Tag Archives: learning photography


The Heart of a Hobbyist

My friend Ugyen told me the other day he borrowed someone’s Nikon D80 to try it out, and he can’t wait to take photos. I’m excited for him. In many ways I envy him the beginning of his photography journey.

A certain nostalgia hits me when I hear of someone excited with their start in photography. Thinking about this led to my questions: why is it so attractive to be a hobbist? What makes it so good to go back to basics, even after publication and all the hundreds of thousands of images of people and places? Why is the hobbist approach so important right now?

I’m tempted sometimes to scroll through the scores of gigabytes of unprocessed shots in the hard drive. Sort of like a pat in the back for having seen them, and captured them. But this I know is not photography. Photography isn’t the past; it’s the present.

The reason I want to go back to basics has more to do with my mind than my camera.

The camera should be an extension of the mind. And the mind of a hobbyist is different from the working photographer.

Part of my lifelong inquiry is about creativity—about what inspires people, how they get insired, and the sustainability of passion that stems from a sense of wonder.

I find hobbyists have a great potential for creativity.


Light on fallen leaves at temple, Siem Reap.

Hobbyists are fearless.

Humans learn to fear, and it’s a product of our own creation. We fear not “doing it right” and of others’ reactions to our decisions. As a working photographer I’ve faced clients whose creative ideas differed from mine; I’ve also faced photography contest judges who slammed creative decisions because they did not fulfill technical interpretations.

But the hobbyist isn’t making images to please a client or judge. He is free to use whatever skills he has to make something that only he can see. This leads to a lot of freedom.


Dappled light on ruins, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

Expectations can kill creativity.

The nature of a hobby is that the expectations are internal. The urge to make something beautiful or fresh out of the daily ordinary can be a professional urge, yes, but in the hobbyist it is unfettered by expectations from someone else.

Experimentation is part of the hobbyist’s freedom.

The freedom to try something just for the heck of it is in the power of a hobbyist. She can make a thousand images just because of something she wondered, or is trying to figure out. This freedom to follow the lines of a “what if…” gives the hobbyist the perfect platform to innovate and experiment.


Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

Passion fuels creativity.

The best part about being a hobbyist is the absence of creativity killers and large doses of passion. Ultimately, this is the ‘high’ a photographer gets from his or her hobby. Passion carries the craft through the difficult learning that we must engage in to become technically and artistically mature in the art.

I wish Ugyen, and others who are starting out on their photography journey, a long and happy love affair with light.

It’s a wish I would gladly receive, too.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the orange RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
Easy Way to Dodge and Burn Photos without Destroying Pixels
5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust
Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?
10 Small Things that make a Big Difference in Your Photos

salt farm samut sakhon thailand sunset copyright Aloha Lavina

How to Teach Yourself to Improve Your Photography

You may not have to spend too much to get better at your hobby.

Photography is an expensive hobby. Aside from equipment expenses which you may be tempted to do after a new super duper camera or lens enters the market, you might also consider learning through a workshop or a course. But these things cost money, and there’s so much to learn.

If you are like many of photography hobbyists who would like to learn photography techniques but also need to pay bills and eat, there is a way you can take the learning opportunities available for free, and embark on a planned, effective learning path.

But how do you begin? And what sort of habits should you practice to improve your photography systematically?

The answer might be in applying a systematic, strategic plan that involves something as simple as directing your brain to start learning.

salt farm samut sakhon thailand sunset copyright Aloha Lavina

I told myself if I drove past this salt farm and the light was right, I would stop to photograph it. And I did.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, wrote recently in Edutopia about a strategy that you can apply to your photography and improve skills.

Halverson writes that most of us have a problem with transitioning from an idea, for example “I want to learn how to use a slow shutter to show motion” to action, which is actually doing it.

The author has written about a productive strategy called “if-then planning.” This strategy is designed to get you acting on a goal using the natural inclination of your brain.

The if-then planning goes like this.

First, you decide what you’re going to do, in advance, and try to name the action as specifically as you can. For example, say your goal is “Learn how to use a slow shutter to show motion in an image.” You can break down the goal into actions, for example:

• Use shutter speed priority on my camera to find out the shutter speeds that will keep walking people sharp.

• Use panning technique with slow shutter speed (learned in the practice session above) to create images.

Then, you schedule when you’re going to do these things, in advance. For example, you can schedule the shutter speed practice this way: “If I finish work on Tuesday or Wednesday and it’s already almost sunset, I will find a street where there are pedestrians and practice using shutter speed priority to photograph people walking.”

The way the strategy works is, if you set the conditions for the action, your brain will automatically push you to act upon it when the conditions you set are right. That means if you leave work just before sunset on Tuesday and the weather is right, you will be more likely to go to a street corner and practice making photos of people walking in shutter speed priority mode.

This is a tried-and-true strategy that actually has a pretty high success rate. Instead of wondering if you should go shoot on any given day, the if-then planning will push you to actually go ahead and do it.

And that decisive action could spell the difference between intention and actual results.

If you want to journey with me as I rekindle my love for all kinds of photography in 2012, and learn lots of things along the way, head on over to our Imagine That Photography Tribe Facebook page (and like us!), where you can participate in project modules, get some feedback, talk photography, and have your photography featured in a monthly roundup!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
Composition and the Use of Color
Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?
Using Background Effectively in Your Portraits
Are You Paying Attention?
Finding Good Photos where they Hide

weeds copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 1 Module: Tiny Landscapes

What I am really excited about with the 52 Project is that each one of us will be able to take as little or as much as we want from each module. That means you can move at your own pace. It also means you can pick to do all the tasks within the week, or you do some tasks. But please share the photos with others on our Facebook page for some feedback and discussion.

This week’s module has  some introductory videos.

Now, here’s how you can maximize the effect of the module. First, we will go through some basic information. This week, those are in the videos.

Then, we will go shoot an assignment using the week’s theme and skills.

Finally, we’ll share one photo (the best one of your lot) on our Tribe’s Facebook Page.

The next weekend, we do it all over again with a new theme.

You ready?

Here goes. This week’s theme is “Tiny Landscapes.” It’s a macro assignment, so it’s about closeup photography.

Here’s Alessandro Ozzoc telling us about the equipment needed and how to get our macro shots super sharp.

