with Courtney Slazinik
Practice, Practice, Practice and Finding the Time for Photography

Tips for finding time to practice photography
If you ask a photographer how she learned how to take great photos, you are going to hear the same things over and over, “Learn to shoot in manual, and practice,practice, practice!” Of course finding useful, reliable information is also key to learning how to get the most out of your camera! :) But! You can read all day long, and until you put the information you have accumulated into motion, you aren’t going to learn a thing! As a busy mom of 3 kids, I found it hard to set aside a designated “me” time to work on just my photography skills. Eventually, I realized that I could make some “down”-ish time work for me. I hope I can help you discover a moment or two that will help you reach your goals as a photographer.

First things first.

Don’t wait until special occasions and holidays to start practicing.
Some people learn faster than others (I think I’m one of the slooooower ones when it comes to the artsy stuff!) and learning to shoot in manual isn’t something that will happen overnight. Be patient, and seriously it will just “click” one day and everything you have read will start making sense. It takes time and patience in order to learn how to get the most out of your camera and newfound skills.

Secondly, do practice during settings in which you are not afraid to miss “the moment”. Over the last few years, I have gotten in the most practice time by acting as an observer with my kids. Because I wasn’t worried about missing anything important like birthdays, and holidays, or first steps, I was able to practice getting good exposure, getting good focus, and learning which settings worked best for different situations. All without stressing to get “the shot”. And guess what! I captured a LOT of moments and expressions that are invaluable to me! And it never would have happened had I not been practicing at an “off” time. When you finally decide to make the switch to 100% manual, you’ll never look back! You’ll be ready to get “the moment” and will have waaaay better pictures than you would have ever captured using Auto Exposure.

Practice on inanimate objects! One thing that photography has taught me is that beauty is everywhere. I love  macro. And I often find myself taking pictures of plants, food, and anything that I think might look more interesting close up. I know my children aren’t always cooperative and sometimes aren’t even bribable. For portrait photography, dolls and stuffed animals are great for practicing exposure, focus, and depth of field.

Lastly, take your camera with you everywhere and don’t be afraid to use it! You’ll have down time and photo ops in unexpected places, but will miss the opportunity if you don’t have your camera with you. Have I felt silly breaking out the camera in Target or Kroger or the park? Ummm, yes, but only if I’m busted! But, I also have sweet memories captured forever that, otherwise, I wouldn’t have.

In case you are having trouble imagining any “extra” time in your hectic life, think of these examples as opportunities to practice:

1. Watching the kids playing in their rooms or playroom.
2. Chatting with your kids while they are eating meals.
3. Kids watching television or sleeping (they don’t tend to wiggle as much)
4. Kids playing outdoors (riding bikes, swinging, on scooters, playsets)
5. Bath time.

I hope this helps someone! Thanks for reading! And thanks again Courtney for having faith in me :)

How do you find the time to practice? What do you practice on?

  • January 26, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    Thanks for such a wonderful article and suggestions of when to take photos to practice. My goal this year has been to take photos of my kids doing their regular stuff so that I can practice using my camera more. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • January 26, 2012 at 8:31 AM

      You have chosen a great goal and you won’t regret it! I love the pictures of my kids doing their “thing” better than the posed ones. Those really show who they are.

  • January 26, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    Wonderful article Laurie and these are some awesome tips! Your children are too sweet. Shooting my daughter everyday in random moments is definitely how I learned the quickest and now I have all these simple moments of who she is as a little girl to treasure. I laughed at the Target comment because I have definitely been busted at Target taking photos. haha

    • January 26, 2012 at 10:07 AM

      Thanks girl! When I’m busted, I just keep looking through the lens :) They can’t see your face and you can’t see their reaction, lol!

  • January 26, 2012 at 9:05 AM

    When I took my very first photography class, our teacher wrote on the board, “Practice! Practice! Practice!” Everytime I feel stuck, I try to grab my camera (even if it’s the last thing I want to do) and go out and do just that. I love the idea of practicing on ordinary moments. I’ll definitely keep my camera even more handy now.

