on seeing

I am by no means an expert on this subject but seeing as in the last several weeks, I’ve answered questions about photography and how I learned it several times over via email, I’m talking photography today.

I had a camera as far back as I can remember – nothing a kid could destroy – and I took pictures of the people and places I loved. There were many photos of my great Aunt Grace, my grandparents, photos of weekends spent on the farm with my grandparents. I think every single time I went to my grandparents house I took a photo of the light coming in their master bedroom windows. They had very tall windows and they were framed with deep purple curtains (it was after all the 70’s) and in the late morning, the light was lavender and I loved it (note: I’m consistent. Lavender is still my favorite color). I started studying photography in high school. I bought an old SLR at a pawn shop downtown. It quickly became my favorite class and any free time was spent in the darkroom.

If you’re looking to improve your photography, shoot. Shoot every single day. I’m guessing most of you out there are shooting digital so shoot, shoot, shoot! It doesn’t cost you a thing. If you were training to run a marathon, you’d train every single day. So pick up your camera and shoot. By shooting every single day you’ll begin noticing the small things and you’ll begin to train your eyes to see those moments you want to capture. Challenge: take a picture every day for a month. Don’t be afraid to change your perspective.

Next: light. I always feel a little like I’m up on my soapbox when I talk about light but light is what makes your photograph come to life. Find the light. Light is your friend. Watch the light move around your house in the day. Find the good light. Find the soft light. Find the harsh light. In my house, the best light is in the early morning in the dining room so I shoot about 90% of the photos you see here on the blog right there on my dining room table. It often means I’m rushing the kids to finish breakfast or having them scoot to the other end of the table (thankfully we have a long table) so I have a crumb-free environment for shooting but they’re used to it. Don’t be afraid of details (my favorite things about the above photograph are the light, the powdered sugar on the table and the drips on the mug). Challenge: find the light in your house and practice shooting it – shoot the light and shadows, shoot a doll laying in the light, shoot the light in your daughter’s hair, etc.

Photography is about capturing light. Need inspiration? Look to the painters. My fave for their brilliant use of light: Frank Weston Benson, J. M. W. Turner, Monet.

Cameras. It doesn’t matter what you shoot with. Canon, Nikon, Sony, whatever. If it’s a point and shoot or top of the line DSLR, the camera is only as good as the person operating it. Get to know your camera. What better way to get to know your camera than to practice?

Someone actually emailed me back and asked, “Practice shooting what?” Easy. Photograph your breakfast every morning. Or the dirty dishes in your sink after breakfast every morning. Photograph the favorite part of your day. Or maybe the least favorite part of your day (laundry, anyone?). Photograph the pile of books on your bedside table, the sticky notes around your computer monitor, the pile of stuffed animals threatening to take over your child’s room. All that matters is that you start. I find it’s easier when you start with what you know but if you can’t find an iota of beauty in the chaos that is your home (and trust me, I have those moments too) then pick a theme each week and shoot it every single day. Examples: morning, play, water, summer, quiet. You don’t know how to shoot water for seven days? How about a glass of ice water, water running in the kitchen sink as you prepare to wash dishes, puddles after a rainstorm, raindrops on your windows, kids playing in the pool or sprinkler, kid toys floating in the bathtub, the beach, a river, someone drinking from the hose, water droplets on leaves… Are you beginning to see all the possibilities?

Read Understanding Exposure. In my opinion, it’s the best book for helping you understand the technical stuff (aperture, exposure, etc.) and the only one you’ll need to read.

Editing. Get it right in camera and there is no need for editing. Get it right in camera means a.) consistent practicing and b.) understanding light. The photos you see on this here blog are usually straight out of the camera. Occasionally I might do a gentle bump in curves or crop the photograph but 98% come straight out of the camera. My clients on the other hand usually demand editing and what most of the women really want is plastic surgery via Photoshop: eye brightening, zit removal, skin smoothing. It’s one of those things that make cringe because a.) it’s not keeping it real and b.) I don’t care if I got rid of her cellulite and made her look 20 lbs lighter, she’ll still find something to dislike and it isn’t about the photography but about her body issues. Oops. Mini rant over. Apologies.

PS: There are a few 30 day photo challenges out there in case you need some inspiration. See here and also here.

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  • Thanks Amanda, your post was very helpful. I have learning photography on my list, maybe soon. Right now I just point, shoot and post. I have heard of photoshop, but never used it so it’s nice to know that it’s really not needed. I do love your work!ReplyCancel

  • Excellent post and I agree with all of it but especially the “shoot every day” bit.ReplyCancel

  • pure inspiration, as usual πŸ˜‰ReplyCancel

  • Thanks for sharing!
    It’s funny you talking about the table – I always do the same because our bedroom is the room with the best light, so mostly I put everything on a table in there (thank the inventor of child’s table!) :)ReplyCancel

  • Thanks for sharing your insights, Amanda.ReplyCancel

  • Beetnik Mama

    Love this! And, I love that you post so many un-retouched photos. Seems like everywhere I turn lately, all I see are shots that have had some type of effect applied to them. I can appreciate that from time to time, but how much easier would it be if I could just get the dang photo right when I take it?!

