According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, Robert Johnson had a tremendous desire to become a great blues musician. He was instructed to take his guitar to the crossroads at midnight. There he was met by a large man clad in all black (because that's a serious devil color, not like cherry-red like a kid on Halloween, or green, green! like the devil wears in German lore), who took the guitar and tuned it. The Devil played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This was, in effect, a deal with the Devil mirroring the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous.
For the rest of us, unwilling or unable to make the same deal, we are faced with the task of practicing our creative pursuits, whether they be musical or photographic or otherwise artistic. While the common and oft repeated concept of "10,000 hours" is a snappy and quick sell, the German phrase "üben, üben, üben" [practice, practice, practice] seems more appropriate to me. 10,000 hours sounds like an investment in the future, but it is really only a down payment. In truth, practicing has never been much fun. Memorizing aperture full f-stops (f/1.4, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11,16, 22) with a corresponding sense of depth of field certainly doesn't sound like fun, but it is as important as learning the five pentatonic scale shapes on the fretboard - if you want to play the blues.
In other words, even üben, üben, üben will bring you only so far. Having learned the technical, you are now challenged to apply these skills as a creative expression. It is the difference between knowing words and grammar and being able to write poetry, or knowing how to play a series of licks and being able to put some soul into a song. There are two major components in great photography - Process and Light. Process is everything from seeing to composing, and it includes all the technical elements in both in camera - and post processing. Light includes both the kind available in the moment (amount, quality, temperature, direction) and the kind created (by us) - add to that how it is used. Light has the final determination in great photographs.
Process & Light - both contribute to your final result; however, if your post process involves significantly more than dodging (lightening) and burning (darkening), you might not be managing the light as well as you should. Remember, there is no "unsuck" slider. It could be the perspective of your composition, the time of day, the weather or any number of other factors - when you see it in your viewfinder, you should know that you have something very exciting. Light, along with gesture & color, is a key component in every great photograph.
Seldom, if ever, do great photographs just happen. You have to arrive at the intersection of Opportunity & Preparedness early, observe the Gestalt, and (it never hurts) silently recite the Photographer's Prayer*.
Thanks for reading.
See ya next week,
* Dear Lord, please do not let me @#$! this up. Amen.