Last week, I spent two hours making pictures (and giggling) with Madelyn at her preschool. I almost didn't write this post just because there's only one picture to share. I took many (287 to be exact) but I don't feel comfortable sharing photos of other people's kids. I still think it's worth it to share a bit of my thought process, even if it is just for me to think through.
We'll have to settle with a photo of Madelyn and Mrs. J.
Before: I've been wanting to take some photos in Madelyn's classroom since the beginning of the year but I've been too chicken to actually ask! I was pretty sure her teacher would be fine with it but I think I was afraid I wouldn't get anything good to share with her. The end of the year approached, and I finally worked up enough courage to ask.
Madelyn was thrilled when she found out I would spend the day with her. I got a babysitter for Sam and we headed back to school. I brought my 28mm 1.8 lens, my camera (of course), and my Expodisc (it is a tool to help set color temperature). I spent some time thinking about the scene of the classroom, the lighting, and what I wanted to capture. I actually asked for advice in one of my photography FB groups. A friend let me know there would probably be three groups of kids: those who "cheese" for the camera, those who ask a lot of questions about the camera, and those who shy away. I knew I wanted to take a fly on the wall perspective and capture life "as is" in the preschool classroom.
During: I immediately noticed the lighting situation in the classroom, a combination of window light on one side and florescent light overhead. I tried using my Expodisc to set a custom white balance but with a weirdo combination of different light sources along with the differences in color temperature throughout the classroom, I decided to keep my camera on auto white balance.
I moved around a lot, and had my exposure set to manual. Since the light was different throughout the room (brighter closer to the window) I had to pay close attention to my exposure and make some changes as I went. I chimped a lot (meaning I checked my photos on the back of my camera) and made adjustments. I had a few super overexposed images to start but was able to notice and make some changes. My ISO ended up being fairly high. I kept my shutter speed around 1/250 to be sure to freeze the motion of the rambunctious kids. My aperture stayed around 2.8.
Surprisingly, the kids payed almost no attention to me! They just went about their work and I did my best to capture them coloring, singing, dancing, being four.
A lot of their time was spent sitting in a circle with a teacher up front. I found it really hard to create a strong composition there. When I tried to capture the whole group, I was left with a big open space of carpet that distracted from the photo. I tried to shoot from the outside of the circle, between a few kids to the other side. It worked pretty well. They had music time and this was a good way for me to capture them singing silly songs and dancing together!
It happened to be the school picture day while I was there. The professional photographer came into the classroom to capture the class photo. With my big camera in hand, I told her assistant I wasn't going to sneak behind her and steal a class photo…because that's just not nice! I did like watching her techniques for capturing a group of wiggly four-year-olds. She used a speed light (it's a flash that attaches to the top of the camera and bounces light off the ceiling). As she adjusted settings, she told the kids to watch the light, "Tell me if it flashes." I didn't flash the first few clicks (on purpose I'm sure) so they were super excited when it did, and she was able to capture a shot with some happy kids paying attention to the camera. Smart lady. (Photos were by Paige Pearson who is a wonderful local portrait photographer…her school pictures are WAY BETTER than the ones with fake tree backdrops IMO)
I took a LOT of photos. I shot at preschooler level which meant I was crouching down a lot. I watched the background because there several grown-ups in the room at the time. Preschool eye-level does not capture the most flattering portion of a grown-up's body!
I observed the expressions of the kids. Two kiddos in particular had the most expressive faces so I watched and waited for them to make a fun expression and grabbed it! I also loved seeing the interactions between friends and did my best to capture those.
After: I came home with 287 photos! I downloaded them on my computer, cut them down to about 100 and then selected about 25 to edit and share. It doesn't seem like a lot but I heard a famous photographer speak recently and she said she uses only about 10% of the shots she takes. That made me feel just fine about my 25 keepers.
I initially decided to edit them in black and white. I guess I thought that it would simplify the scene since there was so much color and business going on in the classroom. I picked about five photos to share in a Facebook group, asking for some critiques (Facebook is great for this…there are so many photographers out there willing to provide suggestions, knowledge, and advice). The immediate response was that these photos NEEDED to be in color because color is such an important part of the preschool classroom. The feeling of preschool just doesn't' come across in black and white. Of course, they were right. I felt a little silly for trying the black and white but appreciated the feedback.
I did a few more tweaks on my favorites and shared them with the teacher using Dropbox.
I'm thankful to have these images. Madelyn probably won't remember much about her preschool but I'm happy to have these images to share with her someday.
Do the terms ISO, depth of field, and aperture leave you confused? If you live in Northern Virginia, I'd love to have you in my photography workshop. Coming soon. Please join my mailing list to be the first to learn about the details.