In 2019, something life-changing and amazing happened. My wife and I had a child, Claire, and since having her I realize that my life will never be the same. I’m barely 6 months in and I already see all the things in my life are different now. In some ways, I just don’t have the time anymore and barely get to partake (farewell, Overwatch addiction). In other areas, I’ve had to think of ways to include her: I’m finding that photography is one of those areas (and no, it’s quite as industrious as the title may come off).

For example, Christmas just happened and since this was Claire’s first, we really wanted to take some special photos. There is nothing quite like the illuminating soft, warm light of a Christmas tree and just doing a quick Google search for “baby christmas photo” will give you a PLETHORA of examples. And what sort of self-respecting “amateur” photographer would I be if I didn’t try to do it myself, right?

Photo 1: This might sound like a copout, but you don’t always have to be perfectly technical to capture magical and meaningful images.

The results were pretty decent, but I learned some really strong lessons, both for next year and in general to improve that skill level in photography

Photo 2: Thank goodness for Image Stabilization. Sharp eyes at F/4 in dim light makes for very low shutter speeds!

Lights are bright but not how you think, and other technical takeaways

Seriously, if you’ve got a fancy DSLR or similar, crank up that ISO and don’t be afraid of using a really wide aperture. The photos you see here were at about 3200 ISO and on a Canon T2i to boot, so with a little bit of Lightroom work to smooth out the noise you can still make some decently sharp and usable images. I’ve heard that newer cameras are even better with the higher ISOs too. It’s a great tool, use it!

Focus and general sharpness get a bit tricky with the wider apertures, however. I was shooting F/4, but probably should have used one of my faster lenses. If you didn’t know, the wider the aperture (the lower the F-stop number) is, the shorter the depth of field, so you have to be really spot on with your focus. Newer cameras (and lenses) have way better autofocus, so if yours is lacking like mine, move into manual focus and do your best get the closest eye to the camera tack sharp.

Eyes maketh portrait

I mentioned the sharpness of eyes above and this really isn’t anything new, but the eyes in portraiture are EVERYTHING. If they are sharp, attention-grabbing, and expressive then you can make those little technical mistakes that I implied with Photo 1 up top without ruining your photo.

Photo 3: Claire did not get those eyes from her mother or father…

Now take a look at Photo 3.

To me, the eyes jump out immediately. First, they’re sharp. Second, they’re expressive. Third, the blue really pops out against the color of the red dress.

Now, look at what could be considered “errors” in the image. It’s on an unnatural angle, making the tree in the background cockeyed. There is something white in the background corner and you can’t quite tell what it is. I could go on but to the untrained eye you probably didn’t notice those things – or at least they did scream “bad image” at you – immediately. To myself, my wife, my family, and the guy at the photo center counter who almost didn’t let my wife purchase these photos without a print release from the photographer, the expressive portrait of our daughter is perfect.

Get to the point, what did you learn?

So here are my takeaways:

  • Don’t be afraid of typically “less than desirable” settings
  • Get the eyes right and you’ve made 90% of the image
  • If the image “means something”, then it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t 100% technically perfect
  • Create a generic photo release to give to the wife for picking up prints

Just some thoughts from your everyday, average, “amateur”, photographer 🙂