How I Upped My Photography Skills

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Having children has been the one single thing that has ignited my love of photography. The moments we have watching our children grow up are so fleeting that it’s made me want to capture everything I possibly can, to document our family life as our children grow up. Up until a few years ago, I enjoyed taking photos, but felt that I could never be technical enough to properly master using a proper camera, but slowly I’ve been making steps towards using a DSLR, mastering manual exposure and upping my photography game.

I’ve had quite a few comments recently from people who’ve noticed the improvement in my photos, which is always absolutely lovely to hear, so I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the things I’ve been doing which have helped me to get a better understanding of photography. And it’s not a better camera or lens, as I’ve been using the same ones I’ve been using all along – it’s all about the person behind the camera!

 

Little boy dressed in yellow rain mac, stood in huge puddle, throwing yellow rubber ducks in the air

 

In Person Workshops

It was attending a half day workshop that initially gave me the push to move off of auto, and gave me a wealth of photography tips for photographing children, as well as more general tips about how to use the light. I attended the ‘Photography for Busy Parents’ course by Vicki Knights 2 year ago now, and it allowed me to move off of auto and start using Aperture Priority mode, which allowed me to create that lovely blurry background if that was the effect I wanted to go for. I also attended Vicki’s Next Stage workshop a few months ago, which was great to refresh all those skills I’d learned and pick up some new ones too. I’m very much someone who likes to learn by being shown something rather than reading it, and this really helped me to understand the technical basics.

 

Baby lying on wooden floor, wrapped in blue towel. The towel is covering his face, and he's peeking through with just one eye visible but he's clearly laughing

 

Clickin Moms

I bought my first breakout from Clickin Moms last November and it was a real eye opener. Clickin Moms is an online community of family photographers (not all mums!), and there are so many truly remarkable women there who take the time to share their skills with others. I’d hesitated to sign up to anything from Clickin Moms before, as there are so many fantastic photographers in that community and I’d felt it might be pitched beyond the level I was at. And if I’m honest, there was a lot in that first breakout that went over my head. The breakouts and workshops all tend to consist of a workbook that talks through a subject, and then a number of videos that show the photographer shooting and then editing their photos. It really was an eye opener for me in terms of what was possible, and I absolutely drank up the information in it, rewatching and rewatching until I felt more comfortable with it all.

As I’ve bought a few more breakouts, it’s been fascinating to see just how differently people edit, and how it’s possible to make different choices in your settings when shooting to more accurately control your artistic vision. I’ve now bought an annual membership, which has given me access to the forum, where I can post questions and chat with people, and when I can be brave enough to do that, I find it’s a really encouraging place. Although there are a lot of really talented photographers there, a lot of them only started out a few years ago and from a similar place of wanting to capture their children as they grow up, so I find that people are really keen to help.

 

Little boy, aged about 4, walking out from underneath a big tree, holding a stick, with an expression of excitement on his face. He has just stepped into the light and the tree is casting darkness behind him

 

Moving To Manual

It’s taken me a long time to make the move to Manual. I’d become very comfortable shooting on Aperture Priority, so it seemed like a risk to accept that I would miss shots as I was learning how to use it. But I was finding that, more and more often, the camera was selecting a shutter speed that was just too slow to capture my fast moving children, and I was missing too many shots because of that.

But for some reason, this time, it just clicked. The turning point was when I realised that instead of the aperture and ISO being my driver, my starting point should be the shutter speed, and then the aperture, and then select the ISO as required, or make smaller adjustments with shutter speed or aperture to accommodate.

 

Little boy in the woods, looking up at tall pine trees with sun streaming through. He is dressed in a yellow raincoat and red wellies

 

Lightroom and Photoshop

I honestly hadn’t realised the huge difference that editing can make to a photo. I often used to look at photos on Instagram and marvel at how the photographer had managed to get their child to step into that perfect spot of light, or how they’d captured that perfect golden backlight, or those dramatic coloured skies. I now realise what an impact even a small amount of editing can have.

I bought a subscription to Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop back in November and it’s been a really steep learning curve in working out how they work. I’ve pretty much taught myself from watching the Clickin Moms videos and seeing how other photographers edit, as well as occasionally reaching out to my husband, who understands photoshop basics far better than me.

 

Location scouting

I’m always on the hunt for beautiful photo spots! I have certain spots that I love that I’ll return to again and again, but I love discovering somewhere new. I follow the seasons closely, particularly in terms of what flowers will be blooming when and which locations will be looking lovely at that time of year (i.e. lavender fields in June / July, daffodils in March, bluebells in April). Instagram is a great tool for this – if you search by location tag, you can browse the top photos and the most recent photos to give you an idea of what the location looks like and what photo potential it has, as well as what the light might be like a different times of day. It doesn’t even have to be the most beautiful location – just a patch of grass somewhere that has pretty buttercups growing can catch my eye, or seeing the sun come streaming through the trees at the park.

If it’s a spot that I know I want to head to with Max, my 4 year old, I’ll often try to scope the place out on a day when he’s at nursery, so that I know what to expect – how much walking will be involved (i.e. will I need bribes!), where the light comes in, where the prettiest spots are.

 

Ben sat amongst the purple crocuses, wearing a grey bunny bonnet

 

Being Braver

I’ve started being braver about where and when I shoot. I used to avoid shooting indoors, or in full sun, and I found I was missing capturing so much of our family life. Daily life with children happens outdoors on a sunny day, not at golden hour when the lighting is perfect. I’ve started embracing shooting all of the time and I’m really enjoying how it’s pushing me to think more carefully about my shots. If we’re indoors, I’m thinking about how I can create light and shadow and use it in the best way possible. If we’re outside in full sun, I’m not going to be taking portrait shots, so I’m looking for other elements of interest for the photo – interesting composition, eye catching colours, telling a story. And I’m finding this both exciting and liberating – no, it’s not going to be a technically ‘perfect’ photo (if such a thing exists), but it can still be a photo worth taking.

 

I think one of the things I love most about photography is that there is always scope to improve, no matter how good you are. It can be an endless pursuit of perfection if you want it to be. There is always something new to learn, or a different way to look at something.

How to improve your photography skills

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