Friday Foto Talk: Learning Photography – Part II   11 comments

Mt Sneffels and its neighbors scrape the sky in southwest Colorado.

Mt Sneffels and its neighbors scrape the sky in southwest Colorado.

I’m thinking you may need a break from Halloween-themed posts and pictures.   This is the second of three parts on learning photography.  Last Friday’s post introduced the topic.

Using your learning time wisely is the reason for this short series about learning photography.  While those who are fairly new to photography may get the most out of it, even old hands know that the learning never stops.  The fact is that all of us, no matter how experienced, could benefit by stopping to think about how we’re going about learning.  It’s at least as important as what you learn.  So make sure to check out Part I.  There you’ll find Tips 1 through 5.


Tip 6

  • From the beginning, develop your own unique style.  It’s never too early to begin expressing your own unique take on things: your style.  That includes shooting the things you are passionate about, or at least have a strong interest in.  But don’t get carried away with a narrow focus too soon (see below).

Tip 7

  • Shoot a wide variety of subjects in a variety of lighting.  While learning the basics, do a lot of different kinds of shooting.  You may be most interested in shooting nature or landscapes, for example.  That’s fine, but don’t focus on it too much right away.  To learn about light, to explore the interaction between subject and photographer, to fully appreciate photography, I believe you need to shoot variety: buildings, people, still life, close-ups, indoors as well as out.  You get the idea.
A barn in the best color for a barn, near Ridgway, Colorado.

A barn in the best color for a barn, near Ridgway, Colorado.

Tip 8

  • Personal life can intrude.  Your loved ones will think you just took up a hobby.  But they’ll soon realize it’s much more than that!  As with the two points above, you’ll need to strike another balance here.  Depending on how busy your personal life is, you may need to drop some things, if possible, in order to accommodate the extra demands.  You should be having fun shooting, and that’s not possible if you’re stressed because you have too much on your plate.  That said, your family and work will, as always, be more important.  Be patient.  It may take more time than if you were single with a non-demanding job.  But don’t worry, you’ll still get there.
A prairie dog keeps watch   over his town on the Oklahoma prairie.

A prairie dog keeps watch over his town on the Oklahoma prairie.

Tip 9

  • During your formative period, you should almost completely ignore the images of others.  Period.  You have all the influences you need stored in memory.  You don’t need it now.  Constant comparison to others will likely harm your ability to develop your own style.  Are there exceptions to this rule?  I believe in exceptions to most rules.  But be very selective.  You might visit a gallery, or pick up a book by a seriously great photographer.  But your focus, for at least a year and probably two, should be on shooting and learning, not sharing your images or looking at too much of other shooters.

* This applies especially to the internet.  Facebook in particular can be quite poisonous to a new photographer in my opinion.  If you go online go for a blog post or article purely focused on learning skills.  Later on, after you’ve established a style and know yourself as a photographer, you can start sharing more widely.  It’s only at that point that you’ll continue to learn by viewing (with a critical eye) the images of others.

For some reason I really love rosehips.

For some reason I really love rosehips.

Tip 10

  • Be a harsh self-critic.  This is another thing you need to do right from the beginning.  When you’re selecting images to work on at the computer, try to select only the best.  This is something we all struggle with, especially in the beginning.  Don’t stress that it’s so tough to judge which of your images are good and which aren’t.  Time will make you a better judge of your own pictures.  It will become a little easier as your pictures get better.  Still, you need to be very demanding and only spend time with your best work.

* But you may well ask: “Don’t I need to look at a bunch of pictures online to learn what’s good and what’s not?”  No.  No you don’t.  I can’t emphasize this too strongly.  Scrolling through tons of images on Facebook or 500 px merely teaches you what is popular, not necessarily what is good.  Believe it or not, you already know a strong image from a weak one.  Besides, it is only helpful (especially while learning) to know what makes a good image for you at your particular point of development.  That said, at some time in your learning process, it’s probably a good idea to learn how to critique images.  Later on, you can join a critique forum.

Tip 11

  •  Be calm, relaxed and observant while shooting.  I’ve hit on this point in prior posts.  When I’m around other photographers, I sometimes notice they miss things, seemingly because they’re rushing through the process for no good reason.  And I’m not immune.  I often need to remind myself to keep a calm mind.  I’m naturally observant, at least in nature.  But I’m also habitually late for things, including sunset.  I’ve had to learn that this is no excuse for feeling stressed when I do arrive.

* All of this is directly related to observation.  And that strongly influences how many good shots you’ll get. It’s not just creativity as a whole that suffers from stress.  Your observational abilities also go down when you allow stress to creep in.  Granted, sometimes you need to go pretty fast if the light is changing quickly or you’re working with a skittish subject.  But you can always keep a calm and receptive attitude, no matter what the shooting situation.

Dramatic skies and a thinly forested ridgeline combine with nice light in this picture in the Colorado Rockies

Dramatic skies and a thinly forested ridge-line combine with nice light in this picture in the Colorado Rockies

Tip 12

  • Have fun!  Everything you do in photography, as with life, will turn out better if you make it fun.  There’s something I’ve always found strange.  Even though I greatly appreciate all complements on my pictures, I’m always confused when people say “nice work”.  If this were work to me I wouldn’t be doing it!  A lot easier said than done, you say?  You’re right!  For example, I know from personal experience that it’s hard not to beat yourself up when you miss a great shot.  At those times I try to remember that there is always a next time.  It is so important to maintain perspective.  Don’t take photography too seriously.  And please, no matter how good you eventually get, don’t take yourself as a photographer too seriously.  Have fun!


Stay tuned next week for the last post in this series.  Have a great weekend!

The sun sets over the Cimarron River.

The sun sets over the Cimarron River.

11 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Learning Photography – Part II

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  1. Wonderful tips blended with that fabulous photography. Thanks! 🙂

  2. Thanks for these posts. I’m enjoying your particular take (voice) on the basics of photography. Glad you’re back at it.

  3. Great post, you give me courage.

    Annette Arnold-Boyd
  4. I like the part about exceptions to every rule but that probably doesn’t surprise you either.

  5. You kept the most important tip for last Michael! No point in doing something you’re incredibly good at and yet don’t enjoy doing…

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