It’s just over a year since I decided to take photography more seriously. With my first public exhibit only a few weeks away, it seemed like a good moment to stop and reflect upon the things that helped me develop over this period. Lessons One of the first things I did was contact Hong Kong […]
It’s just over a year since I decided to take photography more seriously. With my first public exhibit only a few weeks away, it seemed like a good moment to stop and reflect upon the things that helped me develop over this period.
One of the first things I did was contact Hong Kong based photographer Gary Tyson for lessons. Gary’s twelve-lesson fundamentals course got me shooting in manual mode while balancing focus and exposure and exploring flash, night photography and developing images in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I firmly believe that receiving one-on-one lessons from a seasoned professional got me off to a flying start.
Understanding the software involved in developing images was a big priority. Going back to the age of film, one would shoot photos then take them to a developing lab. It’s easy to take for granted how much “magic” actually happened when film was developed in the old way, or how much professional photographers could do to manipulate images in the old darkroom environment.
I’ve dabbled a little in Photoshop, but most of the emphasis has gone into learning Lightroom. I’m no expert, but I have become familiar with the library and develop modules. I don’t use any presets and developing each image from scratch forced me learn the software better and in turn move closer to achieving my own ”style.”
Compared to previous pursuits, I didn’t read as many books as I normally would. However, a few important titles did stand out.
The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman is a goldmine of solid ideas about composition (how people and objects are arranged in a photo). I’d thought a lot about composition while studying art history and film theory, but this book helped me bring that into the disciple of taking photos.
Within The Frame by David duChemin is the book that made me question what I was trying to achieve with photography. I had always struggled with the fact that my photos didn’t reflect the way I saw the world. David’s “vision-driven” approach was just the tonic I needed. His other recent books, VisionMongers and Vision and Voice also played a big role throughout the year in helping me improve my photos and the way I share them.
Inner Game of Outdoor Photography by Galen Rowell is a book that took me quite a while to read. As the year progressed, I started to realise that many of the photos that had inspired me were nature and landscape images. Rowell’s helped me realise what is involved, mentally and physically, in taking great landscape images.
There are a lot of great online resources out there although I should add a word of warning. Forums and to some extent blogs can be an enormous drain on your time and emotional energy. There are plenty of places online where you can debate the merits of Canon v Nikon cameras, or flash versus natural light, but every minute you spend doing that is a minute (or hour) you could have spent taking or developing photos.
That’s why I didn’t spend much time on blogs devoted to technique and technology. Some are great (for example, Lightroom Killer Tips), but most of my reading time was spent on the personal blogs of photographers who talked about more than just gear, like Chase Jarvis, David duChemin, Gavin Gough and Matt Brandon.
One thing I didn’t do was buy a lot of gear. OK, I did pick up a few filters (ND, grad ND and polarising) and some flash accessories (soft-boxes and stands). But I didn’t buy any new lenses. I kept shooting with the D50 and recently bought the D90 because I couldn’t find a second hand D50 body to use as backup for the trip to India.
Time and again when people see my photos they assume I must be using higher end gear. Of course, that is meant as a compliment. But, it says a lot about how consumerist we have become when it comes to art and creativity.
This past year I started packing more camera equipment with me, even on holidays. There is no substitute for being ready to take images. Increasingly that has meant taking tripod, flashes and filters. It’s also meant taking a computer with me so I can develop “in the field.”
The high point of the year was the Lumen Dei tour to Ladakh in September. This was a 12 day tour of Northern India and a chance to shoot without distraction, in an extraordinary location, with two top professionals and a serious group of participants. The tour sharpened every aspect of my photography as well introducing some wonderful new friends.
Networking – Mentors and Sponsors
There’s a lot of talk about networking these days but for me, in terms of photography it really came down to meeting two kinds of people, mentors and sponsors. Put simply, mentors are people who will help you improve your craft, sponsors are people who will help you “sell” your craft. Sometimes you meet people who are good at both, but they will seldom be both for you.
Sponsors pulled me out of my comfort zone (the age-old tendency to toil in obscurity), while mentors kept me honest (they are good enough to spot my habits, good and bad).
I’ve been pretty relentless at sticking photos under people’s noses, via iPhone or iPad libraries, or online via this blog, Flickr or Twitter. The purpose hasn’t been publicity, but rather, creating a loop of sorts. The more I’ve shared pictures, the more I’ve listened to people’s responses, the more I’ve reinforced the story that I’m a photographer. After all while that starts to create it’s own momentum, something I’ve felt in the past during periods of growth (especially in music).
On thing I didn’t do was join a photo club. Criticism is important, but I’ve limited myself to hearing from people who are either working photographers, or have experience hiring photographers, or who have taken the time to understand where I’m going with photography.
I’ve learnt, the hard way (in music, church and academia) that you can’t treat everyone’s opinion as equal and stay sane. Sometimes people are enslaved to poor ideas or habits or so insecure in their craft that they are happy to tear down the work of others in a vain attempt to lift themselves up.
I’m not saying photo clubs are that – truthfully I’m in no position to comment on them. But, I do know that we should try, as much as we can, to choose our critics and confidants wisely.
Looking forward to 2011 I’ll be taking a lot more photos, developing online galleries, taking a few assignments, travelling and hopefully selling a few prints. I’ll also keep devouring books and blogging about what I’ve learnt. In a way, the train has only just left the station – there’s a long way left to go.