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.



My photography Page: Reylia Slaby Fine Art


10 Things Photography Teaches.

A few of the things I’ve learned from photography. I usually re-learn them all each time I have a photo-shoot.


1. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.

Sometimes I’d go on a photo-shoot and know from the start that it wouldn’t work out. The models weren’t right together, I compromised the prop or location, or I just wasn’t feeling the idea. This has happened a lot. But I grow from the mistakes. If you aren’t feeling it, then there is something you should change. This applies to every facet in your life.

 2. There will always be another photo-shoot

I’m usually in a  bad mood if I don’t have a photo-shoot planned. If I get lazy and don’t make plans, I ask myself, I have about 50 ideas drawn up in my sketch book, why am I not making any plans to have them materialised? Then i get out there, shoot, and feel a bit better. When I finally do finish up a photo-shoot and have it edited, a deep satisfaction rests upon my soul and I can sleep well that night. But then the next day I feel like I have to create something just as good or better. I ended up repeating the same cycle where I was depressed because I didn’t have anything planned. There will always be another photo-shoot.

3.Everyone is more beautiful than they think.

So many people tell me “I could never model, I don’t have the look for it.” Being a good model has very little to do with how you look, and everything with your attitude. It is the ability to pull emotions from deep inside you and show that through your expression and body. It is being willing to wade in dirty waters and stand in the rain because you believe in the artist and the idea. That means more than a pretty face.

4.You will get stuck, but you will get out.

At this period in my art, I get stuck a lot. I don’t have the resources I wish I had and I can’t travel to beautiful locations. So I find myself using the same area again and again, and trying to squeeze everything I can from that particular place. I end up losing inspiration. But, I always end up finding another location close by that I missed, but is just as beautiful. It is an art to see old things in new ways, and I use that to escape from my rut.

5.It’s OK to use your breakup for inspiration

I’ve shamelessly used my ex for ideas. A lot of people have commemorated me on this, because they wouldn’t do it themselves. They would be scared about how it would be received. They wonder if it is healthy to display your feelings where everyone can see. Let me tell you, if you can find healing through it, it is healthy. As long as you don’t disrespect anyone through your images then feel free to use your pain as an advantage. If I can take all my negativity and turn it into something beautiful, then that is a hope I will carry with me for the rest of my life. That there is beauty in pain.

6. Art helps you understand yourself

Art reveals to me my weaknesses and my subconscious struggles. There are so many questions I have, so many problems I don’t know why happen, but when I throw art into the mix, things became a lot clearer. Or when I am having problems thinking of new ideas for photography, how I am during those times reflect my current state of mind. Can’t focus? Are you scatterbrained? You want to do everything at once? It is rarely art’s fault, but helps you discover the side effects of something that can be poisoning you.

7.A failure isn’t a failure.

When I had my first “failed photo-shoot” I was devastated and I felt incompetent. I was so scared that I would never take a good photo again. But I found out that my so-called failures had nothing to do with my talent, but everything to do with my state of mind and how well I planned out the shoots. I was rushed, I wasn’t thinking clearly, and what I created was the product of my sloppiness. I’m lucky because when it comes to my conceptual photography I can afford to be sloppy, because it is all about understanding yourself and finding out the things you need to change.

Once I had a shoot fail because I had no soild idea attached to it. I didnt see the path in how I would edit it or what the story was. But about four months later, I saw it differently, and I managed to create something that meant something to me. So the shoots are never a failure, either you learn something from it or you save gems for later to re-discover.

8.People don’t see the mistakes as well as you do

Don’t freak out over the mistakes, because the chances are, you are the only one who can see them.

9. Simplicity is key

Whenever I think that I need fancy equipment or extravagant props, I always look back on my most popular photos. In “To Cut Your Ties” all I used was a some string and a scissors as the prop, and yet I balanced it in a way that it was aesthetic. You don’t need more than you need to create something beautiful. All you need is your idea and your determination to see that idea come to life.

10. Just do it.

Do not procrastinate. This has got to be my biggest downfall. Some days I spend so much time feeling low that I end up getting nothing done. They say that procrastination is the fear of failure. I would believe that. You fear that what you do won’t effect anyone, that it won’t mean anything, that no one is going to care. Prove yourself wrong.



What Art Taught Me: Dealing With Art Blocks

What Art Taught Me: Dealing with Art Blocks

Written on December 28th 2013 


They definitely aren’t fun, these little spaces in time between finishing up an art piece and starting a new one. Unless you have a fully equipped arsenal of ideas, there are times when you will run into art block. And of course, the more time you dedicate to making art, the more art blocks you will have over your life.

 We all know that they are necessary from time to time, but how do we get over those hurdles? Because we all know that sickening feeling when no ideas are coming our way and we are in fear that we have finally exhausted our creative juices. That is how I’ve felt many times.

 But there are a few exercises I do to help stir up creativity. They might work for you too.

