Mead’s Quarry

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about packing up and moving here. The last time I lived in a large city was when I went to college in San Antonio. It was so crowded and dirty and I just hated it. The part of town where I lived was pretty rough, unlike the polished tourist areas around the Alamo and the Riverwalk. Vandalism and burglary were regular occurrences in my neighborhood and after witnessing one really bad incident, I was afraid to even go outside. I basically hid in my apartment until the school year was over and I could transfer to a college in a smaller, quieter town. And then I stayed there for the next 10 years.

So far, the Knoxville I’ve seen doesn’t intimidate me the way San Antonio did. I don’t know if it’s because Knoxville is actually a kinder place or if it’s just because I’ve grown older and, dare I say it, wiser, since that time, but I’m certainly more comfortable here. There are neighborhoods that are run-down and places that I’ve been cautioned to avoid, but overall it’s not so bad. Downtown seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance; lots of old landmarks and buildings are being restored and that just suits me to a T. I’ve dreamed of renovating an old farmhouse or Victorian home for years, so I love seeing people breathing new life into these old buildings.

But even all the restoration isn’t the best thing about Knoxville.

My favorite part is all the green space. There are so many parks and Ijams Nature Center is just loaded with things to do. It makes Knoxville feel like less of an urban sprawl to a small town person like me. I got up early Monday morning and decided to explore a part of the park that I hadn’t visited yet. Of course I brought my camera.

I specifically wanted to take more practice shots with my 75-300mm lens. I do pretty well with my other two, but this one is still giving me headaches sometimes. As you can see.

I think I was too close. I would have been standing in the road if I had been any farther away, though.

I think I have a habit of getting in too close. This is a big lens and its strength seems to be focusing on things that are fairly far away. Luckily I’m a lazy hiker and wanted to stay on the path, so I had plenty of opportunities to shoot for things that were not so close to the trail I was following.

Surely it’s too early for pumpkins?! I do love that bright color against all the green, though.
These flowers were pretty far off the path, but my lens brought them into focus pretty well.

I brought all my lenses with me, and I have to admit that the temptation to switch from the unfamiliar 75-300mm to my trusty 50mm was very strong. But I tried to stick with the big guy for the most part because I’m never going to get comfortable with it if I don’t use it.

I’m not a fan of up close and personal time with bees or other insects. So here’s where this lens really shines for me.

 

Mead’s Quarry. Isn’t it gorgeous?

I did decide to switch to the 50mm when I got to the quarry. It seems to be better for those wide landscape shots and I wanted to show them off as much as my abilities and equipment will allow. This is the side of Knoxville I was talking about when I mentioned all the restoration going on–this quarry was converted into a lake with gorgeous views; you can fish or rent boats, part of it is sectioned off for swimming, and there’s even a trail to hike. It’s also a great place to look for wildlife.

Taken from the same spot as above, but with the 50mm lens. There’s just a little…more. Idk how to describe the reasons why, but I like this shot better.

I walked around the quarry for a while, and then reattached the 75-300mm lens and walked back to my car. What a hike! The way back to the Ijams Visitor Center, where I parked, is mostly uphill. I’m not used to these inclines yet, and I’m big-time out of shape right now after having surgery on both legs earlier this year, so I didn’t take many photos on the way back.

I noticed this fungus when I stopped to take a little break on the walk back. I had to do some editing afterward to get the exposure just right, but I think it looks good.
Decommissioned railroad tracks that run through Ijams. This photo is slightly underexposed, but I left it as-is because I love the dark, mysterious look.

I feel so fortunate to have a place like Ijams here in Knoxville. Driving in the mountains makes me horribly carsick, so it’s hard to get out of town on my own and do anything. Luckily there are lots of great sights downtown and plenty of green spaces to explore. Check back on Friday for the next part of my photography basics series. We’ll be talking about aperture again, and I hope to have lots of shots to share! In the meantime, please be sure to give this post a like and a share on Facebook. Thanks everyone!

