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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The great photography learning curve

Isn't it ironic that for all the advertising and hype about how easy it is to take great photos, in actual fact it's really hard and drives most of us crazy.

Now I don't mean it's not easy to point a camera, push the shutter and get a great exposure. That bit's not hard at all. Hell, Koko the gorilla got the cover photograph of National Geographic back in the 80's so how hard can it be? Right?

Well, not exactly. Like anything, if you just want to skate along the surface it's actually not too hard at all. It's when you delve deeper into this fascinating art form that it gets progressively more interesting, and progressively more frustrating.

One of the greatest things about the internet is the ability we now have to tap into the minds of people prepared to share with us a little bit of their hard earned knowledge. Indeed that's the reason I started the blog, to give back to the photographic community that's been a part of my life for so long.

But it's a double edged sword. There's so much knowledge to be found that it can be hard to know where to start, or what to concentrate on. My post last week about photography and fear touched on the subject of remaining true to your passion, but even while you do that how do you learn what you need to know?

For me the answer is firstly to ignore everything I don't need to know. In other words if you don't need to know how to process a Raw file because you only every shoot Jpeg don't bother reading about it. If you don't need to know how to get 8 frames per second out of your camera because you only ever shoot landscapes, skip that particular article. I have no interest in HDR whatsoever so know absolutely nothing about it. And I'm fine with that.

Instead concentrate on what you need to know to improve your own photography, and aim to learn it bit by bit. There's a lot to learn and you don't need to do it all in one day. Not quite sure how the different focal length of lenses work? Don't go out with a bag full of lenses and explore all of them. Take one lens out and use it for a whole day, week or month until you intuitively know how it will make your pictures look. And once you know in your mind what a picture is going to look like before you even put the camera up to your eye, that's when it's time to move on to the next lens in your arsenal and learn how it makes images look.

When we all first switched to digital there was a huge learning curve - Raw processing, workflow, file formats, Photoshop skills. I went as crazy on this as the next photographer. Spent months holed up in front of a computer trying to learn how everything worked. But you know what? Now that I know how to do what I need to do (which isn't very much let me tell you!) I just don't read about that stuff any more. No more buying books on lots of different things I'll never do.

Not to say that a photographer's learning curve is ever over, but it begins to slow down as you filter out what you don't need to know and really concentrate on the things that excite you. So as you go out photographing this weekend sit down and think about what you really don't understand. And resolve to go out there and spend some quality time on this one technique until you've got it down pat. Will it be fun? I certainly hope so because if you've chosen this technique because it will help you improve your images then it should be a blast. Have a fun weekend!

Oh and by the way, I forgot to say where to find me on Twitter. My profile page is here.

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