 1. Take what you’re feeling, and use it.

 I had about two weeks worth of art block at one point. I was miserable. I was hasty. I was scatter brained. So many negative thoughts and emotions came from me not having ideas. Why?

For those two weeks I had so many last second, unplanned, random photo-shoots.

I thought I was being productive doing all these quickies, but in reality they produced an opposite effect.

But then I started to think about how I was feeling at the moment, instead of trying to pick fruit from empty trees. That lead me to draw out photo-shoots based on the art block itself. For example, one idea I drew up involved a path leading to no where. It really helped me to imagine the feeling I had in those moments as a picture, instead of a wall I had to climb over to find the good stuff. Use the emotion you have in your hands.

 2. Keep it simple.

 During the whirl of all these poorly planned photo-shoots, I decided that I needed to just get outside. Not to take a walk, but to find a place where I could calmly shoot, instead of feeling cramped up in my home and yard. I took with me my Nikon d7000, a semi broken tripod, and some red silk fabric that had hardly been used, but was very wrinkly. I made my way up to my neighborhood ballpark. When I arrived there were a few kids playing around, but I never really needed privacy to shoot, so I would let them be curious. I broke off part of a branch from a tree, and then I got shooting. The concept meant a lot to me, and the materials used were few, which definitely took a load off my mind, and I was able to create a piece I entitled “Last Hope”. For me, tons of fancy things never created fancy pictures. Only when I felt happy and completely free to be myself.

 3.Your medium might not be the right outlet for what you want to say.

 One night, this particular two-week art block had been torturing me all day, and left me with no images that reflected how I was feeling. I wanted to express something, but I didn’t know exactly what. All I knew that it was bubbling up inside, and if I didn’t somehow get it out, I was going to go insane. It was after dark, so shooting anything outside was out of the question. I was on the computer at the time, probably looking through Internet memes. Bored and frustrated out of my mind, I somehow decided to get on Hotmail and I started typing a message to myself, and the words just poured out of me, I almost didn’t even have to think about it. That message turned out to be my first spoken word poem. After writing, I re-read it once and thought “This is it!!”. I was so excited that I ran downstairs to perform it for my sister. It said everything I needed to. And I was extremely lucky and grateful to be able to perform that one particular poem at a Story Telling night called “The Flame”, hosted at  my friend’s restaurant.

 In that moment, I didn’t need photography. I believe that in limiting yourself to one medium is limiting yourself to only one form of expression. Of course at the moment photography is my main outlet, but sometimes it just won’t cut it. Just how a guitarist might really really like cooking or a hip hop dancer might have a hidden love for drawing. It doesn’t matter what it is, but adding different colors to your pallet is always good. You can’t always just use red.

 4. Know that sometimes creativity does come in random bursts, and wait for them.

 I was beginning to accept the fact that photo ideas weren’t knocking on my door as frequently as I would like, and I was calming down. I was on the train heading towards Nara with my sister, and I was sketching a bit. It might have been the calming motion of the train, or that I was just in a very good mood, but somehow, a door was opened and idea after idea started flooding my mind, and made its way onto my sketchbook. Besides being EXTREMELY overjoyed, I was very curious as to ‘why now’? The ideas just wouldn’t stop for about an hour, and even as I was walking I was writing them all down. I stopped drawing them out at that point, and just started writing titles, because I was afraid that if I spent too much time drawing one out, another idea would pass me by.

That evening, after the faucet of ideas had been turned off, I looked at my scribbles and was happy that my art block seemed to have come to an end. I tried going back to that same spot in my brain where I thought the ideas had stemmed from, but they didn’t come like they had earlier that day. But it was OK. I had that moment, and it was enough for now.

5. Study the technical side

 And then, when nothing is coming through of the creative end, it might be a sign that I need to pay a visit to the technical side. We all need to go back and learn new techniques and tricks. I am definitely not the best at this. But it is good to brush up on.

I also like learning about different forms of photography. Fashion and landscape are the next two that I’m interested in, so I tend to lean towards those.

Thank you for reading! Please keep in mind that these are just my personal thoughts on art block and not truth for everyone 🙂

If any of you have your own personal tricks, please share them with me in an email, and I will post it on my Facebook! We are here on earth to share.



What Art Taught Me: Preparation

What Art Taught me: Preparation

 When I was in the beginning stages of photography, I went to a meeting/interview for being a potential photographer for a magazine.  Even though my skills were extremely inchoate, I had decided to give it a shot. What’s the worst that can happen? Turns out, the worst that could happen was one of the best things that could happen: I had an eye-opener. The interviewer didn’t praise me, but gave me my first taste of actual criticism, in a straight-forward, yet kind way. He simply explained that in the fashion world, an incredible amount of planning and preparation goes into one photo, and that my photos looked as if there had been no planning at all.  Of course up to this point with my own photography, nothing really had been said except encouragement, so I was quite taken aback that someone who I only had one hour prior would be so direct.

