Photographing children – the law vs. Mamma bear

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There’s a very fine, thin line when it comes to photographing people in public places (I’m completely avoiding the public vs. right to privacy places.)  The law generally says you can photograph to your heart’s content, and even post online, sell (commercially is another can of worms,) or use as a promotion or part of your art work.

In reality, people expect more privacy from a photographer than the law allows.  Especially when it comes to children.

I AM a photographer, and I absolutely hate for people to take pictures of my kids.  I’ve asked that none of our family post my kids’ pics online, especially on Facebook, and most of them have honored that request.  My husband pointed out that I blithely post photographs of them on this blog so Facebook shouldn’t matter that much.  Somehow that’s different.  I know anyone with a halfway decent photo editing program could edit my watermark out of the pics, but using a watermark makes it a bit more difficult.  Plus, it stamps a “This is MY photo, by gosh, leave it alone!” comment all over the image.  For the casual copy/paste thief it’s probably enough deterrent.

This weekend we had a purely negative experience at our neighborhood’s fall festival over just this issue – someone taking photographs of my kid.  This kid.  Kelton.  And if some of my neighbors happen to read this and get upset because they know the offender, I’m sorry if I offend you, but I stand by what I said to her.

The two older kids were decorating pumpkins at a small table and I was keeping an eye on them and watching Kelton at the same time.  Kelton was sitting in his red wagon watching all the action, close enough to see everything, but not close enough for the wagon to get in everyone’s way.  I turn around from trying to keep A from sticking foam on her nose to see some random woman with a wanna-be SLR crouched down on Kelton’s level.  At first I thought she was talking to him.  No big deal.  Then I saw her raise the camera and start snapping pictures of him.  I should point out that these were head shots – close up images of just Kelton.  No one else was in the shot, and no festival activity was included.

I asked her what she was doing, and she replied that she was taking pictures of the event to post on the community website/Facebook page.  Not cool.  I asked her not to photograph my kids, saying that I didn’t want them posted online.  She became very offended and defensive.  I told her that she needed to ask first, and that set off a nasty escalation of personal insults.  Since I got the results I needed I backed down and avoided making the situation worse.

Now, you might think I’m crazy to be so cautious and paranoid.  And in reality, you’re probably right.  But did you ever think what kind of social/economic/private information might be gathered simply by compiling information about your kids online?  For example, one mom I know has multiple social networking accounts and work networking accounts.  If you Google her name, what pops up first?  Images of her little girl.  If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.

Add that to the multiple information accounts that are so easily hackable (doctor’s office network, anyone?) and I think being cautious isn’t a bad thing.  In just our family alone our credit cards have been stolen from routine transactions and our medical information has been hacked.  This included critical information like Social Security ID numbers, contact information, and birth dates.  That information breach was for all of us – the kids included.

The crux of the matter is control.  Who has control over the kids’ information?  Is it us, the parents, or is it widely spread out and easily searchable online?  If I take an image of my kids, my choice of where to post it is critical.  Facebook’s rules on ownership make me very wary as a photographer.  If someone else takes an image of my kids I have no idea where it might end up.

As a photographer mom, my own personal rules rely on common sense.  I will not take close-up shots of kids without asking permission first, and I make sure that parents get copies of those images whenever possible (playgroup, sports events.)   I’m fine with some group event shots but I still try to blur out other kids and focus only on mine if that’s the intent.  I will not post images of other kids online and I even avoid putting images of other kids in the photo books that we hand out for family Christmas presents most years.

I dread the days of teenagers being rebellious and crazy with internet access, but I hope that I can instill this caution in them as they grow.  Who needs a future employer rejecting you as a candidate because your mom posted naked baby pics (bad idea all around, that!) on Facebook when you were little?  Given the way technology evolves, we may face discrimination if our pattern of behaviour online doesn’t fit an HR department’s criteria.  Who knows?  I only know that I will do my best not to sabotage my kids before they even become a teen.

And people with cameras?  Ask first before shooting pictures of my kids.  Don’t make me go all Mamma bear on you!

