Wednesday, 31 October 2012

My second journey into photography - what did I learn?

This time around I was ready to really understand the basics of photography: depth of field, shutter speed, aperture etc. The triangle, which I remember reading about in my photography books but not understanding very well in practice, came up as soon as the second lesson. I had to get to grips with it rather than choose the tactics of ignoring. What I needed was someone talking me through the different elements of photography. And this time it was digital photography, rather in keeping with my time, instead of film. Also my expectations were more realistic than those during my first journey into photography (see previous post). I wasn’t going to be the photographer I may have dreamt about in my younger years.

My main subject was going to be the little baby that has taken 
centre stage in my life. Because he is growing fast and time just flies I wanted to capture all the beautiful moments, his cheeky smile, his first claps (the first time he clapped he was really excited)

... his first time in the sea, etc. 

So we, his parents decided to invest in a Canon 450D. Instead of unearthing the old books I wanted us to go on a course to learn how to use and make the most of the camera. It coincided with a friend wanting something similar for her and her husband, a big push to actually sign up for the course.

So there we were, the four of us attending the first class. Impressive! The class was full and bustling. It had been R’s intention from the start, to test out the first course and see if he enjoyed it as much as to continue for the next nine others. Our friends had something similar in mind. One constraint we all shared was babies and babysitters. We initially thought of sharing one, thus sharing the cost too, but in practice we realised it wouldn't be that easy, with babies sleeps being disrupted from beds to cars. So the choice was between, both parents going for the course and paying the price of the course and the babysitter, or one parent doing the course and sharing the learning with the other parent.  

However we wanted to give it a try and make a judgement depending on the quality of the course. The course being pretty average at least at the start, made our decision easier. It did get better towards the end but R had by now dropped together with my friend's husband. My friend starting missing some of the classes later on, caught up between work, travels, family and blogging (Eva’s blog, but so did most of the initial intake. It made it better for the few of us still holding on, but I am not sure about what it says on the quality of the course.  

The start was quite frustrating as we were not progressing very fast, we came back to the same points (aperture and shutter speed) as they are a little bit counter-intuitive and for most people difficult to remember. But perhaps the repetitions were good for remembering!

As photography is quite technical and has a long history of adapting to different technologies the way things work doesn’t make much sense to the modern user. So it is important to structure the course so that the technicalities don’t become a barrier. The best way of learning was by practicing and sharing images. So assignments should have been more prominent in the course as well as shooting sessions.

After 'mastering' the basic elements of photography, the question for me was where to next and what do I do with my images? 

Practice seemed the next logical step. So practice I did, anywhere, where I live, on holiday, in the park, at home. Some of my pictures were overexposed, especially those taken during our holidays where it was really bright and we were on the beach, so inevitable. I should have started with underexposed settings, so here is a lesson. 

On a few occasions while I have been pondering about the settings, which value for shutter speed/focal length I have been too slow and have missed the moment. Two lessons so far, be careful about overexposure and use automatic mode when need to capture quickly. 

But what else did I learn from the course?

To use my camera in one of the priority modes as well as in manual. In manual mode before taking pictures start by checking the ISO values first. I then set my focal length and last shutter speed. 

The triangle

The famous triangle of exposure is key. Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are the three elements which can be used to control the amount of light coming in through the camera and the effects one wants to achieve.  

Aperture (or the f stop) - an easy way to remember  

The way I remember this, avoiding the technicalities is: when I want to take a picture that focuses on a subject and I want to throw everything else out of focus, I use a small value for the F stop (for my camera and my 18-55mm lens, something like F3.5 or F5.6; of course for other cameras and lenses it can be different and the lower the value the better the effect, the lowest being F1.4).

When I want to have everything in focus and not lose any details I use higher values (F16, F22). The values in the middle produce a bit less of each effect and a bit more of the other.

ISO values

The ISO sets the sensitivity of the sensor (the modern version of the film) to light, so on a dark day, indoors higher values of ISO (400-1600 and over 1600) will increase the brightness of the picture. On a sunny day, outdoors the lowest values will be enough (100-400).  

Shutter speed - an easy way to remember 

For low values of shutter speed (60, 125; this is my definition which means the value in the fraction 1/value but conventionally it would be high values as it is 1 over that value), a lot of light comes into the camera. For high values (1000 and more) less light goes through.

Depth of field 

One thing I remember well because I like using it, is depth of field and how you can make an image have different layers. This is like using various values of aperture but in addition you decide how close you want to be to the main object of your photo and make the rest looks unimportant, just as part of background. I like images with shallow depth of field, where an element is clear and the rest out of focus.

I also like taking landscapes and again with shallow depth of field, focusing on a flower or a leave. 

Also street reporting is interesting but difficult to do unless you have a really good long lens so that you don't have to be very close to peoples faces. 

The rule of thirds stuck with me as an aesthetics general rule to keep in mind. It seems that images are more pleasing to the eye when the subject is in one or two thirds of the image frame rather than dead in the centre. I really like using this as it gives me something to focus on when I take a picture and have to decide framing my image. Which bits matter most, what should I keep in, leave out?  

So here is my resume of a photography course and lessons from practice. I am hoping to keep practicing and perhaps will share more tips in the future! 

Your turn now!
Let me know what did you think, I'd love to hear from you. Don't be put off by the need to write your name, a web link (which can be any, your work, your blog, any other website you find interesting) and typing the characters that deny access to the 'badies' (the spams). I would love to know what you think.


  1. Three bits left out are...

    Pratice, practice, practice!

    There's a saying in photography that your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. In essence, we have to go through the process of taking one naff photo after another until it starts to gel.

    On the one hand it might seem a bit depressing, but actually it takes the pressure off. Otherwise we start thinking we should be getting superb photos by the time we've filled the memory card, and then get disheartened when we haven't.

    It's a bit like taking a look at a spectacular view from the top of a mountain. You will have had to take many, many steps to get to the top - and often one step feels very much like the last one and you can't feel much progression. But each one is building on the last and eventually you reach a point where you can see all those previous steps were really important to getting you there.

    I wish you every success on your journey, Laura :)

  2. Hi Kim,
    Thanks a lot for your comments, it is encouraging to read that taking good pictures is like anything else around, you get better at it the more you do it.

    This is an ongoing journey, so I'll continue my practice.

    Thanks again and all the best

  3. Tried to respond in LinkedIn but not working! Here's my comment to your issue posts three days ago: I had a baby and then bought an mpe 65mm macro lens and an mt 24ex flash unit. It got me though the first 6 months of my daughters life as with macro you can shoot in your back garden and the world is your oyster! Then when they start to grow up you can start taking more portraits of them and make them your new subject! It's very frustrating I know not being able to do photography. Read lots on the web, take lots of shots when you can and learn how to use photoshop to make incredible images from what you have. That way you are still taking part and practising your passion without having to leave the house much!

  4. Hi Murray, thanks for your suggestions, all very useful. You are right I need to make the most of want I have, even if it can translate into repetitive subjects or photos. The LinkedIn discussion has been very useful with practical ideas so I have a different outlook and am using every opportunity. Thanks and all the best laura