Photography: What I’ve Learned
I thought I would be the last person in the world to write a post about photography. I was always so frustrated while taking food photos. It wasn’t until very recently that I learned how to control my camera and the light in any given situation. My photos from 2009, 2010 and the majority of 2011 are lackluster. It was only until I got the courage to take my camera off auto that I started to replace my uninteresting and badly exposed images with photos that motivated me to continue to learn and to grow my photography.
My interest in photography started in high school but I never thought I’d be able to produce visually pleasing images. I was also very afraid of taking my images to the next level and using the manual and RAW settings. In 2006, I hung up my photography hat. Soon, I found my passions through this blog and through the business side of Sweet Remedy and decided to aim for aesthetic images again. I switched to manual, searched for better light and started to shoot in RAW.
If you have been reading, you will know that I’m currently an undergraduate and just took a photography class. I’m going to share with you some things I’ve learned along the way.
Don’t be afraid.
Seriously, I’m telling you to stop being afraid. The best way to learn how to properly use your camera is to use it. Take it off auto, switch to raw and begin shooting. Adjust your settings constantly because light changes throughout the day or throughout a minute. I list this as number one because until you master manual, your pictures will fall flat. Experiment, it is the only way to become a better photographer. No one is going to do it for you.
Be aware of your surroundings.
You need to become aware of your light source and which direction it is coming from. Side, back and front lighting all do different things to your subject. It is wise to figure out which type of lighting will work for the mood you are trying to create. If you need to bounce light, bounce it with a cheap foam board. If you need to diffuse the light, hang a dirty old white sheet over your window.
Practice makes perfect.
You need to get out there and shoot. Shoot anything and everything you see and take multiple shots of the same thing, with different settings and at different angles. Don’t be afraid to move things around or move yourself around. If you want to do food photography, start with some fruit in a bowl or a nice vegetable still life. Don’t go crazy buying props until you know what you are doing. A nice bowl will look great and display your pasta perfectly yet if the picture isn’t exposed properly or the color is wrong then you will still have an unpleasant image.
Buy a tripod.
You don’t need super fancy or super expensive camera equipment in order to produce great images. You really don’t, I promise. People take amazing images with phone cameras and point and shoot cameras everyday! You just have to be aware of your light sources and know how to utilize your settings to your advantage. The one piece of equipment that I cannot live without, especially in low lighting settings is my tripod. You don’t have to have the best tripod, either. Just something that will keep your camera steady in low light when your shutter is open for a longer amount of time.While you are at it, purchase some 2 dollar white foam boards. These will help you bounce light back onto your subject. I promise these things are worth it.
Some people have a natural eye for this, kudos to them. For the rest of us, there are some key things to look for while shooting any subject.Compositional elements include: Rule of Thirds, leading lines, patterns and symmetry, viewpoint and depth. These are only a few elements. You would also do well to think of colors, how you will crop an image, and geometric shapes.
- Rule of thirds – Probably my most favorite composition element and the one I use most in my photography. You have to mentally divide your image (in your viewfinder) into 9 equal parts, with two lines running horizontal and vertical. You then should place your subject along these lines or at the points where they intersect. Like I have done in the cupcake image above. To do this in photoshop:
Edit -> Preferences -> Guides, Grids & Slices then change: Gridline every: 100 % and Subdivisions: 3. Open your image and press: CTRL ” to see the lines.
- Leading Lines– are lines in an image that draw your eye. Your eye is naturally drawn to lines and will follow any line present through an image. Be aware of lines and how to use them in your images.
- Patterns/Symmetry– Making something repeat or having something perfectly symmetrical is always pleasing to the eye. To break the symmetry is another eye pleasing task. It then draws our eyes to the object that disturbed the perfect pattern.
- Viewpoint – This is the angle in which you shoot from. I struggle with this one a lot and tend to use the same angle over and over, which gets boring. I have gotten comfortable with this because it always looks nice. I’m trying to break out of my comfort zone, you should too! Deciding if you should shoot horizontal or vertical is another task that will improve your images. I try to shoot both ways and choose later which I prefer.
- Depth – If you are able to create a foreground, middle ground and background in an image, you have just created depth.
You control light, it does not control you.
I know that you probably feel like you are a slave to your light source but this really isn’t the case. Sometimes I feel like I can’t move because it will take me too long to do so. But if you really want a good image you will have to experiment and move around with your light. If something worked yesterday but is not working that well today, move and figure it out. If you know how to adjust your settings, you can still achieve properly exposed images. This brings us back to number one: Don’t be afraid to take your camera off the auto setting.
The exposure triangle is serious business.
Aperture, shutter speed and ISO all work together to give you correct exposure. Don’t ignore them. Learn what they do and how to adjust them! Don’t forget about your white balance, either. It matters. I know these settings seem confusing but the more you use them the better you will understand them, what they do and how they work together. If you begin to understand these three settings you will be able to be more creative and have more control over your images. The image above of the loaf of bread wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t understand these controls. Just jump in and start changing things. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you will learn from them.
Small edits will go a long way.
I don’t like to overly edit images. I like to let the truth shine through and strive for that while shooting. Properly exposed images allow you to do minimal edits. My new favorite tool in Photoshop is the level adjustment. You can really enhance your image with it without changing too much of the original photograph. A nice crop and a slight rotation of the image can also do wonders.
Just for the record, I do not consider myself a professional photographer. Most of what I have said in this post is knowledge I’ve gained from experimentation and the class I recently took. I do feel like I have a very firm grasp on photography so writing this post was a lot of fun. I still publish pictures I am not totally happy with and would like to retake but I did not have the time to do so, I always regret that and strive for my best work! If you want to see more of my images you can check out my new (and sometimes broken) slideshow! I hope what I’ve touched on will help you in your own photography. Get shooting!