2008 Lessons in Photography

Photography is quickly becoming one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve got a long way to go before I can hang with the likes of some of my friends, but I learned a lot in 2008. A post chronicling everything that I learned over the past year would be far too long, but here are the highlights, with some of my favorite shots from the year. Hopefully some of these tips will someday help other budding photographers.

Find and Be Thankful for Generous Friends – If you have the opportunity to borrow equipment from a friend, DO IT. Lou Ann was tremendously helpful in encouraging my addiction hobby by lending me her old DSLR, and a couple of prime lenses. I use the 50mm f/1.8 prime as my main lens. It is fabulous.

Good Equipment Helps, But It’s Not a Magic Wand – “Wow, you have a great camera.” is something I’ve heard several times about some of my photos. It is simultaneously rewarding (because I know somebody liked the photo) and frustrating (because they don’t know all the work that went into shooting and post-processing). I mean, you should see all of the TERRIBLE pictures I take with my great camera. I only post the ones that qualify at least as “mediocre”.

The New Toy

Learn to Purge – Speaking of all those terrible pictures I take, I’ve learned to keep them from ever seeing the light of the Internet. I take probably 10 times as many photos as I post, possibly more. Many are deleted right off due to poor focus, exposure, composition, etc. It’s amazing what can look in focus on the camera’s LCD only to be total crap on the monitor. If I wasn’t also shooting for posterity, I’d probably trim even more photos out of the pictures I take from various events.

Good form!

Learn (or Teach Yourself) The Basics – Learn about composition, exposure, focus, etc. Take a class (I need to take my own advice on this one), or teach yourself. There are so many amazing resources on the Internet.


Get Out of Auto – That little green box on the dial on your camera? Never use it. No, seriously. NEVER USE IT. When I use the 50mm prime, I almost always shoot in aperture priority (Av mode on your dial), which gives me some awesome control over depth of field. Getting out of auto gives you so much control over your photos, allowing you to turn your photographs into art instead of snapshots. Art. Right. I should work on that.

Ready to Bust

Ditch the Built In Flash Whenever Possible

The built in flash on cameras has its place, and most of the time, it’s down and not being used. Do something, ANYTHING to use available light instead of popping that flash up. As soon as you let that sucker fire, you’re practically guaranteed flat, boring, snapshot quality images. Open the aperture, increase the ISO, slow the shutter speed down (and put your camera on a tripod) – do whatever it takes. I’m still struggling with this one as the lighting in my house is awful, and kids are FAST little buggers that are constantly moving. I take lots of blurry pictures. I’m cheating with the picture below, as it was shot with an external flash (remotely triggered with a PocketWizard) on loan from a friend. See the first item about borrowing equipment!

A Little Holiday Cheer

So get out there in 2009 and keep shooting! And more importantly, keep posting them on Flickr, Facebook, SmugMug, or whatever your site of choice happens to be. I constantly learn from and am inspired by the work of many photographers on the net.

Grandpa and Mary

Fiddling with a DSLR

Our friend Lou Ann purchased a brand new spiffy Canon 40D and was kind enough to lend me her old Canon EOS Digital Rebel. It’s clear that I have a lot to learn about how to use a DSLR, and how to do post processing. So this is the first of what may be come many “lessons learned” posts.

I took Simon out last night to play baseball with his Spiderman bat and ball. I took the camera along to snap some photos. This was at about 5:30PM, so the sun was low and the light was nice and soft. I learned two things last night.

  1. Pay attention to shadows! Of about 70 pictures that I took, maybe 15 were keepers (in my book – others may beg to differ). Of those 15, I only thought 3 or 4 were worth posting for the world to see on Flickr (again, others may disagree!). Many of the pictures were discarded because of shadows. Either he was facing the wrong way and his face was in shadow, or more egregiously, my shadow was in the frame distracting from the picture. It’s something I didn’t think of at all and didn’t really notice looking at the camera’s LCD when reviewing pictures.
  2. Despite the good light, I didn’t set the camera correctly to get the vibrant colors that I really want when taking photos. I didn’t do any post-processing initially, and everything looked a little washed out. Kelly responded to my twitter complaint this AM and suggested that I fiddle with the saturation.

I followed Kelly’s advice (thanks, btw!) and increased the saturation in photoshop to create more vibrant colors. Mouse over the image below to see the difference a little saturation enhancement can make (IE6 users won’t see an image – look at this one on Flickr. Oh and download a better browser).

So my question is this. While I prefer more vibrant colors in my photos, how much saturation is TOO much saturation? If I move that slider to the end of the spectrum, I can get an image that is clearly too saturated. My problem is that my eyes have a hard time distinguishing when that threshold has been crossed. Any suggestions?