June 3, 2021 – Los Angeles, CA: There is an old saying that there are three levels of comedians.
- The first level is being able to tell a joke that makes someone laugh.
- The second level is being able to tell jokes that make a group of people laugh.
- The third level is being able to get a group of people to pay you to make them laugh.
Photography is a lot like that except that the third level contains many additional levels of expertise, from the guy who does headshots for $89.95 to the top advertising, celebrity, glamour and wedding photographers who are paid tens of thousands of dollars for a photo shoot.
Whether you are interested in becoming a pro or you simply want to improve the photos you take for your own enjoyment, how do you move up from one level to the next? How do you get so you can consistently take great photos that are interesting and which people like or are willing to pay you for? Is it luck or some “X” factor that only a few are born with or is it something that can be learned?
There are many informational websites out there and many books and DVDs to help you. There are also many online learning sites. These are helpful in expanding your technical expertise in the use of your digital and film cameras and other areas. But as I’ve pursued my love of photography, there are a couple of lessons that I have learned that I feel apply to all levels of photographers.
You can give six photographers the same assignment and they will all come back with different photos. I learned this years ago when I was one of six photographers assigned to cover a stage show. I thought it was ridiculous to have so many photographers shooting the same assignment. Proof sheets of everyone’s work were put in a binder and I had the opportunity to see all six photographers’ photographs. I found it amazing that even when another photographer and I were shooting the same subject side by side, our photos were quite different. So much so, that it was obvious that they were taken by different photographers.
Essentially we all have the same tools. Granted, good equipment is a wise investment, but it isn’t the camera that takes the picture, it is the photographer. When I was transitioning from amateur photographer to professional, I advised that you should buy the things you use weekly and if you used something only once a month or less, you should rent it. It was good advice then and still holds true. I bought the best I could and rented the rest of what I needed.
Early on I learned that some photos were more interesting than others. They attracted the viewer, people commented on what good photos they were. And other photos were rather boring, what I’ve come to call “record shots”. They are simply a photographic record that you were there and documented that something happened.
I quickly learned that the real difference between the two was that when I took the interesting photos, there was something in the photo that actually interested me at the time that I took it. And the boring photos? At the time I took the photo there really wasn’t anything about the subject that interested me.
I began to work with this concept. I would look for subject matter that interested me to photograph. I would look for angles, composition, colors, backgrounds, foregrounds, props, lighting, etc. that I could use to make a subject even more interesting to me. And I learned that even when I photographed a subject that I didn’t personally find interesting, I could make it interesting by using these techniques.
I came to realize that a photograph of my daughter might be interesting to me because she is my daughter. (You know that proud parent thing.) But that if I took a photo of my daughter when there was something that I truly found interesting (a smile, twinkle in the eye, etc.) and if I also used good composition, creative angles and such, that even if someone didn’t know my daughter, that they were much more likely to enjoy my photo of her because I had used these techniques to make a really great photo of her.
Those we recognize as creative artists, creative photographers, creative movie directors, etc. have a unique or unusual way of looking at things. I came to realize that creativity is a matter of viewpoint, of how you look at the world, of how you see things. And that this can be learned. That you can develop the skills necessary to look at the world in a way that you, and others, will find interesting. Granted some of us are born with a head start on being creative but each of us has the ability to be creative and we can each increase our own creativity.
A key that can open the door to being creative is to find something that truly interests you and to use the techniques of composition, camera angle, etc to photograph it in an interesting way.
Recently I learned the lesson that you will grow and develop quickly if you shot a lot. When you think about it this is obvious. The more you shoot the more experience you get, the more familiarity with the camera, the more certain, etc. That is all true but that’s not what I’m talking about.
For about 4 months last year I did a lot of personal testing. I did test shoots 2, 3 even 4 times a week, all in addition to the shoots I was doing for clients. These were experimental shoots that I dreamed up. Shoots that I wanted to do for myself where I shot what, who and how I wanted to shoot.
What I experienced I can best express with an analogy. I like lobster. I don’t eat it often so I really enjoy it when I do eat it. Testing so often was like eating lobster every day. I really enjoyed it the first couple of times but then I wanted a change. I wanted lobster cooked differently. I wanted lobster and steak. I wanted lobster with…
The result of testing often was that I found that I quickly became bored with doing what I already knew how to do. I used all of the tools and tricks that I knew and then started looking for ways to make my tests fresh so that I wasn’t doing the same old thing over and over. I came up with new tricks and techniques. I had successes and I had failures but I had those successes and failures several times a week. The process of shooting intensively greatly accelerated my development as an artist.
Intensive shooting is an important tool you can use to accelerate your development as a photographer.
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