Photography Notebook: Points of Learning
Here are some points about photography that have helped my understanding. These have come to me through practice, experimentation, speaking to photographers, reading books and Web sites, and looking over my photos.
- Photography is a precision activity. Camera type and settings, light, subject, framing, angles, and post processing all introduce many variables to the quality of an image, and it is the thoughtful use and control of these variables that more consistently produces images that I enjoy. Fine-grained differences in many of these factors can have a big impact on how an image looks and, in particular, how compelling and interesting it is. For example, an image with a strong sense of dramatic focus might be just a small turn of the focus dial away from being a blurry, uncompelling image. An image with framing that reveals some implied story or emotion might be just a slight angle or turn away from a picture which doesn't warrant a second look. An image that includes some quirky or interesting detail could easily have been taken with that detail missing, taking the life out of the photo. When I first started out, I trusted the camera's auto settings and just hoped to get lucky in taking pictures--and sometimes I did. Now, I realize that spending time to carefully consider focus, exposure, framing, light, composition, and other factors--including my intuition and sense of expression--can give me more creative possibilities and make the best use of my time (I still need to get lucky, too). There is nothing wrong with having fun with photography in a point-and-shoot attitude, but I realize that paying attention to the camera settings and their fine-tuning helps my luck and intuition: I get an even better chance to make an image that I find satisfying.
- The eye is your best instrument. Gear doesn't make a photographer. I recognize that having good gear and being competent with it is important. Also gear that measures up--for example, having a camera that gives resolution appropriate for large print sizes--may be mandatory for some applications. However, the challenge in photography is to surprise the eye--yours and your viewers'. I like the technical side of photography, from the tactile feel of the lenses to the operation of image editors, but I know that seeing the world, and being able to see familiar scenes afresh, is the biggest challenge--and joy--of photography.
- Photography can be a lifelong hobby. For me, I've realized that through photography, I can combine my interest in technology and gadgetry, my love of the city and landscape around me, my pursuit of walking as exercise, my learning about local history and sites, my enjoyment of social activities through photowalks and events, my awareness of the world around me, and my work at december.com for image sales. For me, photography gives rewards that go well beyond the pictures produced.
- Slow down. For me, there has been no better directive than this for improving my safety as I go about taking photos and seeing and experiencing a scene to take more creative photos. Simply put, my tendency was to hurry. I broke one camera lens tripping up the stairs and found myself over-loaded with mediocre photos from going through scenes too fast. I now walk much more deliberately at all times, nearly always telling myself: slow down.
- Safety is priority #1. A person died in my area trying to take photos on the ice forms along the lake. There is no shot worth risking your safety or the safety of others around you. I feel there is no shot worth risking any injury to myself or others or any damage or loss of my equipment, and I keep this in mind daily. Watch for automobile traffic--don't expect automobile drivers to obey the law: they will not stop at stop signs or lights, they speed, they do not yield to pedestrians. Also, watch your camera at all times. People might ask you to take a photo with their camera--watch your camera at the same time! A common scam is to have another person swipe your camera while you are involved taking the picture of the people who asked. You get distracted, then you turn around--your gear is gone. I also put black gaffer tape over the "red stripe" on some of my L lenses (where possible--some lenses will now allow this) and put gaffer tape over the name of the camera itself. To address almost all of these issues, I keep in mind slow down (and think).