Test shots and fun

Wow! I guess people really were interested in articles about photography basics. Friday’s post has the highest traffic of any page on this site! How cool is that? I’ll be back on Friday to talk a little bit about how shutter speed affects your exposure, but today is sort of a lazy day for me. I wanted to keep Wednesdays just for fun (although I’m thinking about bumping these back to Tuesdays just to space things out a little).

Taken through a special solar filter. I’m getting all geared up for that eclipse, y’all!

Yesterday, I posted this photo to Facebook and asked you all to guess what it was. It’s the sun! I’m super excited about the solar eclipse next month, and I got a special filter for my camera so I can take photos! If you’re planning on watching the eclipse, please be sure to get some eclipse glasses to protect your eyes. I had to get a filter for the camera to protect its sensor, too. I need to practice with it a bit more so I can get some clear photos when the time comes.

A goldfinch? I’m not sure.

While I was testing my solar filter, I also just took some shots with my 75-300mm lens, which is the one I’m tentatively planning to use for the eclipse. I’m not really used to it yet, and it definitely has some quirks that my other lenses don’t. I’ll probably be using it a lot over the next few weeks, just to get a feel for how it works.

I was surprised to find apple trees at a public park. How pretty!
Another test shot

I had hoped to get out over the weekend and check out a few potential eclipse viewing spots, but I just didn’t get a chance. Where I live, we’ll get a 99% partial eclipse. A short drive will put me into the totality zone. Obviously I want the full experience, but I’m not familiar with this part of the country. I need to find a good place to go, and I have a few spots I want to check out before next month.

I did get out to the botanical garden and downtown over the weekend. You’ll see a lot of those shots on Friday, but I can share a few of them here today.

This is the full version of the flower from today’s header. I thought a little editing might be fun for a change.
I don’t know what this is, but I love this color.
Gay Street after dark. I love the lights and theater signs (and the ice cream shop down the road).

That’s it for today! Are any of you planning to watch the eclipse? Let me know what you have planned! And of course, check back on Friday to see the next post in my photography basics series.

 

Photography Basics: Exposure at a Glance

Welcome to my basics series! Although a lot of my posts involve DSLR shooting, since that’s what I primarily use, I wanted to create some articles that would be universal to photography with almost any digital camera. For those of you who don’t know, DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex, and it refers to the way the camera uses a single lens and a mirror to process light into images. At this time, I’m more interested in the art of taking photos than in the more technical details of how a camera works; I’m planning on writing some posts in the future about different types of gear when I start getting ready to upgrade my equipment, but today is not that day. Today we’re talking about exposure, which is the foundation of photography no matter what kind of camera you’re using.

But I won’t leave you tech fans high and dry. If you want to know more about the differences between types of cameras on the market, here is a Wikipedia article that talks about DSLRs, traditional digital cameras, and the newer mirrorless system cameras. Enjoy!

Exposure is basically how bright or dark your image appears. It’s something I’ve touched on before here and here, but so far have not discussed in detail. It’s one of those things that seems simple in theory but can be tricky to master.

I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that most beginner photographers shoot in Auto, or whatever their camera’s approximation of Auto is. It’s easy and safe, and most cameras will probably produce decent pictures in Auto. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But what if you want to do better than decent? Well, then it’s time to get out of the safe zone that Auto mode provides and start taking control of your photography. This is a process, by the way–don’t be discouraged if your pictures are bad at first. Set aside time to practice and you’ll eventually see your hard work pay off.

This was taken on auto at sunset. It’s not a bad photo overall, but I prefer the manual version below.
This one was taken in manual, just a few seconds after the auto picture. It is a bit darker, but I feel like the sunset looks much deeper. Honestly, I probably should have gotten in place a few minutes earlier.

The first step in the process is to dig out your camera manual and figure out how to change the settings. You’re looking for three things–shutter speed, aperture (or f-stops), and ISO. If you don’t have the manual, look for your camera model in a search engine and see if one is available to view online or download. If you’re shooting with your smartphone, consider an app that will give you that level of control over your phone’s camera. Open Camera (Android) or Halide (iOS) came up after a quick Google search for me; I don’t use either of them, though, so I can’t tell you how well they perform. You’ll have to try them out on your own and then come back and tell me about them. (I’m 100% guilty of leaving my phone in Auto all the time; I don’t take pictures with it all that often.)

