Over the past year I have had a few opportunities to teach amateur photographers a few tips and tricks that I wish I had known when I was first starting out. Disclaimer: I am in no way done my own photography growth as one of my most favourite parts of this profession is the continuous learning, but after 8 years of this being my only “job” I feel like I can give back some knowledge and teaching helps me remember a few of the basics that have just become intuitive to me.
As I wrap up my mentoring time with these photographers-to-be I find myself saying “just get out and practice as much as you can”. It’s solid advice to anyone who’s learning anything right?!? But for many parents it’s easier said than done. The hardest part about building your photography skill set at a respectable pace is feeling like there is time and energy to learn, or it may seem easier just to put your DSLR on auto and be happy with what you get. Even those who rock a cell camera can struggle to find the drive to document and challenge yourself amongst the rush of the day to day.
And I get it!
Before the boys, I would spend hours following my dogs around, and loved the opportunity to bring my Canon XTi to family and/or friend gatherings. Max’s first year (2012-2013) is a 1t hard drive worth of coverage in itself. I was excited to have the cutest baby in the world to document and it showed. I didn’t want a week, never mind a month, to go by without me taking some video clips and 100’s of pictures of this bundle of joy, but it was also the point where documenting my family became a chore/obligation opposed to a joyful practice in technique. When baby #2 arrived I had all but lost my drive to “just get out and practice” or “do it for fun”. Using my camera became a job, instead of a luxury I would afford myself time for, and as much as I loved documenting my family, the passion for learning and trying new things seemed to be something I just didn’t have time for.
With my hands full of baby, I started opting for my cell phone more and more. This was an especially hard pill to swallow for me because as professional photographer, I would see the image I wanted but phone’s camera, and it’s capabilities would never create the outcome I wanted. #catch22. (disclaimer: my phone’s camera has no ability to manually control exposure)
I am not sure how much the general public can truly relate to the above, but I am sure there are a few who have a guilt camera collecting dust somewhere. One that was bought in excitement along side that trip you were taking or the new arrival of your wee one, but quickly became cumbersome so you started reasoning that your cell captures are “good enough”. If this is you, and you may be in a headspace to brush off the dust, and get your photog on, don’t hesitate to reach out and inquire about camera mentoring! However, the point of this blog is to inspire anyone, no matter what kind of camera, to get out and practice and find your way over that hump of letting memories pass without documenting them.
Find that Spark!
This may come as a surprise, but focusing my camera soley on clients has actually left me feeling depressed and extremely guilty. I think we all struggle with mental health at times during our lives and the science behind my depression seems simple. I love taking pictures, my body releases endorphins that leave me with that feel good feeling when I create what I deem a perfect or not so perfect capture of my family. I feel pride and joy when I look at these images and so, by not practicing new techniques and capturing my boys on a regular basis, I have found myself extremely sad. (ps:not a psychologist)
After some recent soul searching, I realized the one thing that used to keep my motivation to document my guys was the 10 on 10 blog post group I was a part of for two years. This group kept me accountable however, sadly, the group fell apart a year ago. If I can pinpoint the start of my “funk” it would be sometime shortly after then. At first it was a relief to have the freedom to pick and choose when I used my DSLR vs my cell phone but I quickly became lazy with my choice and realize that this group was imparitive to my drive to create professional level images of my children.
So what I have decided is to start a new blog theme: best of 10. This monthly blog will feature my 10 best personal images of the month and at the end of the year I will create a family album using these images (and likely more). This idea get’s me excited at the collection of images that will be my boys memory to their childhood and I can’t wait for 10 years down the road when I get to show them off the Max’s first girlfriend! (just kidding..kind of)
This is my idea, and it doesn’t have to be yours but if you find you’re stuck in a rut and lacking in documenting your own children I encourage you to try one of the following ideas:
- Pick a day every month that your sole focus is to photograph your family. Remember that happy smiling images are great, but the quiet and real moments will be the ones that resonate with your children in their later years. Upload these images within 3 days of taking them so they are still fresh in your mind. Narrow down your favourites and create a folder on your computer that has sub folders of each month. Add your top images to the monthly sub folder and immediately back up your folders on external drive or USB. Print these images periodically and/or at the end of the year create an album for your family.
- Find a 52 week project group that has weekly themes. This adds a fun challenge to documenting your family. You don’t have to be a professional to be a part of the group, nor do you have to share to the group. The point is to create an amazing image once a week that is your interpretation of the theme featuring your family. Create a folder for your 52 week challenge images so you can see your progress. Print and back them up often!
- Pick a month long project that has a theme or objective for every single day. At the end of your month print out your images and save them in a picture box. Do this at least once a year to create an amazing family heirloom. Remember to print out your theme list and include it in the box.
These are a few ideas that come to mind. Do some research and I am sure you can find something creative that pushes you to pick up your camera more but also has a level of accountability. Tell your friends, your mom, whomever because the more people you tell the more likely you are to follow through!
Photography is only the first Step!
One of the most important things to remember in any personal photography project, is that you must upload and go through the images as soon as possible. Set aside the appropriate time to do so to avoid having a backlog of imagery to sift through taking hours. I use Lightroom as my photo editing software so I am able to create collections within the software with the title of our activity for later reference, but I still immediately export my favourites into folders titled: 10-October 2016-Synders Farm (for example) so that I can easily reference my favourite images and send them off to my printer. I then create an instant backup onto my external drive of those images incase anything happens to my computer. I set my export file size to 5mb’s, as most local printers can’t handle a file size larger than that without degrading quality. I also back up my original files the same day. I print my favourite images as 5×7’s every 3-6 months and use my favourite images to create gifts and albums at the end of the year.
Tip: My software allows me to rename my images upon exporting, so I will name my image by the date_sequence they were taken so I can easily reference the kids ages.
Some Great References to get your project started:
Pages that have Weekly themes:
Daily & Weekly Challenges:
Personal Printing Sites:
And finally a great blog about composition to get you started!
So hopefully you can find some time and enough energy to really thinking about how to purposely archive your family, and give yourself a push to get a little more creative. Remember that when you try new things you will fail, but with every failure is growth….but that’s a whole other blog post.