The kids on Facebook

When it comes to putting photos of my kids on Facebook I think I’m somewhere between one of those lunatics you see holding up a ‘The end is nigh!’ sign and King Canute.
I still think it’s dangerous, I would rather it didn’t happen…but deep down I know that there is no chance I’m going to stop it. So am I a paranoid delusional madman…or is everyone else just stupid? Well clearly the first option is ridiculous…so it must be the second one.
Now I’m No Expert But…here’s why:

1. Dear stalker, do you need any other info on my child?
I’ve put up a photo of them on their first day of school so you know what they look like and what school they go to. From some of my other posts you know their hobbies, friends and cute stories about them, what my name is and what I do. But have I really given you enough info to go on?

2. Wait, why is my child’s image on that ad?
At the moment you can change your privacy settings so that your photos aren’t used in ads. But an ad for a product that features your own child is going to have a massive impact on whether you buy that product. So companies would pay a lot of money in order to get access to your photos for their ads…and Facebook would really like to take that money.
So as long as Facebook puts a greater emphasis on your wishes than on large amounts of money…you’ll be fine…*snigger*.

3. But people need to know what my child has achieved!
Let’s face it. The minute you have kids, you have pretty much given up on achieving anything impressive for yourself for the next 15 years. So you can’t really post ‘Just remembered to put the bins out’ or ‘Just fed the whole family and didn’t kill them’ because no-one really cares (actually in truth you can and most likely do post these sorts of achievements…but you shouldn’t…you’re ruining the internet for everyone with this sort inanity). But if your child has done anything from losing a tooth, to riding a bike to not asking ‘why is that lady so fat?’ in public…then this is worthy of a post and a photo. Because your child’s achievement is vicariously your achievement. After all they couldn’t have possibly done it without your exceptional parenting.
So by all means put up those photos of your kids…but just don’t pretend that you’re saying anything other than ‘My child is better than your child!’

4. Wow! That’s some impressive paranoia you’ve got there.
Ok, I’ll admit that the chance of someone stalking my child as a result of appearing on Facebook is remarkably slim. In fact the whole idea of stranger danger is a bit of a nonsense seeing as about 85% of all acts of abuse a perpetrated by someone the child knows…and if they know the child then they’re not going to need Facebook to know that they look like.
But then I’m sure that every one of those muppets who leaves their key in the wheel arch of their car while they go for a walk/run and comes back to find it stolen was equally sure it wasn’t going to happen to them.

5. But I’ve got some great photos!
Ah, this is where it gets tricky. In a previous post I talked about the importance of shooting what you know and what is going on around you. For me, pretty much all I know and all that’s going on around me is my kids…and if I had to choose the best 10 photos I’ve taken over the last 5 years, I can guarantee that they would all be photos I’ve taken of my kids. Not being able to show these off via social media is killing me…KILLING ME!!
But given the choice between fulfilling my heart’s desire…and maintaining my ill advised devotion to a poorly thought out idea, I’m going with the latter (I didn’t endure 18 years of Catholic education for nothing!).

So there we go. Parenting is all about choosing the risks you want to expose your child to. I’ll happily let my 6yo son ride around the block on his bike by himself, but I won’t put identifiable photos of him on the internet. A lot of people would do the exact opposite.
I know that in 6-7 years he will be happily sharing photos and videos of himself that will cause him a lot more grief than anything I could post. And I know that my refusal to put photos up is completely useless seeing as my wife happily puts photos of our kids on Facebook.
But like a recipe in a Teague Ezard cookbook, I’m complicated.
I’m also interested to hear your thoughts, so what do you think twice about putting on Facebook?

Shooting portraits

My favourite photography to look at and to take is portrait photography. I love the idea of trying to tell a story, or capture an emotion in a single frame. I recently took a whole lot of portrait shots at a family get together, and I was really happy with some of them. So ‘I’m No Expert, But’ here are my tips for shooting portraits.

1. Light
If you have a studio and lights then you are probably reading this post on an ironic level…so I’ll just provide advice for the rest of us.
Use whatever natural light you have available. So if there is a window in the room, make sure the subject is facing towards it (and obviously avoid placing the person in front of the window, as all the backlight will make their face comparatively dark).

2. Shallow depth of field
A shallow depth of field basically means that one part of your shot is very clear, while the rest is blurred. To me this allows you to make the persons face the focus of the shot…everything else is just background. The lower the f-stop you use, the smaller the area that is in focus. My lens can go to 2.8 so that is what I use. Some lenses can get down to 1.4, some can’t get lower than 3.5.
The challenge with using a shallow depth of field is that while it means that you have one area beautifully in focus…you need to make sure that it is the area that you want. I have a dazzling array of photos where the person’s hair is in focus…or their ear. When in fact what you want to capture is…

3. The eyes
This is where the connection is for me. The mouth can be smiling…but the eyes will always tell the real story…so make them the focal point of the shot.
If you can, try to get some ‘light in the eyes’. If people are looking towards the light you will see a reflection of this light in their eyes, which adds an incredible sincerity to the shot.
Steve McCurry is a great exponent of this.

4. Camera settings
If you have the time and ability, then by all means set your f-stop, aperture and everything else manually.
Personally, I use the ‘CA’ (Creative Auto) setting on my Canon. Then use the following:
Flash: Turned off
Background: Blurred as possible (this is the shallow depth of field I was talking about)
Exposure: Leave as is unless it is really dark or sunny…and even then, just move somewhere else
Picture setting: Monochrome (I really like my portraits in black and white). But only do this if you can work with RAW files on your computer.
File type: RAW+L This will give you a RAW file (in full colour) and a JPG in black and white (if you’re in the monochrome setting). A lot of people will tell you to shoot full colour and then desaturate the image to make it black and white. But I personally like to see the image in black and white as I shoot it…and if I suddenly need a colour version, then I can just save the RAW file as a colour jpg.
Shooting: Continuous (people’s expressions change in the blink of an eye…so it’s worth shooting a whole lot of shots, to get that one moment where you have captured something special).

