Learning To Look: An Intro to Taking Better Photos | Rebecca Loomis | Skillshare

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Learning To Look: An Intro to Taking Better Photos

teacher avatar Rebecca Loomis, Compulsive creative with too many hobbies

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Who, What, Why?


    • 2.

      Project Practicals


    • 3.

      Building Awareness


    • 4.

      Focus & Frame


    • 5.



    • 6.

      Angles & Emotional Impact


    • 7.

      Lighting & Color


    • 8.

      Surface Scratched!


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About This Class

You don't need an expensive camera to become a better photographer. Start learning now using just what you have to maximize your photographic abilities, by training your eyes to see through a different lens.

In this class, you will learn common pitfalls to avoid and potentials to utilize when taking pictures–whether professional or personal, with a smartphone or DSLR.

You'll do this by compiling a Phlog (photo log) that documents your progress. You'll choose a subject (portrait, still life or city/landscape) and take one photo of that same subject per lesson, implementing what you learned. At the end of the class, you'll be able to look back at the transformation of your eye!

Meet Your Teacher

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Rebecca Loomis

Compulsive creative with too many hobbies


Rebecca is a freelance photographer, graphic designer and author, with experience in marketing, videography, and more. When she crawls out of her introverted Hobbit-hole, Rebecca enjoys adventuring the great outdoors, social dancing and making delicious food!

