Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Winter is over? Family Portraits in the snow.

Winter is over... or is it? 

As I write this, winter has returned once more. The snow is flying and it's just cold and dreary outside. It's been a long winter in Ontario, and we all have had enough of the snow. 

Many of the families I'm talking to are waiting it out until the snow melts so they can get out into the sunshine for their family photos. And I have to admit that I don't particularly like the cold either. Still, there are some upsides to the "off" season that can make your family photos unique and add interest. Upsides that are worth considering.


If you like winter sports, this might be a great time of year for your family photo. Perhaps your family can gather round the snowmobile if you enjoy sledding together, or with your skis if you like to cross country or down hill. Maybe you just like to get out and have a snowball fight once in a while. 

All are good photo opportunities that are much harder to pull off in the summer!

Consider the setting as a background. In the spring, summer and fall the trees, the flowers and all of nature draws attention to itself, screaming "look at me", while in the winter everything wants to curl up and hide away until the warmer weather.

Colours on outfits and the rose of cold cheeks will pop and draw a persons eye to you; the real subject of any portrait. A white background can be much cleaner, a less distracting canvas against which to have your portrait taken.

Although it can be colder in the morning, fresh snow is usually whiter and makes for better images. Watch the weather forecast and plan to go the day after a snowfall for maximum visual effect. There are plenty of bright sunny days in the winter, so don't think it's all going to be snowstorms.

From a photographic perspective (read great light), the days are shorter, which just means the sun never quite rises as high as it does in the summer - giving you more "golden hour" light (morning and evening) to work with. Highlights, rim-light, golden coloured light - all are benefits of a low sun that you can be taken advantage of.


If you're going to go out for a winter session, be sure to dress warm. Sounds reasonable enough, but when you're posing for the shots, you may be standing still for a few minutes, so staying warm is important. Cuddle up together. Not only will it keep you warmer, but you are sure to enjoy it more, and it will make a cozy shot too.

Be sure to take a break once in a while. Sitting in a nice warm vehicle and warming up a bit will keep you from becoming tired of the cold and keep a smile on your face. You might even want to include a nice warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate in the photo. The steam may add a bit of interest to the image and keep you warm at the same time.

Be flexible - the weather can change, so you need to be prepared to move with it. The same applies in the summer, but in the winter it can be more treacherous. Be prepared to cancel or postpone if a really terrible storm is coming. Still, don't be afraid of a little snow - like a little rain, a light and fluffy snowfall can give an image a magical character.

It was the best of times...

So whether it be summer or winter, you can always get some great photographs. The main thing is to have some fun at your photo session. The captured smiles will live on in those great images forever. Throw a snowball or two and have some fun. but most of all, don't worry about the weather. No matter what it's like, you can still end up with some amazing shots.

(c) 2014 by Gary Scott, Gary's Lens Photography. www.garyslens.ca

Monday, 10 March 2014

Cameras - Mirrored vs. Mirrorless

For this blog, I thought I'd take a side trip into an area of the photography market that you may have heard of; the mirrorless camera. What is it and why might you consider purchasing one? I apologize in advance to the non-technical readers, but I hope the article is readable enough to explain the differences.

How "SL" (single lens) cameras work.

On all cameras, light enters the lens and travels down the barrel before landing on the back plane, where a sensor or film sit. In the more common DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera, TTL (Through The Lens) previewing of your image is through an optical viewfinder. Before landing on the back plane of the camera, it is reflected by a mirror up through a prism near the eye piece where you can see a representation of the image you are about to take.

Because light cannot reach the back plane of the camera while the mirror is in the way, it has no way to strike the sensor. To actually take a picture, the mirror has to flip up out of the way. If you use the preview mode offered on some DSLR's, you cannot see the image through the viewfinder while you are using the screen on the back of the camera.

In some ways, using the preview mode turns your DSLR into a mirrorless camera.

Mirrorless cameras

Canon EOS M Mirrorless camera
"Mirrorless" interchangeable lens cameras (MILC), or DSLM (digital single-lens mirror-less) cameras also uses TTL (through the lens) previewing, however the light is captured by the sensor and displayed on a screen instead of through a viewfinder. This screen may be on the back of the camera where the camera must be held up at arms length to view it, or it may be in a small screen in a viewfinder (much like you may have seen in a video camera in the past) so that the camera can be held at eye level.

Typically DSLM's bridge the gap between a full DSLR and a point-and shoot camera and are (at least so far) not adopted by serious photographers except in situations where the size of the camera is advantageous - such as in street photography.

The body of the camera can be made much smaller and lighter since it no longer needs to house the mirror or the mechanism and space required to move the mirror out of the light path. Since the mirror does not have to be removed, there is also much less noise in the camera's operation.

Since these cameras use interchangeable lenses, they provide many of the advantages of DSLR's in that a lens can be chosen for the camera to suit a specific purpose. However, since the mounts for these cameras are not typically compatible with existing mounts, you must purchase new lenses for the camera, which generally lessens their appeal to photographers who have invested significantly in "good glass".

Clear view

Not having an optical view finder (OVF) may mean that the resolution of the screen limits your ability to see an image as clearly as it will be rendered in the final photograph, especially in an eye level viewfinder (a small screen inside a loop that you would look into in the same way you look through a normal DSLR view finder) which would typically be smaller and of lower resolution.

If the camera only has a screen on the back and does not have an OVF, it will require you to hold the camera at arms length when hand-holding, which is not nearly as stable as holding the camera at eye level (watch this video to see what I mean - these guys hold their go-pro on their chins to keep it stable - I got a chuckle out of how funny they look with a camera held to their chin, but it works!) While using a tripod will stabilize the image (and I always recommend a tripod when you can use one), it does take away from the advantage of carrying a smaller camera when you have to carry a tripod with it. 

Some Mirroless cameras come with screens that can be folded out and up or down, making it a little easier to hold the camera in a steady position and still see what you are shooting. 

Should you buy one?

So if you are looking for a good interchangeable lens camera you can take anywhere, a mirrorless camera might be for you.

If you are serious about your photography, or have a large investment in your lenses, you might just want to stick with your DSLR camera. There are lots of consumer grade DSLR's that will cost about the same as a mirrorless system, so there are no real advantages there either. 

If you just want to have a camera handy without the creative advantage of interchangeable lenses, then maybe you should stick with the point and shoot camera or your cell phone.

What do you think? Have you bought a mirroless camera? What do you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

(Addendum - I recently purchased a Sony NEX-3N for my holiday photos. It is an awesome little camera, though I would still prefer to have a full, even consumer grade, DSLR. The only complaint so far is that the shutter is actually quite loud, and the model I purchased is limited to the number of accessories that can be added - though more advanced models of the same camera have quite a wide range of accessories.)

(c) 2014 by Gary Scott, www.garyslens.ca