"A Little Sis, A little That"
Episode 2: Photography Basics
In Episode 2, I tell Sara all about my history with photography, give her my five principles to getting started with photography (no matter what kind of camera you have), and talk about why I think prime lenses are the best for beginners.
Our dad was probably the biggest influence I had in regards to photography. As a young man, when Sara and I weren't even a glimmer in his eye, Dad was a creator. One of my favorite photos he's ever taken was a creative self-portrait of him "fishing" in a manhole cover (inspired by the album cover of Foghat's fifth album, Fool for the City).
When Sara was in college, dad would take me up to visit her on the weekend and would often bring his camera. On one notable trip, we went kayaking in Morro Bay and as he was setting up the kayaks, I took his camera around the marina and photographed an upturned boat on the shore, which dad then had framed (I was so proud!).
Our Grandpa Kain also had an influence over my need to document everything with a camera. Sara recalls, "he was always taking photos but what's funny is I don't ever remember seeing him with one!" That to me is a mark of a good photojournalist.
Grandpa was also a bit of a hipster: he would stick thought bubble stickers on quite a lot of the photos he captured, writing funny captions in them to tell a silly story. He was basically creating memes.
All of this is to say that my need to photograph and tell visual stories is deeply ingrained in my being!
In 2007 I wrote a paper entitled “The Effects of Photography on Society & Public Opinion” for my senior project. I had the aspiration of being a photojournalist but after taking a few photography classes at Pasadena City College in my first year, I wasn’t so sure that’s what I really wanted to do.
I ended up visiting Sara one weekend and found that Cal Poly SLO offered viticulture & enology as a major and ended up being swept away by the wine industry. It wasn’t until ten years later while working for a vineyard management company that I picked up my camera again and found what I felt I must do: photograph the amazing people of the wine industry!
Now, my goal is to share the true stories of makers through photography and social media.
How to Get STarted
First, I want to say that it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have. With the principles I am about to teach you, you could get decent photos with a camera phone, a disposable camera, or the latest and greatest camera.
Photography is more than just clicking a button! One can take a shitty photo with an amazing camera or an amazing photo with a shitty camera. In short, it's not the type of camera that matters, it's how you use it.
Photography literally means “light drawing,” which is why nearly every photography class you ever take will start with teaching you about light. The big thing to remember is that indirect light is the easiest to work with and often results in more beautiful pictures. That’s not always the case, I’ve certainly seen some really gorgeous photos taken in broad daylight, but for beginners, I recommend working with these three sources of indirect light:
The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are called “golden hour” (also, “magic hour”). This is one of the best times to take photos as it takes the sun a longer amount of time to penetrate the atmosphere at this angle, so the light is often softer and the shadows aren’t as intense.
I know that overcast days seem like a bummer, but they often provide some of the best conditions for photography. Since the sun must filter through clouds, the light is much more evenly distributed and shadows are all but nonexistent.
Next to a window:
If photographing inside, do your best to place your subject close to a north- or south-facing window. North- & south-facing windows receive a consistent amount of indirect sunlight throughout the day, so the light will, again, be softer. Open doors are also great for this!
Unfortunately, having good light doesn’t necessarily mean you have a good picture. You must also have the added component of composition. Think of composition as the bones of your photo. Without it, all you have is a blob of light. Try putting these three composition types into play in your next photos:
This is defined as “the spatial relationship between two objects.” In short, it is how you see something. Changing the perspective of an image can actually convey completely different messages about the subject.
For example, photographing from above will cause the subject to appear very small and thus make the viewer of the image feel large (like an adult, or like a god). Photographing from below, on the other hand, will cause the subject to appear large and will, therefore, make the viewer of the image feel very small (like a child or an ant).
Try taking a photo of the same subject from several perspectives (from above, below, straight on, up close, far away, from behind, etc) and see how it changes the feeling of the image.
This composition technique acts as a way to guide the viewer’s eye towards a specific subject.