Michael the Maven shares these Tips for Beginning Macro Photography:

Finally, take a look at some creative macro images for inspiration:

25 Beautiful Macro Photography Shots from Smashing Magazine

40 Beautiful Macro Photos that will Inspire You from You the Designer blog

Finally, you don’t need a dSLR to take great macro photos. Take your compact camera and do just as well. Here’s a short article “Macro Photography Tips for Point and Shoot Digital Cameras” from Digital Photography School about just that.

This week’s assignment:

Interpret the theme “Tiny Landscape.”

Upload your best photo to our Tribe Facebook Page by Friday at 23.59 (Northern Hemisphere, you get more time than Asia tribe members). Editor’s Picks will be featured on the blog in a special post next week!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the orange RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
Easy Way to Dodge and Burn Photos without Destroying Pixels
5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust
Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?
10 Small Things that make a Big Difference in Your Photos


weeds copyright Aloha Lavina

52 Ways to Better Photography in 2012

Systematic change is almost always better.

A fresh year stretches in front of us, and this year, there are so many things you can do to systematically improve your photography. Here at Imagine That, one of our resolutions is to shoot more in 2012.

But setting a goal like “shoot more” is a vague goal, unmeasurable except for the number of photos we might end up with at the end of the year. So I’ve decided that we’re going to go through 2012 in a systematic way—using projects to improve photography, one week at a time.

If you’re like minded, why not join me on your way to better photography, too? We’ll be setting up projects thematically, going over the techniques and equipment to make those project images, and then asking for feedback from those who participate. More details below!

Week 1 Tiny Landscapes

Two months of neglecting my lawn has given freedom to some weeds to grow unchecked. Before I called the gardener, I wanted to spend a couple of hours learning some macro photography. Here’s what I learned to watch out for when you’re  making tiny landscapes.weeds copyright Aloha Lavina

Equipment used

I used the Nikon D300 and the AF-S Micro Nikkor 105mm ED lens. The D300 is the lightest camera I own, so it helped me keep steady as I took handheld shots of the weeds.

What to remember when shooting

1. Keep absolutely still for tack sharp photos

I shot this project handheld, but if you have Live Viewfinder, you can also use a tripod and a cable release. The subjects are tiny, so any tiny movement from a breeze can blur your subject.

2. Use a wide aperture for beautiful blur

The shallow depth of field of a wide aperture can help you add a beautiful blurry background to your image. During the session, I used a range of f/2.8 to f/5.6, finding a happy medium between that range to render bokeh that adds impact to the images. A blurred background can help focus attention on your subject.weeds copyright Aloha Lavina

3. Use manual focus

Because your subjects are so small, it’s difficult to use Auto Focus. When shooting handheld with Manual Focus, I was able to use my body to move back and forth to get the subjects in focus the way I wanted the shot. Using the large muscles of your whole body to get the subject in focus instead of the small muscles of your hand or wrists helps you to hold the camera more steady. Large muscle movement is also easier to use to steady your whole body while shooting. In effect, you’re a very stable (and big) tripod!

4. Use Matrix or Evaluative metering

Matrix (Nikon) or Evaluative (Canon) metering means the camera takes into account all the ambient light around the subject and sets the exposure using all this information. Using this metering mode helps your camera to use all the available light to make the exposure. If you’re dissatisfied with the subjective ‘look’ of the camera’s exposure, you can use exposure compensation to dial in more or less light, for effect.weeds copyright Aloha Lavina

5. Design your composition

Finally, don’t forget your composition basics. Try shooting with the rule of thirds, or abstract the subject using the blur and the sharpness as design elements.

The size of your subject means you don’t really have to worry that much about horizons, so tilt your camera side to side or down or up to get an artistic composition you want.

Spending an hour in the weeds definitely was a worthwhile project. I’m almost sorry the gardener cleaned up the overgrown lawn!

If you want to journey with me as I rekindle my love for all kinds of photography in 2012, and learn lots of things along the way, head on over to our new Facebook page (and like us!), where you can participate in project modules, get some feedback, talk photography, and have your photography featured in a monthly roundup!

Convict Lake, California copyright Aloha Lavina 2011. All rights reserved.

Just in Time versus Just in Case

Learning and enjoying yourself while you learn is a situation that we crave our whole lives. That’s why when you find a hobby, like photography that lets you learn for a lifetime, you tend to stick with it because it’s so much fun.

But search on Google right now for “learning photography” and you’ll get 334,000,000 search results. How do you sift through all that and find a kind of learning pathway for yourself? How do you even start?

You can give yourself some photo assignments, first of all. Maybe you can shoot themes. Those are always fun. Just make sure you introduce something new into the task, every time.

What do I mean by that?

Learning and enjoying while learning doesn’t just happen automatically if you give yourself a task. If the task is too easy, it’s boring. If the task is too hard, it’s frustrating and stressful and could turn you off from learning it.

Convict Lake, California copyright Aloha Lavina 2011. All rights reserved.

When I had learned to trigger the camera remotely, I started working on learning how landscapes are lit.

The task has to be designed well to make it both a learning experience and a fun one at that. It has to be relevant, have a feedback system, and stretch your skills.


This criterion for designing your photography learning task means that it has to mean something to you. That’s what I mean by ‘just in time.’ If you learn a skill  because you might need it ‘just in case,’ the relevance floats out of the situation—why learn it if you don’t need it right now?

By creating a need in your task design, you’re setting yourself up for a quick learning curve. Because you need the skills you are learning to make that good shot, you’re going to put a lot more concentration into the photo shoot, giving yourself a very good chance of putting that skill into your working memory, there to call on whenever you need it in the future.

How do you narrow a skill down? It depends on your current skill level. If you know the exposure triangle but need practice with exposure compensation, then that’s what the lesson is, for you at this moment. Design something out of that concept.

Creek, Northern California copyright Aloha Lavina 2011. All rights reserved.

Learning how to create with a slow shutter is a lot of fun.

Another aspect of relevance is the authenticity of your task. Are you alone on a photowalk, practicing your exposure compensation? Or are you searching for that super duper image that you will post on Facebook or Flickr tonight? Having a real audience for the work that you’re doing gives you added pressure, and that’s a good thing.

What? Did I just say that pressure is a good thing?


Adding a relevant audience gives you additional motivation for doing the task well. That little bit of stress you introduce into the task is just enough to complete your optimized concentration.

