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Category Archives: Tutorials

10 qualities that will make you an amazing photographer – Chicago, Illinois – Portrait and Wedding Photography

1. Relate to people well. Being a photographer is such a people centered job. You absolutely have to be able to talk comfortably with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds as you with different life experiences as you. If you aren’t easy to get along with and likeable, you won’t be hired. Simple as that. You have to be outgoing, communicate well, and be a good listener.

2. The desire to learn. I think if I really sat down and counted, I probably learn or come across about 20 things a day that I can apply to my business. It can be a new way to present something on my website, how to force yourself to blog consistently (ahem!), a tutorial on how to take better macro shots, finding a new location for an upcoming session, discovering fun new marketing or branding ideas, researching traditions in a wedding you know nothing about so you can talk intelligently with a bride about her culture, coming up with new fun products for your clients, looking into bridal expos – no matter what it is, you have to constantly want to be on top of things.

3. The ability to bounce back. Failures and missteps are going to happen and you have to not only expect it, but be okay with it. It’s the only way to grow. A lot of this type of business comes from trial and error because you’re a one-person show. Nobody is there to show you the right way and nobody knows what will work for you best except for you. Your success is a direct result of you. Nobody is out there marketing for you, working on your website for you, writing your emails for you. Your passion and people skills will bring you success.

4. Having thick skin. Maybe you were born with thick skin, and that’s awesome, but if you weren’t then you had better grow some quickly. In case you haven’t noticed, there are some rude people in the world who will troll your FB page or website and leave nasty comments for you and the whole world to see. They will leave unsolicited advice and critiques on work that you are proud of and try to tear you down. Why? Who knows. But you better believe it will happen. Another reason you’ll need thick skin is all the disappointments you’ll have. Clients won’t hire you, work that you submit for publication won’t be selected, images that you love will fall short of amazing in other people’s eyes. You just have to believe in yourself and know that someday it will all be worth it.

5. Never settle with yourself. Always improve. There is always something you can add to your arsenal and endless topics to educate yourself on. Never allow yourself to be satisfied with what you create, always strive for improvement. Try to keep yourself ahead of every other photographer out there. I found that the longer I did this, my work evolved into a totally different style than I ever anticipated. It wasn’t even a conscious thing, it was almost like my eye was trained to see what truly beautiful work was and I strived to be able to achieve that.

6. The ability to see your work objectively. This kind of ties in with number 5, but if you don’t take some time every now and then to evaluate your work and your business model, you’ll be stuck in limbo. You won’t get worse, but you won’t get better either. It’s also refreshing sometimes to compare yourself to yourself. Find some images from when you first started out and put them side-by-side with work you just recently shot. Seeing your improvements or your change in style in a tangible way is incredibly powerful.

7. Ask for help. You can always find someone out there who has been doing this longer than you who is willing to take you under their wing. Not every photographer is crazy competitive. There’s plenty of photography groups I have joined with incredible networking opportunities and endless amounts of advice and support. Look around and put yourself out there. You might be surprised how many photographers will be happy to help. For every photographer that won’t help, there’s TONS out there who want to help raise the bar for photography and help educate other photographers. Just don’t think and act like you already know everything there is to know. Nobody likes a know-it-all and it puts you in a bad place because we all need help, nobody knows it all.

8. Being able to create and capture a moment. When I first started out in photography, the technical stuff was awful. I wasn’t artsy at all and I actually shot on auto! But what stood out to me and to my clients about my work was that I could capture a moment. This ties in with my first point, but it is essential that you can interact with your clients in a way to ease out their natural smiles and laughter and have them also interact with each other in a real way. The technical stuff will come in time, but if you can be present enough to anticipate great reactions and emotions, and get people to feel comfortable around you, then you will go a long way in this business.

9. The drive to succeed. You have to be able to visualize your end results. Set goals, re-evaluate them as needed, and then set higher goals. Push yourself to be the best you can be.

10. PASSION! If you’re not passionate about this type of work, you’ll never make it. Simple as that. You have to really truly love creating beautiful images and use that love to fuel you past all the struggles you will come across.

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How to Successfully Photograph your Christmas Tree – Joanna Smith Photography – Chicago, Illinois Photographer

It’s that time of year again where days are shorter and colder, snow starts falling, and it begins to look a lot like Christmas. With the holidays upon us, everyone wants great photos of their Christmas tree and their loved ones in front of it. Here’s how to capture a bit of the magic:

1. If possible, turn down the lights – You can photograph your tree almost any time of day, but if you’re taking pictures at night, make sure to turn off almost all the lights in the room that the tree is in so the lights on the tree can be the focus. If you’re using daylight, be aware of windows as they may cause backlighting and adjust your settings accordingly.

