How to Photograph Your Home
Camden-based photographer Brian Vanden Brink has spent the past twenty-five years shooting homes Down East and around the country for a variety of magazines, from Architectural Digest to Metropolitan Home, from Coastal Living to Down East. His most recent book is At Home in Maine.
1 The most important thing is light. I look up at the sky and see where the sun is and how it's going to track, so I can map out shots in my mind.Light is crucial. It is really what defines architecture. It's the most important tool you've got. To pull off a shoot you have to be very aware of where the sun is at all times and use it with maximum skill so that you don't miss an opportunity. You must be prepared and have the shot lined up, have everything accessorized so you're ready when the light is right. Without a sense of light you don't have that sense of emotion. When seeing my work, I try to get people to respond, "I want to be there." Then I know I've found my mark.
2 So much of this work is about prepping and getting the right materials in the picture — and stuff you don't want out. It's very important for there to be a sense of order in a photograph. I won't shoot a picture if I see something and say to myself, "That shouldn't be there." It's gotta be right, or it's out of the picture.
3 To me it's all about taking each house and assessing what in the world it's doing there and showing it in the best possible way. Sometimes a shot is more about the landscape and less about the house. Maybe you're looking out across the porch and showing the view more than the house itself. You don't want to isolate a house from its surroundings.
4 The key thing is not the equipment — whether you shoot digitally or what film you use — but being in the right place at the right time and knowing what you want to say.
5A common mistake to avoid: People tend to shoot wider than they need to. Try to shoot with the longest focal length. It makes for a more pleasing, more compressed view. The idea of a shot is to reduce it, reduce it, reduce it — eliminate everything you don't need. Keep it simple. Keep it very simple. Make sure everything you put in the picture is exactly what you want.
6 When I shoot a house it requires total and complete concentration. It's the only thing I do when I'm on the job. I live and breathe that house. I try to understand that house. Sometimes that requires very hard work, but it always requires concentration. Looking at it, looking at it, looking at it again, so that you can figure out what the problems are so you can present the building in the best possible light. That's my job.How to Photograph Your family
For the past thirty years, Benjamin Magro has specialized in aerial and landscape photography, but in recent years he's found himself doing more and more portraiture. The Appleton-based photographer has published widely — from National Geographic Traveler to Better Homes and Gardens to Horticulture magazine to the New York Times Sunday Supplement — and he's done a great deal of commercial photography. It's telling, though, that of his two most recent solo shows, one was titled "Faces of Maine" and featured portraits, many taken for this magazine.
1 I shoot both with film and with a digital camera, but more and more I'm using digital. It's just gotten to the point where it's finally arrived in terms of resolution and the equipment is good enough now that any old concerns I might have had are no longer valid. It creates a workflow that's faster because you're seeing what you're getting as you're shooting. All the technical considerations — what type of camera, what type of lens, what sort of focus, whether you use artificial light, take people in their environment or up close — what I call setup, all that stuff is in the way of what makes a picture good.
2 Getting people comfortable is the key part. Sometimes people never get comfortable, so they're kind of a moving target. What I find works is not to worry so much but to make a portrait where the person is very aware that they are having their portrait taken. Get everything set up and then try to get them to move around and be themselves. Eventually you get to this point where you're rolling along and the process becomes more comfortable. Because the session goes on for an hour or an hour and a half, people will inevitably do something with their body language. I'll notice and say, "Let's try to do that again."
3 The biggest problem some photographers have is that they don't get close enough. People often have a fear — a very reasonable one — when they're trying to make a portrait that they are invading someone's personal space. You end up with a bunch of pictures of a person far away. I've done some shoots very close up. With one fellow who was older and not well, I realized that the photo was almost completely in his eyes, which were still bright and focused, and I ended up showing just a part of his face.
4 Lighting is everything — it's really what creates the photo. Many cameras have a flash built in, and while using straight-on flash usually gets the picture and can be kind of fun and capricious, there are other ways of lighting your subject that don't require fancy lighting setups. One of the best of these is simply using the diffused light that comes in through a window and letting it wash across your subject's face. You could use a camera with a flash on top that goes pop and lights up the face flatly, with a lot of dark shadows behind the person. That can be kind of cool, and there's often a serendipity to the photos. But if you are setting out to control the lighting with the goal of creating precise effects — setting up lightboxes — you have to have the necessary equipment and study lighting techniques.
5 Most people don't take enough pictures. Once you get the lighting taken care of, try to get to the point where you are having fun and getting a lot of different photographs. Then you'll have something to select from that really represents the person or people you're trying to photograph, that really captures emotion and says something about them.How to Photograph Your Garden
For Kevin Shields a great day for shooting gardens is one that's overcast with no wind. The Rockport-based photographer got his professional start almost twenty years ago, and he's done work for magazines like Fine Gardening, scenic calendars, and for a variety of businesses. And he's become the go-to guy for garden assignments at Down East.
1 The first thing I think about is when to shoot. For me, an assignment usually comes with a preference for a certain type of flower. That gives me the time of year. I've found May to July to be really good. Sometime in July things typically dry up, and you'll see brown leaves here and there, and it's not as easy to get a good shot. Once I've picked a day, then I have to pick the time of day. It could be better at dawn or dusk. There's often no breeze at dawn, and with the low angle of the light, it makes dawn a great time to shoot. What I don't like is a clear day with cold air from Canada with a bright, harsh sun and wind. Overcast or cloudy days are good. If it's really dreary, though, I try to avoid that. If there's a hazy day with sun, the haze is usually blocking out the blueness of the sky, so those days are good, too.