    Thanks for all the valuable tips!ReplyCancel

  • I loved the tips, thanks! My kitchen table is the best place for photos most of the time.ReplyCancel

  • Just a quick post~I put in the wrong email~Sorry!ReplyCancel

  • Rats! Now my first post disappeared. Third try is a charm. I love the photo tips, thanks πŸ˜€ReplyCancel

  • Thanks Amanda…these are great tips!!ReplyCancel

  • I agree! Understanding Exposure is the most practical and at the same time simple photography book around!ReplyCancel

  • What great tips! Thanks for sharing!

  • Awesome awesome post. I will be bookmarking it :). Thank you so much for the tips and inspiration. You are the photography version of Ann Lamott :)!! I love it!ReplyCancel

  • I love this post! Light is basically my best friend for photos and painting-love the light, always have! Thanks so much for the knowledge and resources. I love reading about how you got started. You are such a beautiful artist and person!

  • I need to do this!ReplyCancel

  • Kristi

    thanks for this! I have the hardest time finding soft light in my house. it seems everyone is constantly moving so it doesn’t help me any. I wish I didn’t paint so many rooms with so much color. I think it makes it even harder for me.ReplyCancel

  • Manise

    You are so inspiring Amanda! Thanks for the kick in the pants. I will start tomorrow. Water might be a good place to start. It’s supposed to continue pouring through Friday with a bad thunderstorm that evening. I love light and how it dances and shines on and through things. My biggest frustration is not capturing on film exactly what my eyes actually see. And the damn flash that I wish would sometimes go just away. Off to check your links. Thanks again.ReplyCancel

  • What a brilliant post! I sometimes feel like I am the only one left whodoesn’t photoshop or edit. The art of taking the photograph is all that is needed, IMHO.
    I need to geet back into taking pics every.single.day. I admit I get bummed when I have bad days and then put my camera down for quitea bit of time beforeI feel ready to pick it up againbut I need to get over that!ReplyCancel

  • I love you even more for this wonderful post. I’ve been chasing the light in my house and wishing I had more than 5 windows to let it in.
    I’m excited to check out that book as well. Thanks, Amanda!ReplyCancel

  • What a great post. I love your photographs, especially the light in your photos. Thanks for the list 30 days after a photo theme. The test we made​​.

    Have a good time!ReplyCancel

  • You have inspired me here. Yesterday I set out to figure out what all the little symbols mean on my recent hand me down given camera! I already feel like I know a little more. Now it’s just remembering it all and practice.ReplyCancel

  • Such an inspirational post. I love taking photos and am often so unsatisfied with the result. It seems to never look like what I “saw” when taking said photo. I keep practicing and hope to someday get a better camera, in the meantime…I’m having fun.ReplyCancel

  • you are an amazing photographer. you inspire me. i shoot everyday, good or bad photos, i shoot. ; )

    and your “rant” i loved that most. can i tell you a secret? i stopped photog people, because by the time i was done editing, and doing what the client wanted done, i was ashamed of my work. they loved it, but i was sick inside. thanks for this post. XOReplyCancel

  • This is great, Amanda! I love your photography. Thanks for sharing the thoughts behind them! I agree (as I`m sure you know from my Instagram stream!) LIGHT IS KEY.ReplyCancel

  • Very good and practical advice throughout. You’re right…to be a better photographer you have to take a lot of photographs. Just like to be a better writer you have to write. I think sometimes people just see the beautiful photo (or read the brilliant piece of writing) and forget that they are just seeing the one best work. They don’t see all the outtakes. And there are always a lot of outtakes. Thanks for the inspiration!ReplyCancel

  • So I just tweeted this post – you and I? We think a LOT alike, girl. *grin* Thanks for giving me an easy share!ReplyCancel

  • fabulous post! so easy on the bain for budding photographers, with so much glut out there in information and tips. you’ve covered some very basics yet utterly important stuff.

    only thing i would say, about editing. to me, editing is an art in itself. i don’t see it as getting it right (correct). when i studied photography about 100yrs ago when we did it with film and in a darkroom, the time in the darkroom was just as important, and even more important depending on your style. just wanted to throw that in for any newbies reading this πŸ˜‰ReplyCancel

  • Great post and so well written Amanda. You’ve reminded me that I really need to pick up my camera and start shooting again. I’ve been in a bit of a photo slump. No reason particularly. But everyday… I know I shouldReplyCancel

  • I am so so a newbie
    ( and a fan of picnik, but that’s okay)

    but I get it about the light. I haven’t learned enough to apply this indoors, so take outdoor photos mostly , which is where I’d rather be . I love early morning, sunset, and all the elements.ReplyCancel

  • Great post,, I did have a course many many years ago but developing was so expensive then. I do like to take photographs and will experiment with the wonderful suggestions you have posted.. Thanks.ReplyCancel

  • I really enjoyed this post and had to laugh about the mini rant. Lol. Keeping it real! I finally bought understanding exposure. I’m trying to do manual here and there. What about you? Are most of your pics shot in manual mode? I find w/ the kids it’s hard to wait for me to figure it out..by the time I get it, the moment’s over, so I usually do those on auto w/o flash.ReplyCancel