February 20, 2019

Photography skills development

A conversation on improving photography skills with Edinburgh Photography Workshop client, Sally Anderson

One of the things I find rewarding as an educator is when I see people who have attended one of my workshops taking great photographs. I thought it would be good to have a chat with someone who has developed their photography skills after attending a Switch to Manual workshop and is now doing really well with their photography. Sally Anderson attended her first workshop in 2016. She is now regularly being published in newspapers.

Rich: Sally, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sally: I’m a retired consultant clinical psychologist. I retired a few years ago from the NHS. I split my time between Edinburgh and East Lothian.

Rich: Tell us about the types of photography you enjoy doing?

Sally: I started off enjoying landscape and wildlife photography, but with the news and press stuff I’ve done recently, I’m enjoying event photography and learning about that.

Rich: What do you find enjoyable about press photography?

Sally: I actually gave a talk to my camera club at Haddington about how to make money with photography. Someone commented to me afterwards that it was clear to them what I liked about press was the challenge it gave. That’s absolutely true. The only reason I kept trying something else is I don’t want to stay in my comfort zone, and I want to do something different. That’s what’s helped me learn over the last few years.

Rich: So, what do you see as the different challenges between press and landscape or wildlife photography?

Sally: With news stuff, you don’t know what you are going to come across. Unless you are familiar with the location, you may not know where you are going to end up, what the angles are going to be or what lenses you are going to need to use. You’re shooting in all kinds of lighting conditions as well which can be quite challenging.

Rich: Have you had any assistance in trying to adapt to doing press photography?

Sally: It’s been very much learning as I go. Watching the other press photographers is a good way to learn without trying to copy them.

Photography skills development – workshops

Rich: We first met back in 2016 when you came and did the Switch to Manual workshop. Could you describe for us the stage you felt your photography was at a couple of years ago?

Sally: My level of photography was very basic. I’ve always taken photographs all my life but never with what I would call a ‘proper’ camera. I’d never had to use settings of any kind. I think my composition, my eye for a photograph was OK. But how to use a camera and to take different kinds of pictures or isolate things was non-existent.

Rich: How soon after the workshop did you start feeling you were more comfortable working with your camera?

Sally: It didn’t feel like a long haul. I’ve never used anything other than manual settings since I’ve been to the workshop. People have recommended aperture priority or shutter priority for certain things and I have occasionally tried them. I always feel frustrated by them and have gone back to shooting manual.

Rich: After you did the Switch to Manual, how did you maintain what you learned and keep learning?

Sally: It was largely starting to do stock photography. I happened to hear you mention that you shot with the agency, Alamy. I looked it up and took pot-luck and I was accepted by them.

Rich: When you say stock photography, what kind of things do you take?

Sally: I don’t specialise in any one thing. I tend to take my camera wherever I go. I’ve got better over the years of knowing what kind of subjects are useful for Alamy’s website. I find buildings or city scenes are particularly successful. I also do quite a lot of international travel so I can use travel photographs too.

Rich: After the Switch to Manual workshop, you then came on what was at the time a  two-day West Highland landscape workshop. Do you want to describe a little bit about that experience?

Sally: That felt much more challenging. There were lots of settings and techniques that I’d never heard of. It was very much being pushed into the deep end. I knew the theory of everything by the end of the weekend, but I certainly hadn’t mastered it all.

Rich: For the landscape workshop, that’s when you started having to buy additional equipment.

Sally, Yes, I bought a selection of filters and I already had a tripod.

Rich: And have you made using filters part of your photography?

Sally: Yes, probably not as often as I would like, but I do feel very comfortable in knowing when to use them.

Photography skills – camrea clubs and societies

Rich: You’ve mentioned you are a member of Haddington Camera Club. Could you explain what that adds to your photographic development?

Sally: I think it’s an entirely different kind of photography, certainly from stock photography. The kinds of photography that seem to do well in club competitions are not necessarily the kind of photographs that would sell for stock or press.

Rich: Do you change your style to try and do well in the competitions?

Sally: No, I would just choose photographs that are close to what the judges could be looking for. I do sometimes take specific photographs for particular challenges.

Rich: Have you had much success in camera club competitions?

Sally: I’ve had moderate success. The most recent was being placed the best newcomer in mono photography which isn’t my strength.

Rich: Do you take the photographs in mono or post-process after taking the shot?

Sally: I always shoot in colour first so that I can take the shot as a RAW file instead of a JPEG. The judges insist that you should see and take the image in black and white, but I refuse to do that!

Rich: So, let’s just ask, if someone wanted to start taking photographs now as a beginner, what advice would you give to them?

Sally: It’s surprising in the camera club how many of the members can only shoot in automatic settings. I think the main step to help people achieve much more would be to learn how to set various settings manually.

Rich: When you say switching to manual, I run the workshops that encourage this, so I know why I think it is a good thing to do. Why do you think it is better to shoot in manual?

Sally: I don’t know if you can remember but my main question when I came to the workshop was how do I get that animal in focus and blur the background? So, it’s being able to take control of the camera and get the results that I want – not the ones the camera wants.

Rich: You’re doing well in the photography club. You are selling images through stock. You’re getting published in newspapers. How do you see yourself developing in the future?

Sally: I want to get better at what I do. I don’t really want to be a press photographer, but I’d like to challenge myself more with difficult conditions. I’m also going to do some personal projects to encourage development. I’ve got an idea for one here in the docks at Leith.

Rich: Well, thanks Sally and good luck for the future.


It was really nice to speak to Sally. I think the main things I took from the conversation is that she has been constantly challenging herself to get better. This could be learning new technical skills. It could also be practically challenging herself with difficult or unusual conditions. You can see more of Sally’s photography on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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