Photography Crash Course: 10 Quick Tips

Photography Crash Course Series
photo copyright {Serenity Bolt Photography}
It’s time to turn that dial! You know what I’m talking about….that safe little “A” on your camera where you’ve been hiding out, or perhaps you’re more of the adventurous type and have scooted it over to “P” a few times? Well, it’s time to step it up. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to start experimenting with your camera. It’s not like there’s any risk involved- no one has to know how many crappy photos you deleted before you got that one amazing shot!

Here are just a few quick tips to get you started:

1. Shoot, shoot, shoot. I remember watching an interview with Jay Maisel, a world-renowned street photographer, and that was the one thing that he stressed the most. You have to get out there, every day if possible, and just take a lot of pictures. It increases the chance that you’ll photograph something spectacular. There has never been a day that I’ve taken my camera out with me for the day and regretted it. You’ll see the world differently, I promise.

2. Count to 10. Take the time to frame your shots. Don’t shoot with the intention of cropping later. You’ll save time, and you won’t lose any image quality by zooming and cropping away at it in post-processing. As war photographer Robert Capa said, “zoom with your feet.”

3. Pay attention to lighting. Don’t shoot in direct sunlight, especially if you’re photographing people. It’s really unflattering! Try to pay attention to the quality and direction of the light around you. Late afternoon and early morning are great times to shoot. Mid-day (when the sun is harshest) is not so great.

4. Learn the basics of exposure. ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. You can print and laminate these cheat-sheet cards to keep in your camera bag. Once you get these down, that “M” button will be your friend because it means you have total control over your photographs. After all….you’re smarter than your camera, right?!

Example of a slow shutter speed:

Example of a high shutter speed:

Now about aperture…

Things you should know about your aperture:

  • The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.When you hit a button to take a picture, a hole opens to allow the camera to  capture the scene — the aperture you set effects the size of that hole. The larger the hold, the more light goes in, the smaller the hole, the less light.
  •   Aperture is measured in f-stops (you will see it referred to as f/number, like f/2.8, f/4, f/22, etc.).
  • Moving from one f-stop to the next doubles or halves the size of the amount of opening in your lens. Simply put, it doubles or halves the amount of light coming into your camera.
  • The one tricky thing you MUST remember — large apertures (where more light is let in) have SMALLER f-stops, and small apertures (less light) have LARGER f-stops. In context: f/2.8 lets in much more light than f/22.
  • The depth of field (DOF) is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.
  • Large depth of field means that most or all of your image (meaning both foreground and the background) is in focus, or sharp. For this effect, you want a larger f-stop, meaning a smaller aperture or less light getting in.

Most of the background here is in focus, giving it a large depth of field and a small aperture:

Shallow depth of field means that only a part of the image is in focus, and the rest will be blurry or fuzzy. For this effect, you want a smaller f-stop, meaning a larger aperture or more light.

Example, the background is blurry, leaving only the subject in focus, which is a shallow DOF and a larger aperture:

One way to keep all this straight in your head: small f-stop numbers mean small DOF, and large f-stop numbers mean large DOF (depth of field).

…and now moving on, a few more things to consider:

 4.  Check the background. Make sure there’s nothing “growing” out of your subject’s head….like a tree or a telephone pole.

5. Hold steady! This one might seem obvious, but it’s a good idea to get in the habit of holding your camera with one hand supporting it from underneath. This helps to keep it nice and level, as well as reduce camera shake.

6. Pay attention to composition. Start with a few articles on composition. Learn the rules from more experienced photographers. There is a wealth of information out there- use it!

7. Forget the flash! Learn to take pictures in low light by using the right combination of high ISO (this is not complicated, higher numbers mean a brighter picture) shutter speed, and aperture (lower is better for low-light situations because it lets in more light). If you must use a flash, use a diffuser (this can be as simple as holding a napkin above the flash). Your subjects will thank you for it, I promise.

8. Study the greats. Identify what is is about their work that draws you to it. It’s not a bad idea to try and copy the style of photographers that you admire. You can learn a lot by trying to figure out what motivated them to get the shots you love. You’ll find that your own style emerges on its own after a while.

9. Move around. Do you want every photo to look like it was taken from the same point of view (about yay high…er…exactly the height of your face!) Crouch down, lean over, experiment with angles…it’s waaay more fun!

10. Experiment away! Remember, it doesn’t cost anything to go crazy with your camera. Take a hundred pictures of the same bathtub with different exposures (just don’t show them to anybody). It’s the best way to learn your camera inside and out.

