Self Progression for Photographers – Part Two
Following on from Part One, here is the second installment of the series “Self Progression for Photographers”.
Stretch your limits. Not many great photographs are caught ‘on the fly’. Sure, sometimes it helps if a little luck is thrown your way, but mostly, you have to make your own opportunities. This means you have to be prepared to push your physical and mental limits in order to capture an image. Not many people make a unique photograph by stepping out of their car and walking the tourist road in the middle of the day; head off the beaten track instead, be patient and wait for the light, get up at dawn or go out at sunset if you’re not a morning person (that would be me; Dylan doesn’t seem to suffer from this though). It is possible though, that when you’re standing in subzero temperatures, or in the middle of a multi-day hike with dwindling food supplies, or in wet clothes (from getting hit by an errant wave) on a lonely beach at 5.30am in the morning, your resolve will weaken. But when you finally get home and look at your images, you’ll know that no one else got that exact same shot – nor will they, because they were never there to capture it in the first place.
Enter competitions. Apart from actively seeking out critique on your photographs, which is most easily done by joining a photography forum, another way to measure your self progression is to enter competitions. Whether its a large-scale national/international competition, the weekly one in your forum or one from your local newspaper, the feedback you will receive is priceless. For example, if you submitted an image in a competition that relies on public votes, you can judge how well your image is received by the general community. Similarly, if you entered a competition judged by professional photographers, you will know how professionals rate your image. I think the best competitions are those that show your placing amongst the other entrants. This is an excellent way to see how you have ‘measured up’. However, a word of caution: photography is a highly subjective visual art, so while competitions can help with self progression they shouldn’t necessarily form the basis of your photography standards.
Spend time looking at images in critique forums. I did this a LOT when I first began on my photographic journey. Not only did it give me an idea of the types of images I liked, it also helped me with style, subject matter, technique and composition. The best forums are those where people post the technical details to go with the image because you can look at the image at the same time that you are absorbing information on how to render it. The critiques that follow the image in the comments section are just as important. You will notice people suggesting composition improvements, or giving personal opinion on post-processing techniques, or complimenting aspects of the photo and as you flit between the image and the critiques you will find that you agree or disagree with the suggestions. And there it is; you are already developing your own style.
Offer your own opinion/critique. This is a difficult one, and one that I did not feel comfortable with for a very long time. I would pore over images in forums, assess them in my own mind, but never leave a trace that I was there, apart from adding to the viewing count. I thought that I wouldn’t be taken seriously; after all, who was I, one of the thousands of novices in the field, to offer my humble opinion on the works of others? I still don’t feel entirely comfortable with it, but I think it is a good exercise. Remember that it is YOUR opinion, so really, you could actually say whatever you wanted to say. It requires a little more finesse than that in real life, of course, so at this point I will refer you to an excellent article from the Nature Photographer’s website, The Art of Image Critique (opens in a new window).
Theory versus Practice. Well, no one ever got good at anything by just reading about it… go on, pick up your camera and go MAKE some images with it! While its important to know the theory behind your hobby, there’s nothing to rival the actual physical act of creating photographs. The more you do something, the easier it becomes, and you’ll eventually find that you won’t even think about checking the ISO, or the turn of the polariser (well, not in my case… I still forget!), or whether or not you’ve left the camera on timer function. It just becomes automatic and its because you’ve moved beyond consciously thinking about it and it has become something as innate as breathing. This applies to almost everything; composing your images, knowing which or how many filters to use for what effect, your post-processing routine, recognising how subjects will be captured even before you’ve taken the image (visualisation).
Visualisation. I think this is important. The act of visualising an image goes a long way in photographic development. You may not be at the standard to make that exact image just yet, but you’ll try, and you’ll learn about the process along the way. When you finally succeed, you will have learnt about a whole host of things such as lighting, timing, composition and exposure, and the next time you want to make a similar image, you’ll know exactly how to do it. The next step? Try this with different subject matter, different angles, different times of day – or night! Visualisation is tied in with practice; it only gets better the more you do it.
There are so many more ways to put yourself on the path of self progression than the few I have listed here. These ones are just off the top of my head, some of the steps that we have followed ourselves and found a small measure of success in doing. Each and every one of you is different, so this is just the start – what works for us might not work for you, so try different approaches or another method.
One last thing – don’t forget to have fun in the process!