Shutter Speak 1

(click the button to go to the main Shutter Speak page)
All right folks, it’s time to talk shop. Shop, of course, meaning photography. I updated and organized my photography page and decided that I’d like to keep a sort of digital photography learning journal. I’m calling this journal Shutter Speak, and I’ll collect these posts of my notes, thoughts, and reflections as I go about learning the art of digital photography. It is such a steep learning curve to start with absolutely no photographic knowledge whatsoever and try to learn a dSLR. Writing it out will help, and it will be great to have this record of my progress.
Okay, so… here we go!

 Shutter Speak, Volume 1:


1. Andy’s Bragging Rights

I’d better start this off by coming clean. I didn’t take the picture up on that Shutter Speak button- Andy did. I find this completely annoying and somewhat infuriating- I mean, who’s the one sinking countless hours into learning the craft, anyway? The man hasn’t read a single book or blog post on the subject, and yet he grabs the camera out of my hands, clicks the shutter a few times, and manages to take an absolutely gorgeous picture. I  know I should be oohing and aahing and such, but how can I? Doesn’t he know that digital photography is ALL ABOUT ME?
He did get a nice shot, yes?
(Yes, he took this one too.)

2. Print Quality:

I printed out my first batch of prints for Posy’s baby book at the same local retail photo lab that I always use, but when I saw them I wanted to cry. They looked terrible! Something must be something wrong with the color calibration on my screen! Or maybe I’m totally messing up the images during post processing?! All those beautiful pictures! What am I doing wrong???

(That was only a little glimpse of what was happening in my brain; I pretty much freaked out for a solid day.)

(Just ask Andy.)

(Or actually, no- don’t. I don’t want you to know how crazy I really am. It would ruin my credibility here on the blog.)

Well, it turns out it wasn’t my computer screen, and it wasn’t me, either. It was them.

I ordered a few of the same prints from an online pro photo lab to see how big of a difference there was in quality. Umm, yeah. Huge difference.

Do you have an online pro photo lab recommendation for me? I used Mpix for these photos and was very happy with the results, but I’m wondering if there are other (cheaper) labs that do a comparable job.

3. Learning to See

Here’s what blows my mind. I have ordered prints from that same cheap local photo lab for years, and not once have I ever noticed the shabby color quality. This can only mean one thing: I am finally learning to see. I know this is true because for the first time in my life, I can describe the color of light. I notice slight differences in shadows and details. I am learning to pay attention to the slightest shifts in color.

If there is one gift learning photography has given me so far, it is this: the ability to really see.

4. Perfect Images vs. Captured Memories

One thing I need to work on is turning off my constant desire to take the perfect photo, and instead just shoot whatever is happening. I used to snap this, that, and everything. These days I might notice that the kids are doing something funny, but if it’s 9pm and all I have to work with is bad tungsten light, I’ll often skip taking the photo altogether.

This is not good practice for a mama! I want to capture memories without always worrying about yellow casts or noisy images. Most of the time, yes of course, I’d like to aim for excellent photos. But when the sweetness of life is unfolding before me, I hope my first reaction is to capture the moment, not to capture a perfect image of the moment.

I am telling a story, after all, and part of the plot unfolds even when the lighting is bad.

2. Tripod Love

I’ve finally discovered the beauty of a tripod. I’ve had mine since Christmas, but somewhere along the line I categorized it into “gear you only need when you have to be in the picture yourself”- you know, like when you take those family Christmas photos or something. It wasn’t until I read Bryan Peterson’s book, Understanding Exposure, that I realized I should be taking most of my pictures with a tripod. I should be using it whenever possible if I want the sharpest images possible. And wow, it makes a big difference! This is still not a habit for me, but I’m working on it.


5. Lightroom

Kim talked me into getting Lightroom 4, and I’m hoping to get it soon. The educational discount is nearly 50%, which makes it quite affordable, and I’ll be glad to have a better way to organize and adjust my photos. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing a lot of links to LR tutorials on my Pinterest boards. :)

6. On the Ethics of Editing Photos

Have you seen That’s a Photoshop! yet? I thought this article from dPS offered a really great perspective on the ethics of editing photos. I don’t do heavy editing (lol, I say that all high-and-mighty-like, but really I wouldn’t know how to do heavy editing if I wanted to!), but I agreed with all his points, and I loved how he says that as photographers, we are “painting with light”. Gosh, I just love that.

Wanna talk photography? Let’s chat in the comment box!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge


  1. says

    Great post – I must admit I was nervous going into it, thinking you would talk about shutter speed and f-stops and those technicalities I can’t get my head around! I also almost didn’t read the post you linked to, because I feared it would speak against digital editing. I used to be sooo snooty about editing, but now I embrace it – not with every photo, but my cheap camera doesn’t usually give me what I see, so editing is invaluable to me. Also, by adding textures, I can use an image to tell a story. It is no longer a “natural image” but I don’t know why it has to be anyway.

    I love your photos, thank you for sharing some insight into your process.

    • says

      I don’t get the technicalities myself, so I probably won’t be talking much about them! ;)

      What kind of camera do you use, sarah? Your pictures are always STUNNING. I kind of assumed you used a pro-level camera!

  2. says

    I’m happy that you wrote this. I have so much to learn still. What you said about the cheap local photo labs and the professional online ones made me feel so much better. I rarely print out pictures, but when I do, I’m almost always disappointed. Perhaps this is why?
    Your photos are beautiful.

    • says

      Thanks. Yours are too. I’ve studied that photo of the Space Needle and Seattle skyline on your blog header for quite a long time, trying to figure out how you made it!