I hate it. I love it. I just don’t know…

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Ever stared at a word long enough that it starts to look mis-spelled?  I do that with images.  If I fuss over it long enough and dither back and forth, I eventually end up hating it.  Even if it’s a good image I can over-analyze it to death.  And sometimes, if it’s a bad image, I get to the point that I simply can’t tell.  That’s pure death in an artistic vacuum.

I think I’ve reached that point with this image.  When I shot it, I loved it.  I like the motion, the colors, the shapes.  After I stared at it for about 15 minutes of back and forth editing, I decided the center post is glaringly annoying and that’s all I can see when I look at it.   That’s usually the point that I walk away and leave it for a few months so that my editing eye has a chance to forget my initial reaction.

Instead of leaving it, I’m going to post it.  Because even if it’s a horrible shot, true to my goal with this blog, it’s what I’m working on.

I think the main reason I decided I hated it is because I went out of my comfort zone and tried messing around with altering it.  Right now its only edit is (beyond correcting the light and a square crop) adding a vignette.  I think vignettes look artificial and corny unless you do it the hard way (with the lens.)  I admit, I’m an old-school snob at times.

So there you have it.  A weird shot with a weird effect.

Details: Subject is a wind spinner, paint weathering is all natural.  f6.3, 1/400, and ISO 400. (don’t ask, was working with low light on another shoot and forgot to change it.)  Square crop, lighting adjustment, and mild vignette added.

Portrait Myth #465 – look at the camera!

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I have to admit, I’m purely going on my personal opinion here.  That said, some of the best portrait shots I’ve seen by noted photographers did not have the subject looking squarely at the camera with a vapid smile on their face.  Nope, most of the more interesting ones I can think of, not that I’m thinking very well at the moment being annoyingly sick, may not even show the subjects’ face at all.   Looking back at photographs of Corbin, most of my images of him that tell a story are not facing front to the camera.  In fact, one of the recent best doesn’t show his face at all!  Not to say that classic portraits don’t have their place – a good mix is best, as in everything.  Especially if you’re sending photographs to distant grandparents who don’t get to visit that often.  More is better!  (Frequent is better too, but I’ve turned into a lump of tired mommy lately.)

 

That said.  Here’s Anarah at 4 months.  She’s highly interested in what her  big brother is doing at the moment.  She’s watching every move he makes (and eyeballing nearby crayons with a speculative eye.)   She’s so excited about what’s going on that I had to stop every few shots and haul her back up onto the pillow.  Otherwise she was reduced to chewing on the pillow and slowly slipping below eye level because of all the kicking and wiggling.   Big brother Corbin has been  a great help getting good shots of Anarah.  She’s so interested in what Corbin is up to that she tends to ignore the annoying thing hiding mommy and making noises.

You’d think 2 kids in that I would have this baby photography down pat.  Nope!  I’m still learning.

  • Baby girls look a lot more feminine (when bald) if they wear a headband.
  • Distraction is key.  Siblings are great!
  • Get on their level.  Shooting at a downward angle hides their eyes.
  • Boppy pillows are great photography tools.  And no, I don’t get paid for that endorsement.

Image details:  shot indoors in natural low lighting, with a pretty hefty ISO that ended up making a lot of images too soft to use.

Angled, again

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Time flies.  Trite, but true!  It’s been a few months since I posted last.  I’ve got to stop saying “sorry” because obviously, this is the hallmark of the new, not-so-improved, mommy me.

 

Anyway, I did it again.  I shot a photo at an angle (accidentally) and ended up liking the shot because of the way it framed the subject.  And yes, it’s wholly accidental – when your two year old son offers you a strawberry (and you’re 8 months pregnant sitting on the ground) the only way to capture it in time is to throw the camera up and click the shutter!

I do have to point out that it looks deliberate.  That makes the sin of the angle a little less problematic.  If you happen to get a slight angle in your image or the horizon isn’t completely straight, it can sometimes look like you accidentally goofed and just weren’t paying attention.  This was deliberate.  Yup! 

