This is one of the very first photos I took with my (then) new camera and probably one of my all-time favorites.
The funny thing is that I had no idea what I was doing.
I still love this photo. I love the bright pink pops of color. Plus I love the perspective from which it’s shot. Then I love the blurry background tiny bits of bokeh. To me this is exactly what the view from my front door looked like in my mind’s eye that day. Which is exactly what I love about photography.
So now two years later, after three online photography classes, several books, and a zillion hours spent perusing various websites, I can honestly say that I love photography more than ever. And even though I still have lots to learn, what I love is that I am finally starting to take the kinds of photos that I’ve always wanted to take.
Photography brings me so much joy and it’s truly exhilarating for me to see how far I’ve come since I first got my camera. So to celebrate my journey, I thought I might share with you the ten biggest things I’ve learned about photography.
1. It’s all about the light. And to that end, there is really no way around learning the basics of exposure – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. There are a ton of books out there, but I happened to find this book, Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson the most helpful.
2. The camera’s bells and whistles. This one kind of goes along with #1 above – you have to know how/where to adjust your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Plus things like focal point and white balance can make a big difference in the end result. Example: the photo below was taken with two difference white balance settings. The one on the left has a weird green cast, but the photo on the right has a much more natural color.
3. When in doubt, add a human. Now this one may seem strange to you if you have lots of kids running around your house, but for me, I spend a lot of time at home alone and that’s usually when I take the most photos. The thing is, sometimes there isn’t any better way to convey emotion or tell a story. Example: Several months ago I was submitting a photo for the prompt ‘made with love’. I had made chocolate chip cookies that day and I took a million photos of cookies on a plate. But then I watched as Kelsey grabbed one to eat and that’s when the lightbulb went off – she’s who I was making the cookies for. Having her in the picture (even if it’s just her hands) tells so much more of the story than a boring plate of cookies.
4. Don’t take things so literally. You may or may not know this, but I love taking pictures of flowers. I know, big shock right? So the thing with taking pictures of flowers is that they are so beautiful and you just want to fill the frame with their beauty. And that’s totally fine, but sometimes it’s kinda boring. Example: I took at least a zillion photos of my zinnias this year. The image on the left is nice. It’s well exposed and has a nice composition. But it’s like, “oh, yeah. nice flower.” One the other hand, the zinnia shot on the right is taken from an unusual angle. Plus a portion of it is out of the frame. And only a couple of the petals are actually in focus. Same kind of zinnia, but so much more interesting.
5. Stoop to their level. I think this may have been my biggest ‘aha’ moment when it comes to photography. What you have to remember is that while cameras are constantly becoming more and more advanced, they will never be a match for the dynamic ranges of light, color, and dimension that our eyes can take in. So we have to decide for the camera what we want to “focus” on. So for me and my obsession for taking flower photos, I’ve learned that shooting flowers at their level shows much more of their dimension. Plus as an added bonus, the background can then become almost as interesting at the subject. Example: I love the shape of this coneflower in my neighbor’s yard and shooting from the side you can see really see the flatness of the petals which I think is so delightful. And then in context with the other flowers blurred in the background – well I think this might be one of my favorite photos ever.
6. Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot. Sometimes to get the shot, you just have to lay on the ground. Oh, for sure, I get some weird looks from neighbors. But for the most part they’ve gotten used to it and don’t ask me what I’m doing laying on the ground anymore. Example: In the photo below, I had just come back from running and the sun was shining at just the right angle that it made the water droplets in the grass twinkle. So what did I do? I went inside, grabbed my camera and a towel, and lay right down in the middle of the grass. And guess what – it totally paid off because this was the photo that was chosen for Flickr’s “Explore/Interesting.”
7. Get a new perspective. I think this might be the one thing that never ceases to amaze me. It’s amazing really, how just taking a photo from a different perspective can totally change the look and feel. And it sometimes reveals a photo that is even better than the one you had intended to take. Example. I love looking out my back door at our backyard. We’ve spent a lot of time and money creating an outdoor space we love. So naturally I take a lot of photos in that direction. But one night I happened to be behind the pool and then happened to look back toward the house. I couldn’t believe the difference changing my perspective made in my photograph.
8. Practice, Practice, Practice. Seriously I bet in the past couple of years I’ve taken thousands of photos. But for me, I’m a hands on kind of gal so that’s how I learn. And with digital photography it’s so great because you can say, “Ok today I’m going to practice taking shots in low light or whatever.” Then you take a few dozen (or hundred) photos and upload them. Almost immediately you can see what worked and what didn’t. That immediate feedback helps me so much and makes it fun to learn.
9. Find a group to connect with. Whether your hobby (obsession) is photography or model airplanes or whatever, finding and joining a group that shares your passion is one of the best ways to learn. I happened to connect with a wonderful group of gals while participating in my on-line classes and it has made all the difference. First of all just the inspiration from these talented photographers alone is incredible, but then there is the support and encouragement! Getting to know these gals has been one of the best (if unexpected) joys of this hobby.
10. Have fun. That’s it really. I know for me, when I’m just out taking photos, not really worried about getting the shot that’s perfect – that’s when I take the best photos. That’s when I’ve had my biggest lightbulb moments. And now the funny thing is that even if I’m in a crappy mood, going outside and taking a few photos is just the thing to brighten my mood. Another one of the unexpected joys of photography.
Like I said before, photography is very much a journey and I still have lots to learn. But it brings me so much joy. As always, thank you for letting me share it with you.