Hi there, I'm Manali! A wedding & portrait photographer serving DC, VA & Worldwide. Click through for all my favorites from recent sessions, adventures and travels, as well as tips & tricks for clients! Grab a cup of coffee, relax, and feel free to connect with me elsewhere as well! Cheers to you!

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Making the Switch – Part One

December 10, 2018

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Photo by Christa Rene Photography

As a bunch of you already know, as of December 1st, I’m a full time wedding & portrait photographer!! There have been years and years of work, lots of deliberating, number crunching and calculating that have gone into this decision and I wanted to write something to commemorate the entire journey that got me to this point. I hope it’s something that I’ll look back on years down the road and view as just the beginning! I initially didn’t quite know how to sum up a huge change into a blog post and then once I started writing about it, it kept going and going! And then I started to add in some tips and tricks that I learned along the way and it just got even longer, but hopefully better and useful for anyone reading this!

I’ve also gotten a ton of questions about the logistics of the switch over the past couple of weeks/months and so I figured I’d try to put into words what the process and decision for me looked like. I’ve gotten pretty much every response from shock and disbelief to a lot of excitement and encouragement!! And to those of you that kept asking me over the last two month if I was ALREADY full time with photography or not, you always made me feel like I was on the right path even when I hadn’t quite made the switch yet! Anyways, here goes part one about how I got started & how I got into the world of weddings!

 

Part One: How I Started & The World of Weddings

How I Started

My dad had a really big love of photography that I think started during his college days with film photography and working with it in the darkroom. So growing up, as we travelled we would always have a camera along. On one trip, instead of him being the one to snap photos, he gave the camera to me to capture things. He looked at the pictures that I had taken, they were REALLY random guys, but made a comment that I had a bit of a natural eye for it. Being in high school, you take a compliment like that and RUN with it. I think soon after playing around with his camera a ton, I was starting to get into photography and would run around our neighborhood taking pictures of leaves, berries, shadows and nature-esque things. I started my IB project (shout out to any other IB kids out there!) to take a picture a day for a year! Somewhere around that time, my dad actually got a DSLR camera which is the one where you can change all the settings yourself. I remember ambitiously putting it into Manual mode and trying to figure out how to get a picture that wasn’t a straight black or white rectangle hahaha. From there, I got really interested in all the technical aspects of learning how to work a camera! I would take it every time my friends would be hanging out and capture the craziness of what was going on around me. Little did I know that would be super great practice to learn how to work the camera and take portraits. Looking back on the pictures, they’re soo different than what my work looks like now but they go to show that you get much, much better if you stay persistent and keep practicing at a skill! And for anyone that’s starting out, this isn’t necessarily the kind of equipment that you use, it’s how you use it! I had a small camera an ONE good lens, but it was enough to start and keep learning and growing.

This was one of my all time favorite photos when I first started out!! 😀 Cute, I know!

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My Tips for Starting out with Photography

You might have already heard this but the kind of equipment you have when you start doesn’t matter as much as how you can learn to control it! It doesn’t matter the type of camera you have when you start, it’s best to learn the basics on a smaller camera and then go from there! I would say to focus on these things in this order:

  1. Learn how to find good light! I didn’t actually learn this first and it would have made such a huge difference in the quality of my images if I had done so!! Research what open shade is and why it’s the best to take photos in. It’s hard to edit your photos when you don’t do this first and I definitely learned that the hard way.
    • My best way to summarize this is to have consistent lighting across your subject and your background
    • Avoid spots of light all over your subject
    • Avoid your subject being in consistent light from head to toe but having the background be way darker or way brighter than your subject
  2. Photograph during golden hour when the sun is softer and at a more flattering angle. Make sure your lens is covered from the sun to avoid haze and sun flare (unless you’re going for this on purpose!) I try to keep the sun out of my lens as much as possible since I like to have really crisp bright photos!
  3. Photograph form a higher angle than your subject! This trick will help you out even for selfies, everyone looks more flattering when photographed from a higher angle! 🙂
  4. Learn the exposure triangle of Shutter, Aperture and ISO and how these all affect the light in your photos. Then get real fancy and learn about White Balance! I wish I had learned about custom setting white balance to determine how blue/yellow/orange my photos are much more quickly. If you’re looking to go into portraits, invest in a 50mm f/1.8 lens! I recommend shooting around f/2.0 to f/2.8 to get really crisp portraits with the creamy, blurry background!

