I’ve made no secret of the fact that one of the sessions that I truly madly deeply adored at Blogtacular was Xanthe’s photo walk. I take a gazillion pictures of my children and I love doing it; capturing their funny expressions, their joy at being in the moment, or those sometimes rather fleeting moments of sweetness between the two of them. But I think in focussing on the children I sometimes forget to look up at the rest of the world with camera in hand.
I love the pictures that I took of people on our photo walk but I had just as much fun finding unusual angles on sculptures; looking up and out from behind the camera to look for the sights that you don’t let in when you’re plodding along in the every day, and it made me want to stretch myself a little, to find a way to make those photos more a part of my everyday.
I also realised how much more comfortable I am with my big camera than with my iPhone. Practice and familiarity and a lot more practice means that I can pretty much set it up to take the shot I want, and if I don’t get it quite right I know how to tweak it in Lightroom, or I’m getting the confidence to let it go as a shot that just didn’t work out. But phone photos I’m less confident about. I see some of the stunning shots that people put up on Twitter and Instagram and wonder whether there’s some secret that I’m missing out on, or whether the camera on the newer phones is really so much better (I know, a bad workman blames her phone), but although I’m sure the iPhone 5 camera is truly a thing of wonder, I don’t think it’s the difference between mediocre pictures and those ones that take your breath away.
That, as with all these things, is a matter of practice. And probably a little bit of genius, but we’ll go for practice as being the key before we all end up feeling terribly inadequate.
And so I set myself a little challenge. Almost every day that I work, I drop the girls at their nursery, park the car on the road next door (hurrah for all day free parking) and walk down the hill to the station, catch the train to Birmingham and walk across town to my office. And so I decided to take at least one picture for every walk to work.
They were all going to be iPhone photos, all of things that I see almost everyday, but seen with fresh eyes, not the jaded and slightly tired perspective of someone who would really rather be heading home for a nap.
And the more I looked, the more I saw; the scraggy purple aubretia spilling out of a flower-pot and down a flight of steps; a number 20 hung all crooked that always made me smile; the black and white checkerboard steps and mint green door of the house on the corner; the enticing river walk under enormous shady trees; and the pure perfect green of the bowling club’s lawns.
When I first started I wondered whether I’d find enough of a subject matter, but it soon became habit, and then a welcome dash of creativity in the day.
And I think my photography improved with it. For all the pictures that made it onto Instagram there are many many more that didn’t; either because I never got time on the train or during the day to do the cropping and uploading, or because the photo just didn’t work out how I wanted it to (although if you’re interested in a fair few pictures of where a squirrel used to be, I’m more than happy to oblige!).
And then into my world walked not one but two Instagram colour challenges; #colourcolourlovers and #capturingcolour. There are some amazingly stunning pictures in the streams for both hashtags, and it’s been so much fun forcing myself to think in terms of a particular colour as well as just spotting the beauty in the ordinary and everyday. They’re both still running over the summer, and I’m not stepping back by any stretch of the imagination, but as I’ve done my last walk to work for a little while now, I wanted to have a little look back at the results of trying to stretch outside of my comfort zone.
This was always a personal sort of a challenge; I started not knowing quite what I’d get out of it, whether I could keep it going, or what the results would be, and found it to be everything I wanted and more.
If you’re at all tempted to try something similar, firstly, you should definitely go for it, and secondly, I have a few top tips.
1. Clean the lens. It makes a difference. The lens on the back of my camera is quite well protected by the case so it isn’t too bad but the one on the front is inexplicably covered in tiny toddler fingerprints and a few Mummy sized ones as well. One baby wipe and a little polish with a stray muslin made a noticeable difference.
2. Lighting is everything. I’m so used to being able to adjust the ISO on my big camera to get crisp shots in low light, or ameliorate overly bright sunshine, but you can’t do that with a phone. Well not my phone anyway. If you’re taking a picture in bright sunlight you need to have everything that you want in the light or you will get harsh shadows. Better still, shoot in the shade, or in softer morning or evening light, or the shot your eye saw as utterly gorgeous turns out to be mostly black shade!
3. The more you wander down the road with your iPhone in your hand taking random photos the less self-conscious you get about it. It took me a couple of weeks to be brave enough to start taking pictures that included people’s window boxes or front doors, but after a while I realised no one cared what I was doing, or even really noticed.
4. Of all of my apps for processing, my favourite turned out to be PicTapGo. I love that it saves your previous filter combinations so that you can easily repeat the same processing on a similar photo and that you can upload rectangular photos to the very square Instagram.
5. If a picture doesn’t work, don’t worry, just learn from it and move on, this is supposed to be fun. I need to read this one myself I suspect; I never did get the picture of the thistle that I wanted and it took me at least a week to realise that it was because the light at 8am just wasn’t coming from the right angle to give me the kind of backlit halo I wanted, and I wasn’t prepared to be up at 6am just for a photo of a thistle.
5A. Don’t miss your train. For starters, the next train doesn’t have free WIFI. For the record, I never did, or at least never just because I’d been taking photos, but there were a few scrambles along the platform!
And if you do decide to try something similar, let me know; I’d love to follow along.