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Photography is Hard

These days, it seems like every time I log onto an internet site (especially Facebook), I see “8 Simple Steps to make your Photographs Awesome,” or “Follow These Simple Guidelines to Become a Pro Photographer,” or “Learn to Shoot Like the Pros” articles. Some of the folks writing these articles are good photographers.  Some of them (maybe most) are selling their site-based “lessons,” U-Tube videos, and the like. And there are lots of shooters who are self-proclaimed “experts” (I may be one 🙂 ).  Unfortunately, in many cases, their own work belies the claimed “expertise.”   So don’t kid yourself.  Photography is not simple, and it is not easy.  If it was, everybody would be Ansel Adams.

Photography is a mix of technical knowledge, artistic vision, and “perspiration.”

Photography is a mix of technical knowledge, artistic vision, and “perspiration.” The pros I know work at it. They work hard.  They practice their craft daily.  And like all of us hobbyists, they sometimes struggle to find inspiration for their work.

I am not suggesting that there aren’t aspects of photography that are simple enough concepts.  There certainly are.  The technical aspects of photography are not difficult to teach or to learn. The intrinsic aspects are.  They can be learned (though I sometimes wonder if the artistic aspect is something some of us have and some of us don’t – maybe that left-brain, right brain — and in my case, no-brain thing 🙂 ).  But like anything done well, it is going to take some work and a lot of practice.  So sure, go on out an buy a “nice” camera, subscribe to those on-line “lessons,” and have fun.  But don;t be fooled into thinking that is going to make success “easy.”

The technical aspects of photography are not difficult to teach or to learn

I read an article yesterday which struck the chord that inspired me to write on this particular topic. It was something like “The [pick a number] most common excuses photographers make for not shooting; and the cure,” or something similar. One excuse was, “there is nothing to shoot where I live.”  The author’s response was that this excuse was absurd; that photography was about “storytelling;” and there is always a “story.”  I don’t totally disagree (there’s a “but” in there—obviously :-)). There is always a story. But is the story always worth “telling?” Spend some time in flat, brown, suburban, “middle America” for a while and tell me all about “storytelling.” Not that there aren’t stories. But altogether too often, they have already been told, or aren’t interesting enough to be told. So the challenge is finding a new perspective for the story. And while that is definitely possible, it isn’t “simple.” It requires effort and sometimes a little good luck.  A lot of times these website claims are illustrated with a pretty flower closeup, or a macro image.  That’s great, and they are a wonderful, backyard subject to use to learn all about composition, depth of field, exposure, etc.  But you can only do so many close-up flower photographs before they become “been there – done that.”

There is always a story. But is the story always worth “telling?”

One of my pro friends often says (and he is quoting another, famous, photographer when he says it) that in order to make great photographs, you have to stand in front of great subjects (or something like that). There is a lot of merit to seeking out and traveling to great photographic venues.  Or at least new photographic venues.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not mean to discourage finding and seeking imagery in your proverbial “backyard.”  For some of us who don’t have the luxury to travel to great places to photograph, it may be the only thing we have.  Just don’t give me the “rah, rah” pep talk that I should carry the camera out into my neighborhood and I will find great photographic images. Maybe I will. But maybe I won’t. I do think, however, that there is a lot to be said about never being far from your camera, and always being vigilant for the photo-op. But there is no “magic” there. Work at it and practice, practice, practice (and this is the same formula a pro golfer, a lawyer, an actor and an engineer must use – perhaps the only exception is the modern politician 🙂 ).

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One Response

  1. When Jim talked about standing in front of better stuff, I’m pretty sure that he didn’t mean you have to travel billion miles to stand there. “Better stuff,” like anything, is in the eye of the beholder. Besides, they tell me that all art is autobiographical, so… for me the reason to practice is exactly what you wrote. No brain. Switch everything off. And just see. The minute that I think is the moment get in trouble.

    And, now I have to go take pictures at a Mardi Gras parade. For dogs. That’s the best. They live in the moment. If I’m lucky, so do I. 🙂

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