This is the most important tip of all: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Take your camera everywhere!! Take pictures of everything (within reason obviously) but essentially just get out and practice! I used to take my camera to the mall, on walks around the neighborhood, family gatherings and get togethers with friends and it’s the only way I learned!

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Florals by Green Bee Floral at the Creative at Heart Conference

The World of Weddings

As I started getting more into taking pictures of PEOPLE rather than leaves (huge transition!) I started reading other photographers blogs and came across a couple of wedding photographers’ ones. And guys, I was HOOKED. I would spend HOURS jumping from page to page, soaking in all the knowledge I could possibly soak up. I tried for two to three summers to see if any wedding photographer would take a chance on me to let me along to a REAL LIFE wedding! And Vanessa was my saving grace, encouraging me of my talent and letting me along to Samantha & Jacob’s wedding in Alexandria! It was exhilarating and I knew from then on that I eventually wanted to become a photographer specializing in weddings. This was a little difficult to keep up with though as I went to college. Working through an engineering degree, being involved on a dance team and with a couple of different organizations didn’t lead to many open Saturdays and I didn’t exactly have a car to travel out to weddings! Although I had been known as the girl with the camera throughout high school, for the first 2 years at UVA, I didn’t really use it much and wasn’t known as a photographer. Which is why I was surprised when Jontell reached out to me and suggested hanging out over Pigeon Hole to talk about all things photography! I was amazed because not only was she a full time college student, but she also ran her wedding photography business!! We sat there over coffee for TWO HOURS talking about anything and everything photography related under the sun, I’m pretty sure I asked her entirely too many questions. At some point she asked if I wanted to come along and second shoot a wedding during the fall and I think that really kick started me pouring time into photography again even during college!

This was the first wedding I ever second shot, crazy to see how far I’ve come from here!

Some Tips to Get Into Weddings

  1. Find a mentor that is kind and has the heart of a teacher that is willing to teach you! Offer some sort of value to them and have a solid portfolio hosted online before you reach out. This could be Facebook/Instagram/a free website but have a set of work to show you’re mastering the basics! I don’t think I’d be where I am right now without Vanessa and Chelsea who both let me second shoot with them!
  2. Find a friend who’s into photography as well, will understand the struggles, encourage you along the way and keep you accountable!
  3. Read other wedding photographers’ blogs, especially those with tips and tricks for being a great assistant & second shooter. Photographers to learn from: Amy & Jordan, Katelyn James, Hope Taylor & Christa Rene
  4. Join Facebook communities like Shoot & Share, Tuesdays Together, Photographers UNITE, and Capital Area Photographers to get involved and find opportunities to second shoot.

Invest in education! I wish I had done this sooner because it would have accelerated my growth IMMENSELY!! I understand how pricey this can be but I also can tell you that it more than pays off when you choose the right online course or workshop! Christa has a great one on shooting manual, Hope is the go-to if you want to get started in senior photography and Amy & Jordan have ones that are a bit higher on the price end but DEFINITELY worth the investment!

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So although I didn’t officially start the business until after I graduated college, photography and weddings have been something I’ve been doing since my sophomore year in high school and sophomore year in college respectively! I’ll go more into how I got serious about it during college in the next blog post 🙂 If you’re reading this, you’re the best and I super appreciate it!! If you have any questions about photography, please don’t hesitate to reach out via email at manalisontakkephotography@gmail.com.

Next up is Part Two: Facing the Fear & Preparing for the Switch!

Here’s the whole rest of the series to binge read!

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

*Featured photo by Hannah Smith Photography

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