I'm a sucker for these so if this is you then here are a couple of blog posts to get your fun, creative juices flowing and if you attempt any of these you must share them with me! I insist :)

If you try any of these tips do send me your photos I'd love to see them and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.

However, if you are in that, 'OMG, I totally want a great family photo' place but are overwhelmed by doing it yourself then never fear, help is here! Click here to contact me so you can check this off your list. Easy Peasey

Friday, 18 December 2015

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Day six, tip six: The Traditional Family Portrait Part 2 - Children

The Traditional Family Photography (Part 2) - Photographing Children.

As a family photographer I work in mix of styles with families.

I try primarily to work in a candid way, especially with children becuase as soon as they start to ignore the camera they become more relaxed. Alongside this type of photography I often mix in some posed shots of everyone smiling happily at the camera. So, Is there a magic formula? 

When it comes to photographing children it is easy to see why parents struggle to get that beautiful photo they long for. You know the one, your'e chatting to your little one or watching them play and you see that smile or that expression you long to capture on camera, the one that makes you go to mush inside but you have no camera to hand and if you did have you know as soon as you picked it up chances are you'd have just missed it.

Well fear not - help is here but first of all pick your backdrop wisely!

Shooting out of Doors

In Summer, Spring and Autumn nature tends to lend it's self as a beautiful backdrop for little ones. This photo of little Scarlett is testimony to this. 

Here we got Scarlet's Mum to lift her up so we 
had the blossom in the background which worked well. 

But becuase it's winter and cold and wet I'm going to focus on indoor photos with children. 

Shooting inside.

First things first, as discussed previously, pick the place you want to sit or stand your subject. Make sure there are no distractions like toys in shot and for an aesthetically pleasing photo, one you might want to frame or send to grand parents, makes sure the backdrop is aesthetically pleasing too

This fabulous sofa made for real interest as a backdrop with 
this little one and in this photo below we utilised the ultra cool 
wallpaper for an interesting backdrop.

Keeping them still

Well for really tiny ones you might want to use something like their high chair, a perfect way to keep them where you want them which additionally gives you time to get that fab shot. Try not to feed them anything really messy while taking photos - a biscuit works well and then just keep on photographing and eventually you will have one photo you love. 

Older Children

With older children you have more options. If you are feeling energetic then get them involved in a game and follow them around such as playing in a play house or you could get them to make you a pretend snack in their mini kitchen as we did with Sofia in the photo below... and ask them to tell you what they are doing as they are doing it. 

In this photo underneath I followed this little girl around as she was playing in her playhouse chatting to me about what she was doing and that's how I 
captured this cute picture.

Finally, is there a magic formula? Well for me there is and it involves talking to little ones and getting them to talk to you. I'm using little Martha, below, to show you what you can expect to see when you use a good chat to get a good photo.

Here we sat Martha down in a well lit area on a rather lovely sofa and I began to chat to her about play-school and who her friends were. These are results:

You will get some fabulous faces raging from confusion, to deep thought and then to a happy thought and eventually - BAM! - the shot you wanted.

If you try any of these tips do send me your photos I'd love to see them and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.

However, if you are in that, 'OMG, I totally want a great family photo' place but are overwhelmed by doing it yourself then never fear, help is here! Click here to contact me so you can check this off your list. Easy Peasey

Thursday, 17 December 2015

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Day five, tip five: The traditional family portrait

Day five, tip five: The traditional family portrait (Part 1)

Group Shots the perils of.

Let me paint the picture. It is Christmas or New Year and you have all your precious family members under the same roof, loved ones you rarely see any other times of the year and it's just fabulous and then predictably someone yells those infamous words, 'family photo guys'. Groan.

Groan indeed! Everyone has to get up from their comfy, hard fort for seats, put down that cuppa/glass of wine and, god forbid, head outside without a coat on for an inordinate amount of faffing, freezing and eventual photo taking.

Do let me help you with this this year.  

First of all you don't have to all headoutside for a freeze feast to get a fab family photo.

Take a look at some of these ideas I've borrowed from google for you. 
Both of these are family photos taken around the table before Christmas dinner and to make them work you just need to think a little about the arrangement of people.

