Morning y’all! I’m so pumped to launch an all-new monthly series called Photography School, led by our team’s fearless photographer (and videographer, director, cinematographer, key grip… the  man wears many hats) Mike Bullock. Remember my New Years goal to majorly up my photography game? Well, I’ve decided to take action, and I’m bringing you all along for the ride! Every month for the  next year, Mike & I will dive a little deeper into a specific photography function or skill, and hopefully shed some light for all of you who are hoping to improve your photog skills like I am. Sound fun? Great, ’cause today we’re jumping right in with lesson #1 on


So Mike, tell us a little about aperture, and why knowing how to use it is key to taking great photos:

One of the first steps in advancing your photography is to turn the camera off automatic mode and take control of your shots. But learning everything about manual settings can feel daunting and technical (or in other words, boring) to most. So a great first step is to learn about aperture. Essentially, aperture represents the size of your lens opening, and controls two very important aspects of the exposure: the amount of light and the depth of field (the area in your image where things look more focused). Typically, you want to let in as much light as possible to avoid using on-camera flash, which often washes out the subject matter. And creating a shallow depth of field let’s you better control what’s in and out of focus from foreground to background, which can create a much more interesting photograph. Also, I feel that a shallow depth of field better emulates the way we see in our mind’s eye – focusing on one aspect of our viewpoint at a time. 

Here’s an example of some shots I took on different aperture settings. On the left, my aperture was set at f/13, and see how it not only looks a little dark, but everything in the shot is in focus equally? On the right, I cranked the aperture setting down to f/1.8, and it gave it that magical kind of glow, where the flowers in the foreground are perfectly in focus and there’s a nice hazy kind of blur to the objects in the background.

The lesson: A lower ‘f’ value will let in more light, and create a more shallow depth of field.

So, this is kind of embarrassing, but I’m going to be really vulnerable and share my photography “work” from exactly one year ago. Some of you may remember this Easter table that I styled and shot last spring. Not to be too hard on myself, but see how everything on the table is all in focus, with no real composition or background blur goin’ on? (not to mention the overexposure and horrendous shadows…but that’s for another lesson.) Anyway, I show you this to say that I am by no means a photography expert – I’m a total, 100% newbie. But it’s amazing that learning how to control an important camera function has totally transformed my photos! A few more images from the shoot…

By the way, this was a little garden party setup that I did in preparation for my upcoming HGTV speaking engagement at the Epcot Flower & Garden Show! I’ll be sharing ideas on how to throw a simple garden party that’s anything but garden variety!

Ash from The Byrd Collective designed the gorgeous flowers & foliage on our table.

Cucumber-shrimp and radish tea sandwiches. (See the really shallow depth of field that allows those front shrimp and radishes to take center stage?)

Are you guys as excited as I am about this new series? I can’t wait to share in this journey with all of you, and I’d love to hear your feedback along the way! Are there any specific problem areas or burning photography questions that you’d like to see Mike and I focus on this year? Please leave a comment and let us know, and stay tuned for another installment of Photography School in April!

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