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Photography 101

I never thought I’d be doing a post on photography because I’m hardly what you call an expert. Even enthusiast would be pushing it because I’m admittedly no shutterbug.

Back in NTU, I did do an obligatory course on photography (it was 202 for all the CS folks) where we all had to present our pictures to the class at the end of the course. Everyone had these artistic shots with brilliant lighting and composition while mine was truly appalling. It was like rows of bananas (I know, like what??) and as if to prevent my awful shots from mauling their eyes, I had to distract them by going on about capturing the mundaneness of everyday life; seeing the beauty in the ordinary blah blah blah. After the presentation, I turned to the husband (back then, just the boyfriend) and said “that was terrible wasn’t it?” and he paused for a moment then replied, “um, yeah babe, but hey, you’re really good at other stuff!”

Right then, I decided that this thing called “the eye for photography”, I didn’t have it.

But it’s probably a mothering thing, this need to capture the moments of your kids’ lives. Which is the main reason I decided to pick up a camera again. Recently, I’ve had a few emails from readers asking for photography tips and while I can’t give you guys professional photography lessons, there are several things I’ve learnt from other photographers that may be helpful to you. Most of these I’ve learnt from observing others (which is the best way to learn really) and handy tips others have shared.

1. Get a DSLR camera.

I know it’s pricey and bulky and complicated and a pain to learn andall that, but all good photographers will tell you that getting a DSLR is the best investment they’ve made. I’m not saying that a point and shoot can’t take good shots but there’s a limit to the things it can do, especially when it comes to shutter speed and aperture. In that one-second lag using a p&s, the moment would have passed and you’d end up with a blurry photo. When I use a p&s, I’m always going “WAIT HANG ON DON’T MOVE… GAH DO THAT AGAIN!” and there’d be another mass of blur. A DSLR can perform spectacularly in low light settings and capture those wonderful moments even when the kids refuse to sit still for a shot. I’ve given up asking them not to move so I take 10 shots in succession and usually, one will be good.

On the topic of price, you can easily start out with a secondhand Canon 400D that costs $380 and a Canon 50mm f1.8 that costs an additional $90 from Clubsnap. That’s about the price of a point and shoot. Instead of spending $3000 to get a brand new top of the line DSLR set, go easy and only when your needs/abilities outgrow your body and lens, upgrade them along the way.

2. Practice, practice, practice.

Honestly, the best way to learn is to keep taking shots. Experiment with different camera angles, focal lengths, apertures and compositions to see what works best. Try standing up, squatting down or even lying on the floor. Shoot from the front, the back, the side, the top and bottom. There’s really no hard and fast rule, so try to capture the feeling rather than worry about a set of rules.

3. Learn from the experts.

The other best way to improve your photography is to observe and learn from the best. My personal favorites are Ree Drummond, Kelle Hampton and Mckmama. Sometimes, I even select their best pictures and print out tearsheets when I go out for my shoots so that I can try and replicate the compositions and style. And no, that’s not technically cheating, just learning.

4. Try not to shoot on automatic mode.

Ideally, manual mode is the way to go because the pictures tend to look a bit flat if you’re on auto all the time. Manual works great for landscape shots but I still find it too tricky when I’m shooting moving objects, which I typically set to aperture priority (Av). Also, try to manually adjust the focal point instead of leaving it on auto so you can select the spot you want to focus on. Most of the time, I set it on the kids’ eyes so that it’s tack sharp unless I’m trying to highlight what they’re doing or what’s in their hands, then I adjust accordingly.

5. Styling.

This, I learnt looking at Kelle Hampton’s pictures. Her girls are always dressed up so beautifully and decked out in all kinds of pretty accessories. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes effort to make the pictures really pop. Especially with girls, you can go all out with the hair clips, sunglasses, hats, pins and necklaces, remembering that it’s ok to be a little flamboyant because that makes a photo stand out a lot more than messy hair and boring old discolored rompers that have been worn by their previous 5 siblings.

After a while, you’ll be able to tell which angles work best for your kids. Unless both sides of their face are symmetrical (hellooo Jude Law), there’s usually a side that shows up better in pictures. Find that side and work it. After all, a good photo brings out the best qualities of a person.

Usually, baby girl hates having stuff jabbed into her hair but this one lasted a while before she yanked it off.

