You may well notice many feeds on Instagram feature a lot of images of the owner of that feed. The reality is, behind many successful Instagram feeds there are actually two great photographers. @helloemilie works together with @jasoncharleshill, and he takes many of the pictures that feature her in her incredible gallery. The same goes for many of the successful fashion bloggers, @juliahengel is married to @tberolz who is also a fantastic photographer with a beautiful feed of his own. Also the travel influencers @gypsea_lust and @doyoutravel, they get to travel and work as a pair, which must be amazing! The “self-portraits” on these photographer’s feeds may well be envisioned entirely by the owner of the feed, but they are lucky enough to have a talented person to click the shutter for them.
It’s great fun working together with other photographers. I’ve done it myself when Julia from @humphreyandgrace and myself travelled around the Aegean together with Thomson Cruises. Not only did we work as a pair in helping each other carry tired kids around, and watch bags and spare children on toilet breaks, but we bounced ideas off each other and encouraged each other to walk the extra mile to get “the shot”. Occasionally we have also turned the camera on each other, in order to prove we were there too! Below is a picture that Julia took of me doing my thing with the boys recently on the South Downs at sunset.
However in reality most of us do not have another photographer to partner up with more than on the odd occasion. When it comes to stepping out from behind the camera and into the frame, this is something that we very rarely get to do. We are literally completely absent from our family photos! I for one feel incredibly awkward in front of the camera. The official photographer at the Bonpoint fashion show teased me because I had no idea what to do with my arms and legs! Never mind my face! It seems crazy when I can pose and direct another person happily, but put me there in front of the lens and I turn into a jelly.
I was pretty much absent from my Instagram feed for a year or so, and very happily soI might add. However I have received a few commissions this year which have really encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone behind the camera and push myself creatively. The first came in April when I collaborated with The Gap to promote their range of Spring denim. There are of course loads of options for a shot like this. Knees in a coffee shop, faceless with flowers, legs on the bed, a flatlay of your outfit of the day. These are all pictures I love and have used, but for some reason this time I got it in my head I was going to be brave and get in the shot.
The kids and I were going to visit my brother and his family who live in London, so one Sunday morning we left home at 7.30 am and drove to the Sugarhouse Studios in East London. I’d been before with friends (and in fact the most recent picture of myself on my feed and my profile picture here on the blog had been taken here by Sarah @sparkin76 a few months previously) and I knew it was quite a trek to get to by public transport, but there is a huge fairly empty car park at the front, so driving there with the boys was the perfect solution.
I used my tripod for the first time, setting it up in the car park (which is completely out of view of the road so quite safe to do so) and the kids and I just had fun there for half an hour, chatting, cuddling, and doing stride-bys while the camera clicked away.
The first time I posted one of these pictures on my feed my heart was pounding out of my chest and I felt sick with nerves! As time went on though, I started to treasure these images of myself with the kids, and care less about how I thought I looked in them. They were precious and rare pictures of the three of us together and memories of a fun morning. I posted a couple more of my feed over the coming months and felt barely a flicker of those nerves I had felt to begin with.
Its funny because that crippling shyness that I feel when someone points a camera at me pretty much disappears when I’m with the kids. Especially when my camera is on the tripod, I feel like I can relax, unobserved and just be like I would naturally be. I have appeared a lot more in my feed in the last few months, mainly due to my collaboration with Fat Face, but I have really enjoyed this new dimension I have added to my photography. Everything you’ve seen with me in it in the Fat Face blog post or my Instagram feed has been taken by myself with the tripod.
Having the tripod with me all the time gives me the scope to step into a scene if it just needs something extra, or on those occasions when the location and light is perfect but the kids aren’t in the mood, I can set up the tripod and go with with them. They are always very happy to have me there with them too! In the image below it was their bed time, and after a long day playing on the beach they were so sleepy (and actually were asleep in the van 5 minutes after this was taken) but the fact that I could step into the shot with them meant they were perfectly happy, and I have a beautiful record of such a happy day.
My tripod is a Manfrotto 190 one with an extending arm which is brilliant for top-down or flat-lay images. I have also discovered the joy of using a tripod for work and product photography. If you have a series of images to do (for example I did around 20 necklaces all to be photographed in the same setting), once the tripod is set up you can move freely and change the products over and be sure you will get exactly the same perspective on your staging with every shot. This saves an awful lot of time in post processing.
