Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Let's Discuss Photography

Have you thought about purchasing a book about photography but became overwhelmed by the choices or the technical information? Yep. Do you glaze over when someone talks about f-stops? Yep. (What are they?)

A Mt. Hope reader recently asked advice about camera settings. I panicked! Wait! Am I supposed to know stuff like that? I want to know, but here is the awful truth: I'm lazy. I'm easily intimidated and overwhelmed by technical information. I have other stuff to do, like laundry.
The purpose of this post is two-fold. 1) I want you all to see how much I don't know. This list is pretty much the extent of my photography knowledge. 2) I hope to encourage those of you who enjoy my photos but think photography is intimidating. For many of you, this list of photography advice will seem like kindergarten stuff. For a few others, it will be revolutionary to you, much like it was to me not so long ago.

1. Flash is evil. Bright sunlight is evil. Red-eye, unnatural harsh shadows, washed-out colors, squinting, over-exposure... Take pictures inside on a sunny day. Take pictures outside on a cloudy day or after sunset. (On a covered porch, in the shade, by a window...Use your imagination but avoid direct light.)

If you must take a photo in low-light try one or two without flash (if your camera will cooperate) and possibly using a tri-pod. If that doesn't work, use your flash. I have lots of photos that I don't post because they are just for me to remember something by (birthday parties, etc.) and not beautiful in the universal sense.
To give you an idea what I mean: I doubt anyone has noticed, but I don't think I posted any pictures of dinner meals this past winter. Why? It is dark when I cook dinner during the winter, which means I'd have to use the flash. And there is nothing left to take pictures of the next morning, or at least nothing appetizing to view. If this was a cooking blog and I was making money off of it, I'd cook dinner at 10 am just to take pictures of it. But this isn't, I'm not, and I have laundry to do.

2. Try a new perspective. Stand on a chair, climb a ladder, get on your belly. Whatever you do, don't just stand there! At least not for every photo.
If you are photographing an object, don't be afraid to place it in a new setting. Take a picture of the back of your kids. See things in a new way. Oh, and smiles are nice, and all, but I prefer a variety of expressions from my kids.
3. Get close. Really close. Don't be afraid to cut stuff out. In fact, please do. Pay attention to distracting backgrounds. I don't want to see the emptied basket of toys on my floor or the dishes in my sink or the weeds in my grass or the stack of paperwork I've been ignoring.

Fill the frame with the subject of your photo. Get as close as you're comfortable with, and then get closer.

Get extra close to capture details. Hands are one of my favorites.
Elevate the commonplace by creating a focal point.

4. Don't be afraid to experiment. Take a ginormous number of photos. Are you attempting to capture a great photo of wiggly boy? It might take 50 tries to get a single good one. (Ask me how I know.)
Take your camera with you everywhere you go. You never know when something interesting might capture your photography imagination.
5. Use the rule of thirds. Take your focal point (eyes in the case of a face shot, or head in the case of a body-shot) and off-center it a bit, horizontally and/or vertically.

Notice that Leif's eyes are above the center line and his nose (the center of his face) is to the right of the center line:

6. Go with simple lines, shapes, and colors. Avoid busy-ness. Get rid of as many distracting patterns as possible. When taking pictures of people, the less distracting the clothing, the better. If it is something you can control in advance, go with solid colors.

7. Spend time looking at the pictures of photographers you admire. I love looking at photography blogs. Some of my favorites are linked over at my photography blog on the side bar. Visit Jessica, Courtney, and Kate. Look at Becky Novacek's photos. Hang out over at Donna's blog, Quiet Life. Amanda at SouleMama never fails to inspire me. And there is always Pioneer Woman.

8. When you're starting to feel comfortable, broaden your knowledge. My top recommendation for those of you who want something slightly beyond my simple hints would be Expressions: Taking Extraordinary Photos for Your Scrapbooks and Memory Art. The authors do a wonderful job of presenting very basic photography advice (such as my tips above) with more in-depth instructions and advice.

::What kind of camera do I use? I use a Nikon D50 with the standard auto-focus lens. I have yet to use the manual settings. All my photos are done with auto-focus, occasionally experimenting with some of the setting options. Some day I'll learn how to use manual focus and also splurge on a new lens or two. But not today.

I recently discovered how easy it is to use Nikon Editor after glazing over while trying to use Photoshop. Almost every photo posted since January 6th has been edited in Nikon Editor as well as every photo on my photography blog. Every photo posted previous to that date was straight out of camera.

One last item of business: Crissy at Soliloquy is hosting a Mother's Day photo contest. She is asking bloggers to submit their favorite picture of a mother or grandmother and their children. It can be an old or new photo. The prize is incredible. Go check it out!


Elise said...


Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I am a complete novice when it comes to photography. I am yet to even edit a picture!! So my goal in the short term is to experiment with some of your hints and tips and start editing my photos.

I really only developed an interest in taking photos since having my daughter and blogging has certainly strengthened my desire to take more photos.

I am currently in the process of researching different types of cameras as we are thinking of upgrading. Thank you Heidi for including information about the camera you use.

