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The Art of The Everywhere Photo

Finding Real Life Inside Your Camera

Article by Stephen Neilson

Photography by Stephen Neilson

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

Photos happen for any old reason these days, now that everyone’s packing many megs of pixels in their pockets under the hood of their smartphone. Call it blessing, call it curse, but it’s definitely in our best interest to take a bit of control, and learn to make some truly good photos… or even better, photos we’ll want to look at, share, and enjoy for years to come.

Whether you’re a social media toe-dipper or deep-diving devotee’, you’ll be rewarded when you regularly see signs of “real life” coming from your camera.

Here are a few tips (highlighted in bold) you might find helpful, paired with some of my favorite shots to illustrate.

Photo 1 (at left): For live shots of someone in action at their craft, try taking them somewhere unusual. Steve Gritman (fiddler extraordinaire) and I drove around till we saw a solitary scraggly tree in a poorly fenced-in field, with the sun beaming through its branches; one clambered-over fence later, and voila’.

We featured a black-and-white version of this photo on a previous SW Lake cover a few years back and received a reader message about “the man firing a rifle.” That was just proof positive that everybody interprets images differently.

When taking your own photos consider shooting from unusual angles; here, I was lying on the ground shooting up through Steve through the tree, into the sun — usually a no-no, but here it created the cool lens flare beaming down on Steve… hence one more tip: break some rules and see how it goes.

Photo 2 (following page top left): Couple things here: for staged shots, try building a tableau. Why not have your friend serenade Santa on his guitar, along with all his stuffed North Pole friends? No props, you say? Visit a place with plenty, as we did here at TreeTime Christmas Creations in Lake Barrington. Also, echoing the unusual angles tip: shooting this from 12 feet up a ladder brought in the scope of the store and its festive holiday trimmings.

Photo 3 (top right): Learn how to put your camera in shutter priority mode (yes, even your phone’s camera) to capture fast action; it was a literal kick catching Linda from Restoration Fitness in mid-air. Even my 125 frames/second setting still left some motion blur which added even more drama to the photo.

Photo 4 (lower left): Use helpful accessories. Here, Jenn Duke (see the article about her new bakery in this issue) is shot from directly above, using a monopod gripping my iPhone 14 Pro Max tilting straight downward, with remote viewscreen and triggering via my Apple Watch. The top-down shot lends a kind of geometric Zen to her delicious-looking baked goods display.

Photo 5 (lower right): Try Portrait Mode in iPhones to greatly increase editing power later. Computational photography has come a long way. Using iPhoto to edit at home, I easily kept the couple and the baked goods both in crisp focus while the background gently blurs. Alternatively, not choosing a focal point can leave the entire depth of field rendered with unusual clarity. And afterwards, spend a little extra time with your editing app (whether on your computer or your phone itself) to neaten up (not “phony” up) your image. Crop in on your subject(s). Straighten an image clearly clashing with the horizon, ceiling lines, etc. Adjust the lighting if needed. Most of all, don’t overdo it. Learn your app’s basic editing tools so you’re not leaning on “filters” all the time.

Photo 6 (next page, top): When you’re in oddly-lit settings with strobes/colored lights and the like, you might think to cut through by using a flash, but instead how about using Burst Mode to increase the odds of getting some shots that work. Against all odds, this shot of Wauconda Wildside’s Gringo Sushi in mid-vocal rode the visual tsunami of light flashes and background Halloween decorations to an appropriately-raging-red color tone and clean expressive focus on the subject. 

Photo 7 (bottom): For group shots, my motto is, “Go for the combo plate.” First, get a few “straight” shots in hand, then release the hounds for a set of semi-coached or simply spontaneous "go crazy everybody” shots. Yell “Freeze” when maximum mayhem is achieved. Rinse and Repeat. Again here, burst mode and faster shutter speeds are your friend.

I look forward to you trying out a few of these tips, and taking advantage of the huge amount of helpful (and often free) photography and photo editing tools, tutorials and resources available at your local library, online, and elsewhere.

About the Author: Stephen Neilson is SW Lake’s Editor and Chief Photographer. With nearly 28 years experience at a Fortune 100 company in training, communications, and employee engagement gave him a solid foundation of photo and video skills. Contact Stephen at 847.487.7464 to discuss event, personal, or corporate photography or videography opportunities.

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