Sunday, June 17, 2012

Picture Taking, my new hobby

God has this way of helping me understand things about other people sometimes that I don't.  Often I find that the lessons come very unexpectedly.  My husband has a very expensive hobby.  Motorcycling.  He has been riding for 5 years.  I have many thoughts about this subject, but I think those are best saved for another post.  My mention of it here is for a specific reason.  One of the issues, I'm sure you can imagine, has been how much it costs and all of the gear/equipment he has both wanted and needed to be a safe rider.  Thankfully, God has provided and my husband has the gear he needs/wants for the most part.  But, all along the way, I haven't always understood why it was hard for my husband to wait for these needs and wants.  But, this week I got a glimpse of that.

Last year, when I sold my little Honda Rebel 250 motorcycle, my husband encouraged me to get a DSLR camera.  I had an SLR that I'd been given when I graduated high school from my dad.  I just hadn't used it a lot because film is expensive and processing adds up.  I'd only taken it out on special occasions.  When I got my DSLR, I used it a lot at first, but I was limited with my 18-55mm lens that the camera comes with.  Then, in June, some friends came to visit and they told me my old telephoto probably worked on my new camera.  It did!  Yippee!  So, now I could use my 100-300 lens on my DSLR.  It was heavier, but I didn't mind at all.  My picture taking increased.  I primarily used the scene modes and didn't even realize that there was an auto or flash choice on my dial.  There is this funny thing about me that I just don't read manuals.  I wish I did.  

My husband showed me how to use Google's Picasa, a basic photo editing program that's free and I played with it.  I took pictures like this one of the inside of a hot air balloon.  It was easy to make it black and white in Picasa.

I began to take lot of fun pictures of my kids like this one.  I had a sense of composition, but had no idea what I was doing or why.  I was just going on my intuition.

I took pictures through the winter in these scene modes and then just this spring took pictures of my friend's daughter one afternoon.  In 15 minutes, I shot about 50 pictures.  It was fun and they gave me great joy.  The pictures turned out well and I realized that this was something I could give to my friends.  Having a professional photographer take pictures of your family can be quite an expensive proposition!  On one photographer's website, I found a good explanation of all of the costs which gave me a good idea of what I wanted to do and what I didn't, specifically where I wanted to invest my time.

Taking pictures is quick and easy.  Even uploading takes little time.  It is the photo editing that can be extremely time consuming, depending on how much you edit the pictures.  With my telephoto lens, I needed to edit a lot.  But, yesterday, my editing time was thankfully cut down.  To give you an idea of how long it took me with picasa, this is how much time it took me yesterday:
Engagement Photos:  2 1/2 hours picture taking, probably 2 1/2 hours editing
Father/Daughter Photos:  2 hours picture taking, probably 1 1/2-2 hours editing
If I'd taken these pictures before I got my new macro lens on Friday, the editing time would have been doubled.  I often have to play a lot more with the photos from my telephoto than I seemed to with the pictures from my new lens.  I am really glad I was able to do this.  I prayed beforehand and asked the Lord to help me capture some good pictures.

After I took the pictures of my friend's daughter, I realized the I really have so much to learn in order to take better pictures.  So, I ordered a book (of course) that was less expensive than other ones out there.  I even ordered the older edition.  It was extremely helpful and gave me lots of ideas about where I could start.  The book was Photographing Children Photo Workshop: Develop Your Digital Photography Talent by Ginny Felch.  I found it on a list of good photography books about taking pictures of children. I would highly recommend this book if you're looking for something like it.  It would also be a great one just to check out of the library.  

Then, I was talking to a gal at church who also has a Canon DSLR.  She asked me what I was working on with my picture taking.  I mentioned the book.  She said she'd been reading her manual and working with her aperture settings.  Whoa!  I realized at that moment a few things:
1) I'd never even looked at my manual!  That would be a good thing to do.
2) I was content using the auto settings.  To get better, I needed to relearn all the stuff I'd learned in high school about photography.

At the same time that I was looking at photography through the lens of an adult, I decided that I would put together a photography unit for my children for next year.  We are going to do sketching for the fall using the ART CLASS DVD series and then in the spring, I'm going to teach them a quarter of photography.  So, what should I teach them?  I formed a collection of resources and began learning through the eyes of a student.  Later this summer, I'm going to post the curriculum that I come up with.  I've mentioned to several friends that I plan on doing this and they've said that their children are really interested in photography.  My hope is to share what I'm learning on this journey.