Streets, fences, mountains, trees, even shadows can all create lines that lead the eye on a path through the different elements of a photo.
Eyes like to by guided, so this is a really comfortable way to give movement to your image. Typically, lines will begin outside of the frame and then point towards your subject.
Rule of Thirds:
This is more of a guideline than a rule. It states that an image can be divided into nine equal parts (or three columns) and that by placing your subject off-center, you can draw attention to the image as a whole.
Essentially, the rule of thirds allows the background of an image to be a second subject.
This rule was first penned by John Thomas Smith who noted that breaking an image of a landscape into thirds, where the sky made up 1/3 and the earth made up the remaining 2/3 was more comfortable for the eye.
Once you’ve learned light and composition, the next ingredient every great photo has is the ability to tell a story (or give the image context).
Ask yourself, “How can I invite the viewer into this scene?”
One way to tell a story is to create movement within the image. You can do this by using leading lines and drawing the eye towards a subject, or you can literally add movement. If you are photographing beer, perhaps you can have someone be pouring that beer into a glass.
This brings me to my next storytelling technique: adding a human element. One of the reasons I like photographing hands so much is because it is such a simple, yet powerful, way to invite my viewer into the story. A photo of a hand holding a bunch of grapes will often make the viewer feel as though they are holding those grapes themselves. A photo of feet stomping grapes will make the viewer feel the grapes between their own toes. Adding a human element to the story makes it easier for the viewer to imagine themselves into a scene.
Finding your style is the least important part of learning photography, so I wouldn’t worry about it so much. That said, it can be fun to explore your style! Some photographers prefer to photograph light and airy, while some prefer dark and moody photos. I, myself, tend to photograph in a warm and vibrant way.
When trying to determine your style, think about the images that attract you. When you’re flipping through a magazine, what are the colors that grab your attention? Are they more blue or yellow? Are they darker or lighter? Are the images closer up or further away? That can often clue you in to what your style is.
My final word on style though is to not pigeonhole yourself. Although it’s nice to have a consistency, sometimes the story needs to be told in a way that's different from your usual way.
Tips on Sunrise/Sunset Photography?
As with anything in photography the short answer is: it depends on what you’re going for. But here are some quick tips for beginners:
- Make sure your horizon is level. Nothing ruins a photo faster than a horizon that is slightly off-kilter.
- Photograph in HDR: HDR stands for high-dynamic range and the idea behind it is that it “perfectly” exposes for light, dark, and mid-tones. Most cameras (including cell phones) can do this automatically. The camera essentially takes three images: one overexposed (really light), one underexposed (really dark), and one generally exposed. It then combines those images to create a single image that is almost perfectly exposed.
- Try different composition techniques. Use the rule of thirds by placing a tree or a mountain in the side of the frame and your horizon on the bottom third of the frame. Or use leading lines to guide the eye directly to the sun.
- Don’t forget to tell the story: if you photograph into the sun, place a person in between you and the sun. This will cause the subject (the person) to be silhouetted against the sun and can help invite the viewer into the scene.
- Try different things. Don’t just take one photo and call it a day. Take many photos with many concepts and find which you like the best.
** Bonus: I like to photograph slightly darker. This helps make the colors of sunset "pop" a little more. When you overexpose (read: make an image too bright) you tend to lose the depth and color of a sunset.
How to take photos on a cell phone?
These tips are specific to iPhones (sorry Android users)
- Turn off “live” photo mode: This feature takes a 3-second video and then selects the frame it deems the “best.” Often this can result in a blurry photo. So, just turn it off, you don’t need it.
- Turn on Auto HDR: Go to Settings>Camera> Auto HDR. This will help you take better-exposed photos.
- Turn on your grid: Settings>Camera>Grid. This will help you keep your horizons straight and help you with composition.
- Focus on your subject by tapping on the screen where your subject is. You can adjust the brightness by tapping and dragging your finger up (to increase brightness) or down (to increase darkness).
