Becoming a better photographer – step 1

Introduction

The topics in this article have been covered in previous articles to some degree, however, before we can progress we must cover the first step.  As with any journey, we must take the first step, but like a journey where we must walk, we first must learn to walk.  I will cover the learning to walk in photographic terms in the next section, but first, let me give you a brief introduction.

I got started in photography in about 1982.  I don’t clearly remember the date but the oldest dated photographs I have are slides from 1982.

Seaworld 1982 – Kodak Kodachrome Slide film

As with most of us, I started with photographs like that one above.  From what I can remember, the photograph above was shot using a Canon AE-1 with a telephoto lens (I don’t even remember what lens except I believe it was something like an 80-200).  At this point, I had not had any real training and was learning by the seat of my pants.  There was no internet, as we know it today, there was no YouTube.  It was all classes, books, and magazines.  Clearly, I had some things to learn.

I stumbled along for the next few years.  In fact, for many years.

The Plaza, Kansas City, MO 1983, Kodak Kodachrome slide film

While my photography did improve later, the above is not an example of better, I did not truly improve until I decided to get some real training, in 2011.

In 2011 I signed up for an online correspondence course from a fairly well known long established photography school.  The education was not cheap but was less expensive than going back to college.  It was and still is a self-paced program.  It is one of those you get out of it what you put into it.  I read and studied every lesson, in detail.  I completed each and every assignment.  I completed the optional courses.  I passed each written test and submitted my photographs for my final.

Before you could advance to the next block of instruction you had to pass a written exam, taken online and submit photographs for review by an instructor.  You could not advance until the instructor sent your critiques and reviews from you photographic project, this was to ensure you understood and could implement the material from that block of instruction.  The first critique I got was harsh, almost brutal.  I listened to the audio recording of the instructor ripping my work several times, carefully reviewing the images I submitted.

This was one of the first photographs I submitted that got ripped to shreds, as it should have been.  I have kept it as a reminder.

By the end of the course, I was doing much better.

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I have reached a point where a session like the one above doesn’t intimidate me.  I knew it was going to be a large group, with dim lighting.  I was prepared to handle all of that.  I didn’t have to ask for advice on what lens to use, how to set up the lighting, how to work with the large group, what my “settings should be to get everyone in focus”.

Am I where I want to be?  No.  I want the photographs I take today to be better than yesterday and the photographs tomorrow to be better than today.  I constantly practice the basics.

Learning to walk

As I mentioned in the introduction, the first step in our journey is learning to walk.  Applying this to photography, I work with getting new photographers, and many more experienced ones, understanding the basics of exposure, focus, and depth of field.  Once we have those basics down where they are second nature we work towards more complex concepts such as lighting and composition.  One of the very last things we discuss and work on is editing and post processing.  Why?  As the old saying goes; “if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.”

In a previous article, Exposure and Light meters, I wrote about learning to read and use your camera’s built-in light meter to achieve a balanced exposure (one that the camera believes is neither over or under exposed).  Once you understand that concept you can now begin to work towards defining a “proper exposure” (one that is exposed as you, the photographer intended it to be exposed).

While learning to walk we also need to obtain a basic understanding of the exposure triangle, focus, and depth of field.

In subsequent articles, I will cover each of these topics more thoroughly, as each is worthy of a full article in their own rights.  The “Reader’s Digest” version often only serves to confuse new people more than they are already.

To read more about photographic exposure, I often recommend reading Cambridge in Colour’s Camera Exposure .  This article will give you some insight in what goes into exposure and the exposure triangle.

As part of the “Learning to Walk” I would also highly recommend taking a class.  A real class where you have personal interaction with an instructor.  I can be online as long as you have a way to contact and speak with an instructor, gain personal feedback from an instructor.  Photographers, especially new photographers, are almost always willing to invest in new lenses, camera bodies, or other fancy new gadgets believing those will improve their photography when, in fact, they take with them the same skillset.  Often, it makes matters worse rather than improve them because the new camera body or lens may actually require better technique.

Assignment for the next article.

Your assignment is to research controlling the exposure of your camera, refer to your camera’s operating manual and read the article at Cambridge in Colour on Camera Exposure.

 

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