I really enjoy chatting and learning about photography. I needed a few tips and thought who better to talk to than my lovely friend Amber from The Goblin Child. Amber is such a talented photographer; a real storyteller with a lens. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind being interviewed here on the blog, so you guys can benefit from her answers too!
For those of you who don’t know, Amber has the most captivating blog where she talks about her life with beautiful partner Kirsty and their seriously gorgeous twin boys. If you are looking for inspiration, advice on being a gay parent or general all round loveliness then I recommend you check her out, you won’t regret it.
Amber is a finalist in the MAD blog awards in the photography category and it’s not hard to see why. Below is my favourite shot of hers (although it’s a close call because they’re all amazing) This photograph was taken when the UK was at the height of election fever. A perfect shot that tells a tale and captures the moment brilliantly…
On with the interview:
1. When did your love of photography begin?
My love of photography began as a child when my father, in a fit of post-divorce excess, offered to have my photographs of my dog at the time, Rebel, developed for me. Previously I had been rather sparing with taking pictures because I couldn’t afford the printing of them but after taking him up on his kind offer, I horrified him by presenting him with a good three or four disposable cameras full of pictures to be printed weekly.
When digital cameras became a ‘thing’ my father thought it a good investment to buy me one of those instead and I set about documenting not only my dog and his adventures, but also my cousin’s babyhoods. I bought my first DSLR when I was about nineteen and shot on auto for a year or so, before teaching myself how to shoot in manual.
2. What camera do you use?
I use the Nikon D700.
3. What is your preferred/most used lens?
You can almost always find the Nikon 50mm f1.4 on the end of my camera these days. It’s a super little portrait lens that lets in a lot of light, which is ideal for photographing in my tiny house.
There’s a budget option, the 50mm f1.8, that is about a third of the price. If you’re not a professional then you probably won’t notice the difference between the two, and I’d strongly urge you to pick one up.
4. What subject do you like to photograph best?
These days? My family. I’m not fond of shooting still life subjects, can’t bear botanical photography and I’ve sold the lens that I would typically use for shooting landscapes, so I try to concentrate on emotion, interaction and moments these days. I feel driven to document the every day minutiae of our lives, the bits that aren’t pretty, the bits that don’t have perfect light and where our hair isn’t beautiful and we look exactly how we look, not how we’d like to look. I’m fond of our posed photo sessions, our monthly family portrait, the pictures where the twins are grinning at us from a glow of backlight, but my secret favourites are the gritty, ‘real’ moments that when the twins are bigger, will help me to remember how it used to be.
5. What is your favourite setting to take photographs?
I shoot exclusively in manual because I’m lazy and manual is what I know best, it’s second nature to me. My camera is set to record each photograph in RAW mode, which saves not only the picture itself but also all of the potential from that picture from the moment that it was taken – so that I can go back in Photoshop later and adjust things like the amount of light in the image and the warmth in the image without sacrificing image quality. I like to be able to just pick up my camera and snap with it on a moment’s notice, so I’ve worked out the ISO (400) and shutter speed (1000) that will typically get me a workable image at an aperture of f2 inside my house. I keep the aperture at f2 because it’s just wide enough as a range of focus that I can almost guarantee a sharp shot even if a twin suddenly moves, but narrow enough that the mess will be blurred out of the background!
6. Do you do much editing to your photographs and if you do what software do you use?
I use Photoshop and I don’t do very much editing at all – if I’m not cloning something unsightly out of the image, like the drool running down my child’s chin, processing a photo takes fewer than five minutes.
As previously mentioned, I shoot in Raw which has its own editing system within Photoshop. I start by considering the white balance – does the image look too blue and cold? Are the colours the same as they were when the photo was taken? – and if necessary, ‘warm’ the photo up a little. Then I look at the exposure, whether there was enough light in the image or it looks dark and dull. Once I’m happy with both of these qualities I add a curve, which makes the highlights brighter and the shadows darker, to give contrast to the image. Then I export the photograph into regular Photoshop and sharpen it.
Typically that’s all I do! It’s very easy and it makes me laugh when people compliment my editing, because really anybody could do it. If I’m deeply in love with a photograph I might spend another thirty minutes playing with it but that’s not because it needs it and probably nobody except me would even notice the improvements.
7. As an amateur photographer I try my best to shoot in manual but often miss the moment. Have you got any advice or tips for me?
Memorise how your settings need to look in any given situation so that you’re not wasting time taking test shots! And then shoot in RAW so that if your settings are slightly out, you can still recover the picture.
8. In your opinion, what elements make up the perfect image?
Emotion. If you have caught a moment, told a story, shared something valuable, nobody is going to care if the image is badly exposed and noisy, if your view is half-obstructed, if you all have bed-heads and the floor is a mess.
It’s definitely worth knowing the ‘rules’ of photography, but once you’ve memorised those you need to learn that it’s okay to break them, to bend them and to play with them. And the best thing about digital photography is that it barely matters if you get it ‘wrong’, you’re not paying per picture any more.
9. You (with your adorable twins) are often the subject of your photographs, does this mean you have you set the shot up for Kirsty (as I do with Mr T) or does she know her way around a camera too?
She’s getting there! I tend to set the shot up for her because I’m a control-freakish perfectionist, but sometimes I load up my CF card onto the laptop to look at shots that I’ve taken and as well as those, I find the most incredible images that have captured their day perfectly – and suddenly I’m there with them, experiencing a day that I completely missed because I had to be at work.
Kirsty doesn’t love photography like I do and in fact, she finds it rather stressful, but she will pick up the camera and snap for me and for that I’m tremendously grateful.
10. I know it will be a hard choice but of all the photographs you or Kirsty have taken which is your absolute favourite and why?
Most recently, my favourite is this image of Kirsty and the twins which was taken during an evening dog walk through the woods as the sun was setting. When I started to edit this image I tried to ‘pretty’ it, to lighten it and to remove the noise incurred through the lack of light in the original picture, but I didn’t like the result at all. It looked too sanitised, too artificial, it had stopped looking like a captured moment and more like an image that had been set up with models. So I went back in and kept the exposure dark and gritty, warmed the image up a bit and added a curves layer to bring out the burning brightness of the sun and all of those gorgeous shadows, and just fell in love with the result.
The connection makes this image: if Kirsty and the boys were just smiling at the camera then the picture wouldn’t tell a story, would it? I love that she’s spontaneously kissing one baby, that the other is half asleep, that it documents her baby wearing journey.
I have other, posed images that I love because my children are in them and they are dressed nicely and smiling and the light is beautiful, but they don’t evoke the same emotional reaction as the storytelling images.
Isn’t the above the most breathtaking shot of Kirsty? She looks so ethereal, just stunning. I honestly can’t tell you how much admiration I have for Amber’s skills, as a budding photographer this is just magical to me and something to really aspire to.
I’d like to thank Amber for taking the time to be interviewed as I know she is super busy she also has impeccable spelling and grammar, a girl after my own heart. So, thanks for that Amber you saved me loads of time!
I loved Amber’s answers didn’t you? Hope you found this as helpful as I did.