Making Picture Magick

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I get asked every now and then for photo taking tips or about my process. I am always happy to answer these questions, but I thought it might also be fun to write a little post about how I transform the objects I love into pleasing photos for either this website or my Instagram. And while that may sound superficial, the fact is that taking photos to me is both a sacred and creative act. The energy and love that goes into the process of taking something I adore and capturing its essence, is every bit as spiritual as sitting with that object in other respects. It is both artistic and expressive, not to mention a satisfying outlet.

Quick Disclaimer: I am not a professional photographer (duh) and I have had no training in this field, so I'm not a subject matter expert. These are simply techniques that I utilize, found through trial and error, that you too may find helpful. However, I did work in a photo lab for a few years, many years ago, and colour correction did become a bit of an obsession. Fun fact: I still have nightmares about it! 

Oh, and one more thing, in case you're wondering, I use my camera phone for all photos. Most were taken with a Google Nexus 6P, but I've recently upgraded to a Google Pixel 2 XL.

Okay, on to the tips!

Get Inspired!

Without inspiration, even the perfect subject, shot with right tools, can fall flat. I usually start with an idea or feeling and work from there. Sometimes I'm inspired by a particular object, a mood, a dream, a card, a recent experience...you get the idea. Then, I take energy and try to arrange objects in such a way as to capture that essence. Photography can be quite technical, but it's also a form of art - so allow your heart to drive you through the process as much as anything else. If you love the subject of your photos, you're on the right track.

 
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Follow The (Natural) Light

No matter how good your camera is, if the light isn't right, the photo won't be the best that it can be. I don't own any special lighting, so all my photos are taken with the aid of the sun. That means I don't take photos at night (except for client readings when sometimes I have no choice) and I always wait until the sun is projecting just the right hue. It shouldn't be too yellow or too blue. I find early morning, if it's just a bit cloudy, tends to be a good time. I also usually close my blinds so only some of light can get through. Too much light and you get shadows. Too little light and the photos are...dark. It takes some time to learn the best hours for your location, so play around with this for optimal results! You can always use a colour corrector later on, but keep in mind that the less correction you have to do, the better the photo will look in my opinion. Oh, and no flash! I don't know what the point of flash it, it never ever helps things.

 
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Backdrops

If you're taking pictures of things, you'll need a place to set those items. I like to use natural or natural-looking backgrounds such as wood, marble,granite etc. The good news is, you don't need to have wood floors or an expensive counter to achieve this. And even if you do, they may not be suitable depending on their location in your home. In my kitchen, the light comes in a bit funny at times - not always conducive to photo taking. To combat this, I purchase all my backdrops from the hardware store. All you need to do is head to your local Home Depot (or whatever) and check out the samples. You can buy them in slabs for next to nothing and if you're lucky, as I've been on occasion, you can get them for free!

On Amazon you can also purchase backgrounds for photos that are designed to mimic wood and other natural surfaces. I've used some of these previously and they are okay. Most of them are sticker backs which means you still need a piece of board to paste it on to and you also need to be very careful not to create bubbles when you place it down. If you can get it just right, the board will work however in my experience, they tend to wear and tear really easily. I usually ended up having to redo  the boards many times. This is why for me, I'd rather purchase a solid piece of material from a hardware store, because you've got that, more or less, for life.

 
 A handful of boards featured here. A mixture of wood, marble, laminate and some faux sticker stuff.

A handful of boards featured here. A mixture of wood, marble, laminate and some faux sticker stuff.

 

Balance

Before I snap a picture, I look at it through the lens and make sure everything is balanced. It doesn't always work out, but I try my best! When I say balanced, what I mean is making sure there isn't too much off-putting negative space, or too much of the same colour or texture. I like to work from a centre and build outward, playing with various elements until I feel it's properly filled out. Another way to look at balance is layers. Start with your primary object and then add to it. If you have a book you'd like to feature, what are other elements you can include to help the picture pop? Maybe some colour or texture placed on or around the primary object will help the image feel more full. Just make sure there isn't too many contrasting elements; the eye should still be drawn to a focal point.

 
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Use Your Grid!

One of the tools I use the most when I finally get the image into Instagram, is the alignment feature. I turn on all the grid lines and make sure everything is level. Tweaking things just slightly can make a huge difference to the overall visual impact. I also use the grid on my camera because that helps keeps things level when I'm actually in the process of taking the photo.

 
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Keep Snapping!

When you have your scene arranged to your liking, don't be shy! Take tons of photos from different angels, heights etc. When you're done, yes your phone may be full of what looks like the exact same photo, but those minute alterations can make a big difference. You also have a much better chance of grabbing that "perfect" shot, given you have far more options to work with.

 
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Ask For Guidance!

This is a tarot-centric blog and with any creative pursuit, there is no reason why you can't ask your cards for some guidance! Here are a handful of question suggestions to get you off on the right foot:

What should I focus on when it comes to taking photos?
How can I stay inspired or motivated through the process?
What is a tool or skill that would help me?
What piece of advice would help take my craft to the next level?
 

 
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So those are my top tips and things that I keep in mind for every photo that I take and share on this platform and Instagram. I hope these have been helpful and that they serve you well. The most important thing is that you enjoy the process and allow your creativity to drive you. It isn't necessarily easy, but it shouldn't be tedious labour either. Have fun with it!

Julia