Genuine Smiles – Photography Q&A

In my mission to learn a little something about photography, I decided to go straight to the source: a photographer. So I called up one of the best ones I know, Kirsten Carlson, founder/owner of KCarlson Photography and also my fabulous sister-in-law. She took some time to chat and share a few tips of her trade. Check it out!

Emjoyable: When it comes to taking a “good” picture, what are some of the most important basics to keep in mind?

KCarlson: The first thing is lighting — make sure it’s appropriate for the setting. Knowing your camera really well is really important. You can take a class, go to where you bought your camera or look online, all of which can give you the down and dirty on the functions of your camera and how it works. Another thing to consider is distance. The closer you are to the person, the more distorted the picture will be. It’s better to stand back, especially with portraits, which prevents distortions, like making a nose stand out.

Emjoyable: Generally speaking, how much of the quality of a photo comes from the actual photo and how much comes from editing?

KCarlson: The goal is to take a good a photo so you don’t have to edit so much, but it’s not always that simple, especially with children. Sometimes you just have to rapid fire and then it comes to editing after. Also, it’s better to take a wide shot (not huge, because that can make for a pixilated picture when you blow it up). It’s better to include more than less. You can always crop a photo after the fact, but you can’t add to it.

Emjoyable: What’s the difference between shooting in black and white (or other shades) and adjusting it after the fact?

KCarlson: It depends on the editing software. I prefer to shoot in color and raw vs jpeg. With the jpeg setting, it pixelates the photo and puts it into a color scheme, so it limits it a little. If you shoot raw, it takes all the colors just as though you’re looking through the lens, not pixilating it at all, but you’ll usually need photoshop to covert. It just gives you more control with the photo.

Emjoyable: Is an eye for judging a good photo something you’re born with, or is it something that you can learn?

KCarlson: It can help to be born with it, but you can learn as you go. Also, you can Google portait photographers in the area, we all look at what others have done, the angle of shots and lighting. We all borrow from each other. There are lots of blogs that talk about lighting, and there are also presets for Photoshop that other photographers have come up with to get a certain effect.

Emjoyable: Are there any technical differences to consider when photographing people versus objects?

KCarlson: Yes. Lighting is always critical, and lighting people is different than objects. When shooting objects, you can shoot several angles, positions and they don’t wear out. You can change the light on objects, but people know what they like and don’t like. You can’t get too artsy; people (for the most part) want people to look like people and to be recognizable. With a building, you can be more artsy and it doesn’t run away. With objects, you can shoot several times a day, while people aren’t like that.

Emjoyable: Can you explain a few “vocab” words?


KCarlson: It’s mainly the level of film to be using at a certain condition — the optimal speed that your shutter would snap at. Aperture is the amount that you’re letting the lens open, which usually has a range. Aperture is how much the lens opens, some are fixed and others you can adjust. Shutter speed is how fast it takes. The bigger the aperture, the quicker you can make the shutter close. The faster the shutter, the better to get motion. You want to capture the motion before it moves. If it’s a more closed aperture, you have to have the shutter open longer. But the longer the shutter is open, the less the subject can move.

White Balance  

KCarlson: If you set your camera to auto white balance, your camera will adjust to what it thinks pure what looks like, based on the conditions. This can change by flash, time of day (morning light is more blue versus evening light which is more pink) and other things that can all effect what “white” looks like. Auto white balance would auto adjust to white, but that can change from picture to picture, so it might look different for each photo. Or you can set the white balance. If you know what your flash fires at, you can set your camera to know that is what white looks like. You can also show it something white and can set that as the white balance.


KCarlson: Macro is for taking close-up pictures of small objects. If you want a picture of a bumble bee on a flower and want crisp details or anything that is really small that you want to be really zoomed in for, you want to turn Macro on.

Emjoyable: What are the benefits of getting a “real” camera versus a point-and-shoot digital camera? (And what exactly is a “real” camera called?)

KCarlson: A “real” camera would be a SLR camera, which stands for single-lens reflex. A SLR camera has a wide range of functions, you can control a lot more than with a point-and-shoot camera, which has limited control. A point-and-shoot camera might have a sport function for example, with which the camera would adjust to what it thinks it needs to catch motion. But on a SLR, you can adjust those settings more accurately. You can set a wider range of options and have more control over the photo.

Emjoyable: How much should someone know about a SLR camera before buying one?

KCarlson: You can get one at any time, even if you’re not a pro. When I first got mine, I didn’t know everything. You can take classes, which are really helpful. You can purchase classes separately at many camera stores, there is a ton of information online and cameras today usually come with CDs with tutorials that can teach you a lot. You don’t have to know much when you first get it, plus all the SLRs do have auto functions to use as you learn to do things manually. 

Emjoyable: Can you take a “good” photo with a bad camera?

KCarlson: Yes. You see people with 1930’s cameras producing great photos. Part of it is the eye, you have to have a good eye, and now, with digital photography, a lot is post production anyway.

As far as capturing moments, do you have any suggestions on freezing those moments on film?

KCarlson: You have to get people to ignore the camera. It sounds ridiculous, but you have to get them laughing and interacting with each other. Posing is all well and good, especially in large groups, but if you can get them to start to be a little goofy, get them distracted, that’s what brings it out. You can tell the families that are great together because it’s just easy; they’re comfortable with each other. You have to talk to them before hand, get to know them. I sometimes tell them that I’m testing lighting, just to get them distracted. I had this family last weekend, and I did that to get them to do something other than posing. You just have to get them to ignore the camera and interact, and that’s how you get genuine smiles and those are the best ones to capture. 

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Thanks, Kirsten!!!


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