There are essential things about being a photographer that most photography books usually don’t mention. Here are the seven most important lessons I’ve learned as a photographer, including an exercise I use to hone my skills.
1. Must be fun
Whether run as a business or a hobby, photography should be enjoyable. Picking up that camera and looking through the viewfinder, sitting for hours in front of a computer developing images, and even doing marketing and accounts doesn’t have to be an unwelcome chore. I love every minute of it, although the marketing and accounts are probably my least favorite. However, I meet people who are not satisfied with their work. I wonder why they don’t go out and do something else instead. It’s something I’ve done in the past. If it’s not fun, walk away.
There is only one way to ensure your happiness and satisfaction in photography. Do your own thing and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
2. Help other photographers succeed
A good part of my business is training others, and nothing makes me happier than them by being successful. Clients sometimes ask me if they could be professional photographers. Subsequently, I trained several of them and helped them start their careers. I don’t take credit for their success; it is thanks to their hard work and perseverance. The fact that I’ve helped them along the way is not only satisfying, but I’m learning a tremendous amount from teaching others, and it also reinforces my existing knowledge.
3. I know nothing, let alone everything
Some people seem to think they know everything there is to know about photography. I’ve never had this delirium. Of course, we don’t know everything. I knew this was especially true when I started out as a beginner in my youth. But this feeling of ignorance, instead of diminishing, grows. It seems that the more I teach, the more I learn and the more I discover that there are things I don’t know. There is always so much more to understand that it seems I have only scratched the surface.
4. It’s just a photo and it’s just a camera
Then I remember it’s just a photograph. On its own, it will not change the world. However, a photo can give you, me or someone else powerful feelings. It can be a precious moment at a wedding, a portrait of a lost relative, or a beautiful subject that evokes strong emotions. Understanding this duality between the simultaneous insignificance and importance of a photo helps us not to be self-obsessed and, simultaneously, to create images that have meaning.
Likewise, some photographers idolize their cameras. It is not a god; it’s just a tool. I know mine has unique functions that I use, so this is perfect for me. But, like your camera, it’s just a nicely designed piece of metal, glass and plastic.
5. My best photos come from what I know
A port, a river mouth and the sea are a few hundred meters from my house. I’ve lived in this house for nine years, so I know it well. I understand what tide state is best when the light on the island is right and how choppy the sea will be depending on the wind direction. I know how the fishing fleet operates, the direction of the sunrise at different times of the year, the best camera locations to get good shots, and the behaviors of local birds. Experience in my local environment helps me get a much higher percentage of successful shots than if I was in an unfamiliar setting shooting a new subject.
6. Other people take great photos
Some people find it hard to accept that others can succeed in what they do. Jealousy is not a state of mind that will not help them improve their skills. We can learn from other photographers’ photos, and appreciating what they do helps the learning process.
I always take the time to analyze other people’s images and figure out what I do and what I don’t; there are certain genres of photography that I’m not a fan of, but I can see why some people like them. Not every photo is my cup of tea either, so I’m also researching why that is. I keep my opinions to myself because an unsolicited negative review will do me no favors.
7. The skill I mastered before turning pro
There’s one thing on my list that’s in photography books. Of course, a professional needs a certain level of knowledge. Familiarity with how your camera will perform under certain conditions is essential. Part of that means being able to change your camera settings without looking. It’s something I practice. However, there is more than that. I also know how my camera will perform in different conditions.
Try the following exercise:
In a familiar environment where you usually shoot, find a moving subject; no matter what. It can be anything, maybe the pendulum of a clock, someone walking, blowing tree branches, a passing car, etc. Take your camera and set it to manual exposure. Keep the lens cap in place so you don’t cheat and use the menus on the rear screen.
Set the shutter speed to stop subject movement. Then adjust focal length, aperture, and subject distance to fill the frame and give you just enough depth of field to include the whole subject, but not the whole scene. Then judge a good exposure by adjusting the ISO. Choose your focal point. Remove the lens cap and take the picture. What good result did you get?
Once you’ve done that, change all the variables and try a few more times. Use alternate focal lengths and depths of field. Also change the lighting conditions. Maybe decide to show motion blur. Over time, you’ll get a good idea of what settings you need.
It is not easy. Due to semi-automation (I love aperture priority) as well as depth of field and histogram previews in the viewfinder, it’s possible to get great shots without that basic understanding of the camera operation. We get used to that. Still, I think it’s essential to be aware of exposure and how settings affect the look of the image, as there will come times when you’ll have to fall back on those basic skills.
If you specialize in a particular genre, such as studio photography, you’ll need just as much familiarity with the operation of your ancillary equipment. For example, how modifiers influence the appearance of the image, how to apply the inverse square law with the proximity of the light source to the subject, how this distance changes the softness of the light, balances the brightness of multiple strobes , etc. . But knowing how your camera behaves is just the start. Depth of field plus stopping or depicting motion are basic composition techniques. The placement of the subjects in the frame, their interaction and their lighting are essential. All of this takes learning and practice.
There is no secret formula for what makes an image work. There are countless combinations of subjects, compositions, lighting, and camera settings, and over time you find what works for you. More importantly, you will find out what is not working.
Are there any important lessons you have learned during your photography journey? I hope you tried my exercise, and it will be great to hear how you did.