I first started dabbling in photography about two years ago. I told no one, published not a single photo and continued to use other people’s credited images on my blog. I was curating rather than creating and hugely frustrated by my lack of ability to create the same amazing images that I took such pleasure in finding and using (with permission). So I got the camera out from time to time, shot off a few images, viewed them on the computer, blew a huge raspberry and trashed them. This went on for quite some time.
Then I did an online digital photography course and as part of that course I naturally had to pick up my camera more regularly. Instead of shooting 20 or 30 photos, I was encouraged to shoot 50 or 60. Instead of trashing my work, I was encouraged to look carefully and analyse what I would have done differently – what works? What doesn’t? What is letting the photo down? Why doesn’t it look the way I thought it would look when I shot it? Is it interesting enough? Is it meaningful? Is it touching?
Over time, I started to enjoy this process immensely and then one day I decided that I would pick up my camera and shoot at least 20 photos every single day for a month. And that’s the secret, you know:
Take photos every single day without fail for as long as it takes for you to feel comfortable.
At first I found this rather boring because I work from home and don’t get out much (I’m okay, it’s okay). I found that I was shooting the same old thing most days and all it was doing was making me hyper-aware of all the things I hated about my house.
Then I found Jodi’s 52 week project and so for the rest of that month I took 20 photos of my children every day. I didn’t publish these shots (it was a few months later that my blog joined in on the weekly project), but I religiously shot them, analysed them and adored them. Taking photos of my children didn’t bore me at all.
Surround yourself with the work of professionals
During this time I also started to really notice the work of the experts. I’ve always loved photography, especially travel, street and wildlife photography, but now I started to analyse what it was that lifted some photos and photographers above others. What made them stand out from other professionals? What made their stuff better than my stuff? What was their style? How did they work? What made their composition so good? What did I particularly like about their work? What could I imitate and even, one day, maybe, possibly, dream on, emulate?
This exercise taught me that I tend to love photographic ‘storytellers’ the most. I’m not into posey shots at all, no matter how splendid the technique. I like rawness, natural light, an image unfolding as I watch. Some of the photographers I absolutely love are:
Eric Kim – gun street photographer (and check out his list of street photography masters)
Eugene Smith – genuis
Rene Buri – portraiture
Lyndon Wade – art direction
Kalle Gustafsson – general awesomeness
Florian Ritter – manipulating life
“Nobody will ever know if a great photo was taken on automatic.”
During this whole time, I was still mostly using the automatic function on my camera, still scared to take the leap and ‘miss’ photos by swapping to manual. I was lucky to be invited along by Ness at One Perfect Day to a morning workshop run by Robyn from Please Don’t Say Cheese and that made a huge difference for me. There were two things Robyn said that really resonated with me:
1. Use the TV or AV settings so you can go ‘half’ manual, adjusting only your aperture or shutter speed accordingly – I call it ‘auto-manual’.
2. Nobody will ever know if a great photo was taken on automatic (or even a point + shoot) – be comfortable first and foremost.
Nothing feeds curiosity like time to observe
Inspired by Robyn’s workshop and the photos we took at Balmoral that day, I started my A morning in the life blog series. Again, this was a revelation as it gave me permission to take a morning off here and there with the sole purpose of exploring, observing and snapping away delightedly. Setting aside some uninterrupted time where you get to focus solely on your camera and your observations is a pure indulgence, but a very helpful one. Nothing feeds curiosity like time to observe.
Automatic to manual
One of the exercises I use to help me improve my photography is taking a photo on the automatic setting, noting the camera settings, switching to manual and replicating the settings. I then take the shot again and from there I play with the aperture and shutter speed to note the effect and tweak the image to try to capture exactly what I’m seeing. This is a great one to try if you are hesistant about using manual because you worry you will “miss the shot” – you get the shot and then you get to make it even better.
Finding something to shoot
Before long I realised I wasn’t doing as many ‘mornings‘ as I’d hoped and as I’d decided to finish up with the 52 week project on my blog mid-way through this year, I found I was getting pretty slack about picking up my camera regularly. I needed a project that would stimulate me to get snapping away and, of course, it was right in front of my nose all along.
For the past few months, I’ve quietly been doing Fat Mum Slim’s Photo a Day challenge using my DSLR in auto-manual mode and the daily prompts. Each day I challenge myself to take at least five different interpretations of Chantelle’s daily prompt and it’s been an exercise in creativity as well as camera work. Chantelle’s monthly lists provide me with a daily photography assignment – and if I miss a day, I have to catch up the next.
December’s list is up and I urge you to take part – ditch that sneaky iPhone for your DSLR and try to shoot in manual or auto-manual mode. Take a few interpretations of the prompt each day and use the tips above to analyse your favourites and work towards developing a photographic style that you love (I’ll post more about style in my next installment of this series…)
Will you join me?