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Words of Advice for Young Photographers

Recently, I found myself in a conversation with someone about what we wished we had known when we were first starting out. It wasn't much at the time, but the topic has stuck with me. This is the result.

It's easy to believe that photography is all about cameras and lenses, but it's not. Photography is a way of learning to see. The camera is the tool we use to help in that endeavor. But it is all about seeing. The camera creates the parameters within which we can record what we see. We learn from the images we produce. The photographs we produce allow us to present what we've seen so others can share.

You have to start from what you see. Only then will pressing the shutter release be helpful. Even if you plan to stack multiple frames to create the final image, you need to see that your plan should work to put it into action. Sure, you can madly fire off the shutter whether you see something or not, but this seems to me to be a more difficult approach. I have though held a camera with a wide-angle lens out under a field of flowers and simply fire away, pointed vaguely in the direction of a beautiful background. Kind of fun, and it did give me some ideas to pursue in a more structured way, so there's that. Use what works, but your best odds start from something you see.

It is more important to focus on the composition than the camera. If you have to, leave the camera on automatic and let it make all the hard choices. But shoot in raw to give yourself some leeway to optimize things later. It is by trying to realize your compositions in the form you envisioned that you will feel pulled more and more into better understanding the tools of the trade involved.

Look at your subject but for what it is as well as for what it looks like. Play with patterns and similarity. Make the entire frame serve a purpose, either by positioning something there or by intentionally declining to do so. Not everything is under your control, but a surprising amount is if you work what you have available, but in terms of subject and equipment.

Many choices become trade-offs. Rarely will you be able to have everything as you want it. Choose three. Or something like that.

A camera comes with both Aperture and Shutter Priority modes for a reason. Use them when they make sense or take full control of both and shoot in Manual Exposure. It's the resulting images that matter, not the specific settings used nor how they were selected. Over time, it only makes sense that you will figure out the settings needed to get what you are after. If you have the time, full Manual mode offers the greatest degree of control with the fewest complications. But don't worry if Manual doesn't make sense at first, and don't feel like the other modes are somehow inferior. They can make your life easier, so long as you know what you are getting (and giving up) with them.

Don't worry about buying the best camera possible. These days, new and better camera models come out far too often for most of us to keep up. And just because Nikon or Canon does come out with an upgraded model, your existing camera remains unchanged. It will continue to take the same quality images that impressed you when you first bought it.

Pay more attention on the lenses you buy. In today's world of digital camera obsolescence, lenses are your long-term investment. And buy a good tripod. If treated well, it can last a lifetime. Using a tripod promotes thoughtfulness and allows for precision in your work.

And don't worry about not having money to go to deepest Africa and Antarctica for images no one has yet taken. You may or may not be able to afford such trips in the future, and often they're not your best option anyway. Learn to see what you do find nearby where you live. Get to know the area well with your camera, and you'll end up with images no one else could have taken. Surprise.

If you're going into the wild to take photographs, you're still going into the wild. It can be easy to be lulled into thinking you aren't going that far until one day you realize that you have. Be prepared for the situation and circumstances. No image is worth getting lost in the woods over.

In this day and age, if you aren't yet comfortable using a computer, get over it. There are two parts to photography. The first involves the use of a camera to record images. The second involves the use of a computer to optimize those images and prepare them for presentation and sharing. Don't miss out on the whole second part.

If you're just starting out, I wouldn't recommend Adobe. Sorry, but a lot has changed in the market since the days when Adobe ruled the world. There are alternatives. If you do end up with Adobe eventually, you can at least save a couple of years of Creative Cloud subscription fees. Years ago, everything else basically sucked. Not anymore.

But do make sure you work out some means of organizing your images. The problem will only get worse as you accumulate more images. Trust me, I'm speaking from experience. In the early days for me, there just weren't any good options and it's been a source of pain ever since. Digging out isn't easy. Start right, and keep things up to date.


Date posted: November 24, 2019

 

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