Being a photographer is not something that you do, it’s something that you are.
I get emailed a lot by people about equipment, settings, photoshop editing and all manner of ‘technical stuff’. I also get asked a lot about what my top advice is for taking better pictures and the answer is not in a plugin or a shiny new camera…
I find it funny that as photographers when somebody outside our trade asks about a great picture that they have seen that as photographers we often answer stating that the camera is just a ‘tool’ and no camera can make you take better pictures. However, when I see photographers discussing images online I often read people banging on about ‘what settings were used’ what model of that camera did you use. what lens, what F stop and chewing on about if they had used this or that and why don’t they use this or that.
My thoughts on this are simple and after reading one such exchange earlier I just wanted to write something here I guess on what I think personally.
My best advice if you want to shoot better pictures is simple. Shoot more. Shoot, shoot, shoot, and then shoot some more.
The thing is that like most skills in life, especially the creative natured ones, some people have a natural leaning towards something and some do not, regardless of this photography can and is sometimes quite technical. Over the years indeed it has become more and more so with lots of different camera, lighting and digital editing options open to us, and this is all great, but… I wonder sometimes if we allow ourselves sometimes to get so overwhelmed by the technical that we actually allow it to detract from what we are actually shooting and how we are doing that. People just starting into photography can often get put off by all the ‘stuff’ that they feel that they need to learn and know about, just choosing a camera system these days, especially if you put something on social media about it, can be a nightmare, “oh that was a mistake you should have bought this or that…”
Sometimes you just need to shoot stuff to see what it looks like through your heart.
So many people these days seem a little obsessed with the latest ‘shiny thing’ and they forget that photography comes from the heart, it’s a creative act and no matter what ‘shinny thing’ you use the best image will always come from that and not what you are holding in your hand.
It’s a bit like riding a bike, you can watch endless YouTube videos on it and read books about it but if you have never actually got on the bike then when you do guess what will happen… You love the look of the new shiny red bike, all your friends tell you the red bike is the one you need because it will take great images, you save your hard-earned money and go off to the store to buy it and when you arrive they have brought out a new shiny blue bike! Utter nightmare because this is apparently faster and does more stuff, what do you do…
It takes on average 10,000 hours to start to master a skill set so that it becomes second nature. This is pretty important in photography I feel because by being able to shoot and work through the ‘technical stuff’ in second nature mode you can then place your attention on what you are shooting, how you might want to shoot that and why. You become I think more creative. I often tell people in seminars that one of the best things that they can do when they start shooting is to tape up the back screen so that they cannot see what they have shot. This often raises a few pulses but at the end of the day when most of us started it was on film and we could not check this and that instantly, we had to think about what we were doing overall and by not seeing the instant image we were probably more focused on what was going on through the viewfinder, in my view…
There is no point in learning the complexities of how to make a watch if you have not bothered to learn how to tell the time…
Photography is a skill, it’s a craft, and I am passionate about that. I hear so often, ‘hey you must have a great camera to shoot images like that”, we all have I think and we all say that it annoys us but, in a way, perhaps we ourselves have helped to create this importance around equipment and settings etc.
I don’t really believe that you need to check every frame you shoot ‘just in case it’s half a stop under’ when you use a modern camera with a massive dynamic range and have editing tools these days that can pull an image out of a black hole. Back in the day, we used to shoot commercial shoots on transparency film that did need to be spot on and lighting gear was pretty crap if I’m honest so waiting a whole day to hear from the lab that the colour balance was all okay was tough but we all did it.
So, what am I getting at here?
Embrace the technology, the new equipment and all that goes with that but don’t think that you need the latest thing all the time, you don’t. What you really need to do is get out there and shoot stuff, build up that 10,000 hours of experience and build up that knowledge in your own head and memory about what works and what does not. Concentrate on what is happening through the viewfinder, think about that and then decide how you’re going to put that together. Connect…
Don’t just shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like…
When I start a shoot, I know what I want to achieve, I mostly have the finished image in my mind. Years ago, I would struggle to get what is in my mind into the camera but as years went on I found that I could do this better and better and these days I pretty much don’t even think about the technical when I shoot, I just get on with it and focus on what is happening in front of me. Don’t get me wrong I am not a great photographer and would never profess to be but I am happy with what I am creating and I can see myself improving year after year as my experiences grow.
I think personally that I started to shoot in ‘autopilot’ about four years ago and I shoot a lot, so that is a good many years to get to that point, possibly took me longer because I’m a bit thick lol
I love photography and I love our craft, it is a profession and a very skilled one at that.
I would really hope that the equipment does not overtake that and that society will see clearly that a ‘photographer’ and a ‘camera owner’ are not the same thing.
Just my view of course…
About the Author
Tim Wallace is a UK-based commercial photographer specializing in transport photography. He’s worked for companies like McLaren, Aston Martin, Peugeot, and many more. Tim also has classes on Kelby One, where he talks more about his business philosophies as well as photography. You can find out more about Tim and follow his work on his Instagram feed.
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