I have really appreciated this informative post.

spanki said...

great information! thank you!! i just took a 1 day photography class from a great girl. and like you, i hadn't taken my camera off the "auto" settings until now! it is a slow learning process for my tiny little brain to understand, but i try to "play" w/ my camera weekly to keep learning! i just love that you shared your take on photography, there is something new to learn from every photographer you meet! thanks so much!! your pictures are great!!! ..... hey, did you say you have potoshop? is it the cs3 or elements?? i just got elements to try my hand @ it first before i take the plunge on the more advanced one, and i am not getting it at all!!! it's driving me laundry is piling up and my husband now refers to my computer as my 2nd husband Mr. Mac., do you have any book suggestions for photoshop???

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the photography tips. Those are simple and easy to remember! Off to try some!

Have a wonderful week!

Anonymous said...

Heidi.... THANK YOU for your tips... the only reason I asked the question was.... Because I was too LAZY to read the book and I do mean BOOK that came with my Nikon! hahaha... I have laundry to do too... Thanks for inspiring and sharing tips with us all!

Heidi said...

spanki~ I have photoshop CS2 and purchased the photoshop book by Scott Kelby as recommended by Pioneer Woman. I think it is a great resource, I just need an extra 70 hours a week to do nothing but photoshop. :) Nikon Editor took me about 5 minutes to figure out. :)

Laura said...

Thanks, Heidi. These tips are perfectly succinct and "do-able". I might be sharing your post with my little circle of blog-readers, if ya don't mind! :)

Mrs. B said...

Your photos are beautiful and your tips are wonderful! Thank you for sharing the good advice! I didn't even realize you had a photography blog. I'll have to go check it out.

Erica Young said...

I love your photos, they are amazing. I love all of your tips, I will definitely use them. I will definitely be checking back every day to see what you have going on. Thanks for sharing.

The Runyans said...

i love your detail shots on number 3! awesome!

Jennifer said...

Thank you, thank you! These are great tips/reminders. I am feeling energized to go dig up the book that came with my camera (canon rebel), maybe take the time to edit a few shots. I've got to start taking my camera with me more often... it's just so big!

jamieBEE said...

thanks for the tips! I love reading your blog and seeing your creative photography! you do a great job of capturing the simple moments in life!

Unknown said...

Hi Heidi,

I've been reading your blog, but silent lately. I always look forward to every entry.

Could you explain (or link me to a previous post) why you chose the camera you did? I know Ree used to use a D80 and it seems that the main choices out there for a novice point and shoot girl is a D40 vs. a D80. Thoughts on choosing?

Caralyn :)

Heidi said...

Thanks everyone!

Laura~ I don't mind at all. :)

Caralyn~ I've just been thinking the last couple days that I really missed you!

Hmmm. Let me see if I can explain this correctly.... My husband handed me a Nikon D50 and so that's what I use. LOL!!!!! I'll guess I'll have to ask him his opinion. :) I'll let you know.

Unknown said...

lol! Yes, maybe he could be a guest on your blog. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hello from the guest Hubby

I would recommend going to to get some great reviews.

You can compare side by side at:

Here is a link to side by sides of the D40X, D60, and D80. (Notice this is not the D40, a 6.1 megapixel camera, compared to the D40X, a 10.x megapixel camera)

After reading the reviews, one of the most important things to remember is that only the D80 still has the ability to Auto Focus most lenses more than a year or so old. This is because (quote from dpreview follows)

"As with the D40 and D40X, the new D60 doesn't have an built-in focus drive motor which means it can auto focus only with lenses which have their own drive motor (AF-S and AF-I lenses). The lack of a drive motor can be seen by the missing mechanical focus drive pin on the lens mount (see images below). One of the D60's new features is an electronic rangefinder to help manual focus on non AF-S / AF-I lenses. "

Another thing to remember is that they have "done away with" the preview on the LCD ability that the older D50's, etc. could do.

You can still get the D50's, just not at your local Costco, etc.

By the Way, the D80 has a $125 rebate at Costco right now. Price with lenses is around $875.

Heidi said...

Thanks Dear! :)

Unknown said...

Oh dear, there is so much information I don't understand! lol

Believe it or not, my sister gratuated from college with a photography degree and now works for Vistek, a big Toronto company that sells....cameras!!!! She said I wasn't allowed to purchase a D80 b/c I'd have a better camera than her (she's not got much money! lol But then neither do it!!!)!!! I'll have to sit down with her and have her walk me through it all...or better yet, go to her work on a Sat with her and talk to a sales guy.

Thanks, Husband of Heidi, for those websites and information!!!

Lisa said...

Heidi -

Thanks for the great tips!

Did the Nikon editing program come with your camera? Would you happen to know the full name of it?

I just got the D40 and it only came with a transfer and viewer program. When I went to Nikon's website, it looked like they had a couple of different editors.

I'm like you; Photoshop made my eyeballs cross.

Meredith said...

thanks for sharing your insight--a lot of it confirmed what I've already discovered (flash is evil!).

I'm still using a point-and-shoot because I'm afraid to invest in a real camera with kids around, but every time I look at your great kid shots, I wonder if it's false economy to miss these moments.

Susan said...

HI there, can I sign into your photography blog?