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Photography Class

With the world the way it is, second waves and hotspots erupting all over, I’ve been thinking back to my time in self isolation earlier in the year.

After travelling to Amsterdam I wasn’t able to leave my house upon returning to Australia for two weeks. My travel radius became my overgrown and previously unloved backyard, though this quickly turned into my place of solitude and inspiration.

A place which helped me during those heavy and emotionally strung out days.

Each day I would pick up my camera and explore my backyard. I started doing this to document what I was seeing at this unbelievable moment in time, like a photo diary.

I enjoyed what I captured in these nature walks so much that I have added 3 New Prints into my Shop. The mood of the images really sets the atmosphere of those days.

I have decided to share some of my backyard photography tips with you in this ‘Photography Class’ and walk you through my approach, in case this may help you too. You don’t have to be a photographer and all you need is your iphone.

The class’s aim is to motivate you to explore what’s in front of you and to help train your eye to see things which may have gone unnoticed before.

This class is for pure enjoyment, escapism and fun – remember what that felt like?

Ok, off we go…

ps: If you are reading this and live in Victoria, just know that we are all thinking of you and understand this second lockdown is not like the previous one and is very emotionally difficult. This class is especially for you guys to do at home or in your local park!

Above left: The back of the house which opens up onto an overgrown small bush block/ Above right: A single large gum tree which is in the backyard, a tree which I feel so grateful to have in the backyard.

1. Take in Your Surroundings

First things first, go for a walk outside and take in your surroundings. Look at the sky. Is it sunny? Is there rain coming? Any moody clouds? What does the texture of the bark on that trees feel like? If it’s windy, just sit and watch how the wind moves through nature.

Something even as simple as rain can add a sense of drama and action within nature. Noticing how the water droplets fall on foliage or how a cloudy grey sky makes the colours of the leaves and surrounds more intense.

Being at one within your surroundings is really important to allow your eye to notice the smallest of things.

Above left: Me, walking around the backyard and taking it all in, while wearing the new Cocoon Coat in milk / Above right: A new limited edition print titled ‘Elephant Ear Study’. I love the rain on this one.

2. Timing the Light

I’m always taking in and being aware of the quality of light around me. The early mornings and late afternoons are the best hours to utilise and photograph in, as the light is softer and you can capture subtleties that harsh middle of the day light destroys.

My favourite time to shoot is within ‘Golden Hour’, which is the first hour or so after sunrise and the last hour of the day when everything is bathed in soft golden light (if it’s sunny).

A handy way to calculate how much light is left in the day is by using your fingers. I know, stay with me… One finger equals 15 minutes when you hold your finger lengthways along the distant horizon of the sky. Simply add more fingers horizontally until your fingers meet the setting sun. One finger is 15 minutes, two fingers together means 30 minutes, three 45 minutes and four an hour. From there you can calculate how much light is left in the day. Try it. (I learnt that from adventurer Bear Grylls)

Above left: A new limited edition print from this series titled ‘Secret Garden’ / Above right: The small details, noticing the shadow play on the side of the house.

3. Subject Matter

Sometimes photographing little set ups can be more achievable than photographing the whole wide story. So I like to walk around collecting interesting things which my eye is attracted to.

I tend to enjoy collecting bits and pieces of found nature and bringing them together to photograph in a ‘still life’ scenario. Like fallen gum leaves, bark, blossoms or what I have a lot of in my backyard – weeds, make for an interesting subject matter.

Look up and down and turn things over. Don’t be scared. Observe textures and patterns. Be curious. There are no rules.

Above: Taking in the repetition of shape, form and texture within nature.

4. Surface

For your ‘still life set up’ you will need a surface to photograph your collected bits of nature on. Something simple and uncluttered.

In my studio I actually have an entire collection of  ‘surfaces’ I shoot on for jobs, such as marble, stone, tiles, even specially painted surfaces. Though I didn’t have access to any of these fancy surfaces while in isolation, instead an old barbecue plate did the trick for me.

You could also use a piece of cardboard from a box, your concrete driveway or lay down a piece of fabric or even a frock. Just something which will give you a plain backdrop to photograph on.

Above left: Another moody print from the latest print collection, ‘Gum Tree Rains‘/ Above right: An interesting looking leaf, which had been eaten out by crickets, though the pattern is intriguing.

5. Arrangement and Balance

Balance, is a tricky little thing to get right, though with practice you can achieve it.