- Most importantly: NEVER ZOOM IN ON YOUR CELL PHONE! iPhones are amazing, but they aren’t that amazing. Zooming in will cause the image to be pixellated and blurry. In short… it will make your photo look like shit.
Editing: How long is normal for one photo?
Once again, the annoying answer is it depends. I do my best (and I encourage you to do the same) to get the photo “right” in camera. So, I spend more time composing the image, getting the lighting and color right, before I even take the photo. That way, when I get the image on my computer (or my phone) it only takes me maybe thirty seconds to edit.
More advanced editing (like removing things from images, compositing two images into one, cutting a bottle out from the background and making the background clear, etc) will take longer depending on how practiced you are at what you’re doing.
WHAT WOULD BE THE BEST 1ST LENS FOR A BEGINNER STARTING OUT IN PRODUCT & FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY?
My favorite beginner lens is a 50mm lens (often referred to as the 'nifty fifty'). I like it for a couple of reasons:
- It’s great for both landscapes and portraits as it’s wide but not TOO wide.
- It’s cost-effective: my first 50mm lens was around $125 (VERY CHEAP for a lens). Purchase this lens for your Canon camera here.
- Finally, because it is a “prime” lens (meaning, the focal length is fixed and you can’t zoom in), it forces you to physically move closer or further away from your subject, which will in turn force you to have a new perspective on your subject.
Best photos for social media?
Social media tends to favor photos that are from a different perspective than normal. One of the reasons drone photos perform so well on social media is because the average human doesn’t see things from above like that. So I would encourage you to do your best to find an unusual perspective of your subject.
Sara also made a good point that when you’re selling something on social media, you aren’t selling the actual product, you are selling the image of a product. So you will have more success on social media if you can make your image more compelling by inviting the viewer into the scene.
Sara brought up a really good story that is mentioned in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. In this story, a photography professor splits his class into two groups. One group was tasked with creating a single perfect image that they would be graded on. The other group was tasked with taking as many photos as possible and would be graded on their galleries as a whole.
At the end of the semester, the professor found that the students who were tasked with taking as many photos as they could created significantly better images than those who were tasked with creating a single image.
The reason for this is that the students who had to take one photo were less likely to experiment. The students who took more photos took the principles they learned in the course and used them but then, more importantly, they BROKE those rules as well.
Practice makes perfect. Just get out and photograph!
I am currently working on creating 1:1 mentorship classes as well as group classes about photography. I’ll let you know when those are available! In the meantime, follow me on Instagram for more tips.
In the meantime, here are some resources to help you get started.
- Skillshare.com and YouTube are excellent resources for learning anything! I use Skillshare all the time to learn new skills and perfect old skills. (Click here for 2 months off of a premium skillshare membership!)
- To learn how to think critically with photography, I recommend watching Peter McKinnon’s YouTube channel. He has helped me SO much in getting creative with my photography.
- For portrait photography, I recommend reading Chris Orwig’s book Authentic Portraits: Searching For Soul, Significance, and Depth.
- For Food Photography, follow Foodtography School on Instagram and even take their classes.
JUST FOR FUN
We are still taking suggestions for names for this show! Here are a few suggestions we’ve received:
- A Lil’ Sis, a Lil’ Dat
- Dabble with Donitz
- Give it a Whirl with Sara & Heather
- Daenitz Does It
A favorite still seems to be: A Little Dabble Do You
(Dis)honorable mentions that made us laugh:
- Chit Chat & Chickens
- Hens in a Cock House
(Perhaps we will use one of these for our episode on Chickens)
Friday, May 29 at 5:00 PM PST
Instagram LIVE on the Craft & Cluster Instagram
This time, Sara and I will talk about our favorite podcaster (and one of the reasons we decided to do this show in the first place) Gretchen Rubin. In this episode, we will discuss Gretchen Rubin’s framework for knowing yourself better and how using this frameowrk has made us happier.
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