6. Lightroom.

Purists will say that editing a photo is cheating but until the day my skills are badass enough for me to look at a shot straight out of camera and go “man, that is one hell of a good shot!”, I’ll have to touch up the pictures. For me, Adobe Lightroom serves that purpose very well. A lot use Photoshop but I find that Lightroom is easy enough to learn and powerful enough to do a great job. Again, there’s a lot of trial and error here. I usually look at an example of a good photo and try to replicate it by adjusting the lighting, contrast, vibrance, cropping, etc. There are also tons of Lightroom presets you can use to make your job easier.

This is a before/after comparison of an earlier shoot. Out of camera, it was ok at best. It was underexposed, the shot composition was weirdish, and the colors were too dull but with a bit of Lightroom tweaking, it popped.

These are just some of the basics to get you started but the important thing is to practice and enjoy it. Give it a shot!

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  • Reply kam April 5, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Wonderful tips! Just what we mummies need :-)

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 8:41 am

      @kam, glad it’s helpful to you! photography can be very addictive once u get into it, and now I keep wanting to add new lenses all the time..

  • Reply San April 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Nice post! I always love looking at beautiful shots, and always try (t-r-y being the operative word) to replicate them! Haha! Thanks for the tips!
    San´s last post ..The very early arrival of Baby Xavier

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 8:43 am

      Haha now’s the best time to take pictures of Xavier!! He can’t run away or move around so you can just take a lot of great shots!

  • Reply Shiqin April 5, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Ahh thanks for sharing, these are just perfect! I always wish I can take better pictures… You’re a great photographer yourself! ^_^

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 8:44 am

      Shiqin, your pics are awesome!! I’m definitely a fan. =)

      • Reply Shiqin April 6, 2011 at 11:01 am

        I might just give a shot at Lightroom after reading this. You made it sound so easy! PS is a bit of a hassle.
        Shiqin´s last post ..Phuket In A Gift-Wrapped Box

        • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm

          ok it’s not exactly *easy*, still takes a while to get used to but i find it more user friendly than ps. give it a shot and let me know what u think!

  • Reply Gene from Corbitoness April 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Just what this momma need.

    I think I am the only one who downgraded from DSLR to a P&S. I find it too difficult to carry around a DSLR + one hyper toddler + her things, we decided to sell it. We bought an LX3 that we can bring anywhere we go though I really miss the fine quality of a dslr. Perhaps when daughter gets older (and a bit tamed) and we have enough budget to spare we’ll definitely buy a DSLR.
    Gene from Corbitoness´s last post ..28 on the 28th

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 8:48 am

      I know what you mean, carrying a DSLR around can be a real pain sometimes. And when I’ve got a baby bag, the camera bag, the camera and I have to chase after the kids, I always worry that I’ll knock the cam and destroy it. Usually I only bring the camera out when the husband is around so he can help with the carrying and even then it’s quite a juggling act.

      And I heard the LX3 is very good too, I might consider something like that eventually but then I also like instagram on the iphone for basic pns shots.

  • Reply sunflower April 5, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing. You have made me feel that taking picture using DSLR “is easy”.

    I am thinking to get the most basic Canon DSLR soon.
    sunflower´s last post ..Will a little EQ helps

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 8:51 am

      Um, ok it does take a bit of learning at the start. I’d recommend reading up on the basics like setting the aperture and shutter speed and focus but after you get the hang of it, it’s not too difficult.

  • Reply sengkangbabies April 5, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    u are the third blogger who is “sharing” camera tips this week?
    Still, nice tips :)
    sengkangbabies´s last post ..Gecko pet caught

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 8:52 am

      wow i guess great minds think alike!

  • Reply Jus April 6, 2011 at 12:39 am

    Hey, great tips! I’ve never used Lightroom before, been always doing only the basic stuff like cropping and tweaking exposure on iPhoto, and all the functions and buttons on Photoshop intimidated me! After reading this I might try it after all! :)
    Jus´s last post ..Thankful Tuesdays- Let love seep through the cracks

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 8:59 am

      serious? your pics are great, I thought u used lightroom or photoshop at least..