Feedback System

A feedback system means you get responses about your task results. This is important especially in shaping what you do next, to improve. So it’s important to share your work on a public platform.

Northern California creek copyright Aloha Lavina 2011. All rights reserved.

Shooting this for Canon's PhotoYou magazine helped me learn how to use slow shutter and remote trigger in a couple days.

Flickr is a good place to start, but be aware that Flickr is often indiscriminate about quality. In the early days of learning Photoshop, I have posted horrendously processed photos on Flickr, and people liked them. Why is this bad? It’s bad because it’s like singing Celine Dion songs to my dog Mushu, who always, always licks my face happily no matter how croaky I sound. Do I then conclude that I am Celine Dion reincarnate from Mushu’s happy kisses? I’m not in any way saying Flickr is bad. I am just saying, it’s not a place you can reliably improve your photography just from the feedback. But you can sign up for specific groups that do give you authentic critique, instead of the fluffy “Great shot!” I learned a lot from the Strobist Group on Flickr.

A forum specifically designed for photography learning might work better. There are quite a few online. Search Google for “learning photography forum*” and you get 316,000,000 results.

Stretch your skills

On your journey learning photography, give yourself a new task or skill to learn every time. Say you are solid with the exposure triangle and have been using exposure compensation pretty well for the past few weeks. How about adding a new complexity to the task, like “Shoot a series of images for an essay on architecture of temples.” The task means you have to shoot both indoors and outdoors, so you’ll be using previously learned skills.

Then you might move onto “Shoot a series of portraits at the morning market in Chinatown.” This second task means you have to use the previous skills, mixed lighting situations, and you are shooting constantly moving subjects.

Challenging yourself more means you are learning more. As you move into more complex tasks in photography, you can also adjust your feedback system so it adds that extra pressure that will activate your optimal concentration. Is there a contest you can enter? Are you ready for 500px?

Thoughtful design of your photography improvement tasks can help you improve faster and enjoy your learning. By assigning yourself task to learn “just in time” for the right audience using a new skills, you are on your way to a fun and productive journey in photography.

What will you learn this week?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer

men making charcoal in Perak, Malaysia copyright Aloha Lavina

Give Yourself Assignments and Watch Your Photography Improve

There are learners who don’t need teachers.

These are the remarkable people who learn even when there is no one to demand task performance from them. Usually they are internally motivated, and learned how to learn and have feedback systems of their own, from a young age.

No matter what age, we can learn how to teach ourselves. The key to this is to find out motivation, develop a feedback system, and structure our learning so that it is clear and easy to follow through. It’s easy to do these using assignments.

Assignments are useful because they lend themselves to structure. By structure I mean some kind of order imposed on the person performing the assignment. If you want to give yourself an assignment to add structure to your learning, there are a few things you can do.

low light photography by Aloha Lavina. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Found this beam of light hitting a plastic oil drum. Yum. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Make a list

You can make a shotlist for the assignment. A shotlist is like a shopping list for the images you might be able to make at a particular place. When I went to Perak State in Malaysia yesterday, my good friend and host Ker told me that Perak’s biggest export to the world was its charcoal made from the abundant mangrove trees in the state.

So when she asked me to go to the charcoal factory, I had a shotlist I wanted. Grungy, moody shots. Lots of texture. Light seeping in through windows and wall cracks to contrast the dark surfaces. Smoke from the charcoal ovens. Patterns….my shotlist was a good size, and I enjoyed making my way through the list.

Perak, Malaysia charcoal factory low light photography copyright Aloha Lavina

Giant oven for making charcoal. I used a a high ISO. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You can also make a list of techniques you might try out with a particular assignment. The technique I most used shooting the charcoal factory was making sure my exposure gave me a reasonably wide dynamic range—meaning the pictures I made had to hold on to as much detail as possible in the highlights, midtones and shadows. Other times, I made subjective exposures, or exposures based on how I felt the scene should look. Mostly I liked underexposure for the mood and mystery it gave.

Keep it simple

It’s important to keep it simple. Simplicity means you can easily remember your list, and don’t need to interrupt your image making with frequent glances at written instructions. Keeping it simple also means you break down the assignment into manageable chunks, so you don’t get overwhelmed from what you need to accomplish from the start. For instance, an assignment of “low light photography at a charcoal factory to practice exposure compensation” is a good assignment because it is really specific and you know right away what challenges face you when you begin.

low light photography charcoal factory in Perak, Malaysia. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

It felt like the set of Aliens 1, 2, or 3. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Get a feedback system into your workflow

A feedback system allows you to see and understand that what you have done in a task is ‘right’ in light of your goals. Since you’re learning on your own, you need to see that you are on the right track.

With photography, it’s fairly easy to learn a feedback system and incorporate it into your workflow, or what you do while shooting. For examples, you can: look at the LCD display to see your shot, look at histograms, or look at the values in the exposure you made.

The LCD is nifty because it helps us see what shot we made. But often it is so small that you can’t see some things that might be vital for the shot to work, such as sharpness, what highlights are blown out, detail captured, and the like. So yes, love your LCD, but learn another way to tell yourself how you did.

The histogram is also good, and there is a sort of ‘recipe’ that people have been talking about for years. This recipe is “expose to the right” which means basically that the histogram looks like a lump skewed toward the right—telling you that it’s basically brighter than darker. But if you make subjective exposures, the histogram will not be that useful. For example, if you underexpose for mood, the histogram will show a skew to the left. That’s against the recipe. But it is not necessarily wrong. This is a decision you have to make as a creative person.

The values of your exposure triangle are good to know as part of your feedback system. While you’re learning, if you note down your values, such as what ISO you used, what aperture and shutter speed, you learn what works best for the look you want. The more you shoot, the better able you will be at gauging what exposure values work for the type of shots you want to make.

men making charcoal in Perak, Malaysia copyright Aloha Lavina

I really like how smoke makes light visible. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Why do you do this?

Motivation is key. With creativity, a vision is really the most important element, even much more than technique. Technique is something that you can learn from a blog, a video, from someone else.

But the reason you have for picking up your camera is what makes you pick it up again and again, even when you fail.

So motivation is the key to learning. And you have to find out for yourself why you are doing this. Try to be specific, because that’s what helps you learn and improve.