  3. says

    Oooh, I’m looking forward to this! I’ve had my camera for a couple months now and still have not done much to learn how to use it better. Also, I agree with Dawn–that is good to know about the cheap photos. I’ll have to keep that website in mind when I finally print wedding photos to hang up (which will be after our move, so very soon!)

  4. Kara says

    Photography – yeah!!! I use Mpix also, and am always happy with the results. To me, it’s worth the extra bit of money to use a professional lab. I always recommend Mpix to family and friends.

    Learning to see…yes, that’s the beauty (and curse!) of delving deeper into photography. I’m very critical of my own photograhpy – I guess that will help me improve in areas, but can be frustrating if I always focus on what I didn’t get right in the photo.

    Beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing as you’re learning.

    • says

      Yep- I read it and I loved it. I think I need to read it again. That’s the thing with photography books- you can’t get them all into your brain the first go-round. :) At least I can’t!

  5. says

    Great post! Right now, I am learning so much about photography. (My daughter joined a local 4-H photography club. That means Momma is learning a lot!!) I also switched to Mpix about six months ago…such a difference.

    If it makes you feel better, my husband does the same thing! No studying, etc. just picks up the camera and gets a great shot! Annoying!! But he does help our daughter “see” shots so I guess I will forgive him!


  6. says

    Look on the bright side. If Andy can take great photos, there will always be great photos of YOU. Another MPIX fan here. I wrote about seeing the light back in March. It’s amazing when you notice the difference. I also really, really, really struggle with number 4. I need to pull out my tripod, too. Lightroom is tempting me especially at 50% off. I have never had an ethical problem with Photoshop — in fact I am a long-time fan. Nice article. It’s so fun that you are getting into photography (and doing such a fabulous job at it). All this photo talk is sparking my interest. It’s not helping the lighting problem in my house, though.

    • says

      You just need a f/1.4 lens to let in whatever light you have. (I’m enabling you, just like friends do for one another) ;)

  7. Laura says

    Hmmm totally ignorant on photography here but you’re right the different photo labs make a huge difference! I’d be annoyed too if my husband turned out to be able to take such pretty photographs, don’t let him get a hold of the camera ;)

  8. says

    Excellent post I don’t know anything about photography but an tired of captured memories that are disappointing. I want to learn but without all the technical jargon that professional photographers fling around.

    Thank you for this. I might need to come back in a month when I have access to broadband at home and do some reading.

    Thank you so much for this :o)

    Please keep these posts coming

    • says

      “I want to learn but without all the technical jargon that professional photographers fling around.”

      Yes, me too. is a good place for that. Katie speaks in normal-people terms and is very easy to read. In fact, I have a little something from Katie to give away soon, so keep your eye out. ;)

  9. says

    I’ll be reading your posts with great interest, and passing them along to my 13 yo dd. I keep thinking that I actually need to have prints made, period. LOL I am so bad at leaving all my photos on the computer!

  10. says

    This is great, Sarah! I have always wanted to learn more about how to take great pictures. I have photographed a few weddings and worked at The Picture People as a teenager but still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. :) Thank you for taking us along on this journey!

  11. says

    I liked your post. I personally use Nations Photo Lab right now. Their shipping is a little lame, but WHCC (which is another popular one) hasn’t impressed me with their free shipping and $12 minimum order policy. I have to admit to using Costco for a few on-demand prints I needed and they were good. I have scoffed at printing photographs at Costco before, without merit it seems.

    Capture th moments with your kids because it is in those bad lit sessions that you find a jewel in the rough, that iconic image catching your little munchkins in all their glory. Of course I have the same philosophy for most things. Don’t skip taking a picture because it isn’t perfect if that means missing the shot. It may turn out better than expected, or it could be garbage, but you will never know unless you take the shot.

  12. says

    Will check out your new page when I’m not so tired. I think you’re wise not to get so hung up on the perfect pic, after all it would be such a shame to miss a candid moment for the sake of perfection! However, being a perfectionist myself totally understand your dilemma!!

    Must admit both Dave and I tend not to edit our pics, it’s a case of what you see is what you get. He studied photography as part of a college many moons ago and I tend to be too lazy to process the whole thing via yet another software package!! Might check out your latest link that is an alternative to picnic though.

    I do have the instagram app on my smart phone and have had fun playing around with the different effects there. As I’m sure you are aware, it’s not just the camera gear that cinches the best shots, I’ve taken some pretty good shots on an ordinary point and shoot! Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm and learning links… it saves me trawling the net!!

    San xx

  13. says

    Oh goodness, Tim does the same thing … takes better shots than I do, without all the angst, just intuitively understanding manual mode. Grr ….

    I feel like my photography is improving since I got a DSLR, but oh-so-slowly. It can be frustrating!

    Thanks for the recommendation for online prints. I’m often disappointed at the local developer, and I never thought of using a pro shop.

    And I think my comments aren’t making sense, probably because I’m overdue for BED. Like, now.

  14. says

    Really enjoying our photogra-chats and can’t wait to talk editing : ) I read that article when it came out and it echoed others I have seen. Most people who dis’ editing never used a darkroom or lens filters or various lenses. Saw a great point that said the camera DOES lie, every time you click the shutter. Because even your choice of lens alters the perspective. And filters (now often applied in post) actually bring the image closer to what the natural eye perceives. They are tools! And it is art – subjective and interpretive and thank goodness it doesn’t all look alike!

  15. says

    I’m soaking all this in, Sarah! There may be a camera in my future – if not for Mother’s Day, then perhaps my birthday in October. Keep it comin’

    Real quick though – would a lens with an image stabilizer replace the need for frequent tripod use?

    • says

      Yes, I think so. My lens doesn’t have an image stabilizer, so I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure it would reduce your need to use a tripod considerably.