The more time I spend working to perfect my craft, the more I realize that because I am improving in one type of photography , I still have a long way to go with many others. According to the professional and serious amateur photographers who will always give me honest feedback, I’m getting pretty good at certain types of images. These include black and white, candids, birds, bugs, macro and intimate scenics. You can see examples in my galleries. I have spent a lot of time taking these shots, post processing them and soliciting constructive feedback.
I can take adequate shots at some sporting events if I can get close enough. I’ve done some okay big landscapes. Portraits I have a long way to go. Photography is a craft. As with many crafts it takes time, dedication, practice and teaching to continue to improve. As one of my mentors explains it, the structure of continuing improvement is a pyramid. When you start out there are lots of things that need to be done. Exposure is often off, depth of field needs to be understood and applied, composition needs improvement and the list goes on. As we gain more knowledge and apply it there are fewer things that need improvement and they are often less obvious and harder to master.
One of the ironies is that while some of these skills are readily transferable across photographic genres, many are not. As an example, let’s look at portrait photography. There are many little “tricks of the trade” when it comes to posing the subject for the best outcome. While I’d love to be able to apply them to birds and flowers, so far my efforts have been in vain. The same thing applies to lighting. The lighting in a fine portrait is a very complex subject. Many is the beginner who allows the flash on their camera to pop up and then wonder at the mediocre picture it produces. How the lighting is applied not only determines if the portrait is “good” but also the message it conveys.
I have been doing a lot more urban/street photography as well as trying some fun things. Here in Central New Jersey we are fortunate to have an annual hot air balloon festival. The balloons come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Many of them fall into the category that I call whimsical. They are shaped like cartoon characters, castles, I’ve even seen a hot air space shuttle. These can make for some great fun shots that I take with a tripod mounted camera usually with a good amount of time to set up and compose the image. On the other hand, street photography is almost the opposite. Scenes come and go very quickly (okay there are some that are just there). Seeing those scenes is not as easy as it looks. First you need to learn to work with a hand held camera using one of the priority modes. I usually use aperture mode and let the camera figure out the shutter speed based on F stop and ISO. Then there is the need to do quick composition since most subjects are not going to hold a pose for you. I have lots of pictures that I put in my “I Cried Because I Had No Shoes” collection (the rest of the line is “and then I met a man who had no feet). Yes the image looks really nice, but a key part is chopped off, often the subject’s feet because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the whole frame.
One of the hardest things in street photography is taking someone’s pictures when they know you are taking it. This normally requires approaching a complete stranger and asking for permission, not something I do easily. It can get more complex asking for permission to publish the picture and getting a release.
Having taken the shots post processing can be just as tricky. As I said earlier I love black and white. It has taken me quite a while to develop an eye for images that will work well in black and white. The way that an image is processed makes a huge difference in its effect and impact. Understanding how to do that processing again is not a one size fits all proposition. Yes many photographers develop a style, but style is constantly being revised and improved with every image.
Out of curiosity, I recently took a shot that I was quite pleased with in its color rendering and converted it to black and white. I then posted it via a few venues asking viewers which they preferred and why. The results came in almost evenly split! (they are the image for this posting) The simple lesson from that experiment is that no matter how much I may like an image in one rendering or genre, that’s only my opinion and many other people will have different opinions.
The real lesson to be learned here is that if you are just starting out in photography, learn your lessons one at a time. You cannot master all styles, genres, etc. at the outset. Find first what you enjoy shooting and then grow your craft from there. At some point in the process you will start to find other types of images that you enjoy taking and naturally grow your craft. The other thing to remember is that not every photographer will excel in every style or genre. That’s fine too.
To me if the photography isn’t fun, why bother with it a all!