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A-ha Moments That Made Me A Better Photographer

by Brooke Tasovac (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

There are so many beautifully shot, wonderfully edited images being shared online by photographers every single day, it’s hard to believe they were once clumsy beginners. I’ve attended workshops hosted by professionals, who insisted they too had once been confused about how to use their cameras, but it wasn’t until they showed me examples of their early photos that I believed them.

As the event manager at Photoh, I judge the fortnightly photography competition, and the range of entries we receive for all the different themes has confirmed for me that everyone has their own individual photography journey to follow. No one can pick up a DSLR camera and understand how to use it properly on manual mode without studying - it’s just not possible! But some people do seem to learn faster than others, and it can be frustrating to feel that you can’t keep up.

I’ve found in the six years that I’ve owned a DSLR camera, it’s been the “a-ha moments” that have pushed me forward into the next phase of learning. “A-ha moments” are the bursts of understanding you get when something you’ve been studying or practising suddenly clicks – and I know I’m not alone in having them; many of our students at Photoh say something clicked for them during classes, or when shooting later at home. These moments are crucial for motivation and inspiration, especially when you’re in a slump.

I thought I’d share my top 5:

1) Using the histogram to get correct exposure

When I made the switch from auto to manual, I couldn’t figure out why my images were overexposed all the time. I love a light, airy look in my photos, with sun flare and backlighting, but I was constantly losing detail in the highlights trying to achieve it, and feeling disappointed when I looked back at them on the screen.

Image taken by Brooke Tasovac

The instant I turned my histogram on I began to improve. Initially, I just wanted to make sure my sky highlights weren’t washed out, and then I learned how to better expose for people’s skin, and even to maintain detail when capturing sun flare in my photos. I spent two years shooting without it and I really wish I’d turned it on sooner!

2) Learning to read light

My favourite subjects to shoot are children (my own little daughter in particular), and it’s hard to get natural shots of kids when you try to control the environment too much – including the light. I used to settle for the best photos I could get, until I saw the results I could get with soft, diffused light. I still try to capture candid moments regardless, but when I want really beautiful photos I head to the locations with open shade that are suitable for shooting any time of day, or where the sun is the right quality for the type of photographs I like to take.

The most important thing for me is that the light has a quality to it, whether it’s because of a golden haze at sunset, or a grey stormy sky. I never take good photographs in flat light.

3) Finding my lenses sweet spots

Image taken by Brooke Tasovac

The first time I used a prime lens I was amazed with how wonderfully sharp and clear my images were, and tried to use the same settings with other lenses, only to get less-than-stellar results. Then I realised all lenses have “sweet spots”, an ideal aperture setting to give your photos an extra boost of clarity. You can Google where the sweet spot is on almost any lens, but generally it’s a few stops above the smallest aperture number, within the middle of the aperture range. Before I knew what sweet spots were, I was constantly wondering why my images could look so different from one day to the next, even when I was using the same lens on both days.

4) Using a mix of posed and lifestyle photography

When trying to develop my style, I became quite confused about how to balance my love for natural, candid photography with my enjoyment for styled sessions with props, sets and posing people. I blame my confusion on Pinterest – all the photos are so highly stylised and edited that it can feel “boring” to just shoot people being people.

I’ve come to realise there is a time and place for both of these styles. It’s so important to me to be able to document all the little unexpected moments that happen in life, especially with my own daughter. I generally find my best shots are completely spontaneous and unplanned, but it’s also a lot of fun to plan and execute a cake smash, or get creative when taking a photo to send out with our family Christmas card. I don’t have to choose.

Image taken by Brooke Tasovac

5) Knowing “technically incorrect” can still make for an amazing photo

After adjusting my eye to look for flaws for so many years, I find it hard not to notice small technical issues in a photo I otherwise love. Last year, I was taking photos of my daughter playing in water in hot midday sun that blew out some of her skin tones. I was too busy capturing her happy expressions to notice areas of her skin that had lost detail (plus I couldn’t see my LCD screen very well in the bright sun). Although I was disappointed at the time, I smile every time I look back at the photos now, because it was such a memorable day. Since this experience I’ve learned to accept that as long as a photo has captured an emotion or a sweet moment, it’s a good photo. There are plenty of photography rules that I believe are worth breaking, to get the effects that I want. Photography is so subjective anyway – it’s most important that you love the photos you’re taking, rather than trying to impress other people.

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