A few weeks back, I was asked by a kindly soul if I could write something about getting into photography. I was flattered, stunned and a little bit terrified by the request. Why? Because despite shooting photos on and off for over ten years, I know virtually nothing about the art form.
One of the reasons I think I went for such a long time without expanding my knowledge was because I felt so massively overwhelmed by what I felt I had to learn. For ages, I couldn’t get my head around a lot of the ‘rules of photography’ and I found understanding the workings of my camera a feat in itself.
Starting From Scratch
But, in September of 2020, after many long months of not even thinking about my camera, I tentatively picked it up and, despite not really knowing what the hell I was doing, started taking photographs. (You can read a more in depth account about my journey to healing through photography here if you’d like to.)
Taking photographs quickly became a vital tool in my ongoing recovery from depression and I decided that, rather than allowing myself to be overwhelmed by all there was to learn, I would embrace it instead. One of the first things I did was learn how to shoot in manual mode, something I’d been terrified to do in all the years before. I spent many, many hours on YouTube watching videos that clearly explained how to better use my camera and little by little, my confidence steadily grew.
My Initial Set Up
This is what I had when I started taking photographs again in late September 2020.
- Camera / Canon EOS 700D which I’ve had since 2014.
- Tripod / A Slik 35D tripod which I found for £6 in a charity shop a few years ago.
- Backdrop / My bedroom door and two black scarves.
- Lighting / The light from my bedroom window and a SAD box.
That’s basically it.
Where I Got My Ideas From For My Initial Photos
- For some of them I don’t even know / The first photos I took and felt proud of just came from the inexplicable grief I was feeling. I called the series ‘When Grief Ate My Heart Whole.’ They just happened. I didn’t have a plan of any sort, I just knew I had to put something real and raw out into the world.
- Pinterest / After creating my initial photos, that was a quiet gnawing to further express the pain I was experiencing. So I found myself wandering through Pinterest, searching for inspiration on how I could bring it out. Everyday I’d make a new folder on my desktop and put all the inspirational images I’d found in them.
What I Used To Edit My Images
- Lightroom / Just excellent really. I’ve been using it for about five years.
- Afterlight / I’d say about 90% of all the photos I’ve created since 2016 have been through the Afterlight treatment.
Investments I Made In My Photography In 2020 (or more like the last three months of 2020)
- A new camera / My faithful 700D started to malfunction back in 2019 but I persisted with it. When I started to take things more seriously with my photography in October 2020 I decided I needed to invest in a new camera. I bought the Canon EOS 2000D and, while I’ve been mostly happy with it, it does have its downsides and I wish I’d invested in a better model. I think I’ll take the step this year.
- Camera cleaning kit / Integral really. This is the one I bought.
- Lighting / I take the majority of my photos in my ‘home studio’ AKA my bedroom. It’s a pretty dark room, so there were only short bursts of time during the day when I could take photos using natural light. This became a major annoyance extremely quickly, and using the SAD box wasn’t really working, so I invested in this soft box kit. It changed everything.
- Backdrop stand and backdrop / My initial backdrop was my bedroom door and a couple of black scarves layered over each other. While my door was all I needed in the beginning, it did become limiting, so I bought this backdrop stand. I read hundreds of reviews for various backdrops on Amazon, and, unable to find one I was happy with, went to B&Q and bought a black blackout curtain.
- Photoshop / The best investment I made in 2020. I pay less than £10 a month for Photoshop and Lightroom. (It’s cheaper to get a package.) While Photoshop was daunting at first, I put in the hours, learned the basics and quite quickly found myself editing my photos with surprising ease. There are so many excellent tutorials on YouTube which made the learning experience something I really started to look forward to.
- Canva / I committed to the ‘Pro’ version of Canva a couple of years ago, and it’s been an extremely valuable tool in my development as a creative. I’ve used it for everything from creating blog graphics to designing book covers, but most recently I’ve been using it to find overlays and additional imagery for my art. For instance, when I wanted to create this image of me as a werewolf, I needed the head of a wolf. I went to Canva and after a minute or too of searching, found exactly what I needed. For this image I needed to add some snow. Again, a minute or too searching on Canva and I had snow. It’s such an excellent resource, I can’t praise it highly enough.
- Acrylic Sheets / Random I know, but a simple, large sheet of Liteglaze Clear Acrylic from B&Q and some small sheets of acrylic from Hobbycraft helped take my creativity to a whole other level. I sprayed the large sheet of acrylic with water to create a rainy window, scattered it with fake snow to create a trapped under ice portrait and covered it with honey to distort my face. I used epsom salts on a small sheet of acrylic to create a frosted window and splattered another with black paint to make this portrait. Before I bought the acrylic sheets, I used the glass out of a picture frame.
- Face and body paint and, bizarrely, glitter / I started using the black and white Snazaroo paints I’d had since forever, but when they ran out, I decided I wanted to step out of my comfort zone as you can see here.
Making My Own Props
Some of my happiest hours of 2020 were spent making things to use in my photographs. The best things I made were created with things I’d foraged and stuff I already had in the house.
