I should start with a disclaimer:
“This text is a personal recount of my struggles to become a better photographer. Do not expect any “how to” tips as I am a couple of years away from being able to give you advice on photography (if I ever reach that phase at all). Also, if you are an extremely talented photographer-to-be, you probably won’t find anything interesting in this post either. Unless reading about the frustrations of us less gifted ones helps you realise how fortunate you actually are. Everyone else who I haven’t lost until now, may continue reading.”
Recently I have decided it was about time I finally improve my photography skills. Until now it was my husband who was always in charge of the camera on our travels. He took some good photos while on the road. However, as soon as we returned home and it was time to do the rest of the work on computer, his enthusiasm always dropped sharply. So I’ve decided to take the matter in my own hands and learn how to make as good (if not better photos) myself. How hard can it be? Pretty damn hard, as it turns out. It quickly dawned on me that the path to becoming a better photographer has more ups than downs. But sooner or later, if you carry on trying, you see light at the end of the tunnel. Following these simple rules should help:
Find yourself a patient teacher
As long as I was trying to learn photography from my husband, who is known for his poor pedagogical skills (no patience in repeating the same stuff over and over again), I was stuck. I couldn’t possibly remember the difference between open and closed shutter or the importance of exposure let alone how to combine them. So I’ve decided to take a photography course. Luckily, our teacher is experienced enough to have seen his share of photography dummies so he understands that he should repeat the basic principles as often as possible. Even though I sometimes feel as if I was back in ground school this actually works and it amazes me, how much I’ve learnt so far.
Once you’ve grasped the basics in theory you’re ready to start testing your newly acquired knowledge. However, understanding something often gives you a false impression of also being able to do it in practice. I may understand completely what to do to freeze a sea lion in mid-jump through a hoop, but trying to actually do this is a completely new category. It’s called experience. And in my experience (see, I’ve already gained some) it’s better to start with easier objects and then gradually move on to more challenging ones. I have come up with the following list to illustrate how you should slowly progress from less to more demanding objects:
– Plants, flowers and other immovable objects of a manageable size.
– Domestic animals, family and close friends with lots of patience and time on their hands.
– Animals in captivity which don’t mind if you point your huge zoom lens directly at them, shooting a couple of shots per second.
– Total strangers on the street who don’t particularly appreciate their role as camera targets.
– Wild animals – totally unpredictable and usually avoiding humans at all costs.
Get ready for failure
Even if you’ve found the object corresponding to your current skill level and you apply all your theoretic knowledge correctly, you will still fail (unless you’re one of those extremely talented lucky bastards in which case I don’t know why you’re even reading this). After my first full-day photographic outing I returned home feeling very optimistic. Except from the fact that I missed the best shots of a sea lion I thought I made some very good photos. I was already seeing some hidden potential in me finally emerge, until I copied the photos to my computer. All that was left from over 500 shots were a couple of useful images. Everything else was either overexposed, out of focus or just plain boring. I knew exactly what I did wrong but this made the matters only worse. Why couldn’t I have thought of all that before!? Which brings us back to point number 2 – experience. Unfortunately, the only way to gain more experience is to battle through a series of failures, hoping you will learn something from each of them. So no, I’m not giving up just yet. I may be bad, but at least now I know why I’m bad!
Curb your expectations
Of course the main reason why I want to become a better photographer is because I’m hoping to land an assignment with National Geographic. As this is highly unlikely, I will be perfectly happy if I learn enough that photography will be more fun for me. I want to be able to catch the best impressions of our travels as well as our daily lives to keep remembering them for years to come. If I achieve this, then the energy and time invested into this course is worth it. And if not National Geographic, then maybe some local travel magazine…