I’ve always loved photography. As a kid, I remember anxiously awaiting the prints from those Kodak disposable cameras, just hoping the photos would turn out. I plastered my high school walls with photo collages and begged my friends to let me take their photos for class projects. I repeated Photography I and II over and over again for credit. I climbed over “no trespassing” signs and crawled into old barns, warehouses (159thand mission anyone? That place was creepy) and buildings out south to find an exciting location. There seemed to be a hundred ways to control the way an image turned with only a few adjustments in the darkroom.
While my high school teacher taught me how to have an eye for a good image, it wasn’t until later that I learned the technical side of photography and how to actually work my camera. My husband, Jeff, graduated with a BFA in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design and after dabbling in some commercial work, he decided to venture into lifestyle photography after we were married. From the beginning, I had a heart to help in any way I could with the growing business. He patiently showed me how to work my camera and then when he ended up with crutches after an injury, there was no choice but to jump in for him – sink or swim!
Our business grew over the years, as well as my fondness for photography. I actually enjoyed the excited nervousness I would get before photographing a session. The creativity I was able to explore with different locations, lighting and editing was addictive – I was hooked. It was so much fun!
And yet, while I’ve always enjoyed photography, it wasn’t until I become a mother that I fell in love with it. Capturing my children in their element and freezing it in a beautiful token I can keep forever is almost magical. I look back through the images I’ve taken of my daughters and all the time that has transpired instantly vanishes. I can feel those moments with them again. These days of motherhood, they’re flying by and photography has given me something to hold on to. Something to bring a smile to my face and a memory to my heart.
If you’re reading this, whether you’re a mother or not, chances are you have a desire to be able to grow in your photography abilities. Like any skill, it WILL NOT happen overnight. There is nothing that can take the place of experience and practice, but the following are a list of helpful tips to get you started in the right direction:
- Invest in a DSLR camera.
I get it – cell phone cameras have come such a long way and are so convenient. They do a great job capturing shots, but if you’re serious about taking your photography to the next level, you’re going to need a better camera than the one in your pocket. A DSLR camera has a full frame sensor, which gives you a much higher quality image than your iPhone. You will also have the capability to use various lenses to create the exact image you desire. You will have so much more control when using a good camera. Right now, it probably seems incredibly intimidating with all those buttons and dials, but you can learn to use that camera and willlove it.
- Learn how to work your DSLR camera.
There’s no sense in having a flashy camera if you continually shoot on automatic and never learn to work it. I’ve seen people invest in a gorgeous camera with so much capability, and yet never take the time to master it. We are the microwave generation – we want everything NOW and instead of taking the time to read and learn and practice, we let that expensive camera collect dust and just fall back to using our cell phone cameras. Don’t let this be you. Actually read your camera manual. There are so many awesome charts and tools on Pinterest that will get you started in the right direction. Take some time to learn about ISO, Shutter speed and aperture.
- Locate your available lighting.
Lighting is everything to photography. Always know where your light source is. Shooting indoors is tough, so bring your subject close to your light source. When I’m photographing my girls, I’ll bring them straight up to the window or even in front of the front door with the natural light streaming in. Keep your light in front of your subject. Outdoors, I almost always shoot at sunrise or sunset. Photographers even have a pretty title for this magical time – “golden hour”. It’s when the sun is just coming up or going down – it’s soft light, coming in at an angel, filling and spilling and is just enchanting! I avoid shooting in the middle of the day, because you’re going to be dealing with harsh sunlight and harsh shadows all over your subject. If you have to shoot in the harsh sunlight – look for SHADE! Put the sun behind your subject or to the side of your subject, so they’re not squinting into the sun.
- Get down on their level.
Angles, angles, angles! You can take the same photo 10 different ways shooting at 10 different angles! This is where you can really get creative. And chances are, you’ve already practiced this trying to get the best Instagram photo of your avocado toast. Next time your photographing your children, try to capture them from five different angles. Try standing on a chair shooting down, squat down to get face to face, or lay on your belly to get down on their level and see what they see. I bet you didn’t know how much yoga there was in photography! Angles can help develop your creativity and find your style and voice in photography.
- Stay true to YOUR style.
Speaking of style, be YOU! If there’s nothing else you walk away with from this post, I want you to hear this. Please do not set out to be a carbon copy of every other photographer out there, even if it seems everyone is shooting or editing the same way. Find out what style makes YOU passionate. You don’t have to be like everyone else. Remember that photography is art and part of making art is staying true to yourself. I promise you – not EVERYONE will love the way you shoot and not EVERYONE will book with you. That’s okay! Be you and your creativity will SHINE through and set you apart.