Christmas Tree Pictures

Photographing Christmas Morning

2. Use a tripod – You might need to use a tripod to keep your camera very still while you photograph your tree because you’ll be using a slow shutter speed. If the sun has already set, you will need the shutter speeds to be so slow that it’s pretty much impossible to hand hold your camera without getting blurry pictures. If you don’t have a tripod, consider bracing your arms/hands on a table, chair, countertop, etc.

3. Use manual mode – Bump up your ISO, around 500-900 depending on available light, since you will probably be shooting in low light. Whenever you’re dealing with ISO, the lower the number, the better. If your ISO is too high you will get some grain in your images. My favorite settings for Christmas tree photos at night are f/1.4 with a shutter speed of 1/200 and ISO of 800. Play around with your settings, there are many variables involved including what lens you’re using, the time of day/available light, and the effect you’re tying to achieve.

4. Photograph your ornaments – Everyone has special ornaments, whether they were passed down through the generations or just have special meaning to you. Or find some of the more beautifully decorated ornaments and photograph them. Be creative and capture different angles. Photographing ornaments is a different way of drawing the eye away from the tree as a whole, as it is traditionaly photographed, and focusing on the small but important parts that make up the tree.

Beautiful Christmas Ornaments

5. Get a little artsy – For a beautiful and festive bokeh effect, make sure your camera is set to manual focus. Focus on something right in front of you, then keep that focus and point your camera at the tree. Or, slowly bring your tree out of focus until you see circles of lights on the tree in the size that you want. If you are a bokeh lover like I am, the result is a little bit magical.

Photographing Christmas Tree Bokeh

Another little tip – if you have small children, it’s best to give them a task. Maybe you could hand them an ornament and tell them to find the perfect place to hang it. Or ask them to pick out their favorite ornament and show you. That way, they are involved in decorating the tree and are an important part of the story you’re capturing in your photo.

The holidays are a beautiful and festive time of year. Take out your camera and take advantage of the beautiful decorations on your tree. Play around with your settings, be a little artistic, and have fun photographing this magical time of year!

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5 tips on how to take awesome pictures of your kids – Chicago, Illinois, child photographer

One question I’m asked ALL THE TIME is how I get such great pictures of my kids. Every parent wants to know because they want to be able to have great pictures of their kids too. Duh. Easier said than done though, right? It’s something that I know parents stress out about. I’ve seen it firsthand in sessions – parents want their children to be these picture perfect kids they see on Pinterest, and they want amazing pictures of their kids smiling directly at the camera. Kids don’t normally do that. They want to run, and laugh, and explore, and play with grass. This stresses parents out, which affects the outcome of the pictures. A photographer is pretty used to this situation and can adjust accordingly to ensure families still get great portraits but it’s frustrating when you’re trying to do it yourself. It’s actually pretty simple and I hope after you take a few minutes to read this, you’ll be able to take awesome pictures of your kids too.

5 Tips for Photographing your Kids

1. Set the environment. Plan this out ahead of time and think of a few different places that your kids really enjoy. Maybe it’s outside on a nature hike, maybe it’s in the backyard, maybe it’s in your playroom or coloring at the table. Think of a place that is familiar and natural to them where they will have fun, be expressive, and enjoy themselves. Kids are full of energy, and busting at the seams, so the last thing they want to do is stop playing to stand around while you try to coax smiles out of them through bribery or threats. Do they like to be tickled? Grab your camera and have the tickle monster come after them, snapping shots of them giggling the whole time. Are they really young and think peek-a-boo is hilarious? Play games, laugh with them, and have fun with it. Egg them on, ask them questions, engage them. If you stand there and tell them to say “Cheese!” well then that’s exactly what you’ll get, them being cheesy. If you’re being silly, they will be silly too, and silly moments are the best kind to capture.

5 Tips on how to photograph your kids

2. Recognize the moment. You know your kids. You can tell when they are about to be excited or if something will strike them as super hilarious. My camera is almost always within arms reach. Yes, that’s mainly because I’m a photographer, but I also know that when a great photo op appears, it doesn’t last long. My kids won’t still be giggling or playing in that super cute way if it takes me 8 minutes to dig out my camera from in my closet somewhere. On the days that you’re ready to try taking some photos, make sure your camera is nearby, battery is charged, and you’re close enough to grab it when the fun moments start happening. You have to be ready for those moments and be willing to drop what you’re doing. For me, a lot of times I’ll be working in another room and hear them laughing with their Dad outside. Tons of giggles is a huge clue to me to stop what I’m doing, grab my camera, and start photographing what they’re doing. It’s almost always silly, fun, and totally them.

