A Beginner’s Photography II: the enthusiastic amateur

It’s been a while since I first wrote about my desire to take better photos. Since then, photography has become part of my day job, so I’m certainly getting plenty of practice.

For a long while I’ve been at the point where I prefer to leave the camera on manual settings, but for a few shots I’m happy to edit the raw files if I haven’t got the white balance right (sorting out white balance is one of those things I’ve yet to get to grips with in camera).


Some places look good no matter what…

After a trip abroad juggling lenses between the 18-55mm lens that came with the camera and the 70-300mm zoom lens I got, I decided for the sake of convenience it would be best to get a Sigma 18-300mm lens. It’s heavy, but for my purposes it does everything I need. Occasionally there’s vignetting in the corners, but that’s a trade-off I can live with (although in a few shots, it instead turned out the lens hood was askew, so clearly I’m not paying attention all the time). It’s great for travel, but I’ve taken to treating it as my main lens. Why change it, when it does everything?


A tripod, gloves, and willingness to brave freezing temperatures comes in handy.

Since then, I’ve also bought a 18-35mm F/1.8 lens (also Sigma, bought in the Black Friday sales – it’s the most expensive lens I’ve got) which has been bloody fantastic for night time photography and astrophotography, and for portraits. On the down-side, there are certain evening scenic shots I wasn’t able to get because it only allowed a very limited area to be in focus. So, I’m getting used to which lenses to use and when.

My next step will be filters – I’ve just bought a cheap circular polarising filter ahead of a road trip later this year – but I’ll save writing about this until after I’ve had a bit more practice.


What you see when you look in a different direction…

I get a lot of inspiration from photography blogs and other social media pages. It seems that a lot of photographers will take photos of the same subject or scene across a wide range of conditions; they know every aspect and all the best angles.

I guess I’m impatient. I want variety; I want to take pictures of something new. Maybe I’ll return to things I’ve taken shots of after I’ve got more experience.

While it’s good to see what people are taking photos of, it’s also worth seeing if they might be missing anything. For example, on a morning of low mist in Edinburgh, a good crowd of people climbed Arthur’s Seat were taking photos of the castle peeping over the clouds (so did I); but what they missed were scenes just as striking (even if not as obviously Edinburgh-based).


The International Space Station: blink and you’ll miss it.

Another thing I’ll do if I have a specific project in mind is to keep checking the weather, phases of the moon, star charts, solar activity, tides and so on. While it’s nice to think that one can simply walk or drive somewhere, step out and spend half an hour taking photos (a couple of which might be pretty decent), there’s usually a ton of planning involved – not to mention a fair bit of luck.

For every shot like the Internation Space Station flying overhead, I have missed dozens upon dozens of aurorae. Eventually, you get used to not cursing the shots you missed, but being thankful for the ones you did get.


Close encounters?

I suppose the last thing I can mention for now is related to the idea of taking photos of things other people aren’t. In the day job, there are certain recurring events or activities which have been photographed dozens of times over the years. I just want to see what new angles, if any, I can get. Swimmers gasping for breath has been done many times, so I wanted to get a shot of them piercing the water as they dive in. At talks and lectures, I sit at the back to focus on the speaker talking to the audience, with the heads of the crowd blurred in the foreground framing them. If there are already plenty of shots of buildings, maybe the skies and surroundings would add variety.

On the way into work on a foggy morning, the obvious shots I took were of autumn leaves and trees. But what about the traffic? The way the headlights cut beams of light through the gloom and trees made it less obvious where it was.

I’m still a long, long way off getting the photos I want to take – quickly, efficiently, easily – but I’m getting there. At some point I can stop relying on the subject or the scene being remarkable for me, and use whatever skills I’m acquiring to make something mundane look remarkable instead.

You can find a ton more of my photos on Behance.

2 responses to “A Beginner’s Photography II: the enthusiastic amateur

    • Yeah, it can get a bit time-consuming! I find it quicker and easier than creating pictures from scratch (pen and ink or electronically) – but there’s still a knack to it that requires practice…

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