The Ludwig boys, Peter (left) and Bubba, recently had their photo portrait taken by renowned photographer Marc Hauser.
Updated: September 20, 2012 6:17AM
A great family photo starts with someone else holding the camera. At least, that’s been my experience.
No matter how hard I try, my photos end up out of focus, overexposed or with the subject’s eyes either closed or glowing red. This consistent failure led my family to Marc Hauser’s studio on Chicago’s West Side.
The renowned portrait photographer took our picture last week. Within his studio hang hundreds of beautiful photographs, including portraits of Michael Jordan, John Mellencamp, Julia Roberts and John Waters.
We found our way into Hauser’s home studio thanks to Groupon. Hauser offered his services via the online deal site as a way to bring everyday families through the door. He also makes a couple of bucks by upselling families who see the quality of his work and purchase additional prints or digital copies.
Our photographs turned out awesome. After the session, I sat down with Hauser and asked for some tips on taking a great family photo. Here are a few simple solutions he suggested:
CLOSE ENCOUNTER: Most people see an image or scene they want to capture, point the camera and push the button. The problem with this approach is that the camera sees things differently, often pushing the scene further away. The result is that the people in the photographs appear small and are surrounded with an unnecessary amount of background.
“A photographer once told me that when you think you have a good picture, take one step in,” Hauser said.
STEADY NOW: Many photos fail because the person holding the camera flinches while taking the shot. The common mishap pushes the camera slightly downward upon pressing the button. The result is a blurry photo or a shot where the subject’s head is cropped off, Hauser said.
Large viewfinders also make it difficult to hold the camera steady. Most folks extend their arms to see the image in the camera’s viewfinder before snapping the picture. This makes it difficult to hold the camera steady. And if the zoom feature is used, shakiness is amplified.
Hauser recommends keeping your arms tucked tight against your body when shooting a photo. Old-fashioned eyeball viewfinders also reduce shakiness, as it requires you keep the camera still as it’s pressed against your face, he said.
SUNSHINE: The sun is a great source of light. Use it wisely. Placing the sun either in front or behind the subject is often problematic. Instead, try to photograph the subject with the sun either to the left or right, Hauser said.
PATTERN PROBLEMS: Hauser said some of the worst photographs are shot on the golf course. The subjects typically appear too far away (See tip No. 1). But golfers also tend to wear a variety of patterns. This makes the photograph confusing and busy. Hauser often asks the people in his portraits to wear monochromatic colors, thus keeping the focus on their faces.
TECH TIPS: The instruction manual that accompanies a camera can be difficult to decipher. But Hauser said it’s worth it to at least attempt to read the instructions. Also, keep the instructions nearby so you can refer to them if there’s a recurring problem.
One simple setting to keep an eye on is abbreviated ISO. This refers to the film speed, which can be adjusted on most digital cameras. Hauser recommended setting a common camera at 800 ISO.
He also warned against overspending on camera equipment. A good digital camera for most families should cost no more than $300. He said to make sure a camera has at least 8 megapixels. Hauser recommends Olympus, Nikon and Lumix brand cameras for beginners.
I’ll likely be back in Hauser’s studio in a couple of years to take another family portrait. But at least now I feel like I’ve got a chance to take a few good shots on my own too.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business writer who traded his reporter’s notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.