Lay out your collected bits however you like upon your surface. You are going to shoot them from above – this is called a ‘flat lay’. To help you achieve balance, look out for sharp lines within your pieces of collected nature which can lead your eye in a different direction and out of the frame – you don’t want this.

You might notice that all my gum leaves are positioned in a way where they ‘tails’ are not pointing out of the frame. This is deliberate and by doing so achieves balance within the frame.

I use this trick every single day when shooting, as I don’t want leading lines to be leading the eye out of frame. Anything can be a leading line, cutlery in food shoots, chairs in interiors shoots, anything which distracts and leads the eye out of frame. It’s about seeing these distractions and harnessing them and changing them, or avoiding them.

Above left: The Stag Horn, which I never thought much of, now I have a new appreciation for it/ Above right: Shadow play on the side of the house.

6. Gear

 Ok, so now you are set to shoot your still life. Because this is meant for fun your iPhone or similar will do a fantastic job capturing what’s in front of you. I use my iPhone all the time to capture moments, as sometimes hauling out the big camera kills the mood.

However I know many of you are very curious about what cameras I use. I don’t like to talk about cameras too much, as it goes against my personal belief about getting too attached to materialistic equipment and it becoming more of a status thing, rather than simply a tool.

I shot my first hard cover coffee table book Shelter on a $90 50mm lens, because that’s all I could afford at the time – so don’t get hung up on the gear and don’t let it hold you back.

For me the best camera in the world is your eye and that’s why in the previous steps it’s important to always be training your eye to actually ‘see’ what’s in front of you.

However, I use Canon EOS DSLR camera bodies with prime lenses for all my work (35mm, 50mm, 85mm are my favourites) and a Leica for my personal work, as it is lightweight and unobtrusive. The best people to ask for camera advice is your local camera shop or by watching some tutorials on Youtube on the brands you may be interested in.

Above left: Standing at the back of the house looking into the yard and thinking about the world/ Above right: A sweet little weed growing beneath a succulent in the backyard, I rather liked how innocent this little flower looked.

7. Editing

The last step! The best phone editing app I have found is Snapseed. I use it all the time as the features are simple, fast and mirror what I like to achieve when I’m processing big files on my computer in Lightroom.

You can control your contrast, tweak your exposure and turn your images into black and white etc. It also offers filters, though I’m not such a big fan of filters in general. They can date your work and I find the presets a bit too heavy handed and unrealistic, but hey, they can be fun!

Ok, so now you are all set. I hope this class will helps you and give you the motivation and confidence to get out there and have a go and enjoy yourself. Anything to help with a little bit of distraction right now.

This class is also fun to do with kids, as it’s easy and instant and based on curiosity.

Remember to check out my Latest Print Collection here and if you have any questions please leave them in the comments and I will answer them.

Kara x


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17 Comments to “Photography Class”

  1. Thanks Kara
    I really appreciate your time in putting this together … I started doing something similar yesterday taking photos inside, will take it outside now … you’ve inspired me to keep going – thank you x

      • Thank you so much for your tips. Makes it hard to homeschool in Melbourne when your Year 10 photography student can’t get out and about and has to make do with a very small local environment. This will be so helpful.

  2. As always, your generosity of spirit is our good fortune. Thank you so much for sharing this invaluable class with us xx

    • Thank you so much for the photographic tips. You’re one amazing photograper. Love your book and your prints. I’ll be out in my Melbourne back and front yard tomorrow testing them out. This will distract me through my sadness of being at the point of possible financial ruin from this second Victorian lockdown. At least we’re all healthy and safe.

      • It’s such a tough time right now isn’t it Amanda. There just seems to be bad news everywhere. I hope your backyard discoveries help in some small way. Take Care, Kara x

    • Hi Christine – my absolute pleasure. Thank you for your kind words, so thoughtful of you. I hope you can gain something from the class. Take care, Kara x

  3. As always, your generosity of spirit is our good fortune. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful class filled with great tips and tricks.

    • Thank you Kara! I am so excited to give your class tips a try – I’ll be in my Melbourne backyard too tomorrow taking it all in, with a new appreciation x

  4. Thank you for taking the time for our wellness journey. It is really hard being down here in Melbourne, Victoria.
    This has bought my inner child to explore the beautiful Mother Earth.

  5. Thank you Kara. I have dusted off my camera and can’t wait to get started. I bought a copy of your book “Weekends” yesterday. It’s beautiful and very inspiring xxx

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