As you might imagine we have been tagged, texted and DM’ed much about the Front Step Project, which began in March by a photographer outside of Boston, and rapidly gained momentum.
The principle reason we have not participated in this project is because we are under a stay at home order. As a legitimate, law abiding, tax paying business we feel that it’s important to stay compliant with our governor’s orders. In addition to that, we are turning away our clients right now; clients we love who have time-sensitive photography needs, like maternity and newborn photos. We don’t feel right turning away our clients and then driving around taking pictures of everyone in town.
However, as true picture lovers and historians, we love the bones of this thing: documenting this time with an informal family photo at home. Yes to that!
It is in that spirit that we want to unpack this for you so you can create your own front step photo, using principles that we would follow if we were to come to your home for a real photoshoot.
The limitation of the project photo is lighting, which is absolutely the most important aspect of photography. The word “photography” literally means, “light writing”. Your image is only going to be as good as your light. So the first limitation is actually the most important part of this endeavor.
Here’s the thing: when the sun is beaming down on your front door, your neighbor’s door is in full shade. Which means, you are in two very different lighting scenarios, one picture is going to be good, and one not so good.
When you do your own front door picture, you can do it at a time that your front door is perfectly lit.
We’re already one step ahead here. One giant step.
The problem, you say, is who is going to take the picture. Valid point. But I think we all know that our phones and cameras have self timers. So the answer is quite simple: your camera is going to take the picture.
Queue the self-timer function.
You might be asking yourself what the heck is going on in the above image, it looks like a gratuitous use of a precious resource: paper towels. It may be. But first, let’s back up and start from the beginning.
- Ideal light: I would highly recommend shade. Choose a time of day when sunlight is not hitting any part of your door area. This may be in the morning if the sun rises behind your house, or in the late afternoon if the sun sets to the east/west/ or in front of your house. If you aren’t sure, just think about when your house gets the most sun, and where that sun is coming in. At my house, the sun floods into the windows on the back of my house all morning. So it’s during that time of day that the front steps are in the shadow of the house.
If the sun is beating down on your steps everyone is going to have a bright ball of gaseous flames burning their eyes, and they’ll be squinting. The sun may also cast shadows from trees and shrubs as seen below:
At other times of day you might have uneven light, where half of your subjects are in shade and the other half in sunlight. This is also no bueno.
Have I sold you on the virtues of full shade yet? If your child is only smiley at 10am and your front steps are in full sun at 10am, you can take your picture on a day that is not sunny. Or wait for a cloud. That’s the beauty of doing this picture yourself; you can do it whenever you want.
2. Now that your lighting is right, the next part is just logistics.
- First and foremost. Set up by yourself. Don’t invite your family outside until you have this ready to go. TRUST ME on this.
- Test out the timer function on your phone or camera. Just run a quick test to see how it works. (iPhones give you a choice of 3 or 10 seconds, choose 10 seconds)
- If you’re using a camera you can change your white balance to “shade” – so fancy. If you don’t know how to do this, don’t worry about it. “Auto” typically works well and you can always adjust color temperature after-the-fact if you need to.
- If you don’t have a tripod, you’re going to have to get creative. I used a cart thing I found in the garage and packing tape + a paper towel to “cradle” my phone to the handle of the cart thing. (The paper towel was so my phone wouldn’t stick to the tape; I could pull it in and out). You can build your own contraption however you want: tape your phone to a ladder, a tree, whatever you can find that’s 4-5′ high.
- If you’re using a phone, use the camera on the back of your phone (NOT THE SELFIE SIDE). And don’t zoom, just set your camera up so that your steps are in view. Take a test shot.
- Clear off your front steps, remove debris. Shut the front door (the one behind the storm door), so you can’t see into your house.
- Once everything is set up, invite your family outside and position yourself on the steps with them.
- Then hop off the steps and go press the shutter button on the phone/camera (I used the button on the side of my phone). Then I had 10 seconds to run back to my spot on the steps.
- Note: if you have small children you can also secure a stuffed animal next to your phone so they have a place to look.
I had both my iPhone and my camera taking pictures of us. The timer on my camera was fancier; it gave me 20 seconds and then took four photos of us.
Can you tell which is which?
Probably only if you zoom in or try to print…
But let’s face it, these aren’t going on your walls or holiday cards, these are documentary style images that you’ll share on social media and then file away so you’ll always remember this time.
Now go young ones, try this for yourselves.
…Oh and if you want to, you can donate to a charity close to your heart, but if you can’t do that right now, that’s fine too. You can spread cheer by texting someone or telling someone in your family that they’re doing a good job with all this. Being kind is simple and powerful.
We love you.
Erin, Lynn, & Sarah