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1. Who, What, Why?: Hi, my name is Becca, and I'll be teaching this class called Learning to Look. A little background on me. I am from New York, I live in Texas now, two awesome states. I got my bachelor's in mass communications with a minor in art. My specialty is naturally lit candid portraiture. I dabbled in a lot of other things including art and writing, social media, design, and so on and so forth. I've way too many hobbies. But I decided to teach this class because I have a lot of family, friends, and co-workers who have come to me asking for advice on how to take better photos. These were people who were everything from having a need to take professional photos or just wanting to take better personal photos. This class is really for anyone. It's a very broad spectrum. But a lot of these people came to me asking for advice. I found that one of the major things that was standing in their way was not actually in their way at all, it was just excuses, like, "I don't have a good enough camera," or, "I don't really have a reason to call myself a photographer." I found that it's very similar to when I start to try to work out. I use every excuse. I say, "I don't have a gym membership. I don't have free weights and I just don't know what the heck I'm doing," and the same can go for photography. But the key is not a better camera. In fact, buying a better camera so as to learn how to take better photos is like taking a bandage and sticking it on a wound that needs stitches. It's not going to work. What you really need to focus on is training your eye. So that's what this course is going to be about. It's going to be about learning to see what makes a good photo and what doesn't. We're going to talk about common pitfalls to avoid and potentials to utilize. We won't be talking a lot about technical things like how to set your camera manually. It'll be more big picture things. So that if you're taking photos with an iPhone or a cannon DSLR, it will make a difference. These things will apply to any realm. It also won't matter if you're interested in portraiture versus landscape, versus still life. This should be applicable to almost everything. Really what I want to give you through this course is a foundation that you can build on. This is your foot through the door to get you started. It won't solve all your problems or it won't train you to be a professional photographer. However, they are very little steps that can go a really long way in going from someone who sometimes takes pictures on their phone to actually an amateur photographer. Anyone can do that, anyone can do this course. I hope the best for you. I thank you for giving this a shot, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with. 2. Project Practicals: Welcome back. We're going to jump right in and talk about your class project. For this class, we're going to be doing a photolog or flog, as I like to call it, where basically you'll take a new photo of the same subjects with every class applying the things that you've learned, so that at the end of the course, you can look back and see how your eyes changed. You'll be able to see the decisions that you made that were different based on the new knowledge. For your subject, we're going to go ahead and pick a subject that you'll stick with for the rest of the course. You can choose from anything in the categories of person, place, or thing. In photography terms, it's portrait, landscape, or still life. A lot of people tend to fall into one of these categories and they prefer that, I prefer portraiture. It's good to practice in all these different areas, but you'll probably find that one of them suits you more than the others. So go ahead and pick a subject and take your first photo. Don't think about what you think is right to do or wrong to do. Just take it how you normally take it, using what you normally take it with and stick with that same thing. If you're using an iPhone, use your iPhone. If you're using a DSLR, use your DSLR, if you're using your GoPro use your GoPro. But you're going to stick with the same photography platform and the same subject. Now, once you've taken your photo, I want you to set it aside and start to ask the question, why? Why this subject? Why did I choose this landscape? Why did I choose this person? If it was a bit more impulsive and you didn't really put much thought into it, that's fine. Start to think about it now. Start to think about meaning, what do you want to accomplish with this photo. Because all photographs communicates something, whether we want them to or not. That can just be communicating the beauty of life. It doesn't have to be very in depth, but it's going to communicate something. Be thinking about that. We're going to return to that question with the following courses. 3. Building Awareness: In this lesson, we're going to start talking about building awareness, which is key for developing your eye for photography. So in college, I had taken a class for drawing 101 and I remember a particular instance in which our teacher projected a picture on a screen and said, draw this. We looked at the picture and all it was was a bunch of blobs and shapes and darksome highlights and we really had no idea what we were looking at. But we proceeded to draw this blurry blob. Every so often he would focus it a little bit more. Eventually, with each new rendition that we did, we started to see what the picture was. What he had done was take a famous painting, turn it upside down and blur it. What this forced us to do is look at what we were drawing, not as an image of people and instruments and things, but rather to see the abstract, to see what we're looking at as shapes and color and visual weight. This was a really good exercise for me, both in drawing but also photography. So to replicate this exercise only geared towards photography, what I want you to do right now is to turn upside down. I want you to bend your head backwards over a chair, lay down on the floor, whatever you have to do and look at what's around you upside down and start to think of what you're looking at, not as a person, place or thing, but rather shapes and sizes and visual weight, darks, highlights, color. What is it you actually see? If possible, look at the subject you're using for your project. My hope for this exercise is that when you're right-side-up again, you'll start to be more aware of the different elements you have to work with because it actually matters if your color palette is cool or if it's warm. That's going to affect how your audience is emotionally impacted. Are the edges of your subject soft and curved, or are they sharp and jagged? How does the background interact with the foreground? You don't necessarily need to know why these things matter yet because we'll talk about them in the next few lessons, but start to be more aware of them. You don't necessarily have to take another photo for this particular lesson, but I want you to start looking at your subject a little bit differently and practice this exercise a few times if you need it and come back when you're ready for the next step. All the blood is rushing to my brain. 