If you fancy giving this type of photo (above) ago then simply make sure your glass, arm or hand is not obscuring anyone's face. You could try keeping the glasses low but bringing them all into the centre of the table as if you are about to toast one another,.

This photo, aside from being hilarious, is a good example of how to arrange a bigger table of Christmas guests. Very often in this sort of scenario people are craning their neck so they can be seen by the camera which often acts to obscure other people from the shot. So, make sure the people at the front pull their seats out from the table about a seats width. Then the people at the back need to push themselves right in to the table and the people in between must make sure they fall into this diagonal line. Finally you then all need to sit up  straight - no leaning in and you should get a lovely family portrait.

Lighting wise, with all indoor shots unless you are taking this shot during daylight hours and happen to have a very well lit room from daylight you will have to put all the main lights on and side lamps too. 

Heading Outside

Sticking with the formal family portrait arrangement there are real benefits to taking a family portrait outside, so long as it's not dark and not raining (not always an easy combination of variables to avoid in the UK).

Family photos outside tend to be better for three reasons.
1. Choice of backdrop in nature especially if you are looking for an aesthetically pleasing shot.
2. If you have a very large family it's not always easy to photograph everyone well indoors so outside spaces work better
3. Becuase of the light.

Why not attempt a photo on a post Christmas lunch walk? Again the key to fabulous family photos is planning- do you have somewhere picturesque in mind like my photo below taken on a scenic river walk. Additionally, make sure there are no distractions in the background and for the most aesthetically pleasing images, the one heading for a frame and the mantelpiece, the arrangement of people needs to be symmetrical.

Sometimes, those old School photos generally have this right – tall people at the back, shorties at the front. Use chairs, use steps, if outside, have little ones on shoulders – so long as you can clearly see everyone’s faces you in with a shot of a decent photo.

Final mini Tip: Anyone will know who has used me, with family photos involving lots of people, you cant go wrong with a 1,2, 3 count in to make sure everyone is looking at the camera and preferably smiling at the same time. This is becuase smiles fade and start to look fake the longer you have to keep holding them. A smile after three can be met with real enthusiasm.....and yes, with a count in you leave yourself wide open to that one person – we all know who they are, who is likely to pull a ridiculous face on ‘3’ but if that happens keep snapping for the genuine laughter that follows from everyone is definitely worth capturing.

If you try any of these tips do send me your photos I'd love to see them and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.

However, if you are in that, 'OMG, I totally want a great family photo' place but are overwhelmed by doing it yourself then never fear, help is here! Click here to contact me so you can check this off your list. Easy Peasey

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Day four, tip four: Framing Your Shot

Day four, tip four:  Framing your shot - The Rule of Thirds

You might look at this Framing Your Shot as the second part Day 1,tip 1, Compose You Shot. Once yo've cleared the clutter and have a willing subject then knowing how to position that subject to get a truly aesthetically pleasing images is a big help.

So lets take a look at framing. To be precise framing is really a combination balance, layout and arrangement. Some people have a natural feel for what works well and others just need a bit of guidance and one of the best guides to use is the Rule of Thirds.

This is Darren Rowse's 
description of the theory from Digital Photography School Blog

‘The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally. Studies have shown that when viewing images that people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the centre of the shot – using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.'

What you need to do

The idea behind the rule of thirds is to imagine dividing an image into thirds by drawing three horizontal lines and then three vertical lines so that you have 9 parts. The grid should look like this

Many smart phone and tablet devices provide 
you with this kind of grid for taking and framing photos

This grid (our rule of thirds) tells us where the four most important parts of the image are that you should consider placing people or key points of interest in the image at these cross-sections .

Here the top right interest point falls over baby Etta's eye. 
Incidentally, the eyes happen to be the first thing that most people are drawn to when they look at an image that contains a face so it's important to make sure they are absolutely in sharp focus.

These key four areas are not the only parts of the photo which when utilised make for truly pleasing images to look at. We must not forget the four lines that make up this magical grid. If you place key subjects or your horizon along these lines your image automatically becomes more pleasing to the eye. 

It is really up to you how you use this framing rule. I've been photographing people long enough to know roughly where I need to place them and I do find images more appealing when i frame or crop them using this rule than if I don't.

I cropped these photos of Gaby using the rule of thirds so
that the top right interest point now falls across the expressive part of her face which encourages us to look there first. 

