Storytellers Blog Circle: September Edition / by Andrea Moffatt

I'm excited to announce the first month's edition of a new project of which I'm pleased to be a part: The Storyteller's Blog Circle. The circle is made up of some amazingly talented documentary and lifestyle photographers, and all are fellow Offset artists. The blog circle is educational in nature, so whether you are a professional photographer, hobbyist, or parent with a camera, follow this circle around the loop if you'd like to pick up some quick tips on making stronger storytelling images. Each month will feature one image by each artist with accompanying text meant to teach and inspire. Follow the circle the whole way around by clicking on the links at the end of our posts. Now, let's get started!

(f/2, 1/100sec, ISO 5000)

I shot this image at my father in law's birthday celebration a few weeks ago. The goal was to get a shot of the way the three little ones "help" with the birthday candle tradition. I'm always drawn to photographing the things in my kids' childhoods that are becoming traditions and/or things they'll certainly remember when they grow up and have kids of their own. And I'm pretty sure this is one of them, because I remember sitting on laps and offering my expert assistance to my own aunts, uncles, and grandparents... perhaps more than blowing out my own! 

The image was shot with my 24mm lens.  I use it for almost everything and especially love it for times like this. As a starting point, I exposed for the highlights (the candles), knowing that everything else would fall into shadows. But I knew from experience that if I did that, all the people would need to be lightened a little bit in post processing. For that reason, I slowed my shutter a little more to let in just a tad bit more light. I knew that with this slightly brighter exposure, I'd be able to later take the candles down a bit and avoid increasing the exposure on faces, because that, as you may know, reveals grain. 

Getting the shot required me to pretty much lay my entire body over the middle of the long dining room table so that I could be perfectly squared up with the cake, grandfather, and three boys. When composing a picture like this- where the cake is obviously at the center of the action and is lighting every face in the frame, it's pretty necessary to get in there and square up to your subject. ("Squaring up" means getting the horizontal and vertical lines in your frame perfectly straight, usually by positioning yourself as perfectly parallel and perpendicular to your subject.) On the other hand, shooting the image while standing to one side of the table (at about a 45 degree angle from the cake) feels a lot more like a snapshot. It's less planned, less impactful, and feels more like a spectator's view instead of putting the viewer-- BAM-- right in the middle of the story. Squaring up takes actual effort because it almost always requires you to move your whole body. And sometimes, it calls more attention to you, the photographer, than you wish. But when you are aiming to tell a story, it's almost always worth it!



Now, continue around our circle of storytellers by visiting the talented Johanna Hood's post where she'll discuss one of my favorite of her images and how she shot it. You won't want to miss it!