Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Craft Corner : Photography Tips

When Em issued me with this Craft Corner challenge, her instructions went something along the lines of ' about craft, cooking, photography.. totally want a good mix of projects. Absolutely WHATEVER you'd like.' I love the faith she has in me to pull something out of the hat each month, usually at the eleventh hour.

So today we're ditching the paint brushes and sander and we're talking about one of my most favourite things on this big, beautiful planet - PHOTOGRAPHY. Rah!

Little more than two years ago I was taking photos like this. It kinda hurts my eyes looking at that. But I also feel pride in having come so far in such a short space of time. I have always loved taking photos, a gift passed to me from my mother, who always had a camera in our faces growing up. At family gatherings, the whinging relatives always chimed in about how painful it was having their photo taken. Of course, they were the first to line up asking for a copy (yes, back when the only way to see your photos was to PRINT them!). Go figure.

Having children definitely makes us take more photos. We don't want to miss anything. All those firsts, just waiting to be captured. With each little bundle that arrived in our family, I began to take more and more photos. I loved preserving all those memories for years to come, by which time they would have grown into feisty, stubborn teenagers and I would need reminding of their golden innocence, once upon a time.

For me, photography is many things, but in a nutshell? It's honest. The camera doesn't lie. Photoshop may, but the camera doesn't. Everyday, honest, REAL photography is loud and colourful and imperfect and BEAUTIFUL.

A week before our youngest turned one we had Tim Coulson come and take photos of our family. It was a first for us, and there was much persuasion on my behalf to get the husband on board. We saved our pennies and Tim came, and it was all worth it to see photos with all five of us in the same frame. That day, Tim shared some advice with me that changed the way I took photos. Buy yourself a 50mm lens and don't take it off. So I did.

That one little sentence changed everything. Once I felt comfortable no longer having a zoom and learnt to move my feet to get a better shot, I taught myself to shoot manually. Making a plethora of errors along the way. Because that's how we learn. Somewhere along the way - during our school years I think - we are taught that mistakes are a bad thing. But that's not true at all.

I'm not going to talk exposure or f stops or ISO or settings. Of course, these things matter greatly. If you want to take really beautiful photos, you're not going to get them with your camera set on auto. But learning to shoot manually takes time and it can be daunting. I tried several times (becoming more and more frustrated with all my blue photos) before I gave myself the time I needed, to make the mistakes I needed, to understand it all. If you love taking photos - of your kids, your cat, your neighbourhood, your lunch? - and want to improve, it's the only way.

The technical part of photography is the same for everyone. It's a science. But the emotional part of photography is personal. Emotion is what sets us apart from one another. Emotion cannot be taught; it must be felt. But there are a few things you can try, to encourage a better connection with your camera, to break down your guard, and in turn, build a better connection with what is standing on the other side of it.

Don't pack it away // Give your camera a new home. On the kitchen bench. Or wherever you're going to see it everyday and it's going to be easy for you to grab when the moment arises that makes you want to reach for it. Having it out to see everyday will make you pick it up more. Picking it up more means more practice. More practice means more confidence. More confidence means average photos become good photos. And good photos become great photos. And great photos become.. and so on.

Don't say CHEEEEEESE // Some people adore the camera. Many don't. Sometimes we want our subjects to look at the camera. Sometimes we don't. A beautiful photo does not have to have everyone smiling from ear to ear, whether it's natural, scarily fake or kid-with-imaginary-vaseline-on-their-teeth. Let things unfold in front of you and hit the shutter. Remember a great photo is an honest one.

Forget perfection // Unless you're submitting images for the cover of a glossy, airbrushed magazine, imperfection is okay. Imperfection is GOOD. Imperfection is real. Again, we come back to the honesty of our photos. Our photos that tell a story of our lives; little moments threaded together. Nobody has a perfect life. Our photos don't need to pretend that we do.

Everything doesn't have to be sunshine and roses // Beautifully light and airy photos are lovely to look at. They just are. But those kinds of photos aren't always possible. And, they are most certainly not a one size fits all for a beautiful photo. Dark photos can be spectacular too. While I always edit my photos, I do as little as possible to try and keep them as honest as possible. I want the photo to look the way it did when I took it, just with a little enhancement to make it shine. If you're taking photos with shadows and depth, embrace the darkness in your shots, don't immediately try and get rid of them - whether they were intentional or accidental. Sometimes having the wrong settings on your camera will deliver a beautiful surprise.

It's okay to take shit photos // I take photos everyday. For myself, for my kids, for the love of it, and for practice. PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. Some days are off, when everything I take is rubbish. We all have good days and bad days and some days, we're just going to take shit photos. Even the best of the best. So what? Delete them. And pick up your camera again tomorrow.

Composition isn't everything // Composition can make or break a great photo, but sometimes it's completely irrelevant. Sometimes there isn't time to set up the shot the way you really want to. In those instances, I am happy with a good shot, still capturing the moment, rather than missing it altogether simply because the lighting or timing wasn't right. That's just foolish. Here, our kids were playing air guitar with the husband.. Technically, it's a terrible photo. But I love it because it shows how invested the kids were in that moment, rockin out to some hideous kind of head banging noise with dad.

