Apr 22, 2014

Photography 101: What You Can Do Right Now

After posting a few new photos from my trip to Virginia, I got a couple requests for photography posts. This is quite humbling, as I'm still  learning my DSLr and have a long ways to go in terms of photography, but I do know the basics and that's what I want to share with you today.

You don't need a fancy camera or lens to use the tips below. You can apply these tips to any old camera. Sure fancy ones help and some lenses will make your photos look incredible, but before anything, you need to know how to take a decent photo. That lens isn't going do everything for you.

I will write another post on how to learn the settings on you camera: ISO, shutter speed, F-stops, as well what equipment we have now. Learning your camera can be tricky, but this post will focus on things you can do right now that will improve your photography - even if it's just your Iphone.

1. Find the best lighting. 

I think if you are reading this and have even an ounce of interest in photography, you know that natural light is almost always the best light for photos. But, not all natural light is created equal.

- Natural light a few hours after sunrise and a few hours before sunset is best. The sunlight isn't as harsh and there are no pesky shadows to deal with or squinty eyes in people photography.

- Bright sunlight is tough to shoot in. If you cannot avoid shooting midday, best put your subject in the shade: under a tree, under a porch, umbrella, etc. Always make sure that your subject isn't half in the light, half in the shadows. Especially with people photography - it does some funky things to your face!
    Case in point:

    - Days with clouds = awesome photos! While most people love the sunny, cloudless days in California, they are horrible for photography. I love big fluffy white clouds and especially when the sun hides behind them. Full cloud cover is also ideal.

    This photo is example of morning natural light, on a cloudy day.

    Maria - Haircut

    2. Don't get too close. Give your photos some context. 

    One of my biggest pet peeves: photos of food that are too close up. If I have to sit and think "What the hell am I looking at here?", it's not a decent photo. Back up a little. Include the whole bowl or plate and maybe something in the background (like a mug) or a fun placemat. I'm mainly talking about food here, but this can also be applied to anything. 

    Do this: 


    Not this:


    See the difference? The second photo is just a little too close and personal, you have to think for a second what you are looking at. It doesn't hurt that the focus is all off too.

    Now, this is a general rule. Here's a photo of a bee I took with my 100mm macro. It's a close up shot, but we still have some context here - you know what you are looking at. Always ask yourself, "Would my macro shot need a caption"? If so, probably not a decent photo. 


    3. Try all sorts of angles.

    Get creative, but not weird. Birds eye is always a great default when you are photographing a lot of things going on (like a family breakfast table) or a subject that is flat (see pancakes below). Eye level is really cool with you have a big fat slice of 7-layer cake. Move your subject around if its small. Move yourself around if you object is big (building, sunset, etc.) and find the right angle.

    Paleo Pancakes With Bananas

    4. Keep it simple.

    So maybe this is personal preference, but I think photos really shine when they are clean, simple, and have less fuss.


    This photo of my brother is simple and non-distracting (and also completely candid). One quick tip: if there aren't a lot of colors to capture in the photo (in this case almost everything in the room was beige), go with black and white.

    To go along with this, do not over-edit. All the filters we have at our fingertips these days sure are fun to play with, but over-editing cheapens your photos. I am so guilty of this and have to remind myself to tame it down when I'm in Lightroom or even when I'm using the Aviary app on my phone. You want to enhance your photos' natural beauty, not cover it up. Just say no to filter madness and stay classy!

    maria root beer
    Cool photo, but that filter...eek. This was not taken in 1972. (Mmm, rootbeer.)

    And I think it goes without saying that adding text, borders, and backgrounds to your photos won't win you any photography awards. Granted, if that's not your goal, play away...but sometimes just let the photo do the talking. Don't cover it up!

    5. Ask yourself these three questions.

    If you say no to one of them, trash that photo.

    1. Is the subject in focus? Blurry photos are the first sign of a bad photo. Even if you love the subject to death, it's not a keeper. 


    I love this photo, but if you look closely, not all of Zoe's face is in crisp, clear, focus. If I had increased my f-stop and adjusted my focal point, I could have gotten her entire face in focus and boom - keeper photo. 

    2. Is the photo clear? If there's a lot of grain in your photo (i.e. high ISO), it was taken under harsh light, no light, or with a flash, it's probably not one you want to keep. 

    3. Is this interesting? Does it tell a good story? Now this is totally subjective and we all have different opinions on what we enjoy looking at, but try to keep your photos generally appealing. 

    This is appealing, right?


    Final thought: just keep shooting. I'm no where near where I want to be with photography and there are times when I need to remind myself of the tips above, but I have looked back at my photos from the past and improvement shows. It was slow for me, but I just kept shooting and will continue to do so. Brandon shoots a lot more than I do and sometimes he comes home with a memory card of 1000 photos with maybe one decent shot in there. Sometimes none. Be picky. Keep learning. Have fun.

    Again, I want to reiterate, that I'm a beginner myself, so I'm always open to suggestions from you as well. What is one of your favorite photography tips?


    1. Love these tips! I'm sometimes guilty of the too-close-up thing but it's mostly because I need help learning to stage photos. Thanks for the tips! I suggest always getting the white balance in check. I'm appalled at how many old photos I have that are soooo yellow. Ew.

      1. Yes! White balance makes a huge difference in the quality of a photo! Those indoor lights can make everything yellow...

        As for staging photos, I'd Google the dish you made and get inspiration from how others staged theirs. That's not cheating, right? :)

    2. Such great tips! Totally agree. I think your pictures are fabulous. You sure are photogenic :)

      1. Aww shucks. Thanks!

        (And thanks for stopping by!)


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