Nearly everyone has a friend that has been obsessed with photography at some point. Absolutely obsessed with the latest camera gear they’ll snapping pics on every possible occasion.
Getting your pics taken by this friend at a party will usually go a little something like this:
The friend snaps away all night. The next day everyone is asking where the photos are, to which the photographer replies “I’ve got to edit them first”. Several days past and the photographer finally coughs up an album of high-resolution images.
You’re looking at a photo they took of you and it’s super sharp, it looks pretty cool but hang on — “my pimples don’t look that bad do they”, “why am I orange?”, “I have one eye open in this one”. By this time everyone has already posted pictures they took on their phone, some of them you could probably even put in a magazine.
What happened to the amazingly flattering photos you were hoping for? Technology and ego got in the photographer’s way, that’s what happened.
I have a close family friend named John Collins. He was a professional photographer for his whole working life before he retired in the ’80s. He has been taking photos for so long that when he started, light meters for photography weren’t even a thing. It took him over six years to learn just how to expose a picture perfectly.
Photography is nowhere near as humbling as it used to be. Now with a finger glued to a shutter button and a bottomless memory card, you can chance your way into taking a pretty good photo or two. And once a budding new photographer discovers editing, it can feel like they’ve just hit the jackpot. Limitless control over every single pixel in a photo.
With their amazing new camera and editing software, photographers can get tunnel vision and they can lose sight of what’s actually in their photos.
Here’s a photo of my friend Char I took and edited back when I was convinced I was the Picasso of Adobe Lightroom (a photo editing program).
Over four years later here’s a photo I took and edited of her and her sisters who formed a band called ‘The Fallen Robins’.
My photos got better not because of any fancy technology or software. They got better because I spent less time on Lightroom and more time behind the camera. It came from learning core photography principles and lots of practice. Once you’ve got the basic principles down and are spend enough time behind the camera you start building an intuition for what will make a good photo you’ll be able to more clearly visualise what exactly you want to do. You learn that the technology at your disposal is not what makes amazing photos, it’s just a tool that helps us take them.
On the flip side of technology-induced tunnel vision, I’ve witnessed many new photographers including myself when I started, that actually reject a lot of photography tech. This kind of barrier to self-improvement comes from the idea that there are “professional ways” to do something and thinking that you’re already a pro. I’ve found this most common with new male photographers. The same kind that may say that “manual cars are way better than automatic ones”. I used to be one of them.
The first time ego ruined my photography was when my friend Char performed on a stage for one of the first times and I took some photos of her. As I always did back then, I focused all the images manually despite the fact that my lens had an automatic setting. Proud of my work I showed Char the pics on that day in March of 2016.
“But Arman, I’m out of focus in them. Just use the automatic setting, it can do it better than you can”
I thought it was the pro thing to do for some reason and I was stupid for thinking I could do it better than the camera.
The other thing I was doing at the same time which I see far too often is the rejection of automatic camera features. A photographer will argue that all of the automated camera modes are for amateurs.
I’ve witnessed countless photographers take a bunch of pictures in manual and flat out ignore the fact they’re either under or overexposed the pictures. The first time this bit me in the butt was when I picked up a film camera for the first time, shot a roll on it, and when I got it developed I got back two photos(if you could call them that) from a thirty-two exposure roll. If I had known at the time how it took John 6 years six years to learn how to expose photos properly without a light meter, maybe I wouldn’t have been so blindly confident or thirty dollars down the hole.
When shooting on a digital camera, photographers have a light meter that’s always working so the consequences aren’t so dire. The result though is just a photo that’s not as good as it could be. The photographer is spending too much thought on technical perfection instead of the creative dimension.
To sum it all up, here are the tips I’d give to any budding new photographer that I come across.
Listen to criticism. Your friends and peers will see past the editing and brand new lens you got. They’ll see the photo. If it stings a little too much coming from your friends then join a local photography club where everyone receives and dish out criticism equally.
Utilise technology. Let the tech on your camera do most of the grunt work and free yourself up to think about the creative side of your photos.
Lastly, Shoot film. It’s a humbling thing to do that’ll make you appreciate the technology on your digital camera a whole lot more.