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Life through a lens (and some useful photography tips)

10 October 2017 by Rolawn

I may as well have been born with a camera in my hand. I have always had a real passion for taking photographs and also photographs themselves. When I was very little, I used to sneak my parents’ cameras out of the cupboard and pretend to take photographs with them, so of course I was ecstatic when I got my first camera; I was maybe seven or eight. My parents constantly had a battle to stop me from taking too many photos, as this was before the digital age. Films would only take 24 or 36 pictures, and the cost of prints could soon add up. I remember going on school trips with strict instructions as to how many photos I was allowed to take.

We would have friends or family over and I wanted to capture every moment, every memory, every laugh – it was almost an obsession - but there was always a limit as to how many snaps I could take.

As soon as I could afford the prints myself, I was unstoppable. I could use a whole reel of film on one day out. And yes, I still have all the photos to prove it! And I still love digging out the old shoe boxes full of them every now and then, rifling through the prints, recounting those memories.

I have a real passion for old photos too, and recently I was lucky enough to see some that my grandfather had taken during his time in the army and his early years as an engineer. The creativity is inspiring, especially considering the limitations of the technology back in the 1930s.

Shorncliffe, Kent 1931

Shorncliffe, Kent, 1931. No, that’s not somebody actually being blow up – they set up
the shot during training to look as though he was!

When I got to college I had even more freedom to snap away for art and media projects. Even though I just had a little compact camera, I felt like a professional, borrowing friends to use as models and revelling in the excuse to take lots of arty and creative photos. Before this, people would ask “why have you taken that photo?” I never had the confidence to respond with “because it looks nice”.

Flooding at Bolton Percy

Flooding near Bolton Percy, North Yorkshire.

The arrival of affordable digital cameras was heaven for me. I could shoot away to my heart’s content, not worrying about using up a whole film and what it might cost to develop, and of course deleting as I went if I wasn’t entirely happy with an image. What I do miss about film, however, is the excitement of waiting for prints to be developed.

My university studies (media production) gave me the confidence I needed to take photographs ‘just because’. We were taught all about aesthetics and how-to setup shots, and I soon realised it was acceptable to film or photograph something because it was aesthetically pleasing, or ‘arty’.

Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire

Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire

After university, I was offered a job at a high-street portrait photography company. A lot of the job was about selling; but it was worth it for the time spent capturing personal moments for people. On a couple of occasions, I reduced customers to tears - in a good way (I think!). One lady had brought her very young baby in for a new-born session, and upon presenting her with the photos a week later, she started to weep over my shoulder! I started to panic – worried that I had offended her. Had I insulted her new baby boy? No, she was over the moon… and so was I, filled with immense pride. It was then that I realised photographs actually mean something to other people too.

Since leaving the studio, I’ve embarked on a number of solo jobs, everything from live music gigs to birthday parties and christenings. Some paid, some unpaid and some for a few drinks! The most nerve-wracking are always weddings. When you think about it – and I try not to! - all of the memories of somebody’s big day are in your hands. But the experience and the rewards are immense and well worth the stress.

Rock Gig at Fibbers    Wedding Party, York

Rock gig at Fibbers, York and Wedding party

A selection of Emily's vintage camera collectionI still take on the odd photography job in my spare time, usually for people I know, or friends of friends. Even when I’m not ‘on business’ I nearly always have at least one camera on me.

I have a beautiful collection of old vintage cameras, including two Kodak Brownies, a 1940’s bellows camera, my trusty Nikon D40 (an entry level DSLR, but still a fantastic camera), a budget action camera with waterproof case and my beloved Holga GCFN 120.

The latter is essentially a cheaply-made Japanese toy camera that takes film. Because of its intentionally-poor construction, it produces very different photographs as quite often light will leak in producing eerie flares and vignettes – a bit like a lot of the filters you now get on Instagram and other photo-sharing apps.

Film has made a real comeback in recent years, just as vinyl has in the music scene and I am determined one day to learn how to use at least a few more of the cameras in my collection.

Lomo prints from a Holga 120 GCFN

A selection of lomo prints from my Holga 120 GCFN

I don’t own any expensive, high-end cameras, and they aren’t always necessary. If I was a full-time professional photographer then of course it would be worth the outlay, but don’t feel like you need expensive equipment to take good photographs. Given recent developments with smartphone technology, it is easy enough to take near-professional quality shots with your phone! There are just a handful of simple rules that will help you achieve a successful shot.

Line up the shot

Think about the composition of your shot. The easiest rule to remember is the rule of thirds; break the shot down into nine squares of equal size, and try to line up the main subject[s] along these lines. These photos tend to be more interesting than those where the subject is dead centre. The rule of thirds can also be used in landscape photos. Lots of cameras, and even smartphone cameras, have an option to overlay a grid to help you with this.

Robin Hood's Bay, North Yorkshire    Tall Ships, Greenock

Robin Hoods Bay, 2016 and Ocean Spirit of Moray, Tall Ships Race, Greenock, 2011.

Think about lighting

If you are outside, where is the sun? If it is behind your subject, either you or they need to move so that the sun is not directly behind them, as this can plunge them into darkness making it difficult to see them. If you don’t have the option to move, then use your flash to fill in the shadows.

Whilst on the subject of flashes – be careful when you use it. So often people complain about poor photographs because they constantly have their flash on, which can make people look ghostly and shiny. If it’s too dark to photograph without a flash, but the flash is too harsh, try backing away from your subject, or using a different light source, such as a lamp, to create different effects.

Examples of use of existing light sources:

York Minster at Night    Vase of Tulips

York Minster at night and vase of tulips.

Don’t just point and shoot

Have you ever watched lots of people taking photos, maybe at a tourist hotspot? Have you ever noticed everybody standing in the same way, pointing in the same direction? They’re probably all stood upright. Whilst a lot of the time this is ok, and might be the only way to shoot, but, by thinking about where you are positioned, particularly at what level, you can achieve a completely different result and can easily add depth of field to your photo. By standing on something to give you a bit of height, or crouching down, you can achieve very different angles and easily achieve professional looking photos. I have often been caught lying down in the road or scrambling over rocks to get a good shot. Just try it – you might be surprised! I laid with my knees in a rockpool to capture this shot:

Sunset at Port Gaverne, Cornwall

Sunset at Port Gaverne, North Cornwall

Check out jaynetheunicorn on Facebook for more angle-inspiration.

Photography is such a popular hobby these days for people of all ages which makes it easy to get into and to learn more about. Joining a photography or camera club is a sociable way to get more advice, hints and tips and to get feedback on your own photographs. Most towns and cities have at least one local club and they are always very welcoming to new members.

Follow these links for details of camera clubs:

Emily Kirkland, Sales & Marketing Support Manager, Rolawn
Emily Rose Photography

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