Step two is learning how these three elements interact with one another to create an image. This one’s going to take some practice. For now, we’ll just go over what the elements are.

Shutter speed–In a digital camera, shutter speed refers to the amount of time the camera’s sensor is exposed to light. In a nutshell, high shutter speeds are good for bright places, while slower ones will allow more light to reach your sensor when it’s dark. But wait, there’s more! Your shutter speed will also determine how much motion is in an image. A high speed will allow you to capture subjects in motion while lower speeds introduce blur. Shutter speed is usually measured in seconds or fractions of a second. We’ll talk more about this next week.

This was shot at a fairly high (I want to say 1/250 but of course I didn’t write it down) shutter speed. As you can see, the water in the fountain is “frozen” midair.
Same fountain, same time, the big change was a much slower shutter speed. I also had to adjust aperture to keep from overexposing the shot. You can see the motion of the water here, and the background is brighter as well.

Aperture–We’ve talked about aperture before, and we will again. You can’t have a complete understanding of exposure without learning about all three elements, and I feel like this one allows you a great degree of creative control over your photos. Aperture is the opening in the lens of your camera (and different lenses will allow you to achieve different apertures, which is another bonus of a DSLR or a camera that allows you to switch out lenses); it’s measured in F-stops. Small numbers are wider openings, which allow more light to pass through the lens. Large numbers are smaller openings and let in less light. But that’s not all! Your aperture also determines your depth-of-field, or which parts of the photo are in focus. Large numbers are good for landscape photos or pictures where you want everything to be the same level of focus. Small numbers are good for softness or artistic blur.

This field of sunflowers was shot at a high f-stop (I want to say 16 or 20), so all of the flowers have about the same amount of focus.
This sunflower was shot at an aperture of F 1.8, the widest I can produce at the moment. The image in the foreground is fairly sharp and the soft background makes it stand out even more.

ISO–The ISO determines how sensitive your camera is to light. Lower numbers are less sensitive, while high numbers are more sensitive. Like shutter speed and aperture, ISO is also a twofold element. A high ISO will allow you to take photos in darker environments, but it also introduces noise to your photos. I don’t care for noisy photos, and I had a serious problem with cameras taking very noisy pictures in low light. So taking control of this was a big deal for me. I tend to shoot with a low ISO and only change it if I can’t get the shot I want by altering my shutter speed and aperture.

Here’s an example of a photo with noise. I shot this on Auto a long time ago. See all the speckles in the background? That’s noise caused by a high ISO.

When you’re getting ready to take a photo, exposure is one of the first things you need to consider. It’s not just how bright or dark you want your image to be, but also how you want to capture motion, depth-of-field, and the amount of noise you’re willing to put up with to achieve your desired shot. It’s a balancing act. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to show you how to manipulate all three of these elements so that you can find the balance in your own photography.

Thanks for reading, everyone! Please come back next Friday for a more in-depth look at shutter speed. I’m working on putting some really cool stuff together for you. In the meantime, you can follow me on Facebook for more pictures, articles, and other goodies.

 

 

Random summer photodump

I got a new lens last week (a Canon 75-300mm for anyone curious) and spent the weekend testing it, as well as practicing with the 50mm lens that I’ve had for a while. I don’t feel like I have enough experience with either of them yet to give you a thorough review, so I thought I’d just upload some photos today.

I’m really pleased with this batch; I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvement in a short amount of time. My ratio of good to bad pictures is getting higher every time I go out to shoot and I feel like I’m finally starting to get the hang of what all those numbers on my display mean. I hope everyone here is noticing some improvement over my earlier posts as well.

I’m also doing a lot of work behind the scenes, so to speak, planning future posts and doing research on both my camera equipment and upcoming local events. I have a list of things I’d like to try out at some point, and I think some of it is going to be really exciting stuff. I’m also starting a new series of basic photography advice, which will run on Fridays starting this week. If there’s anything you’d like to see in a future post, please leave a comment and let me know!

