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09-12-2018, 02:43 PM   #1
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Philosophies/Musings Of Improving As A Photographer

In our journey to improve as photographers, how do you approach improvement?

Things like lighting, posing, artistic framing, composure are all things we arguably never truly master.


I'm asking from the perspective of an occasional wedding photographer, so in my case, my desire to improve is both from my desire to grow, as well as through the feeling of obligation towards those I photograph - please feel free to chime in even if you're on a very different path!

Right now I'm a bit overwhelmed by the things I want to improve. I know I can do a satisfactory job for the clients but in wanting to step up my my quality in a more noticeable way I picked up the book "Picture Perfect Practice", and it's got a lot of great content. I'm wondering, do most of you pick one single thing to try and improve, when you know that you could improve in many ways in the long run? For casual photography, it's nice to pick a single theme such as lighting or composition and focus on it for a day, week, or month for practice. It's something I will do in the future for sure, but when you are days away from a wedding, how would you suggest I approach it mentally?

I love candid photography, and think it is what I enjoy about weddings - things are happening all around, and you can capture them without people wondering why you are there. With my candid photos, I think concepts like using geometries to balance or frame the subject would be a significant improvement. The difficulty - do you shoot while it's happening for a good photo, or do you risk losing the shot and try to line up a more perfect photo?

Posing is definitely one of my accepted flaws - it's something that is top of my list to improve. At the same time, I don't telling people what to do - taking another level of the natural / candid feel away. I think posing needs to be my main focus for short-term improvement, but at the same time, it's going to be a long-term journey, getting to be more natural at engaging with people who might not want to be in front of the camera.

Lighting seems like an infinite journey for sure! I think I do fairly well with natural light, but when you put framing, background, posing, and lighting into one photograph it really is a lot, but time and experience should help a lot. I've noticed my bounce / shoot-through reflector flash light is often more blue than the ambient, so I just ordered some gels to work into my process, along with a softbox-on-a-stick setup so I can eliminate the awkward holding of a reflector and flash for light. My wife shoots with me, so we assist each-other with light and posing, which helps a lot, and I'd never do a wedding alone if possible.

This is quite an ambiguous post, and I suppose rhetorical in a lot of ways, but hopefully we can share some of our approaches, mentalities and subjective and objective choices we make to the way shoot and learn.

09-12-2018, 03:13 PM - 1 Like   #2
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In the few years since I started taking my hobby (because, for me, it is a hobby) seriously, I've picked up what I feel is a good amount of technical knowledge, and validated that through practical tests and actual photography. So I'm fairly happy with my technical progress, even though I realise I still have a long way to go in that area.

My biggest weaknesses are a combination of laziness and lack of self-discipline, followed shortly thereafter by an under-developed photographer's eye and compositional skills.

The laziness and self-discipline relate to picking the right times of day, researching and preparing subjects, dedicating sufficient uninterrupted time to a shoot, that kind of thing. Frankly, for the way photography fits into my life as a hobby and interest, I'm unlikely (in fact, I have insufficient desire) to do much about that for now.

It's the photographer's eye and compositional skills that I need to improve on, and feel I can and should do something about (without re-prioritising my life ). Part of that, I think, should involve specialising in one or (at most) two areas of photography, as right now I tend to shoot anything and everything. I keep meaning to pick a very narrow subject - such as still-life floral - and use a combination of natural and off-camera lighting to do as much as possible within that one narrow area... then move onto something different when I feel I've nailed it.

But then, I remember that I still have way too many lenses on my work-bench that need stripping and servicing, and I get side-tracked... <sigh>

Last edited by BigMackCam; 09-12-2018 at 04:19 PM.
09-12-2018, 03:54 PM - 1 Like   #3
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Good question. I've spent some time musing as to how I can improve as a photographer over the past number of years. One of my favourite subjects are vintage vehicles...cars, trucks, motorcycles...if it's a machine and old..I like to take pictures of it.