Yet this photo of teenager Natalia (below) doesn't strictly work with the rule of thirds grid but you don't have to be strict, you can be approximate as I have been and still end up with a beautiful feel to a photograph. There are other pleasing elements at play in this image such as diagonals which you can find more information on in the blog I reference below, The 10 Rules of Composition.

What baby Gaby and Natalia have in common is that are looking into the image/frame and our natural curiosity is to want to follow that line of gaze which means our eyes naturally sweep across the photo. 

Once you've been playing about with the Rule of Thirds for a while it will eventually become second nature. 

In these 12 days blog posts there really isn't enough time to go into all the little tips and tricks associated with fabulously aesthetically pleasing images but you can read more here in The 10 Rules of Composition 

In short: Off Centre and sharp eyes work a treat.

If you try any of these tips do send me your photos I'd love to see them and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.

However, if you are in that, 'OMG, I totally want a great family photo' place but are overwhelmed by doing it yourself then never fear, help is here! Click here to contact me so you can check this off your list. Easy Peasey

Sammi Sparke Photography working between Sheffield, Cambridge and London

Saturday, 12 December 2015

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Day three, tip three: Low Light Photography.

Lighting Part 2

Low Light Photography. When Night Time Falls (even if that happens at 15.30pm!)

Before we begin, for those of you using cameras where you can adjust the ISO, to get the best results  you will beed to push that up as far as you can being mindful of the fact that the further you increase it the more grain appears in the image. For everyone else using automatic settings on cameras or iphones/tablets you need not worry. These devices are quite exceptional at dealing with low light but holding them exceptionally still or mounting them on a tripod will yield better results for this type of photography.

So, Rather than grumble at the pesky lack of light which I often do at this time of year, my aesthetic as a natural light baby and children photographer resting on it, let us find some ways to embrace it.

These photos where taken in the middle of a room and lighting wise there is a wall lamp to Alana's right hand side (you can see how the side of her face is lit by it) which is strongest of the light sources at play here in the room. The rest of the light, the ambient light within the room, comes from different places some of which is provided by the TV flickering in the background. These different sources of light within the room make for an arty, moodily lit image of Alana opening her advent Calendar.

What additionally adds interest are the colourful Christmas lights in the background which (as I briefly mentioned in day 1 tip one) if your subject is clearly in focus in the foreground then the lights in the backgrund will blur to great effect. This is called Bokeh and it is a very pretty effect that I love.

Extra tip: We asked Alana to save the opening of her advent calendar that day for me to photograph and it doesn't hurt when photographing children to set up a scene or a scenario as we have here. I ensured that the pretty Christmas lights would be visible in the background and then I set Alana up on her little table and seat and asked her to open her advent calendar. By doing this, photographing something real happening which in this case was the excitement of finding out what was in the advent Calendar draw, you are capturing a sincere response whatever that response may be. This can really make the photo.

This image above is lit by the blue light of the television. Alana was very involved in watching her program which meant I had opportunity to get a candid photo of Lani, a sweet profile shot lit from an unusual but effective light source. To maximise this effect make sure all other lighting in the room is switched off so the only source of light is the TV, you can create some very arty shots this way.

The image below goes some way to showing you how this may look. The room was very dark and an iphone was being used to add some light to a shoe that was proving rather difficult to do up. The light looked so beautiful on the faces of all involved I wanted to capture it.

If you try any of these tips do send me your photos I'd love to see them and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.

However, if you are in that, 'OMG, I totally want a great family photo' place but are overwhelmed by doing it yourself then never fear, help is here! Click here to contact me so you can check this off your list. Easy Peasey

Sammi Sparke Photography working between Sheffield, Cambridge and London

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Day two, tip two: The beauty ofdaylight

Daylight Portraits - Window light

My fabulous Grandfather, lit by window light. 
These often dull winter days that close in before we even get going don’t lend themselves well to beautiful, naturally lit photos indoors.

When using your phone it seems any kind of movement ends up looking very blurred when you look at the photo after and this is becuase your camera phone isn't great at compensating for low light.

...If you have the new iphone7 you may already know it has been commended for its 'stunning' low light performance. I'd love to know what you think if you have one.  