Bend your knees // Or get on the floor. Especially if you're photographing children or pets. Part of telling a great story is diversity. Taking photos the same way all the time is not going to encourage improvement. Not the slightest bit. Try something new. New angles, new heights, new directions. Train your eye to see more.

It's okay to chop people's heads off // Or arms, legs, whatever. Really. It is. The Portrait Police are not going to come knocking on your door. They haven't turned up at mine yet. The unportrait can be more powerful than the portrait. Removing body parts in exchange for important pieces of the story can be better than if we took the same photo with whole bodies in frame.

Challenge yourself // If you're teaching yourself to shoot manually or still feel uncomfortable having recently switched over from auto, set yourself some small challenges to encourage growth. Joining a photography group like Ten on Ten will give you a purpose for your photos. Even if you may not have a blog to share them on, you can still keep your collections filed in your own library and then create a photo book at the end of the year. Another good one is to set yourself a certain number of images - say a dozen - and only allow yourself to take that amount of photos, whether it's in ten minutes, half an hour or longer. This will slow you down and make you think more about what you're shooting, your composition, your light, your surroundings.

Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle // I do love this quote and it's one I remember quite regularly. I am such a tiny, young, itty bitty fish, swimming in this huge ocean filled with big, old, wise fish. I know so little in the scheme of photographic things. I'm only at the beginning of my journey. Whilst I can appreciate and marvel at other photographers' work, I can never compare myself to them because they've been doing it so much longer than I have. We are all running our own individual race. Everyone's race is run at a different pace. It's okay to look for inspiration and strive to be better, but it's not okay to put yourself down in the process.

Relax // The more time you spend with your camera pressed up to your eye, the more comfortable you will feel, and the better you will become. So get that camera out and start snapping!

Oh mercy Tahnee. What a spectacular post. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, passion and experience with us- you're a generous legend.

Please do go and take a look at Tahnee's professional photography page, it really is a sight to behold.


  1. Stunning images, Tahnee!!!
    Ronnie xo

  2. A beautiful post. Well done Em and Tahnee.
    I must admit my camera has remained on Auto since I bought it. I really must try that manual setting.

  3. What a BRILLIANT post. I've been taking photos since I was 18 and my first job was in a photo developing store. Yet, until last year, I STILL didn't have the confidence to write an article like this, because who am I? I'm just a person taking photos. But just recently, I'm calling it. And thanks to Tahnee and so many others who are on this journey, nobody is an expert. We're all learning as we go. Thanks Em, and Tahnee! Bloody brilliant. x

  4. LOVE these images. They are all perfect.

  5. I was hanging off every single word. This is just what I needed. I love photography and have been using manual mode for a few months now, but sometimess I feel so deflated about my lack of knowledge and progress. Thanks for the inspiration Em and Tahnee. This post has lifted me in more ways than you can ever imagine! xx

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Tim Coulson's advice especially is my takeaway. I have a 50mm but rarely use it, and I am terrified of manual, even though I've made a few faltering attempts to understand/use it MANY times. But I dream of taking beautiful photos. (And my husband won't buy me a new camera until I use/know manual!) So there is a good goal here... let's make it happen!

  7. Amazing! This is exactly the kind of photography I love the most! Now it's put in words. Thanks so much! I'm going to practice on my brothers and sisters I think.


  8. i'm a big fan of Tahnee's photography! one gorgeous photographer that lass xx

  9. Fantastic post Tahnee and Em. Love the insight into your talent T

  10. Beautiful pictures and post by a lovely photographer! Love the insight and tips!

  11. fab post thoroughly enjoyed that..need me a 50mm x

  12. Tahnee you're awesome. Kellie xx

  13. Great post. I take all of my photos on my iPhone…I am dying to get a real camera so I can experiment!
    If Tahnee is interested in a follow up post, I would love one about how to choose which photos to keep and how to store them…I find that since it is so easy to store digital photos I end up keeping all of them! Not really a craft post but I would still be so interested to hear how other people manage!

  14. Wow this is such a great post - you are one talented lady Tahnee! I got my camera out as soon as I finished reading it. xoxoxo

  15. I love my 50mm!!!!
    And maybe the best thing about it is that you need to move around to get that shot, not just point and shoot!!

    Great post Tahnee!

  16. Fantastic post Em and Tahnee, it has given me the push I need to take my camera off auto and start playing round with things a bit more. Thank you soooo much! Julie xx

  17. Brilliant post!! thank you xxxx

  18. Gorgeous photos, and great, useful advice. Thank you!

  19. Brilliant brilliant post and something that is constantly on my mind. My camera lives on the bench and I snap away at the kids and well, anything all day, but I feel I have SO much to learn. Love the advice and am now off to research 50mm lens and force myself to ditch auto (which Ive tried a few times but photos look awful so go back to my comfort zone)….Thanks again…xxx

  20. That was an incredible post. My fave in this series so far! I loved hearing that Tahnee only started focusing (pardon the pun!!) on her photography in a serious way for past 2 years. I'm a bit the same, but only since January. Totally inspiring! Thanks. xx

  21. I loved this post. Full of so many great tips. I'm inspired! Rachel x

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Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, advice and solidarity.

xo em