Corbin and I went picking strawberries this season, and unlike last year, he actually ate all the ones he picked instead of squishing them.  None of them made it in the bucket, but that’s ok.  Quite a few made it on his shirt, so as far as photography outings go this wasn’t truly a winner.  And I have to note: yes, he does actually have scars on his face, that’s not strawberry mess.  The poor kiddo face-planted off the sofa into the carpet and skidded a bit.  I seriously considered editing out the evidence but we can’t remove all the less-than-happy memories from our photographs.  It’s not very truthful, and someday we might (might!?) actually laugh over the incident.

 

Hopefully the next time I post there will be brand-new baby pics of the new little one. 

 

Long Island

Not quite there…

 

We recently went to Long Island – my husband for his job, and Corbin and I followed.  With our day free while dad worked, Corbin got to visit his very first beach.  He wasn’t so sure about it at first.  The second visit, he decided that not only was this surf thing fun, but that he could just GO! all on his own.  And he did!

So, our beach visit officially marks the point at which Corbin  started walking.  What a cool way to remember that.

I did take the camera while we were there, despite the obvious difficulties of baby + beach + camera, and I managed to capture a some fun moments and a few decent photographs (and even a few that didn’t have a baby in them!)  I did make a point of taking a photograph of the seagulls who stole my lunch just for posterity’s sake.

I’m ashamed to admit that I had a stereotypical attitude toward Long Island beaches – I had no idea that they were so pretty.  The south beaches, that is.  I hear the north beaches fulfill my assumptions quite well.

Corbin and I trekked out to Robert Moses State Park, and after spending a few hours chasing the surf and trotting around in the sand, we headed down the boardwalk to check out the Fire Island Lighthouse around the corner at Fire Island National Seashore.  As far as I could tell there was no way to drive to the lighthouse – we had to walk.  And although it didn’t look that far away, the boardwalk seemed designed to twist back and forth and make the walk as long and winding as possible.  We reached this point and had to turn around so that we could get back to the hotel and meet dad for dinner – and really, Corbin had that exhausted look anyways, so no need to go further.

I’d forgotten just how much I miss the ocean.

 

By the way, why was the lighthouse flashing the light during a bright sunny day?  Wasn’t that a waste of electricity?

The best camera…

 

is the one you have with you (or so someone once said that has been quoted over and over and I’m too lazy to look up the source.)

I’m seriously loopy tonight, so bear with me.  A bad case of strep throat and an infant with a double ear infection isn’t showing off my dying neurons to their best ability.

Anyway.

 

For  a while now, we’ve been meaning to upgrade our phones.  What we had was more than sufficient for our needs, but we knew our needs were going to be changing.  So, we waited until we knew exactly what the specifics were before we went out and upgraded.  I am the lucky beneficiary of my husband’s work needs – we now have smart phones, 4G, and unlimited texting that I’ve been putting to the test.  Yup, I know.  We were SO far behind the times it was sad.  Whatever.

Now, specifically, our previous phones had cameras.  Sort of.  They were  really pathetic cameras and I laughed at the file size after playing around with it.  After that, I resolved to use our infinitely better Canon for all our photo needs.  And really, I didn’t truly need a phone camera that did a great job anyway.

Now, I’ve always kept an eye out on the growing Iphone photography genre.  It fascinates me what a basic camera and a few fancy apps can do to an image – and some of them are quite lovely.  A lot of good photographers out there are producing gorgeous photographs with just their phones.  And as long as you’re viewing the image on something like…the phone….the image is super duper awesome.  Problem is, as soon as you pop it onto a computer or try to print it out you run into the problem of file size.  Yup, tiny files, relatively speaking.

Nine times out of ten though, who cares?  Most of the images I take with my phone will never go larger than a 4×6 if they get that far.  And I have to admit, having a simple camera (with a flash) that I can whip out of my pocket and capture spur of the moment images with is a handy thing.