 He basically told me to keep trying, and that was the end of it for him. But for me, it was the start. I literally walked out of that office and down the street as if I was walking on clouds, extremely giddy for no apparent reason. I had never felt that way before. And it was weird that my body was so charged with positive energy after being turned very flatly down. But he was as far as I had ever come to the fashion world, and I was star-struck. After that I was studying up on the best fashion photographers that were, or had been in the biz.

 His advice stuck with me. I didn’t plan, and I knew it, but I had my excuses for why I wasn’t. I had thought that photography was a spontaneous thing, something that couldn’t be caged within the bars of preparation. But I had the whole thing mixed up in my head. Prep and planning isn’t a cage to hold the wild birds, it’s a resting place for them. It took me a while to understand this concept, but I am very grateful that someone had the courage to be honest to my face and not only explain it to me, but to sit me down and show me.

 Of course, then there is the issue of what kind of planning matches you. I can’t tell you what yours is, but mine at the moment is quite simple. I need to have an image in my head, and I try to get it as clear as possible, then I write down in my sketch book exactly how I can make that picture possible. Of course I can be lazy and not follow it to the tee, but hey, we all have room for growth.

 Here is a basic list of the things I plan:

-I plan what outfit I will use,

 -What model,

 -The exact place (One thing I often neglect)

-The lighting

-The color

-How I will edit

-The pose

-The props

-The equipment

-The assistants

-The concept

-The framing


And that is just a basic list, most of them are subconscious now, and I don’t really have to think twice (Which makes it really hard to explain my process, unfortunately)

 But, what happens when your best photo was taken in the spur of the moment and when your planned pictures seem like they hate you?

That’s where the beauty in understanding who you are and what works for you is. Most of my best photos are semi on the spur of the moment. And sometimes it just feels like it was on the spur of the moment just because the picture came out so smoothly, but it’s in that moment I have to remember that there was a bit of planning in all of them. Who brought the outfit? Who asked for (awesome) friends to help out? Who brought the scissors, rubber bands and safety pins just in case? Probably me. And what is that called? Preparation.



Finding Beauty: My start in conceptual photography

Finding Beauty: My start in conceptual photography

December 6th 2013

lena3xI believe that deep down, we are all artists. No matter who we are or what we enjoy doing, we all have a spring of creativity inside of us. No one had to tell me this, I just understood it as natural. And how I came to call myself a “conceptual photographer” seemed just as natural.

I’m Reylia, and I’m a conceptual photographer, but that isn’t all I think I am. I am also a graphite artist, a poet, a dancer, a model, a writer and a reader. Not because I do all of those equally as much, or that I’m spectacular at any of them, but because I love them all equally, and have all had their place in my life.

 It started with the pencil, but when my interest in taking pictures started to overpower it, I put drawing on the back burner and flung myself into photography. I loved natural light, but then felt I needed to learn how to manipulate it so I experimented with soft boxes and other things, and gradually got comfortable, only to realize again how much I loved being outside and in the sun. Still up to that point, I was sticking with portraits and beauty shots, but I felt like it still wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be.

 But in the spring of 2013, I had my first intentional conceptual shoot and entitled it “Our Lives”. I don’t even remember how it happened exactly. It was just a small idea I had, and the concept meant something to me. But from that point on, I knew that I had found something I loved. To me it was something wild, something that just happened, like a storm. It felt like magic.

 Since the photo-shoot, the concept, and the editing came easy to me, I figured that the next one would be just as natural. But it wasn’t. The creating process was still fun, but in the end, I knew that the concept was drawn out for the sake of having a concept, and I couldn’t personally relate.

 What went wrong? I didn’t know, but I would keep trying.

 It wasn’t until not long after, I ran into a problem in my life. And while that was still going on, despite not being emotionally strong, I was still committed to going out and shooting.

 I clearly remember the day of the photo-shoot that changed my whole view on photography. That day I had no idea what I wanted to shoot, and the model was going to arrive soon. I was sitting on my sofa, becoming slightly more depressed by the minute. I had no clue as to what what I wanted for the concept and everything seemed to be falling apart before my eyes. And in that instant, I saw an image of a young girl, cutting a string and cutting the problem away from her life. In my head, it was so beautiful and peaceful, a stark comparison to how I was feeling inside. I had the idea, and I literally jumped up and down from excitement; this was my ray of sunshine.

 The shoot itself was perfect. Simple, fun, and besides the set up, it probably took less than 30 minutes. And when I put it into the computer, I began to see how I felt inside become a picture.

What I didn’t know before was that I can’t just take concepts with emotions that I’ve never felt. I can experiment with them, but until they come to me, I can’t fully know them, thus limiting my expression. I realized that I needed to photograph what I felt and loved, and KNOW what they were. I also discovered that finding beauty beneath the rubble is not only possible, it sometimes even calls for you to pull it out.

 I hope you also will learn to find beauty as well.