I prefer to use natural light and photograph outdoors...whether it be at an old car show, derelict machinery put out to pasture in prairie fields...or sometimes a museum, preferably near a window that lets plenty of light in.

I used to like taking a full ..3/4 view of an old bike or car, but generally at car shows there are always obstacles...whether it be other vehicle enthusiasts...light poles on parking lots, etc. In the last couple of years I've narrowed down my perspective...I look for small, design cues...part of an engine...a wheel and tire, curvature of a fender etc. I've gone from my wide 12-24 to my 28-105 or 40 or 70 Limited..generally use my K1...due to it's full frame and wonderful high ISO performance.

As of late, I have also put my camera on manual and used my classic Sekonic L-398 studio light meter to determine..and experiment with lighting. Lot of times gives a different 'look' than the in camera meter. I recall reading a book by Alfred Eisenstadt about his beginnings in photographe. When he was a young fellow growing up in Europe he spent a lot of time in museum...looking at paintings, particularly the Old Master's and gained an understanding of pictures and the importance of lighting. I think he was in to something, given his illustrious career.

I strive to improve my abilities such as they are ...continually.

I do make 5 X 7 prints on a regular basis, file them by year in binders...and review, assess...where I've gone right, where I've gone wrong, how I could improve.
Photography for me, like many on this forum ..a deep seated interest and it's good to have interests, passions in life.
09-12-2018, 04:13 PM - 1 Like   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by aikilink Quote
In our journey to improve as photographers, how do you approach improvement?

Things like lighting, posing, artistic framing, composure are all things we arguably never truly master.

I love candid photography, and think it is what I enjoy about weddings - things are happening all around, and you can capture them without people wondering why you are there. With my candid photos, I think concepts like using geometries to balance or frame the subject would be a significant improvement. The difficulty - do you shoot while it's happening for a good photo, or do you risk losing the shot and try to line up a more perfect photo?

Posing is definitely one of my accepted flaws - it's something that is top of my list to improve. At the same time, I don't telling people what to do - taking another level of the natural / candid feel away. I think posing needs to be my main focus for short-term improvement, but at the same time, it's going to be a long-term journey, getting to be more natural at engaging with people who might not want to be in front of the camera.
I think you should reconsider your ideas about posing. Yes, candid photos are nice, they are unplanned and often capture people in a positive way, but one they'd be too self-conscious to allow. Think about all the candid photos that you've taken where you said, "This shot would be better if I'd stood here, and the subject had stood there, or turned this way, or held this object, etc" and try to recreate that shot with a posed model. Also, I am sure that some of your candid shots were not well received because of a bad expression, poor posture or position, closed eyes, etc. If the subject says "I wish you'd caught my good side, in a better light, etc" you can see if they'd like to try a better shot. Also, I assume some of these subjects know you, they might be more relaxed around you, more open, and you could get better formal portraits of them, as you interact with them, instead of posed portraits.

09-12-2018, 06:59 PM - 1 Like   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by BigMackCam Quote
In the few years since I started taking my hobby (because, for me, it is a hobby) seriously, I've picked up what I feel is a good amount of technical knowledge, and validated that through practical tests and actual photography. So I'm fairly happy with my technical progress, even though I realise I still have a long way to go in that area.

My biggest weaknesses are a combination of laziness and lack of self-discipline, followed shortly thereafter by an under-developed photographer's eye and compositional skills.
Thanks for the reply! That actually sounds very familiar to how I was with photography before and in-between the excitement of working semi-paid gigs. Acquiring some new gear or gadgets usually would get me excited again, but there is something to be said for keeping things simple for sure! Enjoying it as a hobby with minimal pressure is definitely a great path in photography.

---------- Post added 09-12-18 at 09:12 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by lesmore49 Quote
Good question. I've spent some time musing as to how I can improve as a photographer over the past number of years. One of my favourite subjects are vintage vehicles...cars, trucks, motorcycles...if it's a machine and old..I like to take pictures of it.