  • January 26, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    I know I need lots of practice, especially when it comes to taking pictures people. It’s easier to practice on inanimate objects because you don’t need their cooperation. I’m also trying to improve at taking my camera with me more and not being afraid to get it out and start shooting. Do I really care if someone thinks I’m a little overzealous in my photography? It really helps that I have one of those nice photo bags that looks like a purse.

    • November 9, 2014 at 10:25 PM

      Hey Laura Jane! I feel the same way about taking pictures of people. I actually just dropped some offers to close friends about letting me take their portraits. I told them they were doing me such a favor and they might get some cool pictures in return! That way if I totally botch the session they aren’t put out because they knew I need the face to face interaction. It’s also easy to arrange a new day for pictures.

  • Angie
    January 26, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    What do you do when your children are conditioned to look at the camera and smile? I am participating in the project 365 challenge, so I have my camera with me all the time and everywhere, but I soon as my kids (ages 12 and 10) see the camera, they pose. I don’t have to say a word.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge,

    • January 26, 2012 at 10:05 AM

      Well, lucky you! Mine see the camera and run :) My kids are much younger, 5,3, and 1, so there isn’t too much posing on my end (that is where they lack cooperation!). If I were in your situation, I think I would snap the pose, then ask tell them to continue what they were doing before they saw the camera. Let them know that you want to take pictures of them doing the things they love to do.

      • Angie
        January 26, 2012 at 10:11 AM

        Thanks for the advice. This past summer we spent almost a month in Europe. Every picture of my daughter was captured in one of two ways: “model pose” or angry. Looking back at all our photos is quite entertaining. Our family photos are the funniest. The family is standing with a smile on their face trying not to blink, and there is my daughter with a “model pose” (body position and facial expression included). Certainly not the family pictures I was going for, but great conversation pieces and memories.
        Thanks again,

  • January 26, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    totally found this helpful and encouraging. I have recently transformed one of my purses into a camera bag with an insert i got from Amazon and have been carting it everywhere just for the reason you mentioned. I feel that before I was missing out on so many opportunities and hated it. thanks for this post.

    • January 26, 2012 at 10:06 AM

      yay! I’m glad it you liked it. I too have a camera bag that looks like a purse. I do find it easier to take it along with me more so than the big black camera bag!

  • January 26, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    Thank you for the great tips! I use my camera up every day and take it with me everywhere. Because the one time I don’t take my camera is the time I’ll miss a great opportunity. :)

  • January 26, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    Great advice..I too need to work on getting my camera skills honed.. I’ve yet to move away from auto and to switch to 100% manual

    • January 26, 2012 at 12:51 PM

      Just go for it! Force yourself to shoot in only manual for a week or two weeks. It will be slow going at first fumbling to get the exposure triangle right, but eventually with more and more practice, it will be second nature.

  • January 26, 2012 at 1:21 PM

    I love seeing your beautiful images and reading about how you have learned to fit photography into your life. When you and Courtney meet up, I wanna be there, too :)

    • January 26, 2012 at 1:58 PM

      Girl! You better come out to NYC for our shopping trip :O)

  • January 26, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    I thoroughly enjoyed the article! Your practice has certainly paid off!

  • January 26, 2012 at 7:45 PM

    Laurie, your photographs are so beautiful. Thank you for this inspiring post!

  • January 26, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    Isn’t this the truth! Practice makes perfect as they say – I started shooting manual about a year ago and haven’t looked back. Since I no longer have children at home I practice taking shots of nature, things in my yard, my husbands old cars, the ones he’s working on, in studio shots of stuffed animals and myself! It’s amazing how much you can learn by doing – thanks for this article!

  • rachel
    January 26, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    thanks laurie! great ideas :). i love having little, everyday moments captured because let’s face it— that is what i’m doing most of the time!

  • Becci L.
    January 27, 2012 at 12:59 AM

    I love the picture of the flower!! Can you tell me what type of lens you used for this shot?