5. Put yourself in their shoes
Imagine you are sitting in front of a camera, unless you are an extreme extrovert, you are going to be feeling a bit nervous…the photographer takes the photo, then says ‘No, that didn’t work’ or ‘We’re going to have to do that again’. How do you feel? I’m going to guess ‘not so great’. As the photographer you may have meant ‘I didn’t quite get that right’, or ‘I’ve got to change my settings’…but the damage has been done. You are now very unlikely to get a great shot of this person because that are going to be feeling awkward or self-conscious.
So always put yourself in the shoes of the person you are taking the photo of…if you wouldn’t like someone doing something to you, chances are they won’t like you doing it to them. And from a purely selfish perspective, you are going to get a much better photo of someone who is happy to be there and having fun.

I also think it’s worth making sure you get at least one photo that the person having their photo taken will actually want. Yes that photo of them in the middle of yawn ‘totally captured their inner child’ and yes that photo where pretty much everything is out of focus except for their left nostril is a fitting tribute to ‘the look you were going for there’. But you’re going to run out of people who are happy to let you take their photo pretty quickly if nobody likes how you’ve made them look.
So find some work that inspires you (I love cycling so Kristof Ramon , Veeral Patel, and Wade Wallace are a few of my faves) and get out there and try to capture some magic…then upload that magic to the internet…then wait for people to tell you that ‘you’re doing it wrong’.

An open letter to my pregnant sister in Beijing

Any week now my sister is going to make me an Uncle, thus granting me the highly coveted male familial quartet of Father/Son/Brother/Uncle (a feat only achieved…by a dazzlingly high number of people…mostly men).
Regrettably she is over in China, and so I haven’t had the chance to pass on all my accumulated knowledge on what it’s like to become a parent for the first time…but I know she reads this blog, and I needed a topic for this fortnight…so this is what we in the industry call a ‘twofer’.
Now I’m No Expert But, here in no particular order are some things I wish I had known before I became a parent, but I didn’t find in any of the books I pretended to read about becoming a parent.

1. Sleep
You will want it, miss it and crave it. You will become obsessed with your child’s sleep. Complete strangers will ask you about your sleep. And do you know what? Not one of these things will actually help you get sleep.
There is no point comparing the amount of sleep you used to get before you had a baby, because that was a totally different time. Just as you can’t yell at your husband about having to make your own lunch, because you didn’t have to when you were 7 years old. That time has passed…and so to has having long stretches of unbroken sleep. Complaining about it won’t result in more sleep…but it is immeasurably therapeutic.
One of my clearest memories of when Josh was a couple of months old was talking to my boss at work and mentioning how many times I had been up the night before trying to get him to sleep. My boss had teenage kids and just looked wistfully into the middle distance and said ‘I would do anything to know where my kids were at night.’
Just know that there does come a time when you get to sleep through the night again, and that in the interim you will be freaking tired…but will find amazing reserves of energy.

2. Your child will be fine
One of the wonderful results of having very little sleep and being thrust into a role you have had very little preparation for, is that you suddenly start aging your baby 10yrs but giving them their current behaviours. ‘Oh my god I’m going to have the first child who sleeps in their parents bedroom until they’re 20’, ‘Oh my god our child is going to be the only child who still has a dummy at 10’, ‘Oh my god, my child is just going to scream every time he doesn’t get what he wants’. These are all things I thought about our first and second children, it’s only now with the third that I am able to relax and just enjoy my time knowing that they will develop at their own pace.

3. Accept people’s offers of help
A very large part of you will just want to just form a little cocoon around your new family and keep the rest of the world at arm’s length. Not least because you have no idea what you’re doing and don’t want someone to come in and tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
But if someone offers to bring around a meal, or clean up, or hold the baby while you have a lie down…take them up on it. They will feel great knowing that they’re helping you out, and you will feel great having one less thing to worry about.

4. Get ready to have your world view changed
Your respect for single parents will increase about 400%…your shame about your behaviour towards your own parents will increase about 8,000%…and the frequency of you crying while watching movies/news reports/Octonauts will be awkward for your fellow film viewers/colleagues/6 yr old nephews.
Also, have you heard that amazing new album by that hot new band? No, neither have I…however some of the Hooley Dooley’s early stuff is sublime.
In the last three years I have never read so few books, but listened to so many podcasts.
I’ve never been so consumed by own little part of the world, but had so many moments of noticing true beauty in the world around me.
And I’ve never felt so insanely out of control of my life, but felt so content.
Best of all you can start any sentence with ‘As a parent…’ and non-parents have to pretend that this actually somehow makes your point more valid.

5. Go in and look at your baby before you go to sleep
This is not out of some paranoia that they might have stopped breathing (although, to be honest….you will do this a couple of times), and not because it is the one time when they’re not expecting you to do something for them.
But because there is nothing more beautiful than the sight of your own child sleeping.

So let’s see that’s everything I know about parenting in less than 850 words…yep, that sounds about right.
Babies are contrary things, so just because something works one day…doesn’t mean it will work the next. But by the same token a failed strategy one day may be the perfect solution the next. Just go with your instincts, you’ll be right more times that you’re wrong. Why? Because you’re an amazing person, and you’re going to be a fantastic parent!