I prefer to use natural light and photograph outdoors...whether it be at an old car show, derelict machinery put out to pasture in prairie fields...or sometimes a museum, preferably near a window that lets plenty of light in.

As of late, I have also put my camera on manual and used my classic Sekonic L-398 studio light meter to determine..and experiment with lighting. Lot of times gives a different 'look' than the in camera meter. I recall reading a book by Alfred Eisenstadt about his beginnings in photographe. When he was a young fellow growing up in Europe he spent a lot of time in museum...looking at paintings, particularly the Old Master's and gained an understanding of pictures and the importance of lighting. I think he was in to something, given his illustrious career.
Thank you for sharing! I hadn't heard of Alfred Eisenstadt - he had some very high-profile subjects! I'm glad I know of him now.

I think it's a great idea - printing off photos and having a regular go-through. It's not the same on a computer screen, and so often we forget or just don't get to the photos there.

I've found a lot of fun can be had with off-camera lighting. It might bring some dramatic flair to machine photography too, but there absolutely is much to be said for the simplicity of natural light. Artificial lighting can be a bit of a slippery slope, and has a bit of a learning curve to go with it. The study of light altogether, natural or otherwise will be something I'm doing for a long time I think.

---------- Post added 09-12-18 at 09:19 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by robgski Quote
I think you should reconsider your ideas about posing. Yes, candid photos are nice, they are unplanned and often capture people in a positive way, but one they'd be too self-conscious to allow. Think about all the candid photos that you've taken where you said, "This shot would be better if I'd stood here, and the subject had stood there, or turned this way, or held this object, etc" and try to recreate that shot with a posed model. Also, I am sure that some of your candid shots were not well received because of a bad expression, poor posture or position, closed eyes, etc. If the subject says "I wish you'd caught my good side, in a better light, etc" you can see if they'd like to try a better shot. Also, I assume some of these subjects know you, they might be more relaxed around you, more open, and you could get better formal portraits of them, as you interact with them, instead of posed portraits.
What you said isn't what I wanted to hear, but I think it might be what I needed nonetheless! I will give posing much of my attention in the future and hopefully the process will become much more natural. Some poses have come out looking great for me, but it still feels awkward telling people how to position themselves. Definitely a skill I must develop though.

I do think that when people aren't expecting the camera they often have a more relaxed demeanor, and certainly more genuine. That is what I enjoy - I think some of the subjects must think they look nicer relaxed than when posing, but I could be wrong. Of course, working with a model, or a very confident person changes this a bit!

I appreciate your helpful response; and the hard answers are usually the ones where growth can occur the most!
09-13-2018, 01:01 AM - 1 Like   #6
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To me one of the biggest paths to improvement is to look at the work of others - loads of it - look at the best, look at the best from the past, look at paintings as well as photographs, look at what your peers are doing - absorb as much as you can and actively try to emulate what you like and avoid what you don't - your own style, in the end, is usually the synthesis of all of that looking and decision making as much as something innate in you, and all the practising and experimentation will make that far less hit and miss.
09-13-2018, 01:38 AM - 2 Likes   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by aikilink Quote
In our journey to improve as photographers, how do you approach improvement?

I'm wondering, do most of you pick one single thing to try and improve, when you know that you could improve in many ways in the long run?

The difficulty - do you shoot while it's happening for a good photo, or do you risk losing the shot and try to line up a more perfect photo?
Although they seem separate and different, I believe ways that a commercial or professional photographer can improve can and should be no different than for those of us who shoot for the pleasure of it. In part, we are documenting a narrative (which should never be undervalued), but the artistic side is trying to convey an emotion or feeling that connects us all.

I see four phases for improvement:
1) Planning, preparing, having a vision or theme, and being so practiced with technique that it becomes an unconscious competence.
2) While shooting, be in the moment, in the zone, and not distracted by concerns about the past or the future.
3) Post-processing whether more efficiently with Lightroom or better technique with Photoshop.
4) Sharing, exhibition, selling, publishing, and/or reflection and self-evaluation.

