The Hobby Before the Selfie

How to Take an Amazing Photograph: Guest Post by a Photography Expert

For this post, I wanted to delve into this topic of “hobbies.” We are asked about it a lot. In interviews we’re asked what we do for fun, what makes us happy outside the normal realm of responsibilities. I like to read, but is that really considered a hobby? My mom takes photographs, and my dad is a beekeeper, as well as an outdoor enthusiast in general. Right now, I want to talk about photography, and what it means to my mom. Below, you’ll find the interview I had with her, along with some recent never-before-seen shots from San Diego.

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Why did you start taking photographs?

I have always loved taking pictures – and not just of people, of anything really. I guess I was in 7th grade when my dad gave me a Kodak instamatic camera and it was on from there. In high school, Myers Park had a photography teacher and lab so in 11th grade I took Photo I and 12th grade Photo II. In 12th grade it was a 2 period class, and we took cool trips – to Burnsville a couple of times and to Kitty Hawk once. I was editor of my yearbook as a senior so was required to take people pictures, a lot. Also one of our Friday Photo Assignments for class was people pictures, out in the city of Charlotte. I decided then that people pictures were not my thing – just never felt comfortable.

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Why do you enjoy photography?

I enjoy photography because of how it makes me feel – without being kooky or cheesy sounding – at peace but excited and exhilarated all at the same time! And I know when I have taken a great shot – not just because of digital instant gratification,  but when the light is right and the shadows are working just right and the image is in the perfect place in the frame – I just know. And I smile, inside and out. Now who wouldn’t enjoy that?

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Was there anyone in particular who influenced you in your art?

The specific person who influenced me was Mr. Byron Baldwin – my photo teacher at Myers Park and an icon in the local photography world. Like a lot of instances with a young person – don’t know how good you’ve got it ‘til it’s gone – hopefully I learned as much from him as possible. He was just a great teacher – not just where he was our friend, he was critical of our photos. Friday Photos was a nerve wracking event – each and every week – but we all learned so much from his and each other’s feedback.

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How do you manage a hobby along with work and life?

Managing a hobby and a career and kids was not always easy. Early on, I was a member of the Light Factory in Charlotte (Mr. Baldwin was one of the founders), where for a membership fee, I was able to develop my black and white film and print my own pictures – but this was pre-kids and pre-digital. After having kids – living in Gastonia and trying to get to Charlotte to print pictures and take classes had to take a back-seat. During those days, I settled for taking a gazillion pictures of my two girls and a few “artistic” ones while on vacation that I sent to Camera World for developing – and moved ever so slowly into color photography. Now though with the digital revolution and my children in their 20’s, it is not so hard to juggle both. Although, my photography obsession still has to be put off until I have adequate time to devote to it – being a school teacher now has its positives.

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Go into specifics about how to take an eye catching photo. What do you look for in your surroundings, and why?

  • Optimum time for me to take photos is when the sun is low in the sky.

So right after dawn or right before dusk – that softer light and the shadows that are created are what I look for when I am shooting. Straight up 12pm to me is the hardest, harshest light. I am not a rainy day person either (not that I don’t like walking in the rain without umbrella or jacket – actually I love walking in the rain without umbrella or jacket!) but my best pictures have never come from this type of condition; but immediately after a rainfall – if the sun comes back out – wow – it’s amazing what you can see.

  • I first take in the whole scene, and start shooting.

I then narrow it down – which I guess is one of the main reasons I love digital now – I can use that immediate feedback to help me decide what I really want in the frame. I look for reflections in windows or in water or in anything I see that is shiny. If you take a picture of the WHOLE scene to me that makes the picture too busy, too much for your eye and brain to process. So frame by frame – narrow down the subject until you get to the nitty gritty of what drew you to raise your camera in the first place.

  • As referenced earlier, people pictures are just not my thing.

I do not like telling people where to stand or how to stand or how to hold their head, etc. I like taking pictures of architecture and landscapes, nature and animals – but more than the actual subject is how the photo is arranged and how the light is affecting the objects in the photo. Lighting is the key to everything.

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We as Millennials are surrounded by retouching of photos, yet you don’t use Photoshop and your pictures still come out beautifully. Explain that dichotomy. What do you think this says anything about your artistic ability over that of others who might use Photoshop to manipulate the images?

When I began taking pictures, we studied the art of b/w photography. In the lab, we were able to manipulate the amount of light exposed to the photo paper using various methods (dodging and burning – man I miss those days!) But ultimately, either we got the shot we intended, or we didn’t. There was not a whole lot to be done once the shutter was clicked. With digital photography (the only means accessible to me now) I still do not perform many corrections to my work. I am familiar with Photoshop and other photo-editing software, but I guess since I did not learn to change my photos, enhance my photos, change the lighting conditions under which the photo was taken, I am not comfortable doing that now. It is what it is, I guess. I have been asked if that says anything about my artistic ability over those who use Photoshop and I would have to say no – I think using editing software such as Photoshop has its place in the world – and it is not so easy to learn – it is not very user friendly, in my opinion, so those who have become expert at it and can change the image they originally shot, then more power to them. For me personally, that is not the road I choose to take.

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The coolest thing about my mom’s photography in my opinion is the fact that she rarely edits the photos. She grew up taking pictures and developing film in a dark room with the delayed gratification that accompanies the process. This makes her photos more real and raw to me; they’re untouched and unspoiled. They become a representation of the places she’s been and the memories made. I especially appreciate them when I was apart of those memories. The photos are of the true beauty in nature. I have my mom’s photography decorating my house, and I have been practicing taking more artistic photos of my own in hopes of having it as a talent of my own later. Having a hobby is so important, and I believe being able to capture the moment where the photographer felt pure bliss enables the moment to live on forever.

Cheers to happiness and kindness,

Jill

 

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