Social media, the venue we often love and hate at the same time. As artists, we love to share our work with others. As photographers and business people it is necessary to maintain a web presence, which often means also a presence on social media. As photographers who wish to hone and improve our skills, it is often necessary to interact with others for advice, support, and problem-solving. The issue often becomes so many conflicting opinions and techniques.
Recently I was reading a post in a professional forum. I don’t mean like a Facebook or other social media areas, but a forum on a website for professional photographers who are paying for membership. The post was about how to deal with a couple who were getting divorced. One was angry because the other had scheduled a shoot with them for photographs of the baby and didn’t want her to do the session because she had not agreed to it. As is typical, there were opinions all over the place, from actual working professionals. I know it is sometimes good to see a variety of methods and advice but how much help are those conflicting messages?
This is often especially true for new photographers. They start hearing how great their photographs are from family and friends and start to share them with others in social media. In some groups frequented by other new photographers. While there is nothing wrong with new photographers, many times it is like the unknowing leading the unknowing. You don’t know what you don’t know because you don’t know. Or worse yet, they have read something from some “famous photographer” who notoriously gives horrible information but has an awesome website and makes it sound like he knows. The new photographer blindly follows the poor or even horrible advice without really understanding the concepts.
Now after a few months of involvement in this world of social media, they jump into an advanced or professional level group and quickly get honest harsh reviews. Another new photographer, who also recently joined the group quickly defends the other. Now we start having conflicting opinions and since we often want the path of least effort, the new photographer continues to follow the path they had originally used.
Now many years later, the now not so new photographer is a “seasoned” veteran. Often throwing out comments like, “I’ve done this for years so I know what I’m talking about”.
YouTube and free education abound and are all around, some good some horrible. Everyone is selling actions, presets, and videos. (This is even coming from a photographer who is selling education, tutorials, and such.) How do you get better?
Here are some tips I have for finding the proper source for you to learn more and improve your skills.
- Find a mentor. Someone whose work you like and admire. Your mentor should have some real experience and/or education. Your mentor should be someone who is willing to work with you. You may have to pay a mentor, which is often a better choice because their success often depends upon your success.
- Work hard every day. Even if it is to read about photography or visit websites such as 500px where you can easily see some awesome photography.
- Submit your work for critique, actual real critiques. These may be harsh (not belittling, rude, or otherwise). Pay attention to who is actually offering the critique. Look at their work, does it look and sound like someone who knows what they’re talking about.
- Don’t pay attention to how many FB likes you get. FB likes are very often meaningless.
- Learn to critique your own work. Be brutal. Make sure you can separate yourself from a photograph because it is of someone or something close to you. Despite what many may say, compare your work to that of a well-known well-respected photographer who does similar work.
An example I have used before and will continue to use is one of the sports players. Tiger Woods didn’t rise to the top of golf by playing only on the weekend. He wasn’t born a natural golfer, they don’t exist. Top athletes and performers all practice ALOT. Be cautious of practice, practice doesn’t make perfect unless it is perfect practice. Practicing bad habits, bad technique will only re-enforce those bad habits and techniques. Practice with intent. By this I mean decide on what your goals are such as getting better exposures. Practice exposures. Next work on practicing compositions, study the rules of composition. Once you have an understanding of those rules, now you can learn when it is acceptable to break those rules.
We didn’t spend the kind of money on our gear just to be able to take photographs anyone could get with a basic point and shoot camera. We spent the money on our gear to get the best photographs we can which mean we must learn to use our gear.
Social media is often a good resource, but it can also be a horrible place to learn or get advice. Research the conflicting opinions. See which method you prefer but be willing to change if necessary.