A few years ago, I saw Penny De Los Santos speak (a few times, actually) about assigning yourself projects. It’s an idea that has stuck with me and been in the back of my mind for a long time. It’s brilliant, really. When it comes to photography, as with many things, I find that the best way to grow is to set a goal and just jump in there and challenge myself.
A few summers ago, I did just that. We were headed on vacation and I decided that I was going to start shooting in manual mode. All the time. I had previously shot almost exclusively in the Av (aperture priority) mode on my camera. Why? It was convenient. And, I got decent results, but I wanted to get better. So, I switched my camera to manual and didn’t turn back.
I’ll be honest… I came home with quite a few lousy pictures after that vacation. But, there were also some gems. I also started to get more of a feel for how all of the settings on my camera were interacting. I was thinking about the whole picture (no pun intended) instead of just choosing one small aspect and letting the camera do the rest of the work. Call me a purist, but I find that my photos are better when I stop letting the camera do the work. Now, I can’t imagine shooting any other way.
So, this year, I decided to set a few photography goals for myself. They are sort of my photography mini-projects for the year. Yes, I know it’s March and I’m only getting to this now. Fortunately, I’ve been taking more photos than writing blog posts.
I’m guilty of letting the camera focus for me… A lot.
Most of the time it works.
But, sometimes it doesn’t.
So, I’ve decided that this is the year that I start focusing manually. Sure, I can do it when I’m taking a photo of food or a landscape. But, a wiggly 7 month old baby who’s trying to crawl? That’s where things get tricky.
However, if it’s tricky for me, it can be tricky for the camera, too.
I switched from a Canon 50D to a Canon 6D (as my primary camera) over a year ago. I’m happy with my decision. But, I’ve noticed that my 6D does not focus nearly as well, particularly in low light.
In addition, I’m not just taking photos of food anymore. In fact, the majority of my photos aren’t food-related at all these days. I find that there are times that the camera just doesn’t quite focus in the right spot, or a wiggly baby causes the camera to be constantly searching for focus.
While it’s difficult (for now), focusing manually tends to get me closer to the picture in my head. And in the end, that’s usually my goal.
Variety of Light
Alright… Go pick any article about food photography. Quick.
Now, go to the paragraph about lighting. Let me guess… Natural light, filtered, bounced, diffused. Watch out for those harsh shadows.
Well, I’m abandoning that. This is the year of embracing shadows… And harsh light… And even that awful light from the overhead lights in my kitchen in the early evening when the sun is going down.
I’ve been shooting food in “perfect” light for about 7 years now. It’s fine. It’s great. But, I’m kind of bored with it. The same goes for those lifestyle photos. There’s a time and place for portrait-perfect soft light, but I’m embracing the drama and emotion that comes from shooting into the sun, dreary days, and dramatic shadows.
Because, you know what? Life doesn’t always provide perfect lighting… And, I hate to miss a moment because I haven’t yet figured out how to shoot without soft diffused light.
Guessing Camera Settings
Ok, I think this one is the toughest for me.
Digital cameras have made me lazy.
The ability to snap a quick photo, look at it in the preview window on the camera and adjust my settings, if necessary, is one that I take advantage of too often.
Don’t get me wrong, I do meter my photos… But, I tend to just choose an aperture setting (usually) and then adjust the shutter speed from there, paying little attention to what setting I land at. Then, I’ll just glance at the photos in the display view and adjust from there.
Does it work? Yes, for the most part.
But, it means that I always have to take the time to meter, take a test shot, and adjust.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to stand outside, glance around, and know what settings to use right off the bat? Without ever looking at the camera? That’s my goal. I know it’s going to be a process, and it will certainly take practice, but I’m getting better.
Do you ever self-assign yourself a photography project or set specific goals? What are you working on right now?