Photography Tips :: Modern Toile Photography

It seems there’s a formula to writing this blog. Step 1.) Share an anecdote about dinner with friends. Step 2.) Mention what we ate and drank. Step 3.) Credit that conversation with sparking the idea for this blog post. So here goes: This week we had the pleasure of laughing over tacos and margaritas with Leslie and John. After my argument that Chicago shouldn’t win the Super Bowl because they debased a St. Louis culinary masterpiece, Toasted Ravioli, by filling it with cheese and not meat….a ridiculous notion….and therefore Chicago should never ever enjoy any success as a city… EVER!…John, rather sheepishly, asked if I would look at his camera and give him some tips. Since Christmas, John is the third such husband / fiance  (and fourth if you expand the circle to include girlfriends) to seek advice on photography.

Welcome to the photography club, Carina, John, Jason and Michael / Mandy! Gather ’round kids. We’re gonna talk photography.

I can answer questions about composition, technique, aperture, shutter speed, off-camera flash,  post-production and digital archiving. The most difficult question for me to answer is “What camera should I buy?” I’m not a gadget girl. I own gadgets. I know how and why they work, but they’re a means to an end. (Professional friends, ear muffs!) I don’t pleasure read, a valuable resource for researching camera equipment.  I pleasure read Victorian novels and Lainey Gossip. I can’t cite camera specs like sports statistics…I can’t even cite sport statistics. Until last week it was questionable if I knew the name of DC’s basketball team. They are the Wizards, NOT the Capitals, but I digress. The point is, the right camera is the one you can afford and learn to use manually if so inclined. I know that’s a really, really frustratingly crappy answer so I’ll try to elaborate.

Buying Tips

  • Pixel density is more important than number of pixels. Think of pixels as buckets for the information you collect. The bigger the bucket, the more information each pixel can hold.
  • If you’re willing to spend hundreds of dollars and more on a camera, go ahead and invest $200 on Lightroom. It’s an Adobe software that catalogs and edits, which I use in conjunction with Photoshop and Bridge. Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom is intuitive. Photoshop is a bear to learn, but oh…the possibilities!!! Endless.
  • Consider renting equipment to try it out. Locally in DC, Penn Camera rents equipment at E Street and their Tyson’s location.

Educational Resources

There is no easy way to learn photography. You just have to jump in, so grab your waterwings and hold your nose. Here are some really great sources.

  • Strobist – Be sure to check out their reading list. It’s a must read.
  • is an educational site that I found to be a really effective tool in learning post-production. For the $25 monthly subscription, some may prefer to invest in a reference book that they hold in their hands.
  • If it’s books you want, I like Scott Kelby’s informal writing.
  • Hobbyists  should consider taking workshops. Photo Safaris are a fun and time efficient way to get some instructor time.

It’s Okay To Be Bad

Cause you will be, but only for a while. That’s part of the learning curve. By now you’ve probably taken shots of your bare feet and horses…cause every budding photographer goes through a bare feet and horses phase. Or maybe that’s just a girl thing. Maybe the boy photographer’s equivalent is dog peeing on a fire hydrant and soccer games. Whatever you shoot it’s essential experience for budding photographers. Ira Glass says that creatives enter their field because they have taste. It takes years to develop skills that match their level of taste. During those years of honing a craft a lot experience frustration and quit. Don’t quit because you hate the pictures of your bare feet or horses. It’s a journey and one that takes a long time to develop.

Slow-Photography Movement

Read The Slow-Photography Movement article found on which questions the point of taking pictures in the first place. Although the author isn’t a professional photographer, the issue he brings up is a huge complaint among professional photographers. Guests prolific usage of cameras at weddings is straight up out of control. We’re hired to capture those emotional moments and tell the story of the bride and grooms wedding day. You’re invited to experience the joy of the day. When as a guest you shoot away two things are happening: you’re not really present to the lovely moment happening on the other side of your camera and sometimes you’re a distraction. In all your enthusiasm as a budding photographer, be mindful when it’s time to put the camera down. I was unaware of my own guilt in this until my husband told me in no uncertain terms that our upcoming trip to Paris was not a photo safari. He will not be my P.A. and requested I minimize the equipment I carry. In the spirit of compromise, I’ll carry only my Polaroid for half the trip. At $23.50 for 8 exposures, slow and deliberate is easy. That is a huge compromise and no doubt a key to our long relationship. Well, that and I don’t complain when he leaves his laundry 4 feet from the hamper. (Which you totally do, Charly!) In turn, he pretends that the songs I sing to my cat are cute and not weird.