I’m no expert on tripods, my husband chose mine for my Christmas present (he chose well!) so I’d ask advise from a good camera shop if you’re unsure. I have seen very lightweight ones which may well be my next investment. Mine is big and sturdy and I love it, but it’s quite a mission to carry down a beach and adds a lot of weight on a flight.
The next thing to consider when using a tripod is how to get yourself in focus. You have to set the camera up as you normally would, and I prefer to have complete control over the settings and tell the camera where to focus. I don’t want to take a chance with a motion sensor setting and it pick up a bird or waving tree branch instead of me. Also if your face is in the shot an auto focus setting will probably focus on your nose or your shoulder and not your eyes.
The best way to give yourself a bit of leeway is to narrow your aperture, and therefore increase your depth of field. If I had been behind the camera for the shot below, I probably would have used an aperture of 2.8. A single figure, stood quite far away from me, a 2.8 is going to give me a nice depth of field and I can easily get the whole figure in focus. Seeing as this was a self-portrait though, I narrowed the aperture to 5.6, and I focused the camera with the tripod head tilted down on to a patch in the field that I knew I was going to walk to. I then left the focus set at this point and tipped the tripod head up into position, set the timer and walked to that spot.
In the image below as there are three figures and we are a little closer to the camera, I would probably usually shoot this at f4-f5 to be really sure I’m getting everyone in focus. As I was using the tripod I narrowed the aperture to f8. I would rather go too far and increase the depth of field than take a shot I really love but can’t use because it isn’t sharp. In this instance my eldest boy was already stood in place, so I focused the camera on him and then joined him with my little one. Don’t be afraid to bump up the ISO if you need to. You will be letting less light into the camera by using a higher f-stop (narrowing the aperture) so it may be that the ISO will need to go higher. Be careful not to let the shutter speed get too low, especially when there are children involved. They are likely to suddenly turn round and hug your leg, or point at the sky, or laugh, and you don’t want to miss that moment because your shutter speed was too low. I would suggest always using around 1/300 sec when kids are around. Again I like to err on the side of caution with this, because it’s so disappointing when you have blurry fingers in a picture that otherwise would have been lovely! I would rather go for a higher ISO, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a full frame camera that can handle it well.
I also use my tripod for shots such as this one below, where I hold flowers against the wall. It’s impossible to get this angle on your own! In these instances it’s very difficult to find anything other than the wall itself to focus on. If one of the kids is to hand I may ask them to stand in front so I can focus the camera on an object about a foot in front of the wall and then hold the flowers a similar distance. Another way to do it when the distance is fairly small like this is to dangle an object with one hand, focus the camera with the other and then hold the flowers in the correct position to take the shot.
On this occasion I didn’t have anyone with me, and using my 35mm lens I couldn’t reach between the camera and the wall, so I just focused on the wall and narrowed the aperture right down to f14. I had to put the ISO up to 800 to get this shot, but as you can see it’s perfectly in focus and the grain is very minimal. It was probably overkill with the aperture, but you can play around with this and if you’ve got time, keep retaking it and widening the aperture a little each time until you’ve got it just right. I always check what I’ve got between each take and zoom right in on the details in want in focus on the back of the camera to check my settings are working ok.
I have my camera set up so that when it’s on the timer it has a 10 second delay, and then takes 9 shots with a 3 second interval between them. There are plenty of options on most cameras, and it’s worth getting out your manual or googling how to find these settings and knowing how to change them in the field if you need to.
Obviously there are limitations to using a tripod. Street photography and London stride-bys clearly don’t lend themselves to leaving a camera unattended in the middle of the road. However there are many quiet locations where its completely possible and safe to do this. The possibilities of being in the frame are endless. I love having a few precious memories of this year captured in this way, and it also gives me more scope in undertaking commissions and giving myself an extra person to photograph!
So I hope this has helped a little if you, like me, want to start getting in front of the lens for a change and recording some moments of yourself with your family. Although I love those odd occasions when I’m with another photographer, it’s great not to have to rely on another person being around. I can also get the exact angles I want, the exposure I want, and I can lose my inhibitions as there’s no one around watching me!
Thanks for reading,