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

    • January 27, 2012 at 1:26 AM

      Thank you! I used my macro lens for that shot. The Nikon 105mm 2.8 VR.

  • January 27, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    These were some really great ideas that I have already put into practice this week. Thanks!!!

  • January 28, 2012 at 12:36 AM

    Your pictures are beautiful! Thank you for the inspiration. I’m carefully putting my camera back in my purse today!

  • Amy
    January 30, 2014 at 8:58 PM

    Thanks for the encouragement. I’m trying to learn how to use my camera in manual mode because we are going to the Galapagos in a couple of weeks. I took my camera today on my daughters field trip to the zoo and was frustrated. I’ll keep practicing……

  • January 31, 2014 at 10:06 PM

    I’m loving your posts, Laurie! I’m a stay at home mom of two little girls and I just started my 365 Days of Joy Project :) This is helping me sooo much in seeing things differently and trying new things with my camera! I have so much to learn about lighting, and well, everything, but I’m excited about what the future holds :) Keep on posting!

  • Lisa
    February 3, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    Me too Laurie! I try to soak up as much photography info as i can. I love learning about it!

  • Tia
    March 9, 2014 at 7:18 PM

    Thank you so much for your tips – I have found them helpful and I love LOVE your photos. I’m always looking for inspiration and I found it here – thank you x

  • Cindy Monterroso
    June 3, 2014 at 7:26 PM

    I’m still learning a lot but with all this articles I’m getting confidence. Thank you so much Laurie for this tips, I’ll use them all!

  • Jackie
    June 3, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    What lens was used in this photo?

  • June 3, 2014 at 11:47 PM

    I really loved this article. I hope that light bulb comes on soon!! So want to get the manual mode which is drving me crazy. Again, not about me, Great Article!!

  • November 9, 2014 at 10:21 PM

    Very cool advice! That’s kind of been my method without thinking about it. I recently have been a bit more interested in landscape photography and ran out later in the evening {when the hubs could watch the kids} to a place I thought of taking some friends for some “family portraits”. Turns out I forgot how long that trail was and realized it wasn’t all I thought, plus I ran out of daylight WAY too fast. I got a few good silhouette skylines, but nothing much. I was quite disappointed but was super glad I didn’t wait to bring people out there to have them walk forever just to get to a spot I liked! AND It DOES just “click” one day and things you read make sense. I used to get “accidental” good shots of my kids and had NO clue what I did to get there. After reading much from this site, and others, things began “clicking” and now I can do so much more!

  • April
    March 31, 2015 at 3:34 PM

    I took a photography class and have learned how to shoot in manual kind of okay but I’m wondering if my camera gear has taken me as far as it can.(in addition to me still having so much to learn : ) What gear did you shoot the children photos with? I have a Nikon d 5100 camera with the kit lenses 55 & 200. Mine are not fixed lenses. Are yours?

  • April
    March 31, 2015 at 3:39 PM

    By the way, thanks for all the great advice and helpful information!

  • Vivi
    April 11, 2016 at 7:07 PM

    Thanks for your wonderful article. However, i have a hard time practicing because i work night shifts and i dont have kids :( . Do you have any suggestions for peeps like me??? Thanks

    • Laurie
      April 12, 2016 at 8:43 AM

      I too worked night shifts on and off as a nurse :) take the time during the day hours you are awake and focus on nature photography. If you are more interested in photographing people, use a doll as a subject. My dogs have many, many, many times been my subject when I haven’t had anything else to aim my camera at. Get creative. Beauty is everywhere. Self portraits are even a great way to practice!

  • Cathy Kettering
    March 16, 2017 at 11:44 AM

    Can you advise me on the best strap to buy to make accessing my camera easier? I have seen others wearing over the shoulder straps that hook to the corner of the camera. Any ideas? I love your work and especially your advice? Thanks!

    • Laurie
      March 16, 2017 at 11:54 AM

      Well, I’m the one that doesn’t use a strap, ha! But I think the one you are thinking of is the rapid strap? It’s a quick release one. Not pretty, but does the job! Hopefully someone else will chime in with one they love!

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