Focus groups

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am


Capturing images for the family album is a breeze using digital formats. But as many keen parents are discovering, they may not be able to find a satisfactory image among 100 snaps taken, and shooting with a high-end camera won't necessarily yield great results.

Candy Wong Yuen-chun counts herself among the enthusiasts. A full-time homemaker, she loves taking photos of her three children as a record of their growth. When she failed to capture arresting images with a basic digital camera, Wong paid a lot for a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera and went on to spend another HK$20,000 for special lenses.

'But the result was still not satisfying,' she says. 'The photographs were always blurred and had a 'ghosting' effect. That's especially true now that my two older children have grown and won't stay still any more.

'I thought it was a problem with the camera, but there was nothing wrong with it. I was so frustrated that I returned to using the older camera, which is smaller and lighter, as there was no difference in quality.'

A recent start-up called Kiddsha tries to address the needs of parents such as Wong through its photography workshops.

Freelance photographer Jenny Leung Ka-yi launched the venture in March after quitting her job as a telecommunications project manager to care for her young son.

'Parents love to share pictures of their children on social media sites such as Facebook. But everyone takes so many photographs now, they get overloaded. No one wants to search through hundreds of pictures to find a good one. So why not take a few less and make them all good?' says Leung, a keen photographer since she was in secondary school.

'Once I went to a playgroup where all these parents were holding expensive cameras. Yet they were clicking away using the auto mode or the consecutive shot function. What's the point? They waste so much time transferring the photos to their computer, and then selecting one among the many photos they've taken.'

Although not professionally trained, the 33-year-old has become so skilled over the years, she has received commissions. So when she stopped work, Leung decided to launch her workshops to help parents overcome some common difficulties she had noticed.

Among her most popular workshops is a two-session programme in which she teaches basic camera control and gives tips on dealing with children. She also shows how to improve the composition of a photograph.

The classes are held at a photo equipment store in Jordan and are limited to about 10 to 15 people. To gauge how much is being absorbed, Leung requires participants to take photos after the first session and hand them in for evaluation.

'The problem with using auto mode is that you can't control the outcome. When it's very dark, using the auto mode means a very slow shutter speed, which makes photographs blur easily,' Leung says. 'But if you know how to use the manual mode to adjust to a proper setting, the results will be far better and you will have the effect you want.

'You should be controlling the device, not the other way around.'

Another major reason for poor images, Leung says, is a lack of communication between parents and children. 'It's important to let youngsters have fun. If they don't want to have their photographs taken, we work around it by distracting them or playing with them until the right moment.

'Some parents push their children to smile. Just put yourself in their shoes - would you smile if you were forced to do so? If your children are unhappy, they won't look happy in the photographs.'

Venus Chan Wai-man, who joined the beginners' workshop, says she was already seeing improvements after the first session. That lesson steered her away from using the auto mode.

'I thought of attending professional photography classes but they are expensive and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to catch up if it was quite technical,' Chan says. 'Leung doesn't use a lot of jargon. Instead, she offers simple, practical tips such as attaching your child's favourite soft toy to the camera or wearing bells on your wrist to attract their attention.'

Leung has also started providing online video tutorials featuring similar material to reach out to more people. Subscribers gain access to three new videos each month.

These videos also cover subjects such as local hot spots suitable for photographs and tips for capturing party images. Figuring out what kind of photos they want and learning to capture them efficiently means parents can relax. They get the chance to join in the fun at a family gathering rather than stressing over snapping. To help parents with better presentation, Kiddsha also runs classes on using software to assemble photos into attractive booklets.

'Prints are no longer the best option as they take up too much space,' says Wong, who attended the album-making workshop.

'Our children's photographs are like treasures to us. I felt insecure about them, even though I'd burned them onto discs. I wasn't sure if something would go wrong. What if the discs suddenly failed to work?' Wong says.

Instead of slipping prints into albums which quickly fill up the shelves at home, Wong now selects the best images and prints them as a glossy photo book. She also adds footnotes and explanations.

'It's a way of preserving our memories for me and my children,' she says. 'I'm not sure if they will appreciate what I've done, but it's the best way to remember how we all look, what we've been through and where we've been. Especially when we are gone.'