Learning to take a decent photo – #40thingsbefore40 – sponsored by M&S Bank

photography tips


I have a list of 40 things to do before I’m 40. You know all about it already right? Come on, of course you do, have you been paying no attention?

On my list is to learn to take a decent photo. I’ve felt for a long time that my photography is the thing that lets down my blog. I can string a sentence together, sure, but so many other blogs I look at have decent sentences and ace photos too. Proper photos, on white backgrounds – collections of beautiful objects, flowers casually placed in jam jars, or breakfasts that look actually like works of art rather than badly lit piles of sick on a plate.

I know how important the visual side of things is online, and I’d just love to know how to do it properly. I bought a half decent camera a couple of years ago – an entry level DSLR, a Nikon D3100 – but I’ve never learnt how to use it properly, and so always end up taking photos on my phone.

To give you a flavour of just how much help I need, here are some examples of my Instagram photography over the years. Bear in mind that these are the photos I have felt are good enough to put on Instagram:

*sniggers childishly*

A photo posted by Josephine Middleton (@slummysinglemummy) on

I just put that last one in because it made me chuckle.

So you can see that I need some help.

Fortunately help was on hand this week in the form of the lovely Lucy from Capture By Lucy and M&S Bank’s #makeaswitch campaign. The campaign is all about making changes in your life, whether that be long term lifestyle changes or simply trying something new, and so it fitted in perfectly with my list of 40 things before 40. A big thank you to M&S Bank for arranging the session with Lucy for me.

Before we started taking actual photos, we had a really interesting chat about photography, and how important it is, when thinking of yourself as a brand, for your pictures to reflect you. Consistency, apparently, is key. I found this really interesting, as I’d never really thought about my photos like that before. When it comes to my writing, I do it automatically – everything I write has a consistent tone of voice that represents me – but I’d just not thought of it in terms of images too. That really struck a chord with me.

Next Lucy explained the three basic elements that go into a photo – aperture, ISO and shutter speed. She used the very useful analogy of a tripod to explain how the three elements work together and how changes to one need to be offset by adjustments to the others. Lucy has three excellent posts on the basics of aperture, ISO and shutter speed, so do check those out if you are interested.

Then it was time to take some pictures using my new found knowledge.

photography tips

Photo from Lucy

We were very lucky that it was a beautiful day, and we had met at a farm shop in Bower Hinton, so there were plenty of farm yard props, including fruit and veg and old farm equipment. I was drawn to an outbuilding piled high with old tools, fixtures and fittings, and the work bench and hanging strip along the back were perfect for practising the rule of thirds.

photography tips

I then had a practice with aperture and focus settings. My camera, it turns out, has the option of 11 different focus points, so you can choose exactly which area of the photo you want to focus on. In this picture, the bench acts as a natural line for the bottom third, and by setting the aperture nice and low I brought the rusty spring into focus, leaving the background slightly blurred.

photography tips

Lucy had a few extra tips for me, which I will definitely be making use of. For example, do you ever find yourself having to take pictures in gloomy rooms, at night, or in shadow, only for them to turn out dark and generally not very pretty? It is possible to edit them afterwards of course, but to avoid this, there is a setting on my camera that allows you to artificially change the exposure. We had a lovely sunny day, but that meant that unless we were in shadow, we had a lot of ugly shadows. In the shadow however, it was a little dark, so in this picture, I just upped the exposure a little. You see how suddenly it looks like you’re in the sun?

change exposure DSLR tips

Another easy thing to play around with is the white correction. If you have a lot of bright white in the picture, that can be problematic, but my camera, so it seems, (who knew?), has a whole load of different white correction settings. In these pictures for example, I just switched the white correction to being in the shade, and you can see the whole tone of the image changes.

white correction

We talked too about looking out for textures that you can use as backgrounds to things, creating spaces in pictures where you can add text, (handy for blog posts – see my header image), and generally making each shot work as hard as possible. For example, every time you take a picture, think about where you might want to use it – blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest – and take slightly different shots accordingly.

After just a couple of hours, I felt much more confident using my camera, and also pleased to be reassured that actually, there isn’t a right way to take a picture. Like most things, it’s about experimenting, learning as you going along, and finding a style to suit you. I’ll definitely be taking my DSLR out and about more now, so do keep an eye out for my photos!

photography tips

photography tips

photography tips

photography tips

photography tips

photography tips

Thank you to Lucy, and to M&S Bank for helping me tick another item off my list of 40 things to do before 40. 




  1. 30 January, 2016 / 8:36 pm

    This is one of my goals too although I don’t have the fancy camera just an iPhone. I actually enjoyed your insta pictures in this post they made me laugh so I don’t think you should stop doing that but maybe post them on Facebook or Twitter and leave the good stuff like the GREAT photos you’ve learned to take at the end of this post for Instagram. I’m looking forward to seeing your new style!

    Pauline x

  2. 19 February, 2016 / 2:28 am

    You’re way ahead of me Jo in the ‘taking good photos’ stakes. I tend to take 5 or 6 snaps of everything and hope that one turns out right.

  3. 27 May, 2016 / 9:03 pm

    Like Sandra noted, you’re way ahead when it comes to taking good photos. It’s a dream of mine too. But, I’m still learning.

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