Like this one.  Thanks to a very gracious floral employee at our favorite grocery store, Corbin got to experience his first balloon.  I know, I’m depriving the kid.  He didn’t get his first balloon until he was 8 months old.  It simply didn’t occur to me that he might actually like to have a balloon, since I’ve never been all that fond of them myself.  Unlike bubbles, which he first  experienced when he was old enough to move into the big bathtub (so we could avoid a huge mess.)  Incidentally, he loves both – bubbles and bathtub.

Corbin wasn’t sure what to think of this balloon thing.  It floated, and it followed him around the store the whole time we shopped.  By the time we checked out he had decided it was a good thing to have around, and he talked to it as it bobbed around the back of the car on the way home.  Daddy got him some fancy mylar balloons for Valentine’s Day and Corbin discovered the joys of balloon kickboxing.  We sure got a lot of wiggles out of that child doing that.  Gave him a good workout!

So.  Good images aside (poor lighting here, with a deplorable noise situation still produced a decent image with even a hint of balloon movement) what’s the scoop on phone cameras?  I was once asked how many megapixels my camera had, and when I replied with the number, the guy said in a pitying tone, “my phone has more than that camera does!”  And I thought (but didn’t say) “uh huh, but how big is the sensor to capture those pixels?”  Because when you’re talking size, that’s what really matters.  Not the number of megapixels (although that’s important too) but the size of the sensor.  Not surprisingly, the more expensive and “professional” the camera, the bigger the sensor.

Here’s why:  that sensor is what captures the information.  I’m a little fuzzy on the technical size of things, but I do know that when you’re talking images, the more information, the better.  You can always edit down the info but you can’t add it back.  Which, in a nutshell, is why I hate jpg files – they compress the image which loses little bits of information here and there.

I would absolutely love to have a digital back to go on my large format camera.  Imagine a digital sensor the size of 4×5 film.  I’m in awe.  That’s what you see a lot of the serious studio photographers using, and if you’re ever bored enough to watch America’s Next Top Model (I watched pre-baby for some light-hearted fun – ostensibly photography research for the the photo shoots) you’ll see quite a few of the studio shoots are done with a large format camera tethered to a computer.  I can’t even imagine the size hard drive you would need to store some of those images!

Not surprisingly, a digital back is massively expensive.  Perhaps someday.  For now, I’m happily taking quite a few decent baby pics with my small, portable phone.  Things like Corbin’s first carousel ride, having his first egg (scrambled, he loved it) and catching that oh-so-cute face smiling.  Which is a very difficult thing to do, I’ll have you know.  The important photo shoots are still done with our trusty Canon for good quality images that I can tweak, but the random snapshots?  The phone, and its 8 megapixel glory work quite well.

 

Note: I absolutely forgot to do any editing to this image.  What you see is straight from the phone.  Not too bad, right?

 

Unexpected snapshot success

 

I’m surprised by this image.  Everyone who sees it (and that’s quite a few because my husband took it into work) comments that it’s “sooooo cute!”  I don’t personally think it’s a good shot for multiple reasons.

  • First, Corbin’s eyes are practically shut.  That’s never a good thing, especially when trying to take pictures of a kid.

 

  • Second, it’s shot at an odd angle.  (you try shooting in the snow and see how difficult it is!)  I really needed a ladder to get a better angle, and since the snow was melting and we had places to be, this was the best I could do.

 

  • Third, sure, he’s smiling, but what is he smiling at?  I can tell you his daddy was making him laugh, but you certainly don’t know that just looking at the image.

 

  • Fourth, I hate shooting in the sun.  It blows out the highlights and amps the contrast way up unless you use a fill-in flash on your subject.  Which I didn’t, since I don’t have an off camera flash or even one that can bounce light when you angle it.  That’s on the list of things to get, but somehow lenses are more enticing, since I don’t usually need a flash in most situations.

Still, when all is said and done, it’s a really cute snapshot that’s easy to understand – Corbin “made” a snow angel (he had assistance, of course) in his first snow.  And he’s happy about it.  Cute!  And I have to say, one thing did work out very well: shooting snow in angled sunlight makes it look much more textured.  Something to remember for future shots, although the sun makes very rare appearances here during the snowy season.