Before the holidays are upon us, I have a few photographic thoughts to share. As always, your own results, opinions, and feelings may vary.
Likes vs Prints
"Likes" don't mean anything -- unless they are from your Mom, then they are everything. Social media, at its best, is like the worst day in your adolescence. To me, "Likes," like contests, make little sense-- they tend to have limited value and serve no purpose other than providing short-lived bragging rights. They are artificial constructs that are highly subjective. There is, however, a better way to share your photographic identity: follow your passion, refine your craft, learn how to make fabulous photographic prints, print your best work, show it to friends and family, frame it, and then hang it on your walls. The great thing about learning how to make photographic prints is that is will improve your composition, your post-processing skills, and your own and others' appreciation for your art. Let me know when "Likes" can do all that.
Getting it right in camera
Next time your are out photographing, try bracketing your images. You just might be surprised that an over- or under-exposed image will help you create the photographs that convey what you saw and felt. Learn why you should be making raw image files, how your camera's exposure meter works, and how to apply selective focus along with depth of field. Photography is as much about failing as it is about succeeding. See Light Gesture & Color for more.
Dodging & Burning
Post-processing has always been about dodging and burning (look these terms up. Better yet, read what Ansel Adams has to say about them in The Print). Keep in mind that adjustments should be whispers, not shouts. If you can tell what I did in post-processing, I have failed. Repeat after me...
Small changes, whatever it needs.
Graduated Neutral Density Filters
Learn what ND grads are and how to use them, particularly when you are not gifted with a wonderfully overcast sky. Buy them after you purchase a great tripod with a ball head.
Spectacular photographs are made by folks who (1) feel what they see; and (2) who know how to use the right equipment and technology to achieve their vision. Be one of these photographers, not a "me too" just emulating the latest internet sensation (see Likes vs Prints). While you are at it, try your hand at making panoramic photographs, then just go ahead and print them large and wide.
Light, Gesture & Color
Merry Christmashold what you see with the same wonder as a child...
Light, gesture and color are the main ingredients for a great photograph (they are photographs, not pics, snaps, captures, or any other terms of endearment that devalue the efforts and craft of the photographer). Of these three, there is nothing more important than the light. Light defines your subject more than any other aspect. Gesture, whether it be whimsical, subtle or dramatic is the language of your photograph. Gesture transforms a good photograph into a great photograph. Color sets the mood (along with light and gesture). Color needs not be saturated. It can be as gentle and alluring as a whisper in your ear.
Enjoy your holidays, stay safe, and come back to enjoy our annual Advent Calendar every day throughout December.
When working with photographers who have just started their journey, I am often hesitant to tell them about the amount of technology and gear that the average photographer uses:
Making the Photograph
Start here - camera, lenses, memory cards
Acquire these - tripod, filters, remote shutter release
And eventually these - speedlights, monolights, radio triggers and receivers, light modifiers, light stands, reflectors
Start here - computer, software
End up here - calibration device, external storage, backup software and a server
Printing the Photograph
Start here - printer, paper, ink
End up here - the largest printer you can fit into your space, boxes of paper and discovery of the joy of seeing your photographs printed
Let's separate out the essentials. You need a camera with a lens and a memory card. Oh, and a computer with some sort of software that edits image files. If you really want to go minimal, just use your smart phone. It is all of these things in one. If you already own a digital camera (besides your smart phone) do not buy a new camera or lens.
Take that hard-earned and saved money and buy an inkjet printer,* then learn how to use it. Next, start planning your photographic trip. It could be on of those bucket list things I keep reading about, or a simple trip that only involves making a lodging reservation and filling your car with gas. It doesn't really matter, just get out there and explore. Have fun. Discover new things, people, and places to photograph. Make new photographs in a new place. Visit the same location at sunrise and sunset on more than one day. See with your eyes, feel with your soul, and marvel at what is in front of you. When you get home, look at your images and then decide which ones you are going to print. There is no piece of shiny new gear that will ever match the pleasure of this experience.
* If you already own a printer, buy another book on photography or work with a photographer to learn new skills.