Your friends have complimented you on your photographs. Many have encouraged you to sell them or become professional. Others have asked you to photograph family members or group events. You have entered local contests and exhibits. Things are rosy and it is time to “move on up!”
Out comes the cash and after some careful research, discussions with others who have better equipment, checking online for the inside scoop, you dive in and purchase that new, better and dazzling DSLR. Wow! And another Wow!
The new camera does everything and much, much more. Wide spectrum of ISO numbers, great new lenses, faster speed, more resolution, possibly movie capability and built-in flash, timers, multiple exposure, HDR, and on and on.
Photography is sooooo cool! You look better in the new camera. Your photography looks better. And, more compliments from family and friends. What’s next?
Well, after the glow begins to cool and you begin to understand that you are ready for a leap up in the world of photography, I have a few things to suggest as the progress begins and your desire for improvement increases.
A couple of things to consider first: Your family and friends will always love your work, but probably will not be able to help you improve. “Likes” on Facebook for your posted photos make you feel good, but offer very little in the way of knowing why someone likes something and whether it provides information that increases your ability to take better and better photographs.
What do you think? Is your work better than almost everyone else? Is it as good as the best around? If the answer to either of these is yes, then I have nothing to say to you. However, if the answer is that your work is ok and better than some and better than before, then you might benefit from some suggestions.
First, join a local photo group. There will be better and worse photographers in the group than you. You can learn from those who are better and as you assist those not as good, you will begin to hear yourself analyze and discern more as you reflect on photographs and comment on them. Teaching others, with a bit of humility, always improves the teacher. Joining with other photographers in a shoot, more than anything else, provides different insights as to how others approach the art, analyze what he or she likes, and, from what are other photographers inspired.
Second, start looking at photographs of the greats. How did they approach a subject? What lighting did they use? Can you discern the techniques employed and the manner in which the shot was composed and taken? Ask others if they can discern how a shot was taken and developed into the finished work.
Also, go to art museums and art galleries and look at how artists use composition and lighting. I have had the fortune of being able to visit some of the greatest museums in the world and it always inspires me when I view and then meditate on how the piece was developed, the composition was chosen and the light was employed. The master artists are masters for a reason and our photographs can be improved through learning more about how the great artists and photographers accomplished the work.
Next, I think it is important in the digital world to move away from the technological wonder of the DSLR and begin with some very basic steps. With all of the bells and whistles and zoom lenses and lighting options, we can become swamped in the technology and never really learn the basic components.
When I began in film photography, I had one camera body and one lens. I had to learn how to do everything with the one camera and one lens and most often with one film. That meant that the ISO was fixed, the f/stop range was fixed and the focal length of the lens was fixed. I wouldn’t like to go back to that situation, but there were some extraordinary benefits to the process of learning.
One had to look for the optimal position from which to take a shot. You had to move around. And moving around provided more options for composition. You had to really know the capability of the film—speed, contrast, range and resolution—and how to manipulate the shot within strict parameters.
I try to encourage new photographers to take some lessons from the past. Take your DSLR and have a day of shooting without utilizing the zoom of your lens. Pick a focal length and shoot a day with only that setting. Pick one ISO and work the camera and lighting to take advantage of only that setting. You will be amazed how much knowledge you gain from this simple exercise. It will begin to force your eye and your brain to think about what you are doing instead of just clicking away and finding the shot later.
After you have mastered this first exercise, vary the focal length and ISO and do it again with another day of shooting. And on and on until before every shoot you have trained the eye and the brain to approach the day in a more disciplined manner. Within a couple of weeks, your work will have improved significantly.
After you have become more familiar with the camera’s capabilities, take a very few subjects and shoot them over and over with as much variation as possible over the next several shooting days. Shoot the subjects until you are completely bored with all of your work and cannot imagine shooting this subject again. Take a few days or a week off and then approach it again. See what happens. Again, you will surprise yourself with some very creative stuff. Sometimes the creative process needs to become exhausted so that breakthrough can occur.
Let me know what happens! Next time we can explore some post-processing that will again help you to Move on up!