Tuesday, April 12

My Photography Journey (a post for Hollie)

Hollie, who is one my blog readers from the States, commented on a blog post of mine about a month ago asking if I had taken a photography course or if I'm self taught. (Hi Hollie... *waves* - thanks for asking the question!) I think at the time I was in Adelaide for Ty and Bao's wedding so I couldn't write a reply, but I've only just got around to writing something about it and thought I would write a blog post detailing my photography journey so far...

Just before Elizabeth was born at the end of 2006, Phan decided to buy our first DSLR... a Canon 400D... Before he bought it, I told him straight out that I would probably not use it because it was so big (oh how I laugh at that now!), and because I wouldn't have the time or energy to learn how to use it with a new baby in our lives... He bought the camera anyway, telling me he would learn to use it and take all the photos... Little did I know, that he never ever really had any intention of learning how to use it... he was just going to use it in auto... but he just knew there would come a day when I would want to learn how to use a DSLR and take better photographs... LOL... how well does he know me?! And as it turned out, I well and truly proved him right and I am ever thankful that he did decide to buy that first DSLR.

My desire to take better photographs stemmed from me getting into digital scrapbooking about 4 months after Elizabeth was born... I came across an Australian photographer/digital scrapbooker named Melinda Alexander... her photographs were amazing and her LOs which featured these amazing photographs were something I decided to aspire towards. (Funnily enough, I don't think she digital scrapbooks anymore and she has her own photography business.) And so my photography journey started some 9 months after Elizabeth was born in August 2007.

I am mostly self taught in photography... all the technical aspects of photography I learnt through the internet and from reading various photography forums... I also bought the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson which I think is an excellent book for those starting out in photography and trying to grasp an understanding of the triangle of exposure (ISO, aperture and shutter speed). During this time I also started to learn about post-processing my images... I started out using actions from Itty Bitty Actions and some Lily Blue presets when I was starting out... but my style has completely changed and I don't ever use them now.

And then at the end of 2009, Sheye Rosemeyer (someone who I have loved and admired both as a person and as a photographer) started to offer some online workshops. I figured this was as close as I was going to ever be able to get to doing some kind of a photography course. With Elizabeth being young (and clingy!) plus Phan working variable hours, it was going to be a long time if I was to wait and do a course that involved actual commited contact hours. So I signed up for Sheye's Evolve course... which was really more about taking the next step, taking those technical aspects and turning it into something more creative. I learnt so much in those 6 weeks about the thought process involved in photography and how to challenge myself... it was one of the best things I've ever done.

And that is it... the rest has just been lots and lots of practise... (I'm lucky I have cute subjects to practise on!) I use Photoshop CS5 for my processing and I'm a huge fan of Eye Candy Actions (I run at least something from this action set on most of my images) and recently I've discovered My Four Hens Actions. I'm also beginning to develop my own set for actions that I go to when I want something basic. I'm still quite torn about what my processing style is because I do love a natural pop of colour but at the same time I also am drawn towards the arty vintage tones too... I do a mix of both at the moment, but I'm hoping at some point I'll figure out "who i am" and I'll have a consistent style of processing.

It's now been almost 4 years since I decided to become a "photography enthusiast"... I've moved on from the 400D and now I shoot with a Canon 5D Mk II with a 24-70mm f2.8 L most of the time. Also in my toolkit I have a 100mm f2.8 IS L, 85mm f1.8, 580EX speedlite and reflector. On my wishlist... a 16-35mm 2.8 for if we ever go travelling overseas... and after our photoshoot with Sheye, I'm now lusting over a tilt-shift (although I need to see how I would cope with manual focusing first before I commit to any such decision!)...

Three tips I thought I might share that might help those of you who are starting out.

1. Light
Learn to read the light - you can't fix bad light. Look at where it's coming from, look at it's intensity, look at the shadows, check if it's even. Avoid taking photos in dappled light, nothing worse than uneven dappled light. If shooting with lots of light, try backlighting your subject.

2. Make it Sharp and Keep it in Focus
I love a good sharp, in focus photo image. If taking a portrait, you must have sharp eyes, as that is the first thing that draws your eye to the image. Small people are notoriously hard to take sharp images of because they move so fast, so I personally tend to up my shutter speed and change my ISO and Av to compensate to make sure I can get a sharp image. I'm willing to accept a slightly noisy image if it means I get a sharp shot. Like light, you can't fix an out of focus image.

3. Composition
Follow the rule of thirds when composing your photos. Look at different angles. Consider capturing the surrounding environment to give your photos context. Shoot at different f stops to capture different details.

And I thought I'd finish this post off with a couple of before and afters -



Notice how in the photo of Elizabeth, I also cloned out her foot... I didn't like the way it looked like it was growing out of her head! I'm normally pretty crap at cloning, but I was happy with how that turned out... :)

Okay, if you've read all that, I'm impressed! :) You either must (1) be family (2) be bored or (3) really like me. But thanks for reading the ramble... I plan on sharing a few more of my insights on what I've learnt even though really I just feel like I'm at the beginning of my photography journey...


Hollie said...

Yeah!!!!! A blog post all for me... Thanks so much! You could surely make money if you ever decided you wanted to shoot pro. I'm so jealous of people like you who just grasp how all this photography technicalities work. And it's definitely something I hope to improve on. I think I will have to purchase the Understanding Exposure book. I've tried to shoot manually, but I just don't quite get how to manage all the settings on my camera yet. So automatic it is.... Maybe when my own little bundle gets here, I will get plenty of practice.

I'm wondering if you use a PC or a Mac and if your computer is a desktop or a laptop. I'm hoping to purchase a new computer soon and everyone tells me to go for the Mac. Your thoughts?

PS. Thanks for the congratulations and I just adore your babies. They are so cute!!!!

Teflon said...

Hollie she uses a desktop PC. But we have been PC people our whole lives and like to tinker with them. Specs are an i7 processor and nvidia graphics card with 8gb of ram. These are ideal for photoshop which is probably the most intensive program Clara has to use.

How tech savvy are you? A desktop will almost always have more grunt than a laptop... but the i5 or i7 laptops nowadays are usually sufficient for most people. If you're not that tech savvy then go for a Mac (but you usually will have to pay a price premium for that)... if you plan to do a lot of photo processing with photoshop then aim for >4gb ram, at least an i5 processor and if possible an Nvidia video card.