Photography: from there to here

I was looking over my pictures yesterday, trying to pick my favorite five to post for the Quarterly Top 5 and something hit me: I’ve come a long way from the “photographer” I was when Peanut was born to who I am today.

Although I’m completely self-taught – I credit almost all of my newly acquired skills to the wonderful blogging community.  These blogs got me out of auto mode and into AV, TV and eventually manual mode.  They taught me to recognize light, composition, and to find my own style.   I went from getting one or two photos that I loved that came out of pure luck to recognizing the things that led to said luck.  Although I’m still not completely calculating about the photos that I take, I am aware of my surroundings – the light, the expressions, the backgrounds.  My photos are now taken with some level of confidence that I will get the shot rather than continuous button-pressing in hopes that I can catch something.

Here are a few lessons that got me from there to where I am today:

  • Recognize and embrace your style.  To some people this comes easy.  To me is took time, practice with a few styles that I aspired to, and a lot of trial and error.  At first I was taking pictures to just take a picture, but soon I noticed that the photographers I loved most had a subtle style to their photos.  I could almost begin to recognize their work just by their styles.  So I set out to find my own.  I took a lot of pictures and I changed up how I did it each time by changing my angles, my stance.  I climbed up on top of surfaces, I laid on the ground.  I walked around my kid in circles, snapping away.  I found photos that inspired me and I tried to copy their style, trying each one out for size.  I began to analyze what I loved about their pictures and then I analyzed what I loved about mine.  Here’s what I found: I love light, I love seeing the world from the eyes of a toddler, and I love capturing moments of real life events.
  • Learn to love the light.  This is one where I actually went from not caring about the light, to fearing the light, to learning to love the light.  When I started out with my first “big girl” camera, I didn’t realize what a huge part the light could play in each and every one of my photos.  And I’m not talking about just sufficient light – I’m talking about the shadows a light can cast, the way it can blow out your photos.  Then I read some more and I started to fear the light.  I stayed in the shadows, I shot early in the morning or late at night.  This did make my photos better but it didn’t feel right to me.  Something was missing.  So, armed with my new knowledge, I started going back out during the day, and even in full sun.  And I shot into the light, away from the light.  I started to really love my photos – not just feel like they were ok.

  • Don’t be dull.  I’m not talking about your personality, of course – I’m talking about the photos.  There is something that I caught pretty early on in my photos – the way the eyes looked dull in my pictures versus the way they stood out in the photos I loved.  The simplest solution to this, of course, is to face the subject toward the light, preferably indirect sunlight.  The second option that I found to work pretty well if the subject is facing away from the light is to put a reflector.  You don’t have to get fancy – I use a white wall, white closet door, or just a white foam board (purchased for 50 cents at a local craft store) to reflect the light.

  • Post-process.  You can’t make a crappy picture become an amazing photo in post-processing but you can turn a good picture into a great one.  I’m a big fan of Photoshop Lightroom and Photoshop CS, but you don’t have to have the expensive products to enhance  your photos (although, I promise, they’re worth it).  You can use an online tool like one of my favorites – PicMonkey.  The point is that you can continue to enhance your images, removing any imperfections, and giving them a creative spin.  I’m a big fan of playing with Photoshop actions, as well as learning how to make the manual edits on my own.

  • Learn your camera.  I read this advice in every single photography post.  And it’s true.  The biggest disadvantage you can create for yourself is if you’re afraid to mess with all those settings and buttons on your camera.  They’re overwhelming at first, but I promise you, they’re simpler than they look.  I didn’t use books – I used the manual that came with my camera.  That’s all you need to get started.  Every other week I opened my camera manual, found a setting that I was either rusty on or unaware of and I tried it out.  I started with AV and TV modes, toggling the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.  When I was confident with those, I moved on to metering modes.  Then the white balance.  Then histograms.  The list goes on.  With every setting I began to understand the light thing just a little more and feared my big camera just a little less.  Can you get stunning photos in auto mode?  Yes, absolutely.  But where’s the fun in that?

I love being able to capture these moments with our little Peanut and know that I will have them for the rest of our lives – even when she’s too cool for us or when she’s ready to share them with her own children.