Do you want to get better at photography? Of course you do. Unless, that is, you don’t give a rip about it. In which case that begs the question, why the heck are you on a photography website? I’m starting a series on the basics of photography. This will be a comprehensive group of tutorials that will draw on the wonderful resources out on the web and include my own take on things. So many of you, my friends, have asked me for links to good websites and have asked me tons of questions about photography. Hopefully, this resource will help get you started on your journey to becoming a great photographer.
Please allow me to get this out of the way first…I am in no way an expert or do I consider myself a great photographer. I know some great photographers, and I’m constantly humbled when I see their work. It always makes me want to take my computer full of images and drop it in the Gulf of Mexico, but my wife wouldn’t be too keen on that. How else would she play mahjong? The better you get at photography, the more you realize that you have to learn. That’s one of the remarkably humbling things. Call it “having your eyes opened”.
As you begin to study what truly great photographers have done, you then look at what you did that you thought was great and realize it is rubbish. I have studied photography for about 6 years, and for the last 3 years, I have REALLY studied photography. It’s my passion and where most of my non-work, non-family, truly personal time goes. My greatest asset is that I’m willing to admit that I have a long ways to go and that I need to constantly surround myself with great photographers and never rest on my laurels. I can’t tell you how important that is. Because, as you start to really practice and study theory, your family and friends will start puffing up your ego and telling you how great you are and it is incredibly easy to believe your own press.
Photography is powerful. They say the number one thing that people take out of their home in a fire is their pictures. That should tell you something about the emotional power of photography. It is the visual remembrance of times in our life and a visual collection of our greatest experiences. Pictures are also how we experience places we have never been and people we have never met. So this is the last time I’m going to qualify myself. If you are a great photographer and you know more than me, please feel free to correct me and and help the others on here to learn, because what it’s all about…learning.
I’d like to note a few general observations about photography. I’m going to be giving you a lot of technical direction, but I’m also going to be passing along a lot of philosophical ideas about photography. Every craft, hobby, or field, has its share of weirdness and weirdos. There are always going to be hotshots, prima donnas, true geniuses, hard workers, and people interested in taking shortcuts. What I love about photography is that there seems to be less of the hotshot factor at the top than in other areas, like music for instance. By and large, most photographers I know are interested in sharing their tips and growing. However, you will come across weird reactions from people.
For starters, nearly everyone thinks that they are a good photographer, because maybe they lucked out and nailed a good shot of their kid one time. One of the easiest pitfalls is to believe that you are somehow a genius/gifted and that you are just a natural. No photographer that I know would look at their body of work and say that their best work was done when they were first starting out.
Photography can be VERY, VERY technical. The underlying principles behind photography merit years of study. It is even a college degree. However, what I love about photography is that it can be highly subjective and that you can derive great joy from it almost immediately. It is very rewarding.
Additionally, photography is not just about photography anymore. Before digital, we had film photography. Photographers shot their pictures and then processed them in the dark room. With digital photography, we process our pictures in software programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, Picasa, etc. Modern photographers have the ability to get their images out to the world rapidly and inexpensively. In the film era, you had to be pretty committed if you wanted large groups to see it.
That brings me back to the modern photographer. You will conceivably take pictures, store them, edit them, create a website, distribute your images through social media, etc. That means that you can go pretty deep on the learning curve. One of my good friends that actually makes a living as a professional photographer (definition of a professional photographer: wife and children rely on you to put food on the table as a result of your pictures) has to do all this and run his own business.
