A View From the Board
At a recent board meeting, one of the members asked an interesting question: “I look at the pictures I took recently, and when I compare them to pictures I took many years ago, I don’t see how I have improved that much over time. How do I learn to take better pictures? “
There ensued amongst the group present an excited and sometimes contentious discussion of how to become a better photographer.
I am torn between two different views. One view is that we should enter our photographs into competitions and exhibits or whatever venue we can find so that we can get constructive feedback on how we can improve the picture. This does two things- it makes us more aware of what it takes to make a good photograph, and two, it pushes us to the boundaries of our skills and forces us to try new things. There are many, many techniques that we can use in photography, and as we learn the techniques, we can make decisions as to whether the picture is better if we employ those techniques. Exhibiting and getting critiques about our work teaches us to recognize the potential of an individual photograph, and that will help us create better pictures. Through critiques you will learn composition theories, and you will learn how basic art principles also apply to photographs. I encourage you to take courses, attend seminars, or view webcasts about how to improve your skills.
But what if you have a lot of skills and do know a lot of techniques? Then I would ascribe to the second view which is take lots of pictures and play with light. I learned this summer that you sometimes need to be at the right place at the right time to get spectacular photographs. As you go about your day, take notice of places or things that you think might be worth shooting. Go back to a site when the lighting is optimal, usually early morning or around sunset. This will encourage you to plan ahead and have a good idea of what you are trying to accomplish when you take your pictures. Do not be content to take just one picture. I think that the tendency to take the “one and done” photograph stems from the old film days-every picture you took cost money. Today, with digital cameras, you should take lots pf pictures, and sort them out later If you look at the work of the well known photographers (Art Wolfe comes to mind right away) and you listen to what they say, they take hundreds or thousands of photographs trying to get just the right picture.
We have an advantage today with digital photography that we did not have twenty years ago. We can take thousands of photographs at very little cost. Take a horizontal shot, take a vertical shot, take a weird angle shot, take shots of the same scene but with different lenses. You can sort through them and pick the best ones for printing and exhibiting. You can improve them using software that exceeds the old darkroom techniques. If you have a prejudice against “modifying” the pictures that come out of your camera, remember that if you shoot JPEG pictures, all cameras have programs that have already modified the picture
The bottom line is look around, and take lots of pictures, every day if you can. Of course, if you DO take that many pictures, new problems arise as to storage, retrieval, organization and selection of all those photographs! But that is a topic for another time.