I was happy at the charcoal factory because I love low light photography and dramatic light. Dramatic light sends me into exclamations of delight and keeps me buoyant. I found this out early on: light distracts me quite easily. So I know that if I want to challenge myself or just enjoy my photography, I’ve got to do an assignment that involves light. It will make me get up early, and it will give me joy.

What assignment will you give yourself this week?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
Easy Way to Dodge and Burn Photos without Destroying Pixels
5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust
Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?
10 Small Things that make a Big Difference in Your Photos






light on leaves and rock, Siem Reap Cambodia copyright Aloha Lavina

6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby

Everyone starts somewhere.

But how do you start? When do we start creating magic with the camera?

There no magic tricks that a photographer can weave into a spell for good photography. But there are some tips that might just get you started on the way to making some pretty good imagery.

1. Vary settings for various shooting situations.

It is so easy to let the camera do the work for you—set it on Program mode, and click away. But this is one way to make sure that you continue to be mystified by the way the camera captures an image. If you experimented with the basic modes of Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes, you can see some subtle differences in the way these modes work. This could be your chance to start controlling some of the aspects of each mode to get the shots you want. There are some tutorials on line that simplify Aperture Priority Mode and Shutter Priority Mode for you. Take advantage of these tutorials, and let them lead you onto a learning path to master these camera controls.

2. Learn to see the light.

No matter what your subject matter is, lighting is going to make a difference in how the photos ultimately look like. Learning how to see how light affects the overall image is a skill that you can develop, to start making stunning images.

Light has character, nuance, variations in color and intensity. Studying it closely, you will see how these traits of light change the way a photo looks just with a small change. If you studied how light behaves on objects, you can begin to see the way a photographer sees. And your photos will show it.

light on leaves and rock, Siem Reap Cambodia copyright Aloha Lavina

Light is a beautiful subject. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Every situation is a learning opportunity.

Taking a walk with your camera pretty much constitutes a great photography classroom. If there are people and things in motion, you’ve got a great subject for a study on capturing motion–either freezing it with a fast shutter speed, or making deliberate blur to suggest it.

If you’ve got a sociable nature, you can go out and talk to strangers, and convince them to have their photos taken. This sort of project can help you with making fast decisions about where the subject should stand in relation to light, and how to compose the shot so that you make a portrait that tells part of their stories.

Objects around you will interact with light. On your walk, you can watch out for instances when the light makes something so commonplace so beautiful.

4. Concentrate on composition.

There are a few ways you can hone your composition skills.

First, you can create still life situations in your own home. Placing some objects on a table beside a window, you have some ready subjects to photograph. You can create your own seasonal still life–flowers in the spring, a glass of lemonade glistening with condensation in the summer, pumpkin and berries in the fall, etc.

Second, you can try to vary composition when you’re photographing different scenes in your daily life. How would you shoot a birthday party or a community barbecue, and practice the compositions basics?

Practicing composition is a great place to begin to understand the creative ways you can include or exclude elements in a frame, to make an awesome photograph.

Thai monk hands copyright Aloha Lavina

Learn what to include or exclude from the frame. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Give yourself assignments.

The first spark of love you have for photography is a wonderful feeling. But when difficulty strikes, and your photos don’t come out as well as you wanted, you might feel heartbreak. Sustaining your love for photography is essential for you to get over the obstacles of failed photos. One way to sustain your interest is to give yourself assignments.

Assignments can vary to short, very specific ones like shoot a theme on a given day, to long term projects like my love affair with faceless portraits.

A great lesson I’ve learned which I suggest you take on, is to combine your photography with something else you’re interested in. Do you like sports? Go and shoot sports. If you like fashion, have a friend model the latest releases in clothing and accessories. Do you have a train collection? Make a series of landscapes with trains and railways as the main focus. If you combine your other interests with your photography, you’ll always stay in love with it while you’re learning.

6. Use the photos you see on Flickr and 500px as learning points.

It’s actually useful to drool over photos that other photographers have made. On sites like Flickr and 500px, photographers post daily. Using a subsection of the websites like the Explore page on Flickr or the Editor’s Choices on 500px gives you a great place to start learning experiences based on critical assessment. Critically assessing photos that you see online can help you with how a photographer thinks.

Ratchaburi Thailand weaver of Thai silk copyright Aloha Lavina

A silk weaver in Thailand. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

View a photograph and ask yourself some basic photography questions, like, how did the photographer choose this subject? What’s the vantage point? If the photographer had stood somewhere else, how would the composition change? How does the composition work? What about the composition is compelling, gorgeous, engaging? Where was the light coming from? What time of day was this photo taken? How much of the subject is in the frame? What did the photographer decide to exclude? How could I have shot it better?

I know the last question sounds arrogant, Boo! But asking this question of the pictures you see online and in magazines helps you to improve your own way of approaching subjects. Even though your technical skills may be less developed than those other photographers’ skills, you will gain an understanding of how the photography mind works while you’re critiquing other people’s photos. You don’t have to publish your critique, so why worry? But the focused, deliberate study of photos that work will help you get into the decision making that can change your photos from snapshots to art.

There are a ton of other photo opportunities you can use to guide your beginnings in photography. With these simple tips, you can put yourself on the path to making magic with your images.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits
When You have to Wing it
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively

fire concept portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust

If I’m not a prodigy, it’s too late.

Interests form very early in our lives. Sometimes they form from our preferences, like what happened to Gillian Lynne, one of the legendary choreographers in the dance world. Gillian was a kinesthetic learner, meaning she loved to express herself through movement. Her mother recognized this, and enrolled her in a dance school. Gillian said of this moment in Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element, “I walked into this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.”  We can’t all be lucky like Gillian, whose parents helped her make a commitment to her creativity early in life.

But the wonderful thing is, it isn’t until we commit to this interest that we find our means to be creative.

Commitment is something that we can make toward our interest at any point in our lives. So if you picked up a camera at an age beyond childhood, it doesn’t mean you can’t develop creatively in your photography. It’s never too late to learn!

1. Creativity is something that happens in isolation.

Some people think that creativity is something that happens by itself, like to a writer who lives alone in the woods beside a pond. We think that person is creative because of the isolation, without distraction. Maybe the silence of living in the woods beside a still pond is great for processing thoughts, but silence and isolation in itself is not the basis for a creative response.

