Genealogy: Making a photograph look good—Rule 1: Get close, real close

Rule 1: Get close, real closeBy Barry J. Ewell

If you’re like me, photographs decorate my home and office. Photographs are part of every medium we consume from books and magazines to newspapers and calendars.  Pictures communicate our thoughts and feelings.  Within genealogy, the photo is used to document our sources and provide depth to our family history as we record and tell our history.  The only boundaries are within one’s own mind.

Have you ever thought about why you like certain photographs?  The answers are relatively simple and you can improve your images by following a few basic rules which you will use a majority of the time.

Rule 1: Get in close—real close
Get in as close as possible, thereby eliminating anything in the background that may detract from your subject.  For example, when you are taking photographs of flowers, focus in on one flower.  Get as close as you can so that all you can see is the pedals of that one flower.

Look around your room, there are many pictures that are waiting to be taken.  Perhaps it’s the child’s toy on the floor, stack of papers on your desk, the antique wooden table, or books on the shelf.  Always ask yourself whether you are emphasizing the things you really want in the photograph.

Practice Example 1. Set your camera up on a tripod, get as close as you can to a flower while still keeping the flower in focus.  You may choose to include some of the greenery or vase, but make sure you are getting rid of all other images in the photo which cause “clutter.”  If you can, physically take the clutter away from your shooting area; if you can’t move it, just move the lens slightly so the clutter is no longer visible in the photo.   The image you now see should fill 90-plus percent of the rectangle in your viewfinder/LCD display.  You should be seeing nothing but the flower’s petals, with enough detail that you feel you could reach out and touch them. The light hits the blossom just right, creating just enough shadow to make each petal stand out from the others, and you get lost in the beautiful swirl and curves with no distraction.

Practice Example 2. With the same setup as in example 1, ask a family member or friend to simply sit in a chair while you take close-ups of their face.  As you get close, don’t be afraid to crop out potions of the head and face.  Focus on the eyes and smile.  You will soon realize that shooting close really works.