One of my favourite pastimes is photography. I had always enjoyed taking photos, and a few years ago, when I was planning a round the world trip, I decided to take my first photography class in order to be able to take better photos on my travels. It was a truly fantastic experience, we had excellent teachers and my love for photography has grown year on year since then. Interestingly, the majority of the basic principles that I learned at that very first class are the things that have been the most enduring, and that are still the most useful things every time I take out my camera or take a photo on my phone. And of course – they make great metaphors for life lessons!
1. Use what you have – This was one of the first things that the teachers taught. I had been planning to go out and get a brand new spanking camera for the class, but my aunt suggested that I should do the class, and then get advice on a new camera when I get there. Not only was this some of the best advice I could have had at the time, when we arrived at the class, the teacher said that they encourage students to bring whatever they were currently taking photos with, whether it was their cellphone or DSLR camera. The aim of the class was to improve our techniques by using what we already had. In life this is important. Sometimes I look at the new version of something and it makes me hate my old version a little bit, but it is important to make use of what we have, instead of overlooking it in a quest for something new. I have a policy now – if I cannot find a way to make use of what I have (as long as it is in working order) then I do not need to buy the new thing. It has saved me many a purchase!!!
2. Your eye is the best visual instrument there is – this was the first lesson I learned, and it is still the most important. Our teacher explained that we sometimes take for granted our eye’s ability to change focus seamlessly, but we need to realize that when we are taking a photo, our ability to choose what to focus on can change the photo entirely. How we see the scene with the naked eye is not always what will come out in the photo. This is why sometimes we see a beautiful landscape but our photos somehow lack the depth and beauty that we can see with the naked eye. We can leverage this by choosing to focus on something in the foreground or further back to change the appearance of the photo altogether. In life, sometimes when I am not getting the result I want, I need to change focus slightly, instead of trying to focus on everything at once. This sometimes can bring good results, and success (as well as memorable photos)
3. Perspective – this was an excellent trick. It is about how to gain perspective in a photo that is otherwise lacking. A great example of this is taking a picture of the ocean. I find that sometimes I try to do this and it comes out looking flat. A neat trick here is to choose an item in the foreground to focus on. This lends instant perspective to the photo and the vastness of the ocean is much more apparent. In life we often need to gain perspective and sometimes the best way of doing this is focusing on gratitude for the things that we already have – that are right in front of us!
4. Framing – this looks at how we decide what falls into the frame of the photo. One thing that our teacher suggested was to use the rule of thirds – which divides the photo into 3 segments either vertically or horizontally, and which is often more pleasant to the eye, instead of having it divided in half. However, he also pointed out that you can frame things creatively for different effects. The same applies in life – how you frame something, how you see it, can often make the difference about how you feel about it, and ultimately whether you take it as a good or bad experience. An example of this for me is taking something negative that happens and trying to see the lesson in it, rather than dwelling on the annoyingness of it.
5. If at first you don’t succeed – this last lesson was also one of the big ones. Our teachers were photographers for a lot of prestigious magazines – one of them had even taken photos of the queen. And the one thing that they both said was – sometimes it takes 100 or more photos to get that perfect shot (and by the way – this is the beauty of digital photography!). It was a great lesson in perseverance. Re-frame, re-focus and go again. Remember that those gorgeous photos that you see in the glossy magazine are only one out of hundreds – maybe even thousands of efforts to get it right, and don’t compare your single photo, instead re-frame, re-focus and go again. I don’t think I need to say any more on that.
6. Have fun! The best way to get comfortable taking great photos is to get out with the camera and shoot! There is no better way to improve.
Above is one of my earliest photos from the class – taken out and about in Gloucestershire. I hope that my tips are helpful to anyone who wants to take more photos. And to answer a question that someone asked me the other day – no I have never photoshopped or altered my photos in any way. I don’t know how, and I have no interest in knowing. I would admit to being snobby about this particular aspect of photography. I don’t judge other persons who do it, but I always liked to think of myself as being able to actually take the photo I want, and to trying multiple times until I get it (or to being resigned if I don’t). And sometimes – if I can’t get the photo I want, I put down the camera and enjoy the view. And that too is a life lesson.
Big love from a small island.