I regularly see posts, articles, and other sorts of advice provided in a multi-step format. It seems to me that breaking things down into steps somehow infers near-guaranteed results will result from following the steps listed. Steps might contain five steps to accomplish this or ten steps to get you to that. Five-step advice and ten-step advice seems the most popular number of steps to break things into, step-wise. Three-step advice probably comes in third... naturally.
Generally, and regardless of the number of steps provided, the stepped advice I most regularly see all cover the same subjects over and over: Better exposure, better lighting, better composition. The steps all, we're told, equal better photographs. But the question remains: Better than what? Better than photos that suck? Better than photos that look amateurish or were shot by a 5 year old? I should hope so. From those perspectives, steps help... possibly a lot!
There's nothing inherently wrong with breaking things down into steps. They often accomplish (to varying degrees) the results they claim. But breaking advice down into steps, in my opinion, isn't generally conducive to realizing distinctive photography. Same holds true for most other art forms. While "sorta" nice paintings (sorta not, actually) can result from paint-by-number kits, paint-by-number kits don't produce outstanding paintings. Same holds true for photography. Shooting by the numbers doesn't produce an abundance of distinctive work. If anything, it produces an abundance of work that mostly looks the same. I'm certainly often guilty of doing that. But I do it on purpose. I get paid to produce an abundance of work that mostly looks the same. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)
Most of you have probably seen many of these steps regularly offered up. Interestingly, I keep seeing the same steps listed by a multitude of different step providers. Sometimes, the various step-providers alter the order of their versions of the steps. They do that, of course, when the steps don't need to be connected in a chronological or particularly orderly fashion. I suppose that's why many purveyors of steps prefer stand-alone steps: Mixing up the order of the steps helps make the step-providers look like their steps are original or unique. Leastwise, I assume that's why step-providers often change the order of the steps they list.
Personally, while I appreciate receiving advice, good advice, I take some issue with calling them "steps." I know it sounds like I'm complaining about semantics here, and I guess I am, but semantics are important to me. Semantics are all about meaning. Words like "steps" infers a guarantee: If you follow these steps, success is guaranteed. That's what steps sorta mean.
While most of the stepped advice I see includes relevant and factual information, there aren't any guaranteed steps to great photos. Much like joining a 12-Step program doesn't guarantee someone will become or remain sober, following various photographic steps doesn't guarantee you'll become a good photographer or produce great photos. Generally, the steps offered are steps in the right direction but they're not guaranteed steps to success as they seem to infer. Good photography is a result of much more than following simple, recipe-like, steps.
Take things like lighting and composition . The steps someone might provide, while probably being good steps, aren't guaranteed steps to great composition and lighting. The best they might be are guaranteed steps to varying levels of competent lighting and composition. Nothing wrong with competent. But transcending merely competent photography is, I assume, something most photographers aspire to.
Sure, I can give advice, make suggestions, offer tips, and try to point people in the right directions. But advice, tips, and suggestions aren't bullet-proof. They include plenty of gray area not covered in any of the steps I, or anyone else, might offer. Advice, tips, and suggestions are soft and flexible. They're subjective. They're neither hard nor fast and they're certainly not guaranteed to always work. leastwise not in exceptional ways. While advice, tips, and suggestions might be worthwhile, they don't, by their labels, infer guarantees. Following steps, on the other hand, seems to claim following the steps are guaranteed ways to get to wherever the steps lead. Unfortunately, they don't. Not always.
Those who rigidly follow exact steps or photographic recipes are likely to capture plenty of competent, although mediocre and pedestrian, photos. Yes, following steps and recipes can be great ways to begin learning. And, they'll occasionally produce awesome photos. They also might produce technically perfect photos. But technically perfect photos, while being technically perfect, can easily be boring as hell. Following steps and recipes are good ways to begin one's photography education, but to continue unwaveringly sticking to them, once a certain level of competency is achieved, doesn't lead photographers further up the stairway to photo heaven.
Photographers often love bandying about notions like shooting, "outside the box." I sometimes do so myself. Unfortunately, there are no steps to shooting really cool, "outside the box" photographs. If there were, I suppose those photos wouldn't enjoy having an "outside the box" status.
I think the multi-step advice spread around by photographers to photographers should be labeled in ways that better reflect what they actually are: Ideas, suggestions, tips, and advice. That way, it doesn't sound like they include guarantees. Again, I know I'm arguing semantics, and possibly trivialities as well, but meaning (for that's what semantics are all about) is important to me. Meaning, in my opinion, is not trivial.
Okay. I'm off my "semantics" soap box. The pretty girl at the top is Cytherea. I went a tad "artsy" with this one which meant my client (not the model) hated it. (Click to enlarge.)