Many creative triggers people have responded to are made of social situations and connections. I read in this great book about director Enid Zentelis who made a film about people waiting in line because she was waiting in a food line one time, and it triggered a creative response in her. Watson and Crick collaborated on the model for DNA—their different insights connected into a product that was creative because they thought together. Ansel Adams was good friends with Georgia O’Keefe. Although they worked in different media, they shared a common concept—the idea of starkness and simplicity giving a sensuality to a composition.frost concept portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Isolating ourselves thinking it will only increase our chances of creativity is a myth. Making connections between ideas we see other people having and our own ideas is a source of creativity. Paying attention to connections we could make between our concepts and what’s around us can trigger a pretty creative response.

2. Pressure kills creativity.

By pressure we mean things that might limit what we can use to create. These could be things like having just one lens or going on a photowalk when the light is “bad.”

But contrary to all the excuses, having a limiting factor in a situation where you have to create actually helps you be more creative. Sometimes having very little choice in your focal length is good for you. It forces you to move more; it distills your choices into how to compose rather than how to use equipment that you might have in abundance. This shift in decision making from what to use to how to use what you have is a situation that can trigger your creativity.

If you can respond with a solution to the situation, you have already begun to be creative.

3. Equipment makes you a better photographer.

This is one of those if onlys that photographers torture themselves. If only you had a better lens, if only you had a better camera like that guy with the 6800-dollar body, your photo would be sexier.

If onlys are a waste of time, and they actually kill creativity.

What promotes creativity is using what tools you have to think and see differently.

Part of creativity is inventiveness, a commitment to make something out of what you imagined. You don’t need an upgrade of gear to do this. All the gear you need is in your head.fire concept portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. You need to go somewhere exotic to be creative.

Exotic places are great because they are full of new sights. These new sights might trigger a creative response.

But from a creative standpoint, sometimes you can see new sights with old eyes. That means you might be tempted to take the ‘safe shot,’ the one that has always worked for you in the past. If that happens, the creativity isn’t there because you haven’t invented a new way to express that new thing you saw.

On the other hand, you could be walking at a familiar place, seeing things you’ve seen before, but you put a twist into interpreting those familiar things with an unfamiliar composition.

That’s creativity.

It’s not going someplace you’ve never been. It’s seeing something in a way you’ve never tried. You don’t have to go away to do this. You can start right where you are, right now.ice concept portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

5. You need to have bursts of creativity when everything comes to you effortlessly.

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was not a painting he created in a single moment of creativity. The Musée Picasso has the artist’s notes on the creative process for this painting. It shows how he struggled to create the painting plane by plane, sketching and then eliminating one element, re-adding it, then changing again. In the revisions that he made, it is clear that even though Picasso had an idea of what he wanted to say in his painting, he had to go through a revision process to arrive at a final result.

Meaning comes to the artist in layers. Staying committed to an idea while the layers sort themselves out in a problem solving process is part of our growth as creative people.

Be open to the burst of inspiration. But don’t forget that the rest of it is hard work, and patience.

Can you think of other myths about creativity that need busting?

Monk framed by doorway in Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina.

10 Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Your Photos

I was watching my students at a recent workshop for emerging hobbyists. Walking around with the group, I noticed some images that they just walked past. In one instance, I saw a leaf no bigger than the diameter of a 50mm lens, perched precariously on an old piece of wood, with afternoon light making beautiful shadows across the dried up leaf. My students walked past it. It got me thinking how differently you see, after you learn how to see images. There were some behaviors that I knew I would do, which I noticed my newbie class did not.

Little behaviors can make a difference in what the lens captures.

When you’ve been making images for a while, there are a few things you forget you learned, to make your photos better. These little things might make a big difference in the way your photographs turn out.

1. Large scenes are the first things we see, but don’t forget the small details.

It’s easy to see everything in a scene, all at once. It’s harder, and more beneficial, to zoom into a more limited space around the object, and capture that. Often, details within a scene make for better compositions because you have one focal point of interest and make it easier for the viewer to enter the image, and exit the image. The easier it is for the viewer to interact with your image, the better the experience for them.

BW leaves copyright Aloha Lavina.

Walking closer and taking a detail of a scene can sometimes be better than the entire scene itself.

2. Declutter the composition.

Decluttering the composition means including only the elements that you absolutely have to have in the image to make it work. It means excluding things that only serve to distract the viewer from the subject you’re focusing on. Half the work of making an effective image is looking at the space around the subject. If this space is not interfering with the attention the subject is getting, it is probably going to be an effective photograph.

Bhutan morning with mist and mountains copyright Aloha Lavina.

Simplify and make your composition cleaner.

3. Move in small steps around the subject.

It’s easy to get distracted and make dramatic sweeps around a subject. But it is more effective to take small steps around the subject to see the changes in the light and how a slightly different point of view would alter the resulting photograph. Moving in small steps allows you to get used to noticing nuance in your imagery—those small things that might make an image tell a more compelling story.

Bicycle headlight copyright Aloha Lavina.

Walk around the subject slowly and learn to see small changes when you move the vantage point.

4. Look for the light.

Light can make the difference between a snapshot and a stunner. Often, we are dazzled by the content of a shot—what’s in the picture. A funny looking dog, a beautifully rusty car, a cultural moment that seems mysterious. But these situations can be more beautiful if we find them in good light. Conversely, a mundane situation can actually be stunning when it is lit well. Since we most often encounter ordinary scenes (unless we are NatGeo photogs on assignment), we need to look for the light to make our ordinary scenes look extraordinary in our images.

Novice watching television in Divine Madman Temple, Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina.

Light can make the simple more attractive.

5. Look for naturally-occurring frames.

There are elements everywhere that naturally frame a shot. Walls, doorways, foliage, and other objects around us often can serve as natural frames for our shots. Looking for these frames can give your photos depth, making your composition look three-dimensional.

Monk framed by doorway in Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina.

Natural frames occur everywhere. Learn to see them and use them in your compo.

6. Don’t forget to look up.

It’s easy to keep your eyes in front of you, looking ahead. But the thing is, you will find some images are hiding above your head. Don’t forget to look up once in a while on your search for things to photograph. You never know what you might find.

lights in baskets copyright Aloha Lavina

Look up. Some photos are hiding above your head.