Fireworks

Photographing Fireworks

Today’s story is mostly about learning from mistakes and making the best of a less than ideal situation.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the idea that I should go to the Independence Day celebration here in Knoxville. It was going to be at World’s Fair Park, and I just knew I could get some amazing pictures of the fireworks and the Sunsphere, and it was going to be great. Fantastic even; the best Fourth of July ever.

And honestly, it wasn’t bad.

My husband and I got downtown early and found what we thought was going to be a good spot to set up. It looked like rain, so we picked a parking garage where there would be shelter, but we’d have an unimpeded view.

Downtown rooftops and the Sunsphere in Knoxville
Downtown rooftops and the Sunsphere in Knoxville.

We still had hours to go, so we went for a walk and sampled some delicious ice cream from a local dairy.

Brownie fudge ripple from Cruze Farm Dairy.
Brownie fudge ripple from Cruze Farm Dairy.

At dusk, we went back to the car and started setting up the camera. Except for a few short rain showers, things were going pretty well. And then the fireworks show started and things fell apart a little bit. It started raining again–we both got drenched, but the camera stayed dry–and I had completely misunderstood where the fireworks display was going to be. So the test shots I had so carefully composed were completely useless. I had to readjust and just make the most of it.

Which was great for a certain hotel chain, I guess, but not so good for me.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.
Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

I can’t complain too much. It was a learning experience, both for shooting fireworks and shooting at night, and I gained a lot. I just wish it hadn’t been such an obstructed view. Plus the show was really short; we waited for hours, and only got 15 minutes of fireworks in the rain.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

I think my biggest takeaway from this experience was that I should have looked into the location a little better. Obstructed view does not make for good composition. Given the weather, I’m not sure that I could have gotten into some of the really good spots without getting my camera soaked, but I probably could have done better than I did. If I decide to do this again next year, I’ll try to shoot from the Gay Street bridge. I think the sight of fireworks blooming and fading over the river will be amazing.

Advice for shooting fireworks:
Location, location, location
A tripod is a must
I would also highly recommend a shutter remote so you don’t even have to touch the camera and risk shaking it
Set your exposure to manual, and your lens to manual focus
Set a slow shutter speed–I shot most of these at about 1.5-2 seconds
ISO should be 100 to minimize noise
Don’t be afraid to play with your aperture a bit until you get it right
Take some time and enjoy the show; remember to look up from your camera from time to time
Have a plan for afterward; traffic can be a real pain, so rather than fight it you might want to find a local restaurant that’s open and hang out a while

Honestly, I think I could have gotten some great shots if only I’d been in a better spot. Rather than dwell on my mistakes, though, I’m going to celebrate because I got some pretty good pictures in spite of the location. The whole point of all this is to learn and improve, and I feel like I was successful in that area. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the photos! Please be sure to share this with your friends, and follow me on Facebook if you want to see more!

Street photography

There’s something really special about street photography. At its essence, it’s honest and very pure to me; a good street photo captures a moment in time that can never be repeated. It’s candid, raw, and often imperfect–just like life itself.

Dog riding in car; Seattle 2011
When I first spotted this dog, he was resting his head on the mirror; he had moved by the time I got my camera up, but I still love the picture.

This is what I mean–it’s not a perfect shot; the dog should have been a little more to the left of the frame, and it’s blurry too. But it’s a slice of everyday life, one of those funny moments that will never come around again. Seconds after I took that picture, they were gone.

Humans of New York is one of my favorite examples of street photography. Their work is more thoughtful and composed than I think is typical of the classification, but it’s just so beautiful. I love the stories they tell. I’m not up for taking lots of pictures of people yet–I am intensely uncomfortable around strangers–so I generally tend to focus on things like architectural details, street art installations, landscaping, and whatever else catches my eye.

autumn leaves
A leaf peeks out of the hood of someone’s coat.

 

Heart in a tree
A heart-shaped hole in a tree. The tree is probably still there, but I might never see it again.

 

Waikiki Rainbow
A beautiful rainbow over a jogging path in the Waikiki area of Honolulu.