2 I think for the average homeowner a 35 mm camera with 100 or 200 speed film is king. With faster film you will sacrifice rich color, and you will begin to see the grain of the film, especially in a garden where you're going to see big blank expanses of sky. That's where you might notice grain. A 35 mm camera with slow film is my choice. When you go to a bigger format, it's much more difficult to get everything in focus. I see no problem with digital cameras, though. In terms of gardens, there's no reason in the world not to use them.
3 A tripod is also key for gardens. If I showed up on a perfect day I could probably get away with not using one, but on any other day I wouldn't be able to get a shot that pleases me. Almost any tripod would do, but for gardens, it's important to get one that gets closer to the ground. One that goes down to about a foot off the ground would be perfect because you want to get in close to the flowers.
4 I use lenses as wide as 20 mm and as long as 300 mm — it helps to have a selection. But I would confidently go to a shoot with just a 28-135 mm zoom lens. I'd use the wide end of that for the overall shots of the garden and use the longer end for close-ups. Longer lenses allow you to get a nice close-up without having to get right in the flowerbed. I use just two filters, and they would be important for an amateur. On an overcast, cloudy day I'd use an amber filter called a warming filter. Film is geared toward sunlight, and when you take the sun away, this filter will compensate. I also use a polarizing filter if I include the sky. It helps strengthen the blue in the sky and brings it into balance with the rest of the picture.
5 You also want to make sure to use a camera with a remote release or a self-timer. You want to have your hands off the camera when you release the shutter. The remote release is preferable because sometimes when you use a timer and there's wind, you miss the shot.
6 I try to get one or two overall shots of the garden, which show the layout. And I'll use a path, a stream, or a border as an angular line that draws the viewer right in. I might show a colorful bush or the edge of a gazebo, a flowerpot, or some other decorative item, such as an anchor. That gives you the old foreground, middleground, and background composition.
7 There are lots of rules of thumb, although you don't need a formula when you're shooting. The first is that if you show a single blossom in the center of a picture, it's quite often static. You need foliage or multiple blossoms to balance it, and it's often better to have it in the foreground. You also try to avoid having the horizon across the center of the picture. I tend to favor the garden and point the camera down a bit. And there's the other rule not to shoot at midday. But I've gotten many good shots at high noon when the conditions allow. It's most important to observe your subject carefully and take pictures that please you.How to Photograph Your Vacation
When you're an accomplished Maine photographer known for your landscapes, taking pictures of your vacation poses a problem. "It can be very stressful," says Sara Gray, whose work has appeared in a wide variety of magazines — Coastal Living and Outside, GQ and Down East, among many others — and who has also shot for such companies as L.L. Bean and Orvis. "I never know whether to shoot just the family snapshots or images for stock." When she does take her point-and-shoot, though, she keeps a few things in mind.
1 I generally like to spend some time and get to know the area. I try to arrive before the good light, which is normally late afternoon twilight or early morning. So I try to get there by midday to scout the location, and then I determine whether it would be better to shoot in the morning or in the late afternoon. The colors are different depending on what direction you're facing. If the buildings in the photo are facing east, you'd want to shoot it in the early morning if you want that nice golden light or if you want the sunrise reds, oranges, and yellows. If you're looking east, you'll get more bluish, mauvey colors. So it depends on the effect you're looking for. At dusk you'd look west for the yellows and reds and east for the mauves and blues.
2 I always use a split neutral-density filter for those sunrise and sunset shots. These filters are more dense on the top and have little density at the bottom so you can open your f-stop two or three stops from what you would typically shoot to capture the colors in the sky. By opening the f-stop you are able to maintain more detail in the foreground. Overcast days also have a nice quality of light and are especially good for photographing wooded areas because there is less contrast.
3 As for film, I like the Fuji 50 speed film for landscapes and I bring faster film, too. I'll take some 100 and 400 speed. I like Fuji film because the color is rich and saturated. But I'll often use my point-and-shoot digital camera for vacation photos. When shooting my landscape imagery I always use a tripod. But I hand-hold for shots of the family.
4With a nice landscape, put someone in the picture, but don't focus on them. A lot of times they're just a part of the scene. You can imagine yourself in the picture easier if you see people in it.
5 When photographing people, try to get different angles, instead of shooting them straight on. I get down low with children, for example, and it makes them look larger than life. It's nice to incorporate a family member with an icon that speaks of the place we're visiting. Using a wide-angle lens is a good way to accomplish this. For instance, having a family member close-up in the foreground with a lighthouse in the background gives a sense of place and the simplicity of the shot makes it more pleasing visually. I tend to get wide shots first and then move in closer for more intimate shots.
6 I like trying to get action shots of my family. A fun effect is freezing the subject and blurring the background. If you put the camera on 60 speed, and you pan with them as they move, you can get them sharper and the background blurrier. On vacation, of course, I still take those straight on, look-at-the-camera-and-smile photos all the time.