I’ve been spending more time and effort on photography recently, and would now say it’s one of my main hobbies. (Along with blogging, textile crafts, and gardening.) In general I’m making an effort to balance all the “must do’s” in my life with more fun and creative activities. All work and no play makes Helen a cranky mum.

A couple of weeks ago I upgraded my camera, from a Nikon D40x to a D3200. The new one does video (which I haven’t had a chance to try out yet) and has 11 autofocus points instead of 3, plus various other nice features.

Along with the new hardware I also decided that it was time to learn new things. Previously I mostly used shutter priority or aperture priority modes; now I’ve switched to manual mode most of the time. I also switched from shutter button focusing to back-button focusing, and from auto white balance to the preset modes. (I don’t quite feel up to managing fully manual white balance yet.)

Using manual mode has been working out much better than I expected. I don’t always nail the exposure but the results are at least no worse than before. And the photos turn out more predictable and consistent: previously every photo in a batch would use slightly different settings, because the camera decide to slightly tweak some setting or other, but now they’re all the same, which makes post-processing faster.

Manual mode requires more thinking and effort, which is both good and bad. Every photo takes more time, so I miss some shots because I’m too slow. But it requires me to pay more attention to what I’m doing, and makes the whole thing more interesting. Just enough of a challenge.

The more I practice, the less I like what I achieve, and the more I see how much there is for me to learn. But whenever I feel discouraged, like I’m not getting anywhere, I scroll down to my photos from a year ago and look at how much I’ve learned since then. Look at those chopped limbs! Look at the weird framing! Look at the missed lighting opportunity – why didn’t I take that picture from the other side!

One particular project that I want to tackle is self-portraits. I’m the only one who regularly takes photos in our family, which means that I have lots of photos of the kids (whom I see most), some of Eric (who is at home less) and almost none of myself. Twenty years from now the kids will be able to see what they looked like, but not what I looked like. It’s like I was missing from the family.

It turns out that you really need a tripod for effective self-portraits. I’ve tried to make do without, but it’s hard, and really limits the angles I can use. (For the photo below, for example, I would normally not have faced the direction I’m facing, but the only support I found for my camera was a pile of books on my desk.) So now I’m thinking of buying a tripod. And perhaps some more prime lenses, too… The purchase of one piece of gear triggers a cascade of others.

I’ve also realized that our style of interior decoration – with colour and patterned wallpapers – and the general clutter we have everywhere is not helpful for getting good photos. The colours and wallpapers will stay, because I value this warm, colourful atmosphere more than I value having convenient backdrops for photography. But the clutter I can do something about. Case in point: these cupboards really need doors.