In learning and growth, we progress through four steps: Unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence. If I am thinking about improvement, and in the conscious incompetence stage, working on one thing at a time will help to reduce frustration.

By the time I am consciously competent, I would still work with one thing at a time towards mastery. I believe it is not until we become unconsciously competent that we can integrate multiple levels of skills and goals and improve on them.

Do you shoot while it's happening for a good photo, or do you risk losing the shot and try to line up a more perfect photo? No risk, no gain. A conservative approach is safe, but without breaking the status quo, you won't progress. In my experience, if I let the "material" or situation guide me, I follow and get much better satisfaction and results.

As a photography teacher, I see students every day over and under think (which retards their growth). I've never seen a student who followed their passion, emotion, feelings not be able to grow their skills and results. Of course, those with no passion for it should find a different calling.

Summary: If your head can't figure it out, it's because the answer is in your heart.

09-13-2018, 03:32 AM - 1 Like   #8
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One truism that took me a long time to figure out is that it helps to visualize what you want the image to look like before you take the camera out of the bag. Do I want the background sharp or out of focus? Do I want to show the whole scene or just a part of it? Do I want detail in the shadows or do I want it dark and moody? Same for the highlights.

Based on this, I can select a lens, focus point and exposure value. Or I can just walk around a zoom lens, with everything on auto and fire away. That sometimes work, but for the most part it helps to have a plan. Even a photojournalism exercise, like an event, benefits from a bit of visualization beforehand.
09-16-2018, 07:25 AM - 1 Like   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by aikilink Quote
how do you approach improvement?
For me it's very simple... and it's really not hard work or a chore to do. Basically keep both eyes open and really see things... not just look at them.

I also go along to all sorts of exhibitions for art, photography, sculpture etc. Travel around as much as possible... to see different things and peoples, customs, beliefs, all these will stimulate your inner photographer.

Always look at other photographers work, read magazines especially the glossy supplement types and course books. Bits a pieces will rub off and slightly influence or change the way you work... even possibly without your knowledge, which all add to your personal development.

Last edited by Kerrowdown; 09-16-2018 at 12:27 PM.
09-17-2018, 06:23 AM - 2 Likes   #10
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If you haven’t already, check out Ming Thein's site. He has a section on his philosophy and it is well worth reading.
09-17-2018, 09:17 AM - 1 Like   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Cipher Quote
If you havenít already, check out Ming Thein's site. He has a section on his philosophy and it is well worth reading.
Also check out Eric Kim's articles ... I don't like his photography to be honest, but many of his teaching essays are good.

09-17-2018, 06:04 PM - 3 Likes   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by aikilink Quote
In our journey to improve as photographers, how do you approach improvement?
Read, but not too much. Go out and take pictures. It doesn't matter of what.

Photography is not about the subject, it is about the light that falls on the subject.
(This would make a great sig. line.)

Make prints and look at them.

Take your best pictures and file them away and don't look at them for a year.
Look at the ones you think fail and ask yourself why they fail. You will have some obvious answers: out of focus, motion blur, bad exposure, that sort of thing.
I discard them. Off to the trash with them!! Don't worry about technical issues beyond resolving to not do that again.

Soon you will have your failures winnowed down to the ones that take a little more thought to see through. They are in focus, the exposure is reasonably correct, there is no blur except where it should be, but they just don't work.
Ask yourself why they don't work and give an honest answer. And resolve not to do that again.

Eliminating what doesn't work eventually leads to what does work, and you will learn loads by doing it.

After a year, look at the pictures you filed away and compare them to what you are now shooting.

And smile.
09-17-2018, 06:56 PM - 1 Like   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by BigMackCam Quote
My biggest weaknesses are a combination of laziness and lack of self-discipline, followed shortly thereafter by an under-developed photographer's eye and compositional skills.
I didn't know I had a ghost writer!!
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