      I used to go with iphoto as well but the lighting effects not as textured and realistic. then I found out about lightroom from kelle hampton and mckmama so I tried it out. Personally I find it less intimidating than photoshop and the effects are very nice. U shd definitely try it

  • Reply olimomok April 6, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Agree! DSLRs are absolutely necessary with wriggly toddlers/kids! I’m a newbie photographer like you. My fave lens to use for kid portraits is the 50mm 1.4mm. Really enjoying the learning process!

    I only use the video function with my P&S (a rather new Canon G12) – it has proven to be quite useless as a camera though I still bring it out sometimes when I cannot possibly handle the DSLR and the kid on my own ;)

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm

      hows the shutter speed for the G12? I thought it was quite close to a dslr.. haven’t tried it myself.

      • Reply olimomok April 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm

        I had to google this: G12 shutter speed is 1 – 1/4000 sec (Auto mode), whatever that means. Generally, I just find it very slow when trying to photograph Sean! He always comes out as a blur and I end up missing a lot of moments. But I did do my research before buying it and it is about one of the better P&S in the market already.

        • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 2:52 pm

          hahahah i have no idea what 1-1/4000 means either. so not the speed of a dslr? yeah i heard it was already one of the fastest in the market, like the panasonic lx5. i was considering one of these as a back up to carry around but probably not then.. i’ve still got my trusty instagram

        • Reply andy April 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm

          sorry to blurt in, G12 is a decent cam, try this :
          – use Aperture mode
          – set iso to 1600 (if still blur, go up to 3200)
          – do not zoom-in (to get F2.8 “fastest” )
          – AF Area modes – choose Continuous

          Above setting are decent to capture inhouse kids (maybe 1 out of 3 shots will be good). To improve further, u need to play with “external-flash”.
          andy´s last post ..Gecko pet caught

          • Daphne April 6, 2011 at 3:22 pm

            @andy how’s the picture quality at 3200? usually the pics turn out very grainy if you boost the iso that high

          • andy April 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

            Grainy better than blur :)

            I use iso 1600 or 2000 constantly for inhouse shots (kids too restless). (1) Dslr should have inbuilt function to “reduce” noise at high iso. (2) Lightroom can help reduce too –>

  • Reply Ing April 6, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Like you, I got interested in photography after becoming a mum. Well, but all those aperture, shutter speed stuff still gets me confused! Ha. Lots for me to learn. Great tips here, thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Daphne April 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      i might do a post on the technical bits, just the basics that i’ve picked up from my photographer friends. stay tuned!

  • Reply Hendra April 7, 2011 at 3:52 am

    Hey Daphne, good job with the 101. :)
    Don’t worry on post-processing. Just do as little as possible, as much as needed.
    Hendra´s last post ..A Setting Sun and Haiku

    • Reply Daphne April 8, 2011 at 11:35 pm

      I will listen to the shifu (master)! hahah. Thanks Hendra!

      • Reply Hendra April 10, 2011 at 6:47 am

        haha … no lah. Not shifu. Still learning. :)

  • Reply Corsage @ A Dollop Of Me April 7, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    I’ve been toying with the idea of getting Photoshop for the longest time, and more recently Lightroom instead after hearing about it. Is Lightroom easier to use? Either one could be a birthday pressie for meself! :) I tried checking out GIMP once as it is free but it was way too complicated for me!
    Corsage @ A Dollop Of Me´s last post ..Busy Stove

    • Reply Daphne April 8, 2011 at 11:37 pm

      I haven’t actually REALLY attempted Photoshop but the Lightroom interace is pretty intuitive, there’re sliders and presets which you can just tamper with. When I opened up the picture in Photoshop I simply didn’t know where to start! And there’s that whole layer thing which is just mindboggling..

      The short answer is therefore – Yes, i do think Lightroom is easier.

  • Reply Ruth April 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing the tips! I’ve always love the pics you put up on your blog, they are so nice! I’m so tempted to get out there and buy a DSLR cam now. Good idea to get a secondhand one first, thanks!

    • Reply Daphne April 8, 2011 at 11:38 pm

      Yes, you can try Clubsnap or Hardwarezone to pick up good deals. You’ll have to act fast though, some of the really cheap ones move in a matter of minutes..

  • Reply Vivi April 10, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks for the tips Daphne u take awesome pics. Unfortunately I’m a really crappy photographer even after 3 years of fiddling with a DSLR! I finally signed up for some private lessons next week, fingers crossed they’ll help me achieve some halfway decent shots :)

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