- Be a stickler about focus.
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve is an out of focus image. Yes, shooting at a low aperture is cool and gives you some awesome depth of field, but if that means your subject is out of focus than it doesn’t matter. You can do a lot in editing – brighten an image, clean things up, but you can’t make things that are out of focus in focus. And there’s nothing worse than thinking you captured an epic image only to bring it up on your computer and realize it’s out of focus. I love to shoot with my f-stop at 2.8, but I typically only shoot that low if there’s one person in my image. Sometimes it works out if there’s two people, but it’s a gamble that you probably won’t win (unless they are in the exact same plane of the photo). If you’re shooting more than one person, kick your f-stop up higher. You don’t want to sacrifice focus for depth of field.
- Don’t over edit.
Looking back on my very first sessions, I’m so embarrassed by the amount of editing I did. In my opinion, over-editing takes away from the sincerity of the image. Try your hardest to get all your camera settings correct, so you don’t have to make as many adjustments while editing. I used to love using props and setting up themed sessions, but now my favorite photography is in the moment, real life, natural photography and I love to keep it as natural as I can.
- Make sure your photos have emotion.
Photography is art and as such it should say something. It should make you feel something. This is my favorite part of photography – how powerful it is. An image has the power to show and tell. I realized this after traveling to India and documenting precious girls who had been forsaken by their families. Back home, we were able to use those images and video to spread the message of their plight. You may be documenting a wedding or your kids in the backyard, but make sure your photos make you feel something. Can you feel the joy of your child as the wind whips through his hair while he swings in the backyard? Do you remember the anticipation your wife felt each time the baby kicked in her growing belly? Capture those things. Make it last.
- Keep your camera close.
Those camera worthy moments (especially if you’re a mom) will not happen on your schedule – I promise. You have to be ready all the time. What does that look like? I keep my camera on a counter and make sure it’s ready with a charged battery and an SD card. I can’t tell you how many times I have literally RUN inside my house and grabbed it to capture something my girls were doing before they moved on or the sunlight changed. In fact, a few nights ago, Jeff had just returned home from work and found a butterfly with a cut wing in the yard. Because of the injured wing, they were able to catch it and Savannah held it in her hand to show her little sister. I cannot tell you how fast I dropped what I was holding and raced inside to grab my camera. If it wasn’t ready I would have never captured that epic moment, which is one of my very favorite photos ever.
- KEEP shooting!
Practice, practice, practice, and KEEP practicing! Never stop! You will get better and better the more you shoot. Don’t doubt yourself! Don’t compare yourself to people who have been doing it for years. You will get there. Don’t forget why you started shooting in the first place. Don’t forget your “first love” of photography. It’s such a wonderful skill to have and transferable to so many different paths and careers. You won’t regret all the time you put into mastering your craft. And I’m here for you. I love nothing more than sitting down with new photographers and providing tips and encouragement. I’m here to answer your questions, go on a shoot with you or look over some of your photos.
Oh man, the A-type in me wanted to keep this list to 10 points, but I have to mention ONE MORE thing. Can you tell I could talk about photography forever?
- Don’t fall into the competition trap.
There’s a lot of great photographers out there. And if you’re insecure, that can lead you down the never-ending comparison road. Or, you may be so worried of losing potential clients, that it keeps you from making some wonderful friendships in the photography world. I used to be like that. We used to think the other photographers were all rude and competitive. But, then God placed a wonderful mentor photographer in our lives who shared everything about his business. He was completely open. He shared his strategy, contracts, business plan and more with us. His transparency and kindness changed Jeff and I, and the way we conducted our business. We started introducing ourselves to every single vendor at the weddings we shot and offered complimentary images to them. We went to our next wedding show and decided to try to show kindness. There was a girl a few booths down from us doing her first show and I walked over and asked if I could help. That led to a great friendship. She later documented my growing family and I sent business her way when we moved. To this day, she is one of my FAVORITE wedding photographers and has won a whole slew of awards in Kansas City. I’m so glad I decided to introduce myself and get to know her. Don’t put yourself on an island by yourself. There’s enough clients and business to go around, I promise. And, as a Christian, I believe we should love and support one another.
This post has gone along for far too long. But, let me know who you are and where you are at in your photography journey. Were any of these tips helpful? I’d love to get to know you and follow you and your work on Instagram. Happy shooting!