7. Keep your eyes focused on the subject while taking the picture.

Slight movement of the camera while it records the image on the sensor can result in blurry photos. Aside from learning a breathing technique and how to hold your camera properly, something you can practice is how to keep your eyes focused on your subject, through the viewfinder, until the sensor has completely recorded the image (which is estimated to be around two heartbeats). This helps you get a sharp photo.

Burmese dancers in Rangoon. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Keep your eyes on the subject, and give the camera time to record a sharp image.

8. Be patient.

Sometimes it takes a long time to focus a lens, or to finally get the one shot that will work. Be patient. I tell myself, Just because you show up with your lens doesn’t mean the universe is miraculously going to arrange itself into glorious harmonies. Anything that made you stop and think of taking a shot is something worth waiting for.

dragonfly at rest copyright Aloha Lavina.

Patience is a great teacher.

9. Get to know your camera well.

It’s important to get to know your camera well. Which buttons and what they do and where they are, are things you need to know well so you can change settings quickly as you respond to changing light or changing vantage points. Being able to change settings without having to peer into the camera every time is an advantage.

sunburst near Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Burma copyright Aloha Lavina.

Know your camera well, and catch a lot of shots you might miss by peering into camera controls too often.

10. Wake up early sometimes.

Photographers are crazy because we do anything to get a good shot. People get swept away in tsunamis, get knocked down by typhoons, and get hit by race cars because they are after a shot. Waking up early is less extreme, and it’s something that you can do if you want to get some amazing shots and enjoy the soft light of the day’s beginning.

Monk and alms giver in Ampawa Thailand copyright Aloha Lavina.

Wake up early and capture a surreally softly lit world.

What advice would you give to an emerging hobbyist?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits
When You have to Wing it
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively

zebra girl copyright Aloha Lavina.

From Idea to Image Part I: Planning

Creating an image means a lot of decisions made before the shutter clicks.

Side by side, two photographers looking at a scene, unless they are trying to make the same image, will create two different images. The differences in their images depend on a host of reasons. These reasons include their intentions, their skill level, and the decisions they made according to these elements. Some people call it vision.

When you make an image, the result is a combination of your decisions.

To make the best possible image you can, it’s important to be aware of how your particular idea becomes the image you end up making. How do your decisions result in good work?

Start by thinking backwards.

Backward design is something that grew out of education. When teachers design lessons, they often start at the end. When they begin at the end, teachers know that they can break down the result into what they have to do to get there. They are in effect making a map of how to get to the end result they want.shadow play copyright Aloha Lavina

Analyzing the resulting image you want, breaking down what you have to do to get there, and then following a path to success is a process that affects your images. It can make the difference between an impactful image and one that may be technically perfect, but does not express much.

Note down the techniques you need to use to make the image.

Do you need to use particular camera settings to get to the end in mind? Which techniques will produce those results? Why should you use one technique over another? Are some questions you can ask yourself at the planning stage of your project.

Let’s say you want to show the theme of time. Organizing the theme of time into concrete images involves a bit of technique. Will you slow time down for us to see it in the blur using panning? Will you speed up time using a high shutter speed? Can you show passing of time without having to resort to a series of images, but use conceptual interpretation instead? How much will you show in the frame? What elements will impact your design?zebra girl copyright Aloha Lavina.

Starting with strong questions in your planning can help you get to the result with greater efficacy, and your resulting images will show this skill.

Gather the equipment you need to get to your result.

Once you know the techniques you need, you can gather the actual tools you can use to accomplish the technical part of your shoot. Choosing the lens is the most important because the lens dictates how much you include or what you exclude to compose your imagery.

A variety of accessories exist that help you to achieve a ‘look’ in your images. For instance, you might need a polarizing filter, or a set of ND filters. You might need lighting help from reflectors or flash units. Or, you might need a tripod to make those slow shutter images. Whatever you need to get the results you want, planning the stuff you need to make those shots ensures that you give yourself the best chances for success.water copyright Aloha Lavina.

Rehearse the skills you need to get the result you want.

There’s a reason why teachers give homework. Homework is not to make students suffer, but to rehearse skills needed for a big assessment or test. If we extend the metaphor to our craft, we recognize that the decisive moment of making a shot involves a test of some kind—the readiness to get the shot you wanted through preparation.

That preparation includes practice. If you’re scheduled for a portraiture session, for example, go out and shoot portraits. Change up the situation during the practice session to give you rehearsal in how to solve problems—lighting problems, composition problems, posing problems—these skills rehearsed give you the opportunity to make sure your actual test, the actual shoot you have to perform and get those amazing results, is something you will pass with flying colors.

Evaluate your results, and realize new things you learned that got you there.

Finally, take some time to evaluate how you did. A great way to improve your photography is to look at past images and ask yourself if there is anything you could have done to make them better.

Writing teachers always say, “Don’t fall in love with the first draft.” This is to tell students that there are always things we can do to improve our work. If you follow this advice in your shot making, you might just stumble upon an improvement cycle that will continue your learning and result in images that just keep getting better and better.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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Confessions of a Photoshop User
Are You Paying Attention?
Finding Good Photos where they Hide
Why You Should Shoot Like Johnny Depp
Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos

Up next: From Idea to Image Part II: Lighting
Join me as we walk through the process of conceptualization and lighting set up for a portrait!






portrait black and white Indian girl copyright Aloha Lavina

10 Clichés a Photographer Can Believe

Obsession is a wonderful thing. Being obsessed with something, you will notice how it becomes the context with which you view your world. Things that people say in conversations jump out at you, as if everyone is talking about your obsession. That’s why I think these clichés could possibly be talking about you and your obsession with photography.

1. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

When you get a shot that is perfect in every way, it sticks to your mind even after you’ve taken many others after it. How many times has this happened, and you can’t take that image off your mind? It’s the one you can’t stop talking about, the one you immediately upload to the website where you share shots with others.

2. Try and try again until you succeed.

Popular with newbies, this is a saying that reverberates when you’re frustrated with a photo shoot. Persistence is a great tool to have in your camera bag, and it’s something you can’t buy or upgrade. As you progress in photography, there are challenges that you have to take simply because they push you toward growth.

3. The sun also rises.

For those of us who have other jobs, photography is something we do on weekends and after work. Because we don’t have a lot of time to make images, we’re often anticipating that special day when we can just take a walk or go to a photoshoot without worrying about anything else on a to-do list. Then when we get there, it could be too terribly overcast to make a good landscape shot, or it could be raining too hard for an outdoor portraiture shoot. This is the saying that will bring hope that another day will hold special light and images.