4. Focus & Frame: Next, we're going to talk about focus and frame. In every photograph, there's a focal point. Something that your audience's eye is drawn to. We as the photographer, have the responsibility of choosing what that focal point is. If we don't, we end up with an image with no focus. Your audiences left wondering, what is this picture even about? Take for example, these two images that I took at a conference. In the first one, I just pointed and shot. I hadn't really planned out my image before I took it. The result was a focus less picture. You look at it and you're not really sure where your eye should rest in the frame. Should it be on that one guy whose expression is not very attractive or on that one girl who's walking away? Again, not a very flattering shot. In the second image, however, I chose what I want in my focal point to be before I took the picture. I took the picture on purpose. It's pretty clear that you're supposed to look at the girl who's clapping. Not only is she in-focus, but she's the focus of the image. We'll talk a little bit more later on how to get your audience to look in a certain place based on the composition of your image. However, for now, the most important thing is that you choose what is the focus of your picture. In addition to defining your focal point, I want you to start thinking about what it is you want to communicate with your image. This will determine what you include or exclude from the frame. Think of it as visual storytelling. In this image, my focal point is clearly the speaker. However, I want to tell you more than that. In this picture, I show not only the speaker, but the audience in the foreground. Similarly, in this image, I included an additional speaker in the background to show that he wasn't giving the talk by himself. Now that you've decided what you want in the frame, you can start to decide how much you want it to be a part of the picture by adjusting the focus. Depth of field determines the amount of things that will be in focus within your frame. In some instances, you'll want a softer background requiring a shallow depth of field. While in others, like group photos and some landscapes, you'll want more things to be in focus, requiring a wide depth of field. If you're not using a camera with manual settings, you may not have the ability to adjust your F-stop or aperture, which determines the depth of field. You do have some control however. You can position your subject closer to your background to keep more things in focus and have a wider depth of field, or you can bring your subject very far from the background in order to get that soft look and have a shallower depth of field. Now, even if you've decided to blur out your background, you're still taking something three-dimensional and making it flat. You really have to pay attention to where things line up behind your subject. This brings me to our first common mistake, background bombs. Take for example, this image. It looks like the plant is growing out of her head. Maybe it's not super noticeable because it's out of focus, but it's still there. All it takes is one step to the side to fix that. No more chia pet. Again, these are just some really little steps that can go really long way when it comes to making your photos better. 5. Composition: In this lesson, we're going to talk about composition. That being the layout of the elements in your frame. When you master composition, you'll be able to move your viewer's eye to that focal point that you decided on in the last lesson. We want to create images that are visually balanced. In a balanced photograph, you have a clear focal point, but your eye is free to move about the entire image and take it all in. None of it feels lop-sided or pushes your eye out of the frame unless you intend for the image to be unsettling. To understand visual balance, however, we need to understand the concept of visual weight. According to creativeglossary.com, "Visual weight is the ability of a region or art element within a composition to draw attention to itself. Visual weight is often created through the use of contrast and/or through the use of color." Here's a classic example. Your eye is naturally drawn to the red star. Certain elements in your photos, such as color, contrast, and size, are going to draw more attention than others, thus making them visually heavy. You can make elements in your image visually heavy by isolating them from the rest of the picture. Make your subject a bold color or use repetition to create contrast, or use a clear light background to make your subject stand out. We don't just want weight, however, we want balance. Where you place the visually heavy elements in your frame, will determine how balanced the image is. Notice that in the more balanced images, the focal point is not placed in the center of the frame. Even though it's asymmetrical, it feels balanced. Many people assume that your eye is drawn to the center of a space. So you end up with photos like this, which is common mistake number 2, excessive headspace. In actuality, your eye sits comfortably right around one-third of your frame, which brings us to one of the most helpful yet easy tips you'll learn about composition, the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is the simple principle that if you place the focal point of your image on a third line or third intersection of the frame, your eye will be more naturally drawn to it and the composition of your image will be more visually balanced. Let's return to that common mistake image we used earlier. Can you see how much better this photo is when you tilt this subject up just a bit and feel the frame. Not only is the weight equally distributed in the frame, but their faces are now on a line that divides the frame into thirds. Let's look at some other examples. Are these images visually balanced? Can you linger on them without feeling the need to move on to a new one? Does your eye travel about the image yet rests on a focal point? Look how perfectly each focal point of these images is lined up to a third line, or better yet, a third intersection. If you're using an iPhone, go ahead and pull it out. Go to your settings, then to photos and camera, and then find the grid. Turn that on. Now, your camera has an overlay so you can see where your third lines are as you take your pictures. Many other cameras have this setting as well. So I encourage you to find it on whatever device you're using. You can also use the lines within your image to move your viewer's eye throughout the frame. Take this image, for example, our focal point is the barbecue pit, but our eyes travel along these lines all over the image, and then come right back to settle again on our focal point. They don't have to be actual lines to do this either. Your eye makes imaginary lines between objects that are placed close together as well. It's time for phlog photo number 3. 