What you need to bear in mind is that even professional cameras struggle in low light and require the ISO setting to be increased to avoid capturing unwanted blurring.

So if capturing moving subjects without the blur is something you want to master on these dull winter days and over the Christmas period you simply have to make sure there is enough good light available to shoot in.

This means shooting indoors between the hours of 9am and and 3pm, or finding the lightest room in your house to take the photos in. Whichever room you take your photos in make sure the light from a window is shining directly on the subject, and be sure to make sure you are not standing in front of the window when you take your photos or you will block out part of that available light. You may even want to turn the lights on in the house but beware when you have daylight and tungsten light in an image some of the colours can look a little strange.

. If approximately, why not place your subject next to the window. Here you have a strong light source where you will notice higher degrees of light and shadow on the face that make for quite arty photos.

This is Edna, a lovely elderly lady I used to visit when I was at university. 

Sometimes we forget to take photos of grandparents at Christmas yet for me there is such beauty to be found in an elderly face; a whole life imprinted in the lines and tones. Why not try taking some photos of your elderly guests this Christmas. One thing is for sure, when those elderly relatives come to pass no one ever says, 'I wish we had LESS photos' of nan or granddad. 

Another interesting affect comes from bringing your subject further into the room away from the window. Here you will notice that you don’t have the problems of strong light or shadow, instead you get a more even spread of light. This is Caroline from a maternity shoot we did this summer. She is lit from a far away window the other side of the room. This lighting is far more painterly, and subtle and gives muted tones to the image.  

Have fun playing about but always make sure when you bring your subject further into the room that they are facing that light source and your back is to it  …. and try not to block out that light source with your body, which is easy to do! Stand just at the side of the window when taking photos.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Tip one - For the love of Christmas lights.

For the Love of Christmas Lights...

If you want to take some really beautiful photos of your children/family this Christmas then planning your shot makes all the difference.  My best images of children have involved a bit of planning, thought about backdrop, time playing around with framing the shot and of course a happy and content subject.

In the Pre-Christmas build up there are a number of opportunities perfect for making into keepsake photos.

Christmas lights add the 'wow' factor to photos.

If you are looking to get a couple of really cute Christmas photos of your children, maybe even a special photo to put on a Christmas card for the family, then why not try a bit of Christmas bokeh?

What is 'bokeh'? Well bokeh is a blurred light effect that you will already be familiar with even if you hadn't realised what it was called. Check out the photo at the top of this post to see what i'm talking about.

To create a shot similar to the one at the top of the post (or the one up next) there are a couple things you need to do.

Follow these steps:

First, turn the main overhead lights down a little (well this is my preference but you can play around and see what you prefer). If you do this you might need some kind of additional light source to light your subject's face if your camera phone struggles with the lack of light.

Bring your subject just a couple of feet in front of the Christmas lights and stand or sit them down. Make sure the Christmas lights are on!

Using your phone,frame the image with the subject either in the centre or to one side. Make sure you leave enough space at either side of the subject and over their head so you can see the lovely lights - like the photos in this post.

When you have framed your image touch the screen where your subject 's face is. You will see their face come into focus and become sharp and the Christmas lights behind them begin to blur beautifully.

You may need to play around with the distance you leave between your subject and the Christmas lights behind them - the nearer or further they are from the lights will give you slightly different effects.

I'd love to know how you get on and even better to see some of your photos if you'd like to share? 

12 days of Christmas photography tips. Introduction.

Introducing Sammi Sparke Photography's 12 days of Christmas Photography tips, a little something for families wanting to take better, more creative photos over the Christmas period.

As a family photographer I been into many houses and photographed many adults and children over the years. Every single shoot i've undertaken in my 6 years working with families have been part of a wonderful learning curve and an insight into the simple things that make all the difference in creating fabulous photos. So here, over the next 12 days, I look to share with you a few nuggets of useful tips to help you create some fab photos of your family over the the Christmas period.

Whether you are using a smart phone, tablet/ipad, professional camera or disposable camera these tips can work for all of you and don't require any specific level of expertise.

So sit back, enjoy and if you try any of these out I would love you to post your photos on my facebook or twitter page for us to have a look out:

Sammi Sparke Facebook  


Twitter:Sammi Sparke Twitter  with hashtag #Sparkephototips

Happy Photographing