In 2016, I was the lucky winner of an all-expense paid Family Odyssey to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic among attendees at the Mom 2.0 Summit. This summer, we took the trip. I knew the trip would be amazing and once-in-a-lifetime. I didn’t know I’d leave with photography tips I could apply to “real life” too.
I cannot say enough about how much brand loyalty Nat Geo gained in my family by delivering a quality experience every step of the way. One of the things that makes their trips special is that there are photography instructors along for the ride, and they give lessons to anyone who wants them.
Some photography tips I picked up on my adventure:
While we were focused on travel photography, these lessons can be used for photographing children as well.
Why our brains like the rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is a pretty basic photography principle. Imagine your frame is divided into nine squares. The places where the lines intersect is where you should line up the most drama in your photo.
For example, put the horizon line along the top third or the bottom third of your screen, making your image more sky or more land, but not equal amounts of both. Just visualize the grid in your head when you look through the camera. Do not put your subject dead center.
If you are new to the rule of thirds and want some help, you can turn the gridlines on – go to settings, photo/camera, gridlines on an iPhone – and practice for a while.
Why the rule of thirds makes images that our eyeballs find more compelling is actually biological. The first image we are attached to is our mother’s face. Human faces have a natural proportion along the rule of thirds – where our eyes lay and show our emotions and further, where our mouths fall, are along these lines.
So, faces are already following the rule of thirds, and images of faces looking straight into the camera are among the most compelling.
Looking for symmetry
The photo instructor whose talks I most enjoyed on our trip talked a lot about symmetry. Here’s a reason to ignore the rule of thirds: when you see two things mirroring each other and have the opportunity to capture it. Symmetry can be literal, like a mirror image, or can be more symbolic. It can even be found in a color story, when a pair of red boots laying on the floor seems related to the red wall hanging above it.
Looking through a doorway or a tunnel often sets up a symmetricalÂ image.
Stairs and front porches often provide this type of framing, which is why I always take my family’s holiday card picture in front of my mom’s house. Except for this year when we hired a pro.
Another illustration of symmetry: this baby’s hands are noticeably mirroring each other.
And one more: our friend Sally shot her girls in their Halloween costumes in front of their school. Architecture always offers great lines of symmetry.
Identify grouped objects
One last tip gleaned from my exposure to the nature photographers from National Geographic: Look for groups of three or more. This might be more applicable to nature or architecture, because a crowd of humans isn’t necessarily worth photographing, but if there is a shared characteristic (like they’re all naked?) then maybe it is.
I took this photo of canoes on a trip to Oregon.
I liked this wall of record albums outside a camp my kids attended. See also: symmetry.
If you can capture three or more kids in their costumes at the same time, or all reading a book, or a family where everyone is wearing sunglasses, you might find a photo opp that’s worth capturing. Looking for collections is a fun photo challenge for still lifes, however. Stuffed animals, perhaps, or bottles lined up on the shelf will mark this era of life.