6. Angles & Emotional Impact: Next we're going to talk about camera angles and their emotional impact. We tend to take pictures from exactly where our head is, not moving much except for to the right, to the left. However, some of the best shots require a little bit more creativity. Be creative with your angles. Stand on a chair or lay down on the ground. You might have to get a little dirty, but it's worth it. Here are the major angles you need to know: Bird's-eye view, which is what it sounds like, worm's-eye view, which is also what it sounds like, and eye-level, which is again, what it sounds like. You'll also need to pay attention to how close you are to your subject. We can take a wide angle shot, a close up, or something in between. Let's take a look at some examples. In this series of portraits, I made sure to utilize the worm's-eye view, bird's-eye view, and eye-level. In this series, I was covering a talk, I made sure to get a wide angle view of the whole room, as well as a close up of the speaker, of people in the audience, and a medium shot. You can also use angles to communicate different emotions or elicit different emotions from your viewer. I'll walk you through some examples in each of the three categories we chose our subjects from; person, place, and thing. We'll start with portraits. Rachel is in a panda suit, yet I have the ability to make her look scared, or frightening, or sad, or powerful, or simply happy. In landscapes and cityscapes, we can use worm's-eye views to make smaller spaces look larger. Depending on our angle, we can also give the viewer a sense of fear or curiosity. Even in a still life, we can make a simple jar look important, neglected, or in danger, even though it's an inanimate object. Lastly, some quick common mistakes and a note on timing. Common mistake number 3, amputations. If you're going to chop someone's limbs off, don't do it at the wrists or ankles, it's too noticeable. Similarly, don't amputate the top of a mountain unless you're zoomed in nice and close. Common mistake number 5, bad timing. Your timing can be the difference between a flattering portrait that turns into someone's profile picture and the terrible one that everyone hates you for posting. Don't just push the button, wait for the right moment. Train your trigger finger to move when your speaker pauses, or when that bird flying through your landscape lands right on a third line, or when that shadow through your window, that's resting on your still life, is in a different position. Now, it's time for your fourth phlog picture. Good luck. 7. Lighting & Color: Lighting and color. One of the most important things you need to know about lighting is the difference between soft and harsh light. Soft light results in less contrast, giving the appearance of gentleness, while harsh light results in heavy shadows, thick contrast, and sharper edges. Likewise, your image's lighting will have a soft or harsh feel on the viewer. The one that you choose is entirely dependent on the purpose of your photograph. For example, if you're taking a portrait that is meant to express tranquility, you're going to want softer light. If you're taking one that is meant to elicit fear, however, you might want harsher shadows. You can determine how soft or harsh your lighting is by observing and manipulating your light source. The broader the light source, the softer the light. The more pinpointed your light source, the harsher the light. For example, direct sunlight will result in dark shadows because your light is coming from one-pointed source, the sun. An overcast day, however, provides light from the whole sky, resulting in softer light. This brings us to common mistake number 5, the idea that a sunny day equals a pretty portrait. When shooting portraits that are meant to be pleasant, you're going to have better luck placing your subject in a shady area. Common mistake number 6 is backlight on auto. If you have manual settings, you can use backlight to your advantage. But most often what happens is that your camera adjusts to the light behind your subject, making them too dark. It's a little bit like the moon. There is always light hitting the moon, but it hits at different angles so that sometimes we see it and sometimes we don't. Position yourself, your subject or your light source so that it's lighting up the area you want. If you're shooting with auto and can't move the backlight, move to an angle where your subject is more prominent than the backlight, so your camera will adjust accordingly. Common mistake number 7, using a flash from a 100 feet away. I won't go into too much detail regarding flash, but contrary to popular belief, your pop-up flash doesn't reach more than a few feet in front of you. So if you try to use it to light up a concert, the only thing it will light up is the person in front of you, leaving the stage just as dark, if not darker than before. Also, keep in mind that flash is typically a very harsh light, like the sun. If you have an external flash, however, that can point in a different direction than your lens, you can make the ceiling your sky by pointing the flash upwards. It'll bounce off the entire surface, making your light a little softer. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of time to go into the details of manual settings. However, I do want to make a quick note regarding shutter speed. It can be very frustrating to take a photo of a moving subject only to find that it's completely blurry, when just last week you took one with the same camera and it was perfectly focused. This is most likely because of your lighting and your camera's adjustment to it. Your shutter speed is how long the shutter is open, or how fast the camera takes the picture. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light is let in. The faster the shutter speed, the less light is let in. When shooting moving objects, you want a fast shutter speed to catch the motion. But if your object is poorly lit, your automatic settings will put your camera at a slow shutter speed to let in more light, resulting in motion blur. If you're shooting auto, the only time you'll get a good action shot is when your subject is well lit. Last but not least, a brief note on color. The colors in your image will be primarily warm or cool. Warm colors are what they sound like, reds, oranges, yellows, etc., like the colors of fire, while cool ones are blue, purple, and certain shades of green, like ice and snow. Notice how the color of these images elicit a different response. Have you ever wondered why fast food restaurants tend to use a lot of red and yellow on their logos? It's because warm colors break your appetite. Not only will your subjects have a predominantly cool or warm color, your light source will too. Indoor lighting tends to be a bit more warm, while natural light tends to be more cool. There's so many ways you can use color to your advantage in photography. But that could be a whole course in itself. So for now, just be paying attention to the color of the light available to you and how it makes you feel. For your final photo, start to experiment with the different light surrounding your subject. Maybe move your subject closer to the light source or open a window to get a more natural light or change your position, and start to pay attention to how the contrast and the color affects your image's emotional impact, and what it is you communicate. 8. Surface Scratched!: Congratulations, you've finished your flog. Can you see the difference between the first and the final image?Have your eyes changed? I encourage you to write a personal analysis about the comparison, and do this project a couple more times with different subjects. Training your eye takes a lot of practice, but the more you do it, the more it become second nature. Once you have these basics down, I encourage you to move to the next level. Take a class on color theory or on how to manually set your camera. We've only scratched the surface of photography, but your foot us through the door.