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Taking Your Photography to the “Next Level”

Copyright Andy Richards 2010

This series of blog posts is addressed to recreational photographers and for purposes of the series, the “next level” is making “art quality” images capable of being printed on large media or published in a manner other than a small computer graphic.

There is always a “next level.” And, there are points in life where we must make a decision to move to that next level, which may require a series of decisions and—most of all—a willingness to change. My recent Blog on this subject (What Do You Think of my Photographs?) suggested that sometimes, photographers aspire to taking their photography to art or professional quality level, but don’t really have the long-term commitment required to get there. This observation is not meant as criticism, but realism. How hard will you work at something and how much convenience will you sacrifice? And, how open are you to receiving constructive criticism and putting it to work in your photographic effort?

I suggested that maybe many of these photographers didn’t really want (or need) to go to the level they thought and could be very satisfied with memorable “keeper” photographs that they and their family and friends could enjoy for the ages. If you think you want to move to the “next level,” I hope you’ll read that prior blog now, before reading on here. If you read it, think it doesn’t apply to you, and want to move to still another level, then here are some thoughts, for what they are worth. This series of blog posts is addressed to recreational photographers and for purposes of the series, the “next level” is making “art quality” images capable of being printed on large media or published in a manner other than a small computer graphic.

An Image that looks spectacular on a computer screen can look very different when you print it

Art or professional quality imagery requires a different and more serious approach to photography. Printing an image in a large format and matting and framing it to hang on the wall – particularly someone else’s wall is a quantum leap from posting an image on Facebook. An image that looks pretty spectacular on a computer screen as a 4 x 6 image, or even as a 4 x 6 print can be very different once you push it to any size. Critical sharpness may not be as good as perceived (sharpness truly is a “perception”) and the image may begin to break down.

Images that sell must have all the technical qualities above, and then must have something extra. You are “competing” with 1000’s of high quality images in this market from very talented photographers with skill and vision. Some of them are also better than others at developing clients and a market and marketing their own skills. Most pros work at least as hard at their business and their craft as any other talented and successful tradesman out there.

Factors that impact this difference in the digital age are numerous. Image sensor size and quality become very important with digital capture. Lens quality is important. Photographic technique, including knowledge of exposure, sharpness and technical image quality is important. And daily practice, use, and knowledge of equipment is a must. These are precision instruments and the user must know them well enough that they are not fumbling around thinking about how to use a feature. Spend time with the equipment and the manuals. Note to the men out there: yes you really do need to read the instructions 🙂.

Part of good photography is the process, understanding the process and indeed, enjoying the process

Most importantly, there is a “workflow” to serious photography. There is a reason we often refer to daily and recreational shooters as “point & shooters.” The workflow often requires us to slow down and think about the process of photography as much as the photograph itself. There is a tension here, and I know a couple of my good professional friends would view the “workflow” differently. I think it makes a difference what the nature of the photography is. But I believe there is always a workflow and that the seasoned pros who do this for a living have internalized the workflow to the extent that they do it quickly, automatically, and without heavy conscious thought. For landscape images, which I tend toward, there is an argument for slowing that workflow down. The point here is that part of good photography is the process, understanding the process, and indeed, enjoying the process itself.

Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Over the next several weeks, I will suggest some basic steps to the next level. They may not make you the next Ansel Adams. But they will improve your photographic technique. But we warned. They involve work and inconvenience. It is part of the growth process.

8 Responses

  1. Andy, I enjoy your blog. And I enjoy your photography immensly. I see where I can purchase photos. I will keep this in mind. Lisa Randall Simpson

  2. Oh, this is going to be a good series Andy! You can be assured that I’ll be checking more frequently so I don’t fall behind in my reading again.

    Overall, I think you have begun with a very good summary of what the “journey” of the photographic process entails should one wish to pursue it. Therein I commend you for your logic and choice of words to sensibly describe exactly what is required: desire, time, commitment, hard work, and a willingness to fail before you succeed.

    I was intrigued by your comments on field workflow. Yes, all of us have internalized the myriad steps of the workflow so that it appears smooth and flawless to the casual observer, but we are also forever consciously examining each step closely lest we fall into habits, which in turn, produce laziness and carelessness.

    A good start, my friend!

    • Thanks, Jim. I derive a fair amount of inspiration from your posts on the forums we frequent, and the discussions we have had. My target audience is not at the same level yours is, but with some time and effort they will be seeking your level of assistance before they know it.

  3. […] will find the first article of the series, “Taking Your Photography to the ‘Next Level’” a very engaging beginning piece as Andy thoughtfully addresses the desire, time, effort, cost, […]

  4. […] winning photographs. Unfortunately, as I blogged about earlier this year (see my series, “Taking Your Photography To The Next Level) most of what it takes to create even a reasonably good photograph requires – like so many things […]

  5. […] the title question, I would commend anyone considering such “advancement” to read my 6- part series of blogs last year on “Taking your photography to the next […]

  6. […] with this? Rather than re-hash it, I’ll suggest you go back and look at my series “Taking Your Photography to the Next Level.” This gives you the background on why I don’t think these “features” are […]

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