 

Pulse chalk art memorial
Chalk art in downtown Knoxville on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting

Tips:
Be aware of local laws regarding photographing people (especially children) and buildings; don’t get yourself in trouble
Don’t sweat it if your photos aren’t perfectly composed when you’re first starting out. Try to get your exposure right and let everything else fall into place.
Plan in advance and try to keep your gear down to the essentials. If you’re walking all day, do you really want to lug your whole kit along with you?
Be aware of your surroundings; bring a friend if you’re uncomfortable going alone.
Have fun and enjoy the sights.

I’m sure I’ll have more street photos for you in the future. In the meantime, please be sure to leave me a comment and share this with your friends. For my readers in the US, have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend! I’ll see you next week. 🙂

Summer fun

Disclosure: I did not receive any sort of compensation for writing this post.The opinions here are my own and this is not intended to be any sort of advertisement or recommendation to go (or not go to) Rock City.

Back in April, before I even started this blog, I had to take a trip to Texas to do some work on the house that my husband and I are trying to sell. I made it a point to visit my grandma while I was there and my aunt, who was her primary caregiver, suggested that my cousins and I get together and go through Grandma’s curio cabinet.

Grandma and Grandpa traveled a LOT, both when he was serving in the military and after he retired, and most of the curios in the cabinet were souvenirs they had picked up on their trips. Among other things, Grandma had a small collection of bells she had bought at various tourist traps over the years. My cousins and I divided them up among ourselves, picking and choosing from places we had visited or stories that were important to us for whatever reason, and putting any extras into a pile for Goodwill or a yard sale later.

One of the bells had a rock formation painted on it along with the words “Lover’s Leap.” No location, no other information, just the usual Made in China label on the inside. Nobody had ever heard of it, so we looked it up. Turns out Lover’s Leap is part of a larger tourist attraction, called Rock City, that’s just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s just across the state line, so even though it’s just a few minutes outside Chattanooga, it’s actually in Georgia.

I added the bell to my pile; the following weekend, when I got back to Tennessee, my husband and I made the drive down to Rock City. If it was a place Grandma had been, I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

And what a sight it was.

It was a delightful day, and although I only had my phone with me and not my camera, I got a lot of ideas for pictures I want to take on a future visit. I probably won’t go back until sometime in the fall, when the summer heat and tourist crowds have died down somewhat, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. By that time, I should have enough experience with my DSLR to get some really great shots.

I hadn’t planned to write about this trip since it happened before I started Saga Shots, but my local newspaper mentioned this list on their Facebook page yesterday and it looked so good that I wanted to share it with you all. Rock City is GoBankingRates.com’s America the Beautiful bucket list entry for Georgia, and for good reason. It’s actually one of several tourist sites on Lookout Mountain, all of which would be great for photos or a family vacation. Next week, I’ll share the photos I took at one of the other Lookout Mountain tourist destinations, Ruby Falls. Until then, please leave me a comment and share this with your friends!

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Disclosure: I did not receive any sort of compensation for writing this post. The opinions here are my own, and this is not intended to be any sort of advertisement or recommendation to go (or not go to) Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. It’s really just my observations and photos from a day trip my husband and I took a couple of weeks ago.

I meant to post this sooner, but then family stuff happened and I didn’t have the time or the energy to figure out exactly what I wanted to say here, and how I wanted to say it.

Not too long ago, my husband and I took a trip to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokeys in Gatlinburg. We’re new to Tennessee, and we try to get out and do tourist things when we have the time and funds. Because how else are we going to get to know anything about the area?

I love aquariums and zoos, and animals in general, so I was really excited to go. The last time I went to an aquarium, aside from the little one they have at the Houston Zoo, was several years ago on a trip to Seattle (2011-ish, I think), before I got my DSLR. Most of the pictures I have from that time are either super blurry, super noisy, or both.

So bad I’m embarrassed to upload this…

I was really excited to see what I could do with a more powerful camera than the point-and-shoot I had with me back then.

As you can see, my expectations were much higher than my actual abilities.