4. Love will find a way.

Challenges keep us coming back to our craft. Learning to light, for example, was a test for me. I was so used to making natural light portraits for years, and then suddenly when I was asked to produce light in a dark room, I had to climb a steep learning curve without falling off. If you love your craft, you will spend time and effort to nurture it.

strobist Nikon editorial fashion photography copyright Aloha Lavina

Ride a steep learning curve in your craft. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.

You can’t go back to a place and have the same lighting conditions, the same moment replayed. There is no guarantee that you will have the chance to take the same image you see now in front of you. Seize the opportunity and take the picture, because it will only come in front of your lens once.

6. All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.

You have to make time for personal projects. Work is great because it puts money in your pocket, but personal projects put the zing in your soul. Making time for personal photo projects gives you a creative outlet, and you learn new things that you could integrate into your workflow.

7. Always look on the bright side.

I like this cliché because it reminds me to expose for the highlights when I’m making portraits. But it also reminds me that images that fail also hold lessons. Especially the failure itself. Being afraid to fail is detrimental to growth as a photographer. It means putting aside chances to learn something new because you never try anything new. The bright side of failure is that you tried, and that because you just got rid of a fear, you now have endless other chances to try again and succeed.

water high speed photography portrait one light strobist copyright Aloha Lavina

Try new things to stay fresh. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

8. A picture’s worth a thousand words.

No caption, no artist’s statement, or long winded speech can replace a good image. One of my mentors once told me that I had to be able to narrate as well with one photo as I could with a series, and that the one photo had to do better than a series with an explanation. Iconic images, if you want to make them, do not need to be explained. The story is all there, in that one frame.

portrait black and white Indian girl copyright Aloha Lavina

Give each frame everything you know. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

9. See the glass as half full.

It’s easy to be negative—to see faults and flaws. It is much harder, but more useful, to see the positive. Remembering the positive drives motivation and increases confidence. The more positive things you hold in your head, the better you feel about yourself as a photographer, and the more artistic risks you might potentially take. This translates into even more chances of producing creative, fresh work that is compelling to your audience.

10. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

If you keep yourself open to possibilities, take artistic risks and banish fear of failure, you may one day develop a style. In the beginning of a photography obsession, the focus is on knowledge or craftsmanship (craftspersonship?)—how to control how the camera takes pictures. You’re drawn to tutorials, how to make this or that exposure, and appreciate those funny little numbers that are supposed to tell you how to go about making a good photo: f/ this and ISO that and 1/something seconds.

Later on, as those technical decisions become part of your automatic skill set, you may begin to explore vision. Vision is the root cause of your obsession, not technique. Anyone can learn technical knowledge, and there are superbly exposed photos floating around that really are technically perfect but visually do not compel.

But the photos that inspire us and push us in our own craft are the photos with a vision that stun and reverberate with us long after we see them.

With an obsession like photography, you can find inspiration in almost anything. And when you believe that ‘the universe is speaking to you,’ might you not find time to listen?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Making Expressive Portraits
Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures

product photography rings jewelry lighting

Take Risks and Improve Your Photography

Someone once said that disequilibrium is a sign of learning.

Defined as an unbalance, disequilibrium hits a photographer when there are new skills demanded by a shoot. Often, it’s scary to face something that you have never photographed before, and you scroll through your head looking for something familiar, but those familiar things you find only serve to produce shots you’ve done before.

How do you make images that are new?

The answer might rest in deliberately putting yourself in a new situation, shooting something you have never before tried.

product photography watch lighting

I learned how to use homemade diffusers like white A4 paper. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

As an autodidact, a self taught person, I have found that the best times to learn something new is when a shoot stretches me. I purposefully, when time permits, try to set up a shoot that has a skill set different from what I normally shoot. Making images with new challenges brings new scaffolding that you have to scale, pushing you to the limits of your old knowledge and giving you opportunities to gain new knowledge.

I learned how to light portraits. I’m most comfortable lighting people. When I hang out in coffee shops, I even automatically start looking for good light for people’s faces, and I’m constantly on the lookout for good portrait lighting in natural settings.

But sticking to one kind of photography, especially when it becomes second nature, is setting yourself up for being stagnant and not growing. If you want to improve by learning new skills, you’ve got to take a risk and stretch yourself.

product photography orange juice glass black background

I used a black poster board as a background. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

So I tried to light and photograph small things. Granted, there is something ‘old’ in the challenge: I already know the basics of how to light something for a photograph. But there is a fundamental difference in the way you think when you’re lighting a person versus lighting a small object. The ratio of subject size to light source is different. When you’re lighting stuff, the small things, the light source is much bigger than the subjects. So you’re going to have to learn new ways of controlling the light to make some good images.

When I made these images, I learned some fundamental things about how to use light shapers. I used white A4 paper to diffuse the light from the flash units. I relearned how distance affects the intensity of the light on the objects. And one of the most interesting things I learned is how the angle of the light can create unwanted hotspots in the objects.

product photography rings jewelry lighting

I learned about angles of light. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The images don’t really excite me. I mean, there must be a lot of people out there who can light jewelry and watches better than I can. But that isn’t really the point. The point of the whole exercise was the process of learning. By taking a risk and shooting something I had never shot before, I learned a lot about lighting.

David duChemin talked about taking risks, and apart from how it applies to how we approach life, I think it also applies simply to how we get better at something. Without taking an extra step toward what we don’t know, we may never know. And being able to know might be a risk worth taking.

What about you? What risk will you take with your camera this week?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
See How Easily Your Photos Can Create Impact
Making Expressive Portraits
Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures



Talking to my friend Leah gave me this, one of my faves from 2007. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

It’s Fun to be an Amateur

The other day I heard someone say about a friend, “Oh, he’s an amateur,” with a little pout accompanying the statement. The term sounded belittling.

But the origins of the word amateur suggest that the term means someone else entirely. From the French for “lover of,” and the Italian “lover,” the original denotation of amateur gives us the picture of someone who so loves the idea of something that he or she pursues it, enamored, obsessed, breathlessly in love.

Sometimes, it’s more fun to be an amateur. In photography, it’s the distinction between making money for taking photographs or doing it for free. For some reason, this is the most commonly understood distinction. But whether or not you are paid to take photographs, there are some qualities of an amateur that it would be to our advantage never to abandon.

