There is a lot of hype about photography, it’s a booming hobby practiced by huge numbers of people around the world. With the prevalence of high quality images from our phones, and widely available, inexpensive dedicated cameras, it’s no wonder the art is so popular. But it isn’t all roses, and there are some uncomfortable things it’s best just to understand from the beginning.
Here are five truths about photography:
1. More gear won’t make you a better photographer
New bodies, lenses, and accessories are fun and exciting, but they won’t magically make you better at photography. To be a better photographer you need to learn how to find images. The gear can help you capture them, but the finding part is up to you.
Whenever you think of buying a new piece of gear, ask yourself, “Is my current gear holding me back?” Sometimes the answer could be yes. It could be that the lens you have been using for night photography is too slow to get the detail you need, or the limitations of your current body are preventing you from blowing up the final shot to the size and detail required by a client. In such cases, due to your equipment, you can’t make an image you want to.
More often though, the answer to whether your gear is holding me back is no. The actual reason you want a new piece of gear is that it is shiny. You may lust over new camera stuff, but if that gear won’t improve your photography in a very tangible way, you shouldn’t buy it.
Good photography comes from your heart and your mind, not your wallet.
2. There is no “knack”
Some people take to photography quickly, others more slowly, but everyone has to learn. Photography is an art, not a gift.
Photography can be learned. With practice you can see the way lines and light interact to create a pleasing image. Or how those elements can become jumbled, resulting in a photo that just doesn’t work. With time and effort, you get better at recognizing the difference. It’s a process I work on every day.
So no, photography is not a knack – it’s work.
3. You’ve got to be patient
Yeah, lots and lots of patience.
Sometimes we arrive at a site, and the light has been perfect, or the wildlife is waiting in the perfect place, as though they’d been staged there. But that is rarely the case. More often, we have to wait, and wait… and wait.
The pages of magazines are filled with spectacular images, timed to perfection. But those didn’t just happen. The images were made because the photographer knew how to be patient.
The best images all require time and effort.
4. There is nothing wrong with being an amateur
Being an amateur does not mean you are any less talented than a professional photographer. In fact, in many cases, it is just the opposite. You see, professionals spend much (most even) of their time doing the dirty work: invoicing, marketing, tip-tapping away at the computer, and much less time actually making and working with images. The images professionals shoot are often those made for clients, not those we make for ourselves. Inherently, photos made for others are not as good as those we are passionate about. Amateurs can shoot whatever they please, and that means they are making photos that matter to them.
Skill and artistic sensibilities are not the sole territory of professionals. Some of the finest photographers do not make their living from it.
And equipment! Here is the biggest irony: pros often can’t afford the latest and best gear. With the exception of the very top people in the industry, pros aren’t millionaires, or anywhere close. Science fiction writer John Scalzi once wrote that you shouldn’t consider leaving your day job until you are making TWICE your normal income with your writing (or in this case photography). It’s good advice.
5. Postprocessing is a tool, not a crutch
I’m not the first to say it, but I’m going to repeat it, there is no un-suck filter. If your image stinks when it goes into Photoshop or Lightroom, it’s going to stink when it comes out, no matter how much you crop it, add contrast, or saturate.
For the love of god, don’t over-process your images. What matters in an image is the way it speaks to the viewer, that the photo means something. Make your image meaningful, and you won’t ever have to rely on post-processing to be successful.
In the end, what really matters about photography is not the final image, but the process of making it. So forget about the shiny new gear, practice the art, be patient, don’t get caught up in labels, and make your best image in the camera. Everything else is details.
Do you have anything else you’d add to this list? Please share in the comments below