Some Things I've Learned Over the Years
I first got seriously interested in photography over 30 years ago now. In that time, I trust that not all my mistakes have been a complete loss. I trust that at least some have taught me a lesson. Everyone is sure to trip over their own two feet at some point, but in the hopes that others may benefit from my battle scars, I present a few of the things I've learned over the years.
When packing for a trip, remember to bring your tripod. This may seem obvious, but it's possible to forget most anything sooner or later. Indeed, it's the obvious that can be the easiest to overlook and perhaps to forget.
Going shooting with others can be a worthwhile experience. If you pay attention, you may notice one of your companions doing something in a way you had never considered before. Habits can develop when doing any repeated action. But a habit represents the way we're used to doing something, not necessarily the best way to do something.
Going shooting on your own can be very worthwhile too. With no one around, there's no need to feel inhibited as you explore. Go ahead, crawl around in the dirt as much as you need to in your quest for the perfect shot. And you can stay there as long as you want.
Always bring enough water and at least some form of snack with you when head out down some trail with your camera. No matter the distance, you don't want to be forced into turning back because you have to. It's not at all possible to predict how much time to devote to any such situation. I know when I'm deep into exploring some subject I want the encounter to play out to its own logical conclusion. One shot can lead to another idea, and so on. I've stopped before to take a couple quick shots of something, only to realize a couple hours later that I really need to find some lunch. The same logic applies to warm clothes and important supplies.
When going out to shoot past sunset, bring two flashlights, not just one. Back in the days of incandescent bulbs, the danger was that it might break since the filament was fragile. These days, the danger is that the thing will shut off at the worst possible moment as the batteries run out of juice. No longer do flashlights get progressively dim as the power runs down. These days, they tend to go from working to not working. Just. Like. That.
Composition matters. Unless you hope to one day photograph Big Foot or close encounter with a little green man, the subjects you take pictures of, or ones quite similar, will also be shot by others. It really isn't just what the subject matter of a picture is of, it's how that picture was shot. Painters start with a blank canvas and can invent any subject they want. Photographers must work with what is available on location. Our creativity comes from what we do with what we find, and how we portray it.
Especially when working outdoors, a good photograph often has as much to do with the light falling on a subject as it does with the subject itself. Being at the right place at the right time is what counts, not just being there.
Try to understand why you like a composition before pressing the shutter release. If you do, you'll be in a better position to execute that idea to its fullest. If you like it though, shoot it anyway, and see what you can learn from the shot later. This way, at least you'll be that much better prepared the next time you find yourself in that situation.
No one ever needs to know how many shots you take to get the ones you do show them. One of the simplest and most valuable aspects of digital photography is that you can learn from your results in near real time. You can try new things just to see what happens, and then delete everything if your experiment doesn't work out.
When you purchase a new camera, consider that you are in fact buying into a camera system. I have owned lenses for many years now, even as I've upgraded camera bodies many times over that same period. Buy for the long haul.
Learn to use your equipment. You paid for it, so you should strive to get the most out of it. Your camera and lenses are tools. You need to be the best you can be at using those tools.
Don't get into photography as a way to make money. If it turns out that you do, so much the better. Enjoy what you are shooting and accept that anything beyond that is extra on top.
Photograph to please yourself, not others. If you like what you are doing, your results should eventually reflect it, and others will notice. If you shoot to please others, you could end up unhappily following a wild goose chase.
Sooner or later, your camera or your favorite lens will fail. These things have become quite the marvels of technology, and problems can happen that you will be unable to fix on your own. If you keep your gear long enough, your need could easily fall past the end of the warranty period. Even if you don't need their services now, find out who the best repair shop is in your area. If you can't find one, ask around what others have done when they had something break.
Back up your image files. Don't let the loss of a single hard drive take the results of years of your hard work with it. Don't wait until it's too late.
This list is by nature incomplete. Some things got left off through omission, and all of us are constantly finding new opportunities to learn. You have probably learned a few of these lessons and more on your own, and no doubt you would include lessons I didn't were you to make your own list. My hope is that at least a few of these thoughts ring true and can benefit at least some readers. No need for all of us to make every mistake. There are always more chances to learn around the next bend.