(Reposted Feb 2015 – note this post got me featured on Freshly Pressed)
I recently found the blog of lindygrasser who is having new life adventures and capturing it with a new camera. She posted for input on the new Community Pool forum and as I still remember my first confusing days with my camera I thought I would visit.
Lindy is doing a really brave and interesting thing, breaking out of the pattern her life had been, buying a new camera and capturing images every day. So many *new* things to conquer all at once, usually just one is enough for most people 🙂 This post is inspired by Lindy and her quest to come to grips with her photography, its based on my own personal experiences. I hope that it offers some guidance to the people who have had their shiny new camera for a little while and are now beginning to wonder if they made the right choice 🙂
Doesn’t matter what you do in life we all have to start at the beginning. It’s always scary and challenging, I didn’t learn to drive til I was 22 and I was terrified driving on the open road for about a year, until I finally got experienced enough to not be nervous all the time. You make silly mistakes, never get anything right the first or even the 18th time you try and often want to give up because you never feel like you will finally figure it all out.
I think photography is doubly challenging because it is a combination of technical and artistic skillsets. There is the technology behind the camera, what lens to use and why, what focal length, what aperture or shutterspeed etc. Working out how to properly use a flash is about as challenging as university level physics or calculus in my opinion!
But unless you have some sympathy for the artistic range of what a camera can be used for, all the science is cold and soulless. You can know everything tiny technical thing about your camera and how to use it but it is the art that gives the image its impact. Having a feel for the art or having an ‘eye’ for it is something I think you either have or don’t have. I truly don’t think it can be learned. Like people who pickup languages really quickly, or can mimic accents or other people, its an ability you are born with. If you disagree with me, feel free to paint a Mona Lisa!
So many people capture snapshots, nearly everyone has a phone with a camera on it, and snaps or videos are instantly available, as well as the ability to upload them online to share. Those are mostly throw away images, a record of “I was here, doing this/being here” to share with friends. I have learned that the impact of an image is totally related to the amount of care and consideration put into creating it (and effort too).
This is the hard question though, what do I want this image to say? How should it make me feel when I view it? Does it have a message? Tell a story? Capture a specific moment? What would a complete stranger who found it tucked into a library book think when they saw it? Hardest question of all, HOW do I make an image that invokes that kind of response?
Compare this image with the one below
Both are opportunistic shots, the top one is taken on a lesser grade camera, isn’t as sharp, the composition is untidy, the white balance is cold, background messy. The bottom one has a cleaner background, is sharper, colour reproduction is better and richer, white balance is warmer, composition is better. Both taken by the same photographer (me) but there is about 4 years difference of experience between them.
Look at the shot of the pink bergenia flower above, the very first digital image I ever took. Its awful, out of focus and badly cropped. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I wanted to learn photography, to make images that held meaningful memories for me, but were also memorable for other people. I bought my first digital camera back in 2006 and my first DSLR 4 1/2 years ago, and its only *now* that I feel I have started to get an inkling that I might have the ability to make the images I wanted to!
How did I get here? First, when I bought my 40D DSLR I made a commitment to myself that I would learn to use it properly, that meant going beyond AUTO modes. Yes I spent a couple of months actually in AUTO, just getting used to everything but then I pushed myself to turn the dial and find out what other options there were.
I read books and websites, joined camera clubs and forums, attended workshops and field trips. Got up at dawn, planned roadtrips, got lost, got wet, walked and climbed and drove in all directions. Talked to complete strangers, had adventures I never planned, and some I did and above all pushed myself out of my comfort zone whenever I could. Always always learning, usually making mistakes but trying new and different things.
Not being afraid to make a mistake is a critical learning experience. Too many people are afraid to try because it will either be too hard or they won’t do very well first time round. Pushing yourself in new directions, trying failing and trying again, suceeding eventually etc are an important part of our own personal development. Ask yourself, would this image be better if I climbed the hill and shot it from the top? Do I care enough to make the effort?
I got this shot because I made the decision to stop and see the opportunity. Then I asked permission to access the land, and because I had permission I had time to spend wandering around, framing up shots and taking my time, rather than a rushed furtive snap and go.
I got this shot because I was prepared to take my shoes and socks off and wade into the middle of the water to get a better angle.
I got this shot because I went out to shoot friends doing the Mud Sweat and Tears race, and I took shelter under a tent of a professional shooter and shot over his shoulder to keep out of the pouring rain. Convinced him to let me stay because I was only an amateur taking shots of my friends 🙂 And I got down really low to get an intimate angle.
This is a Willy Wagtail, and this shot happened because I was in another country, walking around a zoo with my camera out and ready to shoot with the long lens on
I have learned if you want to make memorable images, as well as learning to drive your camera correctly, you need to walk further than you normally would, look around for different viewpoints, get down on the ground or climb up high for better angles, chase the light, sometimes just shoot with what you have on the day because thats your only chance. Be a bit brave, a little bit crazy, go further, see what is around the corner. Take a chance! Ask questions!
One other thing I will add, there is a very strong focus on shooting fully manual in the photography world ie if you don’t shoot manual you are not a real photographer. I really dislike this attitude because it is very daunting for the new photographer to learn to shoot manual. I don’t personally, I tend to shoot in P or Av or Tv mode, depending on what I am doing. The camera manufacturers spend $$$$ making these expensive camera bodies that are almost certainly cleverer than I am, so I shoot in a mode that gives me some level of control but lets the camera make the rest of the decisions.
Other than the challenge of having to properly learn what all the functions are so you can properly use them, shooting manual means you have to reset everything every image you take where the conditions can change quickly. I don’t want to have to work out my aperture/shutterspeed/focal length/iso calculation for EVERY IMAGE I TAKE!!!
I want to take good images and have fun with my camera, and for me, shooting in manual is a tool I have access to when I need it but it is not how I want to interact with my camera all the time. Fortunately the camera manufacturers agree with me, and they enable us to use the camera in the way that suits us.
Have fun with your camera, for many people snapshots is all they want to have as a record. Instagram is proof of that 🙂 For those of us who strive for more, better, different, to improve, to create art, to add beauty into our lives and others, our journey is longer and much more challenging. Personally I think it is much more rewarding as well 🙂
Photography is like cooking, if you use boring ingredients, cook and present very basically, you get a bland and boring meal.