The Holy Grail of Photography?
I received a message the other day from one of my Photography Masterclass students. Gemma (not her real name) has been waiting for over a year during the COVID lockdown for Masterclass to commence and has been very active on the HSP Academy (at the time of writing, it has yet to be opened to the general public).
She wanted me to look at all the photos she had submitted for a recent photo assignment which was all about images taken within a graveyeard (I know… a very cheerful subject).
We have a critque section in the Academy and I enjoy offerring advice on single images, but this was a bigger question. She wanted me to give her a single piece of advice that would help her improve her photography skills and composition techniques.
And who wouldn’t?
It would be like the Holy Grail. She was perfectly justified in asking the question, I’m sure at some point all of us have asked ourselves the same thing:
“If only I knew someone who could look at my photos, tell me were I’m going wrong and show me how to do it correctly…”
What follows is my eventual response. I’m not sure how helpful I was, but perhaps I was able to put her struggle into perspective.
If you have time, would you give me some general critique on my graveyard photos. How may I improve them?
Was there a general issue with them, as a series, that I can learn from?
Apart from the dandelion, how might I improve composition, light, rule of 3rds. etc?
This is BIG question. Before answering it in any helpful way, I need to step back a little.
Critiquing a single photo is very different to critiquing and advising across a number of images in terms of shooting skills and composition.
You will learn a lot on Masterclass and I’m tempted to say ‘wait until Masterclass starts’ – but of course I would be just like you, eager (AKA extremely impatient) to progress and improve.
Browsing through all the images you’ve posted, you have taken some absolute corkers. Some really excellent images. And of course, there are quite a few that are not to the same standard (which is completely normal and to be expected).
When you get your photos right, you really nail them. Composition, colour, form, lighting… they all excellent.
The difficulty most photographers experience… is being consistent.
We’ll take a great photo and everyone likes it and we feel good about it and ourselves. We feel like we’re progressing. Then the next shot we take is either very average or a complete failure. It’s incredibly frustrating, I know, we’ve ALL been there.
As you continue on your photographer’s journey, your experiences enroute will gradually begin to forge habits deep within your brain’s synaptic-pathways. It remembers how you took photos on previous occasions and what you learnt from those experiences.
Slowly, over time, those pathways get stronger and stronger until you eventually get to the point where you no longer have to think about a shot… the brain is so used to figuring it out, it kinda does it for you.
And this is where we all want to be, where our photography and our ‘eye’ for a shot are instinctive.
But you can’t rush it.
The annoying thing is that we all move at different speeds. Some people seem to just pick this stuff up super-quick, while others take ages.
Some of it has to do with how much personal effort we put into learning this new skill (ie: how often we use our cameras, how much we stretch ourselves, how much we step out of our comfort zones, the best way to learn… and how much time we spend immersed in the company of others, that they might inspire us and nudge us in the right direction).
But for some people, it irritatingly just comes natural.
They pick up a camera and start taking amazing photos from day one. It seems like they were born with a camera in their hands and there’s nothing more frustrating.
They are rare. For the rest of use we have to go through the whole learning process. It’s the same no matter what we want to learn, whether it’s playing the guitar, learning to watercolour or even the simplest skills in the kitchen (of which I have none). Show me a recipe book and I break out in boils!!
So… how do I answer your question?
You know how you feel when you’ve booked a holiday?
You look forward to going away and you imagine what you’re going to do for weeks or even months in advance. On the day of the trip you are at you MOST excited. Packing your bags, jumping into the car and driving to the airport the holiday is consuming all your thoughts.
As you board the plane you can feel waves of excitement washing over you again and again. You may have bought a book about the country you’re journeying to and throughout the flight you read every page. You watch out of the plane’s window for the first signs of your destination, and as you land you find yourself desperately scanning through that small porthole.
Then you land, you can’t wait to get through the airport and into the hire car or taxi. And all along, the anticipation has built higher and higher and higher… until you reach your hotel, you check into your room and you’re there. Finally you can relax
Your holiday is great… but did you notice, it was the journey there that gave you the biggest buzz. It was the anticipation that excited you the most.
And it’s the same with your photographer’s journey.
Leaning, studying, practising, exploring and skill-developing is where you’ll have the most fun. It’s always going to be the real fun-part of being a photographer. Not the end, not being a professional or knowing that you’ve become a highly-experienced amateur (which in many ways is better than being a pro… because you still get to photograph what YOU want, not what a client wants).
Once you’re there, just in any other learnt skill, it’s great, but it’s never as great as the journey. Leaning new stuff and getting better at it is awesome, and I missed that for years.
I found it again (big-time) when I discovered that I can share my knowledge with others… and started the Hampshire School of Photography. (So glad I did)
So here’s the secret sauce, here’s the answer to your question… enjoy the journey. It’s the best, it’s where you’ll get your biggest thrills.
And yes, wait for Masterclass to start, you’ll have a year of great adventures with your camera, you’ll learn a massive amount of stuff, make some truly great friends and when you come out at the end… you still won’t know it all and you’ll want to learn more.
Damn, that photography is just so addictive
The HSP Photography MasterClass is a 12 month Photography course designed to change your camera skills, your confidence and your photography. Cick here if you’d like to know more.