a very timid tutorial

I certainly feel silly giving anyone photography advice but I’ve had enough requests and emails that I’ll throw a few tips out there. Feel free to ignore me at any time.

Whether you are using a point and shoot or a SLR camera it’s all about finding the right light. Think of photography like sunbathing– you want to avoid those hottest, brightest hours in the middle of the day. The morning and the evening are your best friends, especially on the beach where there is no shade.

On the beach you’ll need to move around standing on the shore, in the water and squatting down low to get the best light. Most kids won’t pose for you while they are playing and I don’t have any kind of zoom lens so this can be quite a trick.

Now….. digital SLR friends– let’s get technical here. I use a Canon Rebet Xt which you probably know is a entry level SLR. It’s the soccer mom camera. Happily, At $289 it’s not much more than your basic point and shoot these days.

If you are lucky enough to already own an SLR do yourself a big favor and get rid of the lens that came with it and pick up a 50mm 1.8f. It’s sweet little lens for just $85; gives you a wide camera angle and delivers a pretty sweet bokeh(background blur).

For lovely bokeh dial your aperture down as low as you dare. On this photo my aperture is 2.0 which gives me foreground and background blur.

I’ve been overexposing my beach photos with pretty good results. Your light meter is picking up on the sky and the water so I take the shutter speed down a few notches for nicely lit faces. The above photo is straight out of the camera. It’s a good exposure so I don’t have to do much to it in Photoshop.

This photo of Zoey has a 2.8f aperture which only gives it background blur. 2.8 is a much safer f stop. When you mess with f stops below that you risk blurring your subject.

With two or more subjects you’ll need to use higher aperture #s. This was shot at 3.0. You’ll need at least 5.6 for a family.

Of course, once you are playing with aperture be sure to use selective focus points(check your manual for this). I like to focus on the corner of the eye but that’s nearly impossible with a moving child so I’m happy if the focus point lands on their head.

Morning light, evening light, squat down low, move around, wide apertures and focus points— there you go, that’s the full extent of my knowledge.

For superior counsel read your manual and check out ilovephotography.com or Understanding Exposure.

Happy shooting!

July 19, 2008



  1. Jan Russell

    July 17, 2008

    You are amazing! I didn’t even know you spoke greek!

    Seriously, I am so jealous of my camera saavy friends!

  2. Natalie Hansen

    July 17, 2008

    That is great Michelle. I was hoping that you could give some advice on photography. Your pictures are incredible.


  3. twoelves

    July 17, 2008

    I think I’ll call you soon. I need an even more elementary explanation of the overexposure. I have a Nikon d40. I’m wondering if one of the pre-programmed settings will give me the same background fuzzy effect with still giving a sharp focus on the subject. I’ll keep studying about light 🙂 Thanks for the tips.

  4. Tracy

    July 17, 2008

    You rock, my dear! I have been loving working on my photog skills. MY hardest part with my Thrifty Fifty(50mm 1.8) is getting the focus right. It takes some major practice for me at least!

  5. Andrea

    July 17, 2008

    I hope, hope, hope this is one of many tutorials. You write in a way that makes it easy to understand and well, that is half the battle. You and your pictures are inspiring…the beach pictures are insanely beautiful. THANK YOU!

  6. Michelle

    July 17, 2008

    my darling twoelves– you are ready to get off those auto settings! Switch it to AV mode, dial down the aperture and use your selective focus points– you’ll be AMAZED at the difference.

  7. Kim

    July 18, 2008

    You have come a long way, Michelle! WTG! Isn’t it funny how all that terminology starts to become second nature?
    Did you mean to say you were underexposing the beach pictures instead of overexposing them?

  8. Christie

    July 18, 2008

    Thank you! Overexposing? I think that’s always been my problem. I underexpose at the beach trying to compensate for the bright sky. You are a genius, and I will be trying it out today in the yard.

    I have that EXACT lens and camera – and love them. Just need to figure out how best to work them.

  9. Annie

    July 18, 2008

    Michelle, thank you! Your gorgeous photos lately have had me browsing through photo websites in search of a digital SLR (I have an old fashioned SLR and a digital point-and-shoot + am ready for an upgrade!)

    Hope you had a lovely time in San Diego.

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