Improving your photography is something we often expect to happen instantly when we invest in a ‘proper’ camera. Prior to buying mine, my photographic ability started and ended with a snapchat filter. I had no reason to take ‘good’ pictures, that was, until my son was born. I bought my first proper camera – a Canon 700D – only a few weeks after giving birth, and without having any knowledge as to how to actually work it, I snapped away and waited for my pictures to become groundbreaking. They did not become groundbreaking. In fact, they were considerably worse than the pictures I was taking previously on my iPhone. I made it my mission to learn how to use my camera and 6 months later I’ve finally started to see a real difference in the images I’ve been taking, I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have gone through a lot of trial and error up until now, and I thought I’d share the things I’ve learnt that have really made all of the difference.
As a quick note, a proper camera is not required to take good pictures, and this is something I do wish I’d realised earlier. There are plenty of amazing ways to work with an iPhone or a digital camera that can give just as good results, it’s simply a matter of finding the one’s that work for you. Cathryn at Little Paper Swans is the master of making iPhone shots look like they were taken on a professional camera. We can all be so quick to jump to buying the best equipment, when the reality is we just need some guidance and perseverance with what we do have. If though, your like me and couldn’t help but buy the big expensive camera and expect the pictures to fall in your lap, here’s the key things I wish I knew from the beginning.
Keep It Candid (And Sports Mode Helps) Think about the best picture you’ve taken, or the one you’ve had the most compliments on. Chances are, it wasn’t a smiley-face-to-camera-posed picture. If your like me, your favorite images are the moments that were captured candidly, mid laugh, mid movement and without any knowledge of the camera. Ditching posed ideals (as much as possible) was the best thing I’ve ever done for my photos, instead focusing on simply capturing moments. If like me you have a baby who’s candid moments are not in slow-mode – get used to capturing on sports mode with a quick shutter speed, or find the continuous shooting mode on your camera. You may end up with 100 more photos for any one moment, but your almost guaranteed to find a winner in there.
Understand Your Camera Settings This is probably the hardest part of really trying to get to grips with a camera for the first time. Even if it’s not your first camera, chances are you’ve shot in AUTO mode and have had little experience with fiddling with the real settings that can transform an image. Move to Manual, shoot in RAW, and learn about aperature. If there was three single tips I could give for starting with a new camera, it would be those. I am yet to get to grips with the settings on my camera, but I’ve spent a good few nights trawling blogs to understand these three things, and you should too.
If you can, invest in a lens I bought my first additional lens after 5 or so months with my proper canon. I bought a 50mm 1.8-f/mm on Rachel’s recommendation, and I am still yet to even come close to mastering it. It’s a fixed lens, meaning there is no ability to zoom in or out, so I do need to stand a solid 6 feet away from my child while I photograph him. This can be slightly unrealistic with a baby, so it’s yet to transform my pictures. What it has done has shown me the amazing difference even changing a lens can make. I can stand in the same position, with the same lighting and the same subject – but suddenly I have a blurry background, a brighter image and what would previously have looked flat and uninspiring, suddenly looks intentionally brilliant.
Colour, Texture and Random Objects One of the misconceptions I had when I first bought my camera was that to take the best pictures I needed my baby in front of a plain white wall. In part, this was because I was limited with what I could do outside, but mainly it was because I was scared colour, harsh details, or texture would take away from a picture. I was very much still in this mindset until very recently, but after an almost accidental experiment with out of focus flowers in the forefront of a shot, I fell in love with experimenting with different layers of a photo – it’s amazing what a bit of dimension can do. Colour is another thing I’ve often been reluctant to use within a photograph: I’ve been so caught up in Instagram themes and keeping everything white and bright that the thought of color or scenic backgrounds has been a no-go for me. Only when I began to introduce extremely bright clothes or props did I realise how important vibrancy really is. Kaye from Hello Archie wrote a brilliant post on taking good pictures in crap light, and one of her points was to take advantage of colour, something I’m aiming to do more over the next few months.
Lighting Is Everything Lighting can be the make or break factor when it comes to photos, and sometimes that is completely outwith our control. I read guide after guide about improving photography, and almost everyone cited shooting in natural daylight, or failing that, using a light box. I live in Scotland, a country renowned for the grey skies and depressing lack of light, although I have a slightly larger window of time now during summer, in the Winter, there is very little ‘day’ light to shoot with. Google told me that the yellow tinge of the pictures taken indoors was due to may bedroom lights, and I could combat this with the artificial lighting boxes raved about by every blogger under the sun. I don’t do product photography – if I do, it’s involving a baby, and therefore it’s counterproductive to stick him in front of an extremely large, extremely shiny distracting object. Since buying my lightbox, I’ve used it once and was face with overexposed pictures and the faff of tidying them up, and the reality is that it made absolutely no difference to my photography. The real difference has come from learning how to work with natural light. Indoors, setting up directly in front of the window with no lights on has the best results, if outside, finding a spot out of direct sunlight and in bright shade is the ideal. I used to think sunlight was a godsend for pictures, now I am very aware of the harsh light and the over exposure it causes when editing. Shooting early in the morning is the easiest way to achieve this, but not always possible. One thing I’m yet to try is the elusive ‘Golden Hour’ – one hour before sunset, or one hour after sunrise the sun is so low in the sky that the light is soft and glowy, something we all aim for at one point. The best tip I’ve came across is to use surroundings as a natural reflector: shooting opposite a light wall or building is the perfect light reflector, no equipment necessary.
Expect shitty photos, and learn from them It’s almost inevitable that when you start to change the way you take pictures, things will get worse before they get better. It’s so easy to throw in the towel when nothing seems to be working, but getting to know your way around a camera takes time and effort, and only after a year can I consistently capture pictures that are actually in focus. Read blogs, watch videos and play with your camera until everything starts to make a little bit more sense. Amber, Hannah and Sarah are among some of my favorites for both photography inspiration and I’ve learnt a lot from trawling their posts and trying to emulate the quality if their images. One of the biggest factors in my improvement has been the inspiration from others, and I like to think this will continue.
I am no expert, but I have improved immensely and it’s all been down to trial and error. These things do take time, but with such a large amount of information available to us now at the hands of google, it doesn’t need to take quite as much time. I’ve linked a few of my favorite bloggers and resources throughout this post, but I’m always looking for more, so please do let me know your favorites too.