5 Tips for Photographing your Kids

3. Anticipate the shots. Run around with them, get down on the floor with them, and try to always be at their eye level with your camera. Keep in mind that they will always be on the move, so dress appropriately. I always, always wear running shoes and jeans when I photograph children. I’m ready to run, get down on the ground and get dirty rolling around to capture the shot. One mistake people make when photographing children is that the shots are always blurry. If you’re new to photography, your camera likely has a sports setting. Try that one out and remember that kids MOVE. A lot. So move your camera as they move and anticipate where they will be by the time you press the shutter. Practice focusing as they move around, and try to always keep the focus point on their faces. If you’re familiar with your camera and shoot on manual, make sure to keep your shutter speed fast so you avoid the motion blur.

4. LET THEM BE KIDS! 🙂 Try not to have any kind of structure and just let them be. Kids can sense when you’re pulling in the reigns and they fight against it, or they just “cheese” the whole time. If you’re getting frustrated, kids are smart and they can sense it. They absolutely will pick up on your frustration and start to get agitated themselves. I’ve seen it, and it happens all the time. Just relax. The goal of this is to just capture them as they are because those are the moments you’ll want to remember. I never try to stop my kids from playing. I absolutely love candid shots and want to capture them just being kids. Simple as that.

Toddler Photography Tips

5. Be patient and try, try again! Maybe you’ll get greats shots the first time. Maybe you’ll have to put your camera down and try again later on or even the next day. Let’s face it, kids can be a drag when you’re trying to photograph them. You definitely can’t force it and knowing when you’re pushing too hard is important too.

Don’t give up! You owe it to them to capture their childhood as much as you owe it to yourself to preserve the memories of the days that will pass by all too quickly… and if all else fails, hire a professional 😉 Haha! Seriously though, if you just take the pressure off of them to perform, you’ll be surprised at what they give you in return. Before we know it, our kids will be all grown up and I’m hoping these tips will help you freeze these precious moments in time.

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How to take Beautiful Pictures in the Golden Hour | Chicago, Illinois Family Photographer

If you are a part of the photography community in any way, whether as a hobbyist, a newbie photographer or even a professional photographer, you’ve heard of it: The Golden Hour. What exactly is the Golden Hour and why do photographers love it so much? It’s the time of day when the sunlight softens and allows for beautiful warm colors to filter through your surroundings. You can find this stunning light anywhere but not at any time of the day.

The Golden Hour is the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. To find exact times, you can search online to find sunrise and sunset times for the town you live in, but what I do is just pay attention to the light outside. As a natural light photographer, my eye is generally drawn outdoors often throughout the day, but more so in the early evening around sunset. You can see the shift in light, how it filters through the trees in a different, more beautiful way, and the light starts to take on a golden hue.

How to take beautiful photos in the Golden Hour Tutorial by Joanna Smith Photography, Chicago area couples and wedding photographer

So it’s a beautiful time of day, but why do photographers love it so much? It’s the perfect time for shooting portraits. The sun is low in the sky which means the light is soft, diffused, and won’t cast any harsh shadows on your subjects or make them squint in their photos. The warm hues are also very flattering to skin tones. If you’re a bokeh lover like I am, you will soon fall in love with shooting at this time of day because the bokeh is to-die-for! It also allows for beautiful backlighting, golden haze, and stunning sun flares to come into your images.

Now you know what the Golden Hour is and when to seek it, now you’re probably wondering how to take pictures in this amazing light? The best scenario would be for you to scope out the location ahead of time, during the golden hour, so you can see for yourself the best areas to use for the type of images you want. Then you won’t waste any precious time on the day of the shoot and you’ll know exactly where to go for the best use of light. If you aren’t able to go to the location ahead of time, then the first thing you need to do is figure out where you want to place your subjects in relation to your light source, the sun. I prefer to put the sun behind people because I like backlighting, but you could also face them towards the sun.

How to take beautiful photos in the Golden Hour Tutorial by Joanna Smith Photography, Chicago area couples and wedding photographer

Next, you need to figure out your ideal settings. To get the most out of the Golden Hour light, you should:

Shoot wide open somewhere between f/1.8 and f/2.2. You will want to shoot this way to capture the amazing bokeh that will be plentiful this time of day.

Keep your ISO low because you will have plenty of light coming in. If you don’t like sun flare, be sure to put on a lens hood because you can expect a lot of flare and haze this time of day so the hood will help keep that out if you don’t like that look.

Experiment a little and remember to keep shooting. The light, clouds, shadows, and colors change rapidly and drastically so keep moving around and take all the shots you can during this small window of time.

How to take beautiful photos in the Golden Hour Tutorial by Joanna Smith Photography, Chicago area couples and wedding photographer

I encourage you to get out there and experience the golden hour for yourself and see how the world becomes a little more magical.

2 comments
  • Chrissy - Love it!!! It’s been so long since I’ve heard this term . Thanks for the reminder and I love the write up your blog is so easy to readReplyCancel

    • Joanna - Thank you Chrissy! So happy you enjoyed it =)ReplyCancel

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