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How to Learn Photography
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March 2011   How to Take Better Pictures   Equipment Reviews

 

adorama

 
B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.

 

People get into photography in two ways.

Most people start by buying a camera, and learning how to use that camera and all its lenses and accessories. Today, people also want to learn How to Use Photoshop.

Far fewer people start in photography by taking pictures, which is the correct way.

Here's the problem: when you start by trying to master camera, lens, Photoshop and computer jockeying, you never finish. Attempting to master all this before just going out and enjoying taking pictures will prevent you from ever having any time to learn about photography itself. Instead of learning photography, you'll spend a lifetime learning about cameras and computers. This makes lots of money for the people selling you all the new cameras and computers you'll think you need, but never helps you make better pictures.

More changes faster in the world of photo gear and computers than any one person can digest. Attempting to master all this, especially an infinitely complex computer program like Photoshop, before you understand why and what you are trying to do with it all in the first place, is the reason most people never get anywhere with their photography.

Regardless of how many cameras you buy, or how many Photoshop and printer profiling classes you endure, the only way to learn is to pay attention to taking pictures, and not to your equipment.

How can this be? Doesn't one need to learn how to use a camera first?

Not today.

In the 1950s and before, cameras were all manual. It took a man years to learn how to set everything, and one couldn't turn out repeatably good photos unless one knew all this technical stuff.

Digital cameras today are all automatic. You have to go out of your way to take them off the Auto setting!

Today, the way to learn photography is to focus on your pictures. Take pictures, and only stop to ask why you might want to take your camera off Auto only if you're not getting the results you want.

The reason that taking pictures and paying attention to your subject helps you advance most quickly is because we naturally will alter our technique to get us the results we want. If we know what we want, we naturally will keep asking questions and playing around until we get what we want. No amount of random camera-centered education can possibly lead us down the path to how to get exactly what we need for our own style of shooting.

Every great artist can get what he wants with any sort of tools. He uses the tools he does because they make it easiest for him to get the results he wants. Even with the wrong tools, the result is always what he wants because the artist is driven by what he sees in his mind's eye before the result is rendered in tangible form. The result is always as the artist intends because he keeps working at it until he's done, which means that the final result matches his vision for it.

In photography, that means that no matter what sort of camera you might have, that if you're focusing on the final result, you naturally will figure out how to get there as you go. Let your vision drive you!

If you try to learn everything you can about cameras first, you will waste your time by learning about hundreds of things that probably don't apply to what you want to accomplish. The important thing is that if you aren't driven by your own vision for your photography as you develop, it is unlikely that you will discover the particular aspects of technique that will apply to your work as part of a random attempt at learning everything about cameras.

If you are driven by your love of making pictures, you naturally will do more of what looks good to you, and less of what doesn't. You'll stop and ask questions only when you must, which means you're taking pictures and getting better at what you want to do the rest of the time.

Women are better photographers than men as a whole because women worry about their pictures, and not about their cameras. Men spend lifetimes researching and talking about cameras, which does nothing to advance their photography.

Women and children take pictures because they like them, not because they like playing with cameras. Their natural curiosity leads them to better pictures.

To take great pictures, use whatever you have, and yes, that especially means your cell phone camera, and enjoy. Stop and ask other accomplished photographers and artists (not online experts or camera-club junkies) for input only as you need it. Someone's apparent knowledge of camera model numbers and technical fluff is irrelevant to photographic ability. Before taking anyone's advice, be sure that they have a portfolio loaded with the sort of photos you want to make. Otherwise, they are just tech-talking turkeys, and the Internet is overloaded with these guys.

Keep following your own natural direction in photography, and the technique will follow. Stop and ask for help when you need it, but don't ever let yourself get hung-up on technology for its own sake. Explore technology only when needed to accomplish something deliberate, otherwise, equipment just gets in the way.

If you can't achieve the result you want, don't ask what most people ask first, which is "what do I buy now?" Instead, ask yourself "how do I use what I have to make this happen?"

Guess what: if you can't answer "How do I use what I have?," no matter how much stuff you buy, you'll never get the photos you want.

As over 40 years of my own experience has taught me, I could have accomplished just about anything using the first simple camera I ever had. Sadly, I let myself get distracted by buying more equipment, and I never got better for the next 20 years!

Always ask how to do something with what you already have. Never talk to a camera store or a photo hobbyist, whose answer will always be to buy more equipment. To these guys, buying more gear is an easy way to kick the problem down the road like a politician, and never address the core issue, which is how to take a great picture.

Focus on your subject, your image and your photography, and the technique will follow. Focus on cameras, lenses and software, and the only thing to follow will be buying more cameras, lenses and software.

 

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Thanks for reading!

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

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