How to start taking pictures

Originally published on January 5th 2014

Happy new year everyone! The beginning of the year seems to give everyone momentary motivation to do the things that they have always wanted to do or change. But the truth is, you can’t do something for a moment and become instantly good, you need to work on it. A lot.

Occasionally I get an email from someone asking me how to take pictures. When they ask such a loaded question like that, it’s hard to find an answer just as simple. Looking back on my photography, the things I’ve done, read, experimented with to get to where I am now is uncountable. My photography skill today is pretty much just a mash-up of everything I have studied and applied in photography. So it is nearly impossible to give someone step-by-step instructions on how to become good at photography. Though today I will be sharing a basic run-through of my photography process from how I started out and where I am on the road now, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

1.Take A LOT of pictures. Have a million shoots.

I always loved taking pictures. Not in the way that people do now with Instagram, because for most part, I wouldn’t show anybody what I took. I know that my friends remember this too; one even gave me a nickname, “The paparazzi”. I would literally take about 300 photos a day of just random objects and my friends. I loved the idea of capturing the moment. Somehow I knew that memory wasn’t enough.

I don’t remember being particularly exposed to as much photography or photographers online as I had been with drawing, but somehow I started to make an effort with photography instead of being like, “Oh look! A leaf!” Click. “A rusty nail!” Click. Most of those pictures were out of focus too. But it was fun, really fun, and thats what made me want to get better. It didn’t matter if I was amazing at it or not.

2.Seek out critiques, not compliments.

In the beginning stage, I believe its good to have people not say anything about your work. Because if you’re looking for compliments on your picture of a cloud, people generally feel like they have to be nice and encourage you. So they will say something like this “Oh, wow, that’s a really nice cloud. I can’t believe how perfectly you captured it. Keep going! I see potential!” It’s all very lovely, and encouragement is important. But when you are starting, too much encouragement can do two things:

1. It can stunt growth, and the person will subconsciously feel like they don’t have to get better, because according to you, they are good already.

2. It will distort their idea of what good actually is.

So if you are starting out, and want to try it seriously, I recommend going to photographers who aren’t afraid of telling you the truth.

3.Find what is beautiful to you.

Over time on my walk with photography, I started thinking of how I should take pictures. I didn’t know what I liked at that time, so I took pictures of whatever I found aesthetically pleasing. I took pictures of icicles, the sunset, shiny jewelery, and random people walking past. Because to me, it was beautiful.

I started using my sisters as Guinea pigs to model for me. I am very lucky to have 4 extremely compliant sisters. So I modeled them time and time again. But we all had fun doing it (As far as I know). It helped me get used to posing people and understanding which angles of the human face are flattering, and what’s not. Of course, at this time, I still didn’t know I was learning. It was all under the surface.
I experimented with “fashion”, dramatic photography, portraiture, and my narrow idea of conceptual photography.

4.Get off AUTO mode right now.

By the time I was calling myself “A photographer”, I kept one thing shamefully hidden away. I still had no idea about the technicalities of the camera. I still don’t know how I got away with it for so long. But I would just shoot with my kit lens, have my camera set on AUTO, and then pretty up the pictures in Photoshop and use free actions I found off the Internet. A good start, but I definitely could have benefited from more knowledge of the internal workings.

Then somehow, I decided to get on Manual mode. I don’t remember what inspired this exactly, but is is the best thing anyone can do for their photography. Don’t let AUTO be your crutch. I remember how frustrated I was in not being able to control my settings, but when I tried to, I couldn’t understand how to. But after a while, things got easier.

So I read hundreds of tutorials on ISO, Shutter speed, and aperture. I remember reading up somewhere in the beginning that to most photographers, adjusting the settings become second nature. And now they are for me as well, and it has definitely made photography a lot more fun.

5.Try to understand why you shoot, more than what you shoot.

Though even though I was growing, the path in just fashion or portraiture didn’t seem right to me. I wanted to find my own voice, and not become like a hundred billion other photographers who wanted the same thing as me. Most of which who were probably better than me and understood all that was involved in that realm better. Me? I just loved pictures. And I knew that I always wanted to add a story element to my shoots, but I didn’t know how.

But then, through the the Internet, I discovered photographers with the kind of styles I wanted to imitate, and I was inspired to do conceptual photography in a unconventional way. And I loved it. Mostly because it was flexible.

6.Keep exploring.

So now, I’m trying to explore photography. I don’t want to limit myself. I will always have my style, but if I don’t step out of the box, I will get very claustrophobic. My goal now is just doing my best to take the images in my head and then make them into a picture. They never turn out how I expect they will, and thats fun. I hate it when things are perfect, or when I feel pressured to be perfect all the time. I’m not perfect, so how can I take pictures that are? It’s impossible. But yet, at the same time, a little encouraging.

Always,

Reylia

My photography Page: Reylia Slaby Fine Art

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