JUST ASK JO: How are your photos so perfect!?

This week's JUST ASK JO is another one on photography and it's short and sweet. I've shared some technical knowledge on photography in my first blog post on the Basics of Photography, Then on the second JUST ASK JO post I went a little more in-depth on equipment and gear. This one we'll talk a little bit more about visual creativity and where I draw my inspiration from.

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Question:

Hey Jo!

How are your photos so perfect?

- Nina


I'm flattered you think my photography work is perfect because like most artists and creators I'm really hard on myself. Along with having a strong understanding of lighting, composition, and the type of camera I'm using; I'm always looking for ways to improve my work and train my eye to see things differently.

I once read in a book, “Don’t look. See!” At first, I didn't get what that meant, but the more I kept repeating it in my mind when I was out and about I started to "see". I've always had a love for street photography. To me when I see it, it's life in the moment nothing that's overly curated or posed. It's truly a stolen moment in time. When I shoot weddings and couples this is how I approach my subjects.  

“Don’t look. See!”
— Henry Carroll

I've been a professional wedding photographer for over 9 years now. As a wedding photographer, I'm constantly shooting with different lighting scenarios and have that extra pressure of not being able to recreate a shot or moment again because a wedding day is just one day out of their lifetime. Since I'm not huge on using flash or artificial light I really have to rely on how natural light affects what I'm photographing. 

Light is your subject

One other thing is to learn to see light as your subject and observe it frequently! Look at how light affects the space around you and the objects around you. Notice how it draws out certain textures, colors, and detail. Does it attract you to look at a specific point on the subject or scene? You've got to start looking at light the way you look at life, you've got to take it all in.  Below are some lighting examples.

The photos below are all taken by me unless mentioned otherwise. You can see more on my VSCO.

Hard Light

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Hard light is probably my favorite light to shoot. I love the contrast between the light and the darkness. It's dramatic, a little unforgiving, and exposes all. It creates depth and packs an intense punch.

Soft Light

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Soft light is more even and can still cast a shadow like hard light, but is not as intense because the light is coming from multiple directions. It's one of my favorite lighting scenarios to photograph portraits and food because it still provides a little bit of depth, but you have the ability to still see the things that are in the shadows. The eye naturally travels through the entire photograph rather than in hard light it might only travel where the light wants you to travel. In soft light, you view the whole story rather than bits and pieces.

Learn to see light as your subject and observe it frequently!

One thing to note is that soft light can be flat which means that there are no shadows or highlights to create depth in an image leaving the photography to feel very matter of fact. Compare the two below and see if you can notice which one looks and feels flat while one makes your eye travel throughout the photograph?

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My favorite soft light to photograph in would be most commonly known as open shade. Open shade is found in an area that is shaded from direct sunlight but is not falling directly on your subject. The light is typically reflecting onto your subject.  Some photographers emulate this by using a lighting device called a softbox, but you can also do this by using window light

Here's an experiment: place your subject at different angles to the light. Notice how the shadows change, giving your subject a different feeling.

There are plenty of other lighting scenarios and each photographer might call it a different name, but keeping it simple allows you to be open to learning how to play with it as you see it. Be aware of how natural light changes throughout the day. Just like my nutrition philosophy on not labeling food good or bad, I do the same with light. A lot of photographers and creators get stuck in thinking that the best light is golden-hour and although its an absolutely stunning light to shoot in, you can limit your creativity by only wanting to shoot during this time of the day. 

Photo composition tip: Get close. Then get closer. 

When taking photos I always think of the story the subject in the photo is telling. Even inanimate objects tell a story. So here's what I mean. 

 1. take a photo of the entire scene

1. take a photo of the entire scene

 2. then get close

2. then get close

 3. then get closer

3. then get closer

 4. even closer.

4. even closer.

When you start to see things in this manner you can begin to create a better story with what your eye is trying to convey. If you're ever with me when I'm shooting something, you'll hear me say things like "We need to give it some life." In other words, give it a story to tell. You can do this by stepping in and getting more intimate with your subject, even inanimate ones. 

Photographers rarely nail the shot the first time. So give yourself time to learn. Practice practice practice

Where I find photography inspiration?

Pinterest and VSCO are two places I pull a lot of visual inspiration from. Many people don't know but VSCO has an extension in their app where you can explore images from other VSCO community members. I have always found the images on there a whole lot more thought-provoking than the ones I discover in my Instagram explore feed. I spend a lot of time people watching when I'm out and about. Doing that helps me see what people do naturally and how they interact with one another. It also helps that I'm a wedding photographer.

Oddly enough my inspiration for portraits is typically from old black and white war photography. To me the images are raw, they speak volumes of truth and emotion. When I photograph people, I try to capture the feeling they have inside, freeze the moments in time, and give them a moment in their life to go back to.

A tip I got from my friend Elana was to create a visual mood board of inspiration. You can use Pinterest or Instagram and bookmark things to a saved collection. Start adding photographs and visual media that speak to you on these boards. This will help you begin to understand what your eye really loves to see and what speaks to you. 

I've been loving this JUST ASK JO series on my blog. So keep the questions coming. I hope these have been extremely helpful to you! 

Joanne E

I’m a mother of two beautiful daughters and married to a man who completes me. I started my fitness journey as a way to heal my soul and launched my blog in hopes to continue to inspire and empower women to use fitness as a tool to heal depression and find their self worth. I strongly believe that each woman deserves to be in love with herself just as much as her man does. I have an obsession with reusable water bottles, I enjoy action movies, and I’m in love with burpees.