I started out shooting with my 50mm lens, but it just wasn’t working for me and there were so many people (so, so many pushy kids!) that I was uncomfortable taking the time to figure out what I needed to do to get good shots. So I switched to my kit lens, which I’m more accustomed to using. That helped some, but something was still not working out. The light was wrong, I kept getting reflections off the tanks, photos were blurry or noisy or too dark…Between the camera issues and the crowds, I was getting so frustrated that I just wasn’t enjoying myself. It wasn’t a total bust–I did get a few good shots, and even the bad ones were better than the point-and-shoot photos from Seattle, but it wasn’t what I had been hoping to achieve.

 

I ended up putting my camera away and getting my phone out instead. I have a Google Pixel, and I love it. On a good day, I do get better photos with the DSLR than the phone. It’s usually worth the effort to take the time to figure out what I need to do to get those shots with my camera. However, given that the aquarium tickets were not cheap and I don’t get many days like that to spend with my husband, I think I made the right choice. Sometimes it’s important to take the easy route and just have fun.

Overall I enjoyed the aquarium, but I would recommend skipping the glass-bottom boat ride; it’s an extra $10/person and just not worth it. They take you a lap around the shark lagoon and the bottom of the boat was so dirty that it’s hard to see much, let alone take pictures. Plus it’s next to impossible to get a shot without somebody’s feet in the way. So…yeah. Not really my thing.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my aquarium adventure! Tune in next time (probably Friday) for more photos. In the meantime, please be sure to give this a like and share with your friends if you enjoyed it. Thanks, everyone!

Aperture

The other day, I went over a few things you can do to help improve your photography. Exposure was on the list, and aperture is one of the elements of exposure. I hadn’t planned to write anything about aperture or exposure so soon because I feel that I have yet to master the topic, but when I was out shooting the other day, I managed to take a couple of photos that I think illustrate it really well.

Basically, aperture determines how wide your camera’s shutter opens when you take a photo. It is measured in F-stops; low numbers are a shallow depth of field, and high numbers are deeper. Aperture can also affect the amount of light in the photo, so it works with your shutter speed and ISO to determine how light or dark your pictures are. I am not going to get into detail on all that today, though; I’m not sure I understand it well enough to explain it in detail and keep things interesting. Instead, I’m just going to show you what I shot.

mockingbird and babies
A mockingbird and its babies perched on a sign

See how the trees are in focus, and the birds are not? I shot this with a high F-stop, to compensate for my high shutter speed and the cloudy day. When I realized what I had done, I decreased my F-stop for a more shallow depth of field, and took the picture below.

mockingbird and babies
A clearer picture of the birds

Now the birds are clear, and the shallow depth of field has put the background out of focus, making the birds stand out even more. Had I dropped my F-stop even further, I might have had an even better photo. I was just experimenting with my settings at that time, and unfortunately the birds flew away before I could decrease my F-stop again and take another shot.

Luckily, I have a few other interesting photos from that day, and I hope they’ll help you to understand what a difference understanding aperture can make to your photography.

red hibiscus
A red hibiscus captured from the side

You can see that the flower is quite sharp, but the background is out of focus. I love photographing flowers; they’re beautiful from every angle, they don’t move much (except when it’s windy) so I don’t have to worry about them getting up and leaving, and it’s usually inexpensive or free. I can change camera settings and practice as much as I want. Yay!

yellow hibiscus
A yellow hibiscus up close

Here’s one more; the flower’s pistil is in focus, but the petals are not. Once again, this is due to a low aperture. It’s sort of my taste to have photos with a sharply focused subject toward the center, usually a close-up, and a shallow depth of field is good for that style of photography. However, a large aperture is better for things like landscape photos, where you want more of the image to be in focus. I don’t do a lot of landscape photography at this point, but I do have a couple of examples.

sunsphere world's fair park
The Sunsphere and World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville, TN.
Women's Basketball Hall of Fame
The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

Although I have other landscape pictures, they were from my days of shooting in auto and hoping for the best, so I’m not going to share them today. I’d rather use this blog for the shots that I’ve taken in manual, so I can keep track of the progress I make. But both of these are examples of subjects you would want to tackle with a fairly large aperture, so you can capture as much detail as you can.