- Crowns / The first crowns I made were created with the cardboard from an Amazon package, some staples and some silver paint that I had stashed in the cupboard. The icicle crowns after that were made with cocktail sticks, hot glue, a metal headband and silver, grey and black paint. Then I made some moon crowns from more Amazon packaging, metal headbands and acrylic paint.
- Antlers / I made a set of antlers especially for this Wendigo photo. While these started to flop after being on my head for about an hour, they were simple and fun to make and they did their job. I made them using a metal headband, silver foil, masking tape and black paint. I’m going to make another set though I intend to wrap the silver foil around wire first to make them more sturdy and longer lasting.
- Broomstick / I went to the woods one morning to take photos and found the best possible stick. Needless to say, it came home with me and I took a photo with it. The next day I decided I wanted to make it into a broomstick, so I went back to the woods and foraged a bag of branches. Back home, with the assistance of my mother, I attached the branches with black duct tape then wound twine around the tape to disguise it. It’s quickly become my favourite prop. You can see it here and here.
- Krampus Tongue / I made the tongue you can see here using silver foil, masking tape and acrylic paint. I had no idea what I was doing, but it worked out.
Props I Thrifted Or Found Around The Home
- Bedsheets / I thrifted a white bed sheet for £1.50 and have so far used it as a dress, a cloak and a backdrop. Bargain.
- Candles / The potential of a candle is limitless. Here’s a photo from my Darkest Days project, and I lit this photo using just candlelight.
- Dolls / I nabbed my daughter’s doll for this photograph depicting Gryla, the child eating Icelandic giantess.
- Random pieces of material, scarves, fur hoods / I bought the material you can see in this photo from a charity shop for £2. I was hesitant to buy it at first because, well, it’s blue and I’m a bit reluctant to use colour, but thankfully I ditched that nonsense and bought it and I’ve not regretted it because I think it’s worked out quite well. In this photo I’m wearing my Mum’s coat…the hood was too ‘polar explorer’ for me not to take a photo with it.
Where I Find Inspiration
Every day, I spend about half an hour searching for inspiration online. Here are some of the places that have proved invaluable.
- Bleaq / I’m methodically going through every page on the site.
- Pinterest / When I was doing my Darkest Days project, I would make a board for every photo I wanted to take. Going into 2021, I’m making a monthly vision board.
- Instagram / I’m sure that you don’t need me to tell you that Instagram can be an extremely powerful source of inspirational when used correctly.
Some Of The Things I’ve Learned How To Do In The Past 3 Months Since I Picked Up My Camera Again
- How to shoot in manual / This changed the game.
- How to do frostbite makeup / My first attempts were terrible but after some practice and help from videos such as this one and this one, I was able to create makeup like this.
- How to create a wet plate effect in Photoshop / For the longest time I wanted to create a photo of myself that looked as if it had been taken over a hundred years ago. This video helped me do that.
- How to turn my hand into ice in Photoshop / Not the simplest of things to do, but it’s so worth the time it takes. Trust me. Learn how here.
- How to replace my head with that of an animal / Right, I started watching a video on how to do this, but I ended up creating a method of my own. I’m going to go back and watch the video to the end because I intend on doing a lot of these photos and I want to do it right.
- How to effectively use motion blur to add atmosphere to a photo / Like with this photo. I just love some motion blur.
- How to create a double exposure / Like this one.
- How to levitate / This had been a dream forever.
A Few Words Of Advice
- Don’t wait. Start now. If I’d have let my anxiety about not knowing much about photography get the better of me, I wouldn’t have taken a single photograph and I’d have nothing to say to you now. Every day is a chance to learn, an opportunity to grow.
- Create a space you can dedicate to your photography. It doesn’t have to be big. It can just be the corner of a room. My backdrop is set up in front of my bookcase. Sure, I can’t see my bookcase anymore (I don’t feel like taking up and putting down the backdrop whenever I use it) but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
- Share your work.
- Listen to constructive criticism.
- Ignore destructive criticism.
- Don’t aim for perfection, you’ll quickly kill your creativity if you do.
- Don’t compare yourself to others.
- Be patient with yourself.
- Don’t overthink what you’re doing, just do.
- Don’t get hung up on the rules of photography. I haven’t.
- Learn everything that you can about your camera and everything that it can do. I’m learning something new about mine all the time.
- Always back up your work.
- Accept that you’re on a journey and that you’re growing.
- Look for an inspirational photographer every day.
- Keep a folder on your desktop for inspiring images.
- Keep a list of things you’d like to learn how to do. Review it often and keep track of what you’ve learned.
- Keep your camera battery charged.
- Empty your memory card often. There’s nothing more frustrating than being ready to shoot and having a full memory cards of images you’re not sure if you need or not.
- Have goals and review your progress regularly.
- Try a month long project.
- Use your camera every day. Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it.
I Thought You Might Like To Know
- When I was writing this post, I was listening to Hibernal Solstice by Leidungr on repeat.
- I plan on doing a post about my favourite photographs, the process of making them and why they’re my favourites. If this is something you’d be interested in reading, please do say so in the comments section.