11. Bonus tip: Focus on the details. Don’t just look at the big picture. Sometimes it’s the little things that capture the feeling of a place or situation. This is also a good way to make color stand out in your photos. I love to take vivid close-ups- it never fails to turn the everyday into something extraordinary.

Already got a few awesome shots you’d like to make prints of? Learn how to make unique canvas prints at home with my easy How-To Guide: Canvas Photo Transfer.

A few resources:

Digital Photography School is a great website with a huge stockpile of articles on every subject imaginable.

Also, check out this helpful (and hilarious) video 50 PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES

Kelby Training is a subscription-only site by photoshop guru Scott Kelby. For 25 bucks a month, you can watch as many videos as you want. I subscribed for a month, watched a ton of videos, and unsubscribed! This is entirely acceptable.

Happy Shooting!

xo Serenity

[Image credit: Shutterstock]

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How-To Guide: Canvas Photo Transfer

If you’re anything like me, you have a hard drive (or three) of photos waiting to be printed. Take matters into your own hands and do it right at home! Printing onto canvas turns your photos into unique pieces that you can’t get from a print shop. Each transfer is wonderfully and uniquely imperfect, which gives them a vintage look and feel.

For my first experiment, I used a color print of sunset at the “Sheep Shearer’s Union Hall” in Butte, Montana and a black-and-white print of a statue from Ta Prahm temple in Cambodia. I think it worked equally well for both, although next time I would definitely choose a color print with less detail.

Materials: A laser-printed copy of your photo, an 8×10 inch canvas board, a paintbrush, a jar of heavy gel gloss, and a spray bottle of water. Did I mention that this is really easy?

Step 1:   Print a copy of your photo using a laser printer. This is very important because the kind of ink from an ink-jet printer won’t work. I took mine to a copy shop and had them print out a copy (I just emailed it to myself and printed it from their computer). Remember that your image will print reversed, so if there are any words on it, make sure to print a “mirror copy.” You may notice, if you look carefully at my picture of the “Sheep Shearer’s Union” building, that I forgot to do this.

Step 2: Completely cover your canvas with a heavy coat of gel medium.

Step 3: Press the photo copy onto the canvas and let it dry completely. Make sure that you press it on really well and get all the air bubbles out. I went over it with another canvas board. Just leave the plastic wrap on the second board and rinse it off in the sink when you’re done. I let the color photo dry for about 3 hours, and left the black and white picture overnight as a test. I recommend overnight, or at least 6 hours. It came out much better and the paper was easier to peel without any of the transfer rubbing off.

Step 4: After your image is completely dry, spray the top with water. Don’t be afraid to douse it. It really needs to get wet in order for the paper to become loose enough to start peeling off. Once it starts peeling, you can calm down with the water, though. You don’t want to totally soak the board and end up warping it.  Rub the surface so that pieces of the paper start to come off and your image is be revealed! Doesn’t it look cool to see the image coming through? This step takes a lot of patience. It took me about 15-20 minutes to gently rub the paper off. If you get overzealous, the transfer will rub off in little chunks and once its gone, there’s no putting it back on. You can see that this happened quite a bit on the color image. I was much more careful the second time around.

Step 5 Also, once you’ve gotten as much of the paper off as you can, you’ll notice that there is still a light film over the canvas that you can’t seem to remove, no matter how much you spray it. The trick here is to let it dry, then wet just your fingers and rub the dry board. The last bit will come off. Be very gentle! I didn’t do this with the color print and as you can see, it’s much hazier. However, this is kind of a cool “instagram-ey” effect if that’s what you want to go for. PS- you might as well take off any nail polish that you happen to be wearing before beginning this project- as you can see, it won’t be staying on for long….

Step 6: Cover canvas with one more light coat of gel to seal the image.

I’m really happy with the way these came out! I definitely plan on experimenting with this a lot more. Have fun!

~*~ Serenity

Like this post? You may also be interested in How To Guide: Make Your Own Chalkboard and 10 Quick Photography Tips.

Inspired by {A Beautiful Mess}

Izziyana Suhaimi Embroidered Artwork

I am so impressed by Singaporean artist Izziyana Suhaimi‘s work. She merges  embroidery techniques into her own pencil drawings and watercolors, blurring an absolutely beautiful line between skilled handicraft and fine art.

“I don’t think modern art should be a certain way. The beauty of art is in its variety and diversity,” says the artist in a recent interview. “In everything and not just art, boundaries are getting blurred and limitations are being pushed.”

Izziyana first began developing this technique while doing a school project on medical illustrations and soon began incorporating the craft into the majority of her work.

(images from here) Follow her on Tumblr here,