That’s all I have today! If you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comment box below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Five things you can do to improve your photos today

Sooo…Like I said in this post the other day, I’m in the process of working to improve my photography. I can’t afford to take classes, but I have plenty of time to practice right now! Here are some things that have been helpful for me.

Best of all, most of these are things that will only cost you time.

Go over your camera manual and learn what the basic settings are
I know this sounds like a lot, but you don’t have to do it all at once. My Canon’s manual is huge…I downloaded a copy and keep it on my phone, so I can refer to it when I’m out shooting without having to lug the actual booklet around. It’s been a great help, especially when I was shooting indoors one day and realized I didn’t know how to adjust the white balance setting. I just pulled out my phone and from there it was an easy fix.

If you don’t have a manual for your camera, Google your model and see if there is one available online to access or download. If you can’t find one that way, see if you can find a forum and ask others for advice.

Learn a bit about exposure
There are three main elements to exposure: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It’s a lot to cover here, so I’m not going to go into great detail today. Respectively, they are how wide your shutter is open, how long it stays open, and how sensitive your camera sensor is to available light sources. By manipulating the way these three elements interact with one another, you can control how bright or dark an image is, how much noise is present, motion and blur, and all kinds of things. I’m sure I will write a post just on exposure one day, but in the meantime there are loads of tutorials online that will give you an idea of how this works.

Depending on your camera model and preferred shooting mode, you may have more or less control over each of these elements. Shooting in manual should give you complete control over your exposure, although finding the correct balance every time can be tricky.

Practice mindfully composing photos
Instead of just mindlessly snapping away and hoping for the best, lately I’ve been focusing a lot on composition. Whether it’s during the shooting process itself or afterward when I’m editing, I’m trying to expand my horizons a bit in this area. The rule of thirds is especially difficult for me; a typical photo for me used to be as tight as I could get, with my subject dead in the center. I’m trying to get away from that, although I probably won’t stop shooting that way completely. Sometimes those are the images that just speak to me.

Here’s an example of a mindless photo. I just took it, without thinking about the lighting or composition. That reflection off the sign is awful, isn’t it?
A couple steps to the left got me a much better shot of this exhibit. Granted, it’s not the most interesting subject, but it’s what I had to work with that day.

Another thing I’m trying to do is shoot in such a way that the picture will evoke an emotional response in the viewer, or maybe tell a story. I don’t feel like I have it down to the point that I can explain it very well yet, but I will be sure to post about it when I do.

Study other photographers
This is something I love to do–look at other people’s photos, consider what I like about them, and try to figure out how I might achieve similar effects in my own work. It’s not that I’m trying to duplicate their picture, just that I want to understand their use of light and patterns, focal points, and composition.

Use a tripod
So…This is the only suggestion I’m going to have today of extra equipment that you may want to purchase. It doesn’t have to be expensive, either; I see tripods at Goodwill and other resale shops all the time for $5 and under. Using a tripod can make a huge difference in the quality of your work, especially if you have a slow shutter speed, poor light, or your hands are a bit shaky. If you want to take that a step further, consider getting a shutter remote as well.

Waterfall
I shot this without a tripod, and you can see it’s a little blurry.
I used a tripod for this shot. It’s much clearer, and I was able to set a lower shutter speed and capture the motion of the water.

 

Most importantly, have fun while you’re practicing and learning. Some of this–like going over your manual and studying exposure–can get a little dull, but keep in mind that you’ll probably like your photos a lot better after you have a stronger idea of how the technical details work. Photography as a hobby doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and if it feels like a chore you might want to consider trying something different. Learning the basics on whatever equipment you currently have on hand will help you get your best photos yet, and it will also give you a better idea of what you might want to look for if or when you choose to upgrade.

Phew, that sure felt like a lot. I hope it was helpful for you! Any questions? Suggestions? Leave me a comment below! If you enjoyed my post, please give it a like and share it with your friends. Thank you!