10 thoughts on photography while lying on a mattress by the side of the road

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Here are ten thoughts to help you up your photographic game:

  1. A large number, perhaps a majority, of photographers who would rather be shooting in order to earn a living have to resort to doing something else.  That something else often means shilling for camera companies in the form of sponsorships, teaching, writing, advocating, whatevering.  This means that other photographers, like you and me, are the catch, the target market.  This makes photography big business and separating you from your money is job one.  Beware.
  2. Photography is one part art, one part technical craft.  The technical craft part lends itself to science, measurements, and how-to videos and books.  The art part… well, doesn’t.  If you want to become a better artist, don’t rely on science, measurements and how-to videos and books.
  3. Force yourself to study the masters.  See how Sebastiao Salgado gets inside a story, learn how Fan Ho plays with available light, understand the manner in which W. Eugene Smith makes a point about his subject.  This will help you much more so than reading internet forums about the best lenses or studying MTF charts.
  4. Start small.  Use one light on one subject and play around for days, weeks, longer.  Use one lens.  Attempt simple compositions.  Don’t overwhelm yourself.  Build a house foundation before you worry about the drapes in the master bedroom.
  5. Don’t fret over which camera body or system to buy.  It’s true that you want to think downstream about your goals, for example how important is lens availability, what about low light performance, will a flash system be important…?  But all the major systems can help create masterpieces.  And all the major systems can help create dumpster fodder.  Find something that feels right in your hands, learn it, focus on what you see through the viewfinder, not what houses it.
  6. Stop daydreaming about exotic locations.  True, it’s nice to photograph waterfalls in Iceland, big game on the dark continent, and interesting people who live in thatched huts on the side of a mountain, but perfect the telling of the story of your own hometown before you wander too far afield, otherwise you’ll get to those waterfalls, wildlife and huts one day and capture meaningless, trite and all too common images that a million other people have captured before you.  And who wants to do that?
  7. Master exposure.  Then composition.  Don’t fret all the elaborate and highly sophisticated modes and capabilities of your camera until you have absolutely nailed those.  Otherwise you’re wasting your time.
  8. Don’t be afraid to photograph people.  Many photographers I know, myself included, wander around making images of rocks and trees when instead we could be uncovering subtle insights about family members, friends, neighbors, even complete strangers.  Step outside of your comfort zone.
  9. If you typically enjoy wide scale panorama shots, go small.  If you enjoy the minute details of a scene, step wider.  Comfort zones are for cowards.
  10. Go to the most familiar place you know (your home, the route along your daily walk, a nearby park) and tell a completely different and new story about it.  Attempt to capture images that others who also know that location will be surprised to see identified with that spot.  Or capture it during different seasons or times of day.  See how many alternate ways you can “see” the same place.

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