Amateurs are in love with their craft.

You know that old saying that when something finally becomes a “job,” it becomes  tedious? An amateur never feels bored. He will shoot every day if he could. I remember back in the day when I assisted for a well-known photographer, when he and I were both working at the same place. We would clock in every day at work and whenever we got the chance to get out of the workplace, we would just shoot. Weekends were special because they were times when there was nothing else except photoshoots to do. Long holidays were even better; they meant days and days of getting up early, shooting all day until the sun went down, and then lingering over dinner talking about images, about camera settings, workflow, anything and everything to do with photography.

Amateurs hold their photography like something precious and turn it this way and that way, admiring the wonderful qualities of it, and making themselves happy as a result.

Yearning for a shoot session sometimes gets to be too much. Like missing a lover, the amateur misses their craft.

Just playing with model Shu for her portfolio. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Obsession develops a love affair in the initial stages. There is always a honeymoon stage, when the lover cannot get enough of their beloved. Because there is so much to learn in photography, it’s like what someone said about falling in love with the world: “If we listened to a work of Mozart every day, we would be happy for a hundred years!” An amateur pays attention to details. No detail is small enough to notice. This sort of attentiveness fuels more energy: when you pay attention, you learn more and get better. So the improved results will inspire the amateur to get better and better.

Amateurs are not motivated financially. Being a freelancer and having income coming in from writing, teaching in addition to photography makes it easy for me to have the attitude of an amateur. The best part is not having to take jobs that I don’t like, for instance, weddings, unless it’s in Goa, India or Kathmandu, Nepal, or Langkawi, Malaysia and I can combine it with some travel. I can still do personal projects, ones that do not have any remuneration but are interesting and that stretch me creatively or technically. I think it’s really important to have time for these projects because these are where you truly experiment and learn new things.

I learned a lot about shutter speed doing this shoot with Jack for his portfolio. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Learning new things is exciting to an amateur. With all the workshops that so many people are offering now, it’s hard not to come across one that might teach you something new, that could take your photography into a whole other level. It’s very important not to think that you know it all and that no one else can teach you something new. I constantly learn from everyone I meet–whether on Twitter or someone’s blog, or reading a book, magazine, or watching a Youtube video. One of the best qualities of the amateur in my opinion is the lack of formal training. Sure, it might take you longer to reach technical proficiency on your own. But you also have an enjoyable lifelong challenge of learning so much, and if you paced yourself right, it could become one of the more pleasurable things about your status as an amateur.

Talking to my friend Leah gave me this, one of my faves from 2007. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

One of the best things about amateurs is that you are not in a box, the box of your formal training. Instead of this being a disadvantage (you don’t have a paper that says you are a “certified photographer”), it could be a great advantage. You’re open-minded to what is out there, and you will experiment. Experimentation fuels creativity and inspiration, and in the best-case scenario, you might discover something that makes your work even more dynamic.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

1/125s @ f/5.6 ISO 200

Stretch your photography skills

When you do something over and over, things kind of become automatic.

I usually shoot portraits, so my fingers know what to do, instinctively, when there’s a person in front of my lens. It’s so instinctive that it seems effortless: it seems I’m not really thinking about it, it just happens.

1/60s @ f/5.6, ISO 200

Malcolm Gladwell writes in his awesome book Outliers that it takes 10,000 repetitions to master a skill, and it’s true that drilling a skill, especially when we practice it the right way, does produce mastery at some point.

But once in a while, we need to shake things up. Introducing something new into a skill set stretches that repertoire. When we apply previous knowledge to new situations, we learn more.

1/125s @ f/5.6 ISO 200

I’m used to lighting people with portable flash units. When presented with a new situation, smaller subjects this time, the portable flash suddenly becomes a huge strobe in relation to what I’m lighting. So naturally I have to stretch what I know about the relationship between the subject and the light.

And, naturally, I learned a lot.

1/30s @ f/3.5 ISO 200

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
Beginner’s Guide to Light
Focus on a Story

"Trapped" Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Be a Photographer, not a Lens Changer

Years ago, I had a conversation with my brother about what equipment to bring to a photoshoot. I was all into gear, and I proudly named the lenses I would lug to the location. Prime this and zoom that. I listed 4 lenses, but before I could add a macro lens into that list, he asked me, “Do you really need all that?”

I thought I did. What if I wanted a closeup of an eyelash?

Then he asked, “Do you want to be a photographer, or a lens changer?”

That question changed my outlook on gear.

Lately I’ve been wishing for a really wide lens to use with the 7D, for those tight shots in crowded markets and temples. But often when I go to a photoshoot these days, I find myself bringing just one lens. Yes, that’s right. One lens.

My bag is lighter, my shoulder and back love me more.

One lens forces me to move, to ˜zoom with my feet” and think about my compositions. Ultimately, I know I will learn something about photography if I don’t think too much about changing lenses. Here’s what I learned recently.

Change vantage point

“Trapped” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

I saw this tree that had fallen during a wild storm. The branches were clutching the ground. It was a perfect setting for an image of being trapped. I asked the model to sit in the middle of the branches and stood up, opening the lens to 18mm to include the branches in the foreground. What I got was an unusual interpretation of the portrait using the environment, an illusion of the branches closing in on the model.

Frame the shot with what you have

“Winter butterflies” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

The 17-55mm lens at a location where you can’t really move around a lot, forces you to frame your shot a certain way. At this location, I had a lake behind me. One step back and I’d have been wet. So I decided to frame the shot like how I felt—that any time, I could fall. The root on which the model stood helped me create the illusion that we were high up. In reality we were beside the lake, on its banks. I just crouched really low, and leaned back as far as my poor back would go, hoping I wouldn’t fall, and pulled off an illusion.

Normal focal length with tilt is cool

“Storm” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

On this shot, I had about 4 feet of space around me, the model, and a softbox plus a couple more lights on lightstands. I really didn’t have a lot of moving space. So to add a bit of drama, I used the 35mm focal length and then tilted the camera. This way, I could add just a bit of distortion to the image and give the illusion of movement, almost like the model was bearing down on me as she ran from a storm.

On these shoots, I didn’t have the option of changing my lens. And I was able to learn some new things about how to work the lens to get the shots I wanted.

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