So you have to be a photographer, web developer, expert marketer, accountant, attorney, and be excellent at client relations. That being said, set your expectations, realistically. You are probably not going to make a living in photography, and you’re lucky if you can make enough money to pay for new gear. Do photography because you love it. Let me say that again…do photography because you love it. Most of you are reading this because you just want to take better pictures of your family, friends, and experiences. That’s a great reason to learn. Stay true to that. What you may find is that your photography becomes an art form. That leads me to another key point…
Photography is art! All that matters is that you are interested in your subject. Don’t let others rob you of your joy. Some people just aren’t gonna get it. You might have worked really hard at taking an image and processing it and then shown it to your husband or wife or friend and they just said, “this sucks” or “I don’t get it”. When people don’t understand things, they’ll say generic statements like “this sucks” or “I don’t get it”. The caveat to all this is that your picture might actually suck. I promise you that as you study, learn, and practice you will end up realizing why your stuff sucks. A couple years ago, I submitted some images that I thought were quite good to a notable Stock Photography service. They turned me down! Can you believe that? I was so discouraged and thought they were crazy. Now, when I look back at those images, I can’t believe how bad they were. It’s a combination of a bunch of little things that I did wrong. But mainly, I just hadn’t trained me eyes to know the difference. There are hard and fast rules, which at times can be broken, but mainly must be observed to have good images. Here’s one of the pics I submitted. You might think, “hey, that looks pretty good.”. It’s a good picture, but it was so far from being a great picture, and certainly not worthy of Stock Photography. They said…”distracting light on top left, lack of contrast, not sharp enough, no clear emotion on image.” They were RIGHT!
1) There will always be someone better than you, so don’t think you’re hot stuff, but don’t over-apologize. You are unique and your photographic vision is your own. You leave a bit of your soul on the images you produce. It’s how you see the world.
2) Never quit learning. Like a pond with no fresh, incoming water source, you will stagnate if you don’t keep learning. Read blogs, ask questions, teach others, remain humble, and take TONS of pictures.
3) Set goals. I want to have a website showcasing my work, I want to have a gallery show, I want to do a studio shoot, etc. Be willing to take on projects that will stretch you a bit. Be realistic, though. You’ll know if you are supposed to quit your job and do it full-time, until then take it one step at a time.
4) Realize that what you think is good now, you will consider garbage years from now. Study great photographers and seek to understand what they were thinking when they took the image, processed it, etc. Reverse-engineer their pictures. I do this all the time.
5) Most importantly…shoot what interests you. If you like taking pictures of cacti, be unashamedly the best cacti photographer in the world. And yet, stretch yourself. You will be surprised at what you will become interested in because of photography. I used to not give a rip about landscapes and architecture before photography. Forcing myself to study the details caused me to slow down and really appreciate God and man’s handiwork.
I’m going to link to a bunch of other articles, videos, websites, blogs, etc., because I feel that anything I would say about this subject has probably been said better by someone else. Consider me the great aggregator.
We’re going to do a lot of feedback learning. I feel that the best way to learn is to do. So I’ve set up a group for this website on Flickr.com. Flickr.com is a free image hosting site. It’s the premiere site for uploading your images, sorting them, and interacting with other photographers. I’m going to post a tutorial on how to join Flickr.com and how to join our group. At the end of each lesson, I’ll link to the Flickr group. You’ll be able to see what others have submitted for that section, or you can be the first one (if no one but me and the dog read this thing).
My friend Doug joked with me that I should name it the “Judgment-Free” zone like they do at 24 Hour Fitness. Seriously, if you submit your pictures and someone says a blanket statement like, “I just don’t like it”, I’m deleting their comment. If you feel the need to provide constructive criticism, make sure you actually say why you don’t like it. Mostly, people just need to be encouraged. Again, they will start to see where they are coming up short as they compare their images to others’.
Here’s the LINK to the group. If you don’t have a Flickr.com account, click the Sign Up button at the top. It’s free and super-easy to setup. Okay, I’ve said it was free about 3 times now so you have no reason not to check it out.
One last thing in the intro…These lessons will be broken up by larger sections: Composition, Lighting, How to work your camera, Processing, and Sharing your images. I might come back in and edit things as I find dead links or better links. Please add my RSS feed to your blog reader or check in every day and see if there is anything new. Use the comments section below each post to give tips and suggestions. You might be sitting on the greatest article ever written about photography. I will happily replace my link with yours if it fits better.
I would be so honored if you joined the “community” here at flickr.com: LINK. I hope that you get to know some of my wonderful friends.
Here’s to getting better together!