As for me, I thought I'd share here a few lessons and tips I'm finding are really helping me.

1)  Photography is very subjective.  What's most important is that you like your pictures.  I stopped taking pictures for several years partly because I was the only one that liked them.  I went to a garage sale recently and the woman (who teaches photography) brought out a picture to show me.  She had photoshopped it so much that I didn't like it at all.  The picture composition also didn't appeal to me.  I shared these thoughts with a friend who I think takes great pictures and she said she felt the same way about the pictures one of her friends takes and she was relieved to hear me say this!  There are some photos that have an almost universal appeal, but others that don't.  Don't worry if your pictures don't have universal appeal.

2)  The eyes have it.  The first thing you see in a picture are the eyes.  I read one photography book for reviewing and this was the one lesson I took from the book.  Your eyes are first drawn to the eyes when you look at a picture.  They make the picture interesting.  They can be looking at you, looking above you, looking to the side of you...  

3)  Your background is important.  

Lines.  If there are lines in building or trees, take this into consideration.  For me, I find that I need things to be parallel not intersecting.  The lines of a building or trees behind a person frame the person you're taking the picture of.  One young girl I was taking a picture of last night slanted her body.  I asked her to stand up straight.  The picture flowed better and I liked the picture I took much better.

Distractions.  You don't want your background to be distracting.  Texture is wonderful, but be careful of patterns!  Distractions are easy to edit out by cropping.

4)  Light is very important.  I love shady days and overcast times of days.  It's easy to bring up the light in editing, but it's very hard to edit out shadows (photoshop...)  I read one tip that you can squint to see where the light is brightest in your subject.

5)  Composition is personal and creative, but there's a lot that you can learn about it.  #2, #3, and #4 all have to do with composition, but the 5th point I learned is a basic one called the Rule of thirds.  Divide a picture frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically by drawing two lines across and two lines down.  If you place the point of interest at the intersection of these lines, then the picture will be more interesting.  Placing a subject dead in the center is not usually the most interesting.  Even a little off center can create a much more interesting picture.

6) More composition...  I read somewhere that your subject should either take up 1/3 of your picture or 2/3.  This proportion seems to do well for me.

7) The goal is to get good at photography so that you don't have to edit and fix what's wrong with the picture.  But, I think this takes a lot of effort and a long time to learn.  So, in the meantime, if you have a camera with a lot of MP (over 12mp) leave a little extra room around your subject.  Then, you can crop later to get the exact picture you want.

8) Finding a great locally owned photography shop is the best place to buy lenses and other equipment (not Best Buy or Ritz Camera).  I found that the prices were better or about the same as what I found online (sometimes just a little more), but the help I got was worth it!  The lens I bought on Friday wasn't even listed on Amazon.  In the Baltimore area, there's a great shop on Falls Road called Service Photo.  They also often have used equipment which is helpful for odd lenses that you might want.

9)  Lenses.  Most folks start with the basic lens, an 18-55 that the camera comes with.  The next lens people often get is a telephoto.  I think the standard is a 70-200mm now.  Then, people get what's called a "nifty" fifty.  It has a lower aperture (f/1.8 vs the f/5.6 that's on my telephoto) and allows you to play with blurring backgrounds a lot more.  It's also a very inexpensive lens at about $125.  On Friday, the shop didn't have a nifty fifty and the helpful gal at the shop recommended a f/2.8 60mm Macro lens.  It is usually priced between $400-$500.  I'm sharing this because lenses are expensive.  Good lenses are the biggest purchase in photography.  They are also helping me gain a better understanding of my husband's hobby.  

10)  Photo printing and finishing off.  Mats make a huge difference to pictures and so does photo processing.  I've started to use for photo processing.  They don't claim rights to my photos (like Ritz camera, York Photo, Shutterfly, and others do).  Mpix is also much more reasonable for larger pictures--$2 for an 8x10!  Kodak's 8 x 10s ran about $5.  

So, I think that's about it so far.  I realized that last year I wrote a lot about gardening as I was learning about composting and planting.  It made me chuckle when I realized that I think photography will be the same way for me this summer!  I have a lot to learn.  What I'm now playing with is my composition (hence all my notes above) and angles.  I'm getting down to children's levels and crouching to take pictures at different angles.  I used to always just take pictures straight on.  My pictures seem to be turning out better now.  There's a lot more explanation as to why this makes a difference and I'll try and post about it soon!

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