Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Not to Suck at Photography

Are you shooting more yet not seeing much improvement? Do you invest more and more time and money into your photography yet don't see the results you're hoping for? Do you sometimes feel like your spinning your photographic wheels? Maybe it has less to do with being determined to improve and more to do with how you're going about the task of improving?

Below are some myths I hope to either dispel or put into context as a means of helping you not suck at photography. Even if you don't suck, but you recognize there's room for growth and improvement, you might find these notions helpful. I know I do. You might have read some of this before, here or elsewhere. Repetition isn't necessarily a bad thing. Certainly not when it comes to learning and improving our skills.

1. Better Gear = Better Photographs: The only people who believe that (and I'm not convinced they really believe that... not really and truly) are the people making and selling that gear. Better gear is cool and it can help you become more efficient and offer you more choices and capabilities but, when it comes right down to it, better photos are products of creativity and skill, not better equipment.

2. Experts Are the Only People Worth Learning From:
While it's true there's much to learn from the experts, there's also much to learn from photographers of all levels of skill and experience. There are more than a few non-expert photographers who are playing around with ideas and techniques and approaches to photography which might be non-expert or lacking in experience or technical know-how but might still include ways of doing things that are fresh and original and capable of sparking some cool ideas, perhaps even an occasional photographic epiphany, in your head.

3. Practice Makes Perfect: There's a lot to be said for the value of practice. Everyone needs to practice. But there are different ways to practice. If you're practicing doing what you're doing the same way, over and over, you'll probably get good at doing things that way but you won't grow and you won't learn how to do things differently. You probably won't produce different results either, including better or more exciting or rewarding results. You might even practice your way into being the best at shooting photos that suck! Instead, try practicing doing things differently. And when you discover different ways to do things that yield promising results, practice doing those things that new way. Then, when you've become comfortable with doing things that new way, move on to something else that's new. (A caveat: If a client hires you to shoot in ways you're quite practiced at, it might not be a good idea to suddenly surprise them with a new style or approach.)

4. Auto Modes Make Photography Simpler and Easier: That's definitely true, especially if your goal is becoming the king of mediocre and pedestrian photography. Yeah, there's times when shooting in auto mode is your best choice for more than a few reasons. But always shooting that way stymies your growth as a photographer. When you move into the worlds of semi-auto (like aperture or shutter priority) and manual, it forces you to think about light and exposure and aperture and shutter speed and many things that will enhance your work. Shooting in semi-auto modes or in manual is the surest way to learn what works, why it works, and how to make things work.

5. Invest As Much Time As Possible Mastering Photoshop: It's true that in today's digital photography world, knowing your way around Photoshop or other processing software is important, but not at the expense of knowing your way around your camera, lighting, and production in general. If you're spending most of your time trying to process photos that suck, or photos that aren't that good, into photos that are, good that is, you're not progressing on the photography learning curve. You'll probably spend most of your time frosting turds or trying to dress-up otherwise lackluster photos. That might be fun for some... but a good photographer it does not make.

The demurely posed naked pretty girl at the top is Arianna from a shoot about month ago.


Paps said...

LOL I feel a followup coming on the "You suck at photoshop", very originally called "You suck as a photographer".

PS: I like this pose on this model. It feels very natural.

jimmyd said...

@Paps-- Yeah. I like the pose too. And the expression! It's definitely not glamour, that's for sure. But it has something very natural and appealing to it. Dare I say it falls into the category of an art nude?

james said...

I'm a wise old photographer getting long in the tooth. I'll bet I've offered the same advice to wannabees a million times and not been heeded once....."Photography is about light. That's why in Greek the word means 'writing with light.'" Nobody wants to hear that. I look at these photos not because I like to look at pictures of naked women....but because I learn about lighting technique here.

John said...

Well put. Especially #3.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jimmy, A big 10 thumbs up on this post (not that most will care). The overuse of Photoshop has become the biggest "problem" in photography today. I see work, all of the time, from young "photographers" that don't even look like they were shot with a camera. Yes, I use Photoshop to clean-up little problem spots, but that's all. Beyond that, it ain't photography anymore, it's mixed media. If you can't get at least 98% in the camera, then you are not a photographer.
The Photodawg