Suwanee Morning Light
New Users Corner
Link to step one:
Now you need to learn photographic techniques. The most important part of this is:
- Taking photographs
- Picking out your best of the week
- Getting honest criticism
Taking photographs is the easy part. Get your camera out and shoot. You will take thousands of shots before you really learn your camera and start to feel that you are in control of the process.
Now sort thru your work for the week, and pick out one or two and certainly no more than three of the shots that you feel are your best. Here is the first rule of photography:
Only show other people your best work
Whatever you do don’t go out shoot a hundred shots, post them all on Flickr and then expect others to wade thru them, bad mixed in with the good.
You, or at least I, will always produce a lot of photos that I don’t think are very good and mixed in will be a few shots that are good. If I am having a very good day I might get 50% keepers, more often it could be 25% good to 75% not so good. Be your own worst critic. Ansel Adams sort of confesses this:
“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” Ansel Adams
In others words he was happy with one good shot a month. We can have lower standards however and try for one or two a week. Edward Weston, another very famous photographer, has a very well known shot, Pepper Number 30. Thirty implies that there were at least 29 other pepper shots that he didn’t show people.
If you are new at this, do not expect to produce masterworks on your first efforts, or even your two thousandth effort. Find your best shots. Don’t look at the work of people who have been doing this for a long time and despair. You will get better as you go but you won’t get better unless you get some idea about what you need to do to improve. So put your work out for critiques even if you don’t think they are very good. After all that is when you can get the most from criticism. A good group of critics will know that you are just starting and will help you in any way that they can.
Find someone who will give you honest criticism. This isn’t your wife, your husband or your mother. All of them are more worried about insulting you than they are about giving good criticism. And of course unless you are lucky enough to have a good photographer in the family they don’t know what a good photograph is, anyway. They think that what they get from their point and shoots are good.
In today’s networked world one of the best places to find good criticism is on the net and in particular Yahoo groups. There are some very good mailing lists which run photo assignments and give excellent criticism. Honest criticism which will tell you what is technically right and wrong with your work. You must approach this with the right attitude; you want them to tell you what is technically and artistically wrong, and hopefully what they like about the image.
Let me climb up on my stump for a paragraph or two:
If you ask for critiques of your best work of the week, and you are given good advice. Do not be defensive. The advice may be good or it may be bad. Always thank the person who gave it to you and either to put it to use or ignore it. If you get into an argument and get the reputation of not taking good advice, people will cut you off. I do when I run into people like that. I add them to my blocked list and never hear from them again. Remember that you may not recognize good advice when you see it.
I also ignore people who post an unending stream of photographs, three or four a day, sometimes more. Who has time for that?
These people are spending their personal time trying to help you. They do not want to be insulted or argued with. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ask for further information if they haven’t been clear. You should. But do it in a pleasant way. You will occasionally find jerks who are insulting. Ignore them if possible. Find another list if you cannot. OK enough lecturing on list etiquette.
Some lists that I know of or others have suggested:
Canon: the Digital Rebels
and their photo site
The Rebels do pictures of the week and also have assignments that everyone can contribute to. This is a low conflict group and does not tolerate any sort of harsh behavior.
Nikon: the Nikon D80 group
and the Nikonians which while apparently a good group has started charging $25/year for membership. That includes gallery space. You can join for the first month free. Even at $25 a year it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, most people on the Digital Rebel list end up joining PBase to get gallery space, and that costs $23/year.
I didn’t get any suggestions for Sony Pentax or Olympus groups but I found these:
A hat tip to Maria, she suggested the two Olympus groups above. I found nothing for Sigma. The Sony and Pentax groups are very small and that may be good or bad depending on how the group functions the Digital Rebels has 2200 members and the Nikon group has 1100 by way of contrast. If anyone knows of other good groups leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list. Without any editorial comment I’ll suggest staying away from the Canon 300D list on Yahoo.
There are a number of general groups that do critiques and are not limited to a particular camera brand. PhotoSig is well known. The people on it have a reputation of being quite sharp with the critical pen. So judge the thickness of your skin before venturing there. The Photo Critique forum is another and I have heard nothing about it, good or bad. DPReview forums have some critique sections and they also cover a lot of camera brands if you need some camera specific advice.
And by using Google you can probably find a lot of other sites. None of these lists or sites will help you if you never post and become what is known as a lurker. Introduce yourself and ask questions.
Another thing that will help you develop a good photographer’s eye is learning something about composition and the ‘rules of composition‘. Now the idea of rules really seems to bother some people. These rules or maybe principals is a better term have come down to us mainly from the painting world and have been taught to painters down thru the ages, or at least for hundreds of years. Of course the modern ‘painters’ have little use for these since they are taught that stringing toilet paper across a park is ‘art’ and thus no knowledge of composition is needed.
But I believe that these rules are derived from centuries of study on just what attracts people to a particular work and what they unconsciously look for in the work when they see it. Modern studies have been done on what people look at and they have found that you have less than one second to attract someone’s attention before they lose interest. So use your one second wisely by studying the rules of composition and getting people to spend more of their time on your images.
Once you master composition then you are free to start ignoring the ‘rules’ if you think there is a good reason to do so.
A great aggregation site for composition articles is PhotoInf. Try the Wendy Folse series for a start and just browse thru some of the other articles. This is a good site to return to once in awhile to read a different view of composition.
You will probably acquire a library of photography books as you advance in your study of photography. Bryan Peterson’s books have a wide following and his Understanding Exposure is especially well known. It is well worth the $17 or so that it costs on Amazon.
Scott Kelby has popular books on Digital Photography: the Digital Photography Book volumes one and two. These are big sellers but I haven’t heard any reports by people who have read them. Kelby can be a very flippant writer and his style is not so popular with a large number of people. I find that his books are packed with information and you can skip the chapter introductions where he packs most of what he considers humor. I do have some Kelby Photoshop books and thought they were worth the money.
There are literally thousands of other books available but at this stage one or two good ones will be all that you probably need.
A Place to post your work
You will soon need a place that you can post shots so people can see them. Some forums have their own group site. The Digital Rebels, the Nikonians and PhotoSig all do. But sooner or later you will want a place of your own. One place a lot of photographers use is PBase. It costs $23 a year and comes with a lot of storage, 500MB at this time. Many people like it since it lets you control how your work appears, has easy navigation and has many photographers using it. It does come with warts tho.
Flickr is free but has awful navigation and poor presentation of your work IMO. Many people refuse to look at shots posted on Flickr. It does have very strong internal groups if you get involved with them.
- So go out:
- Take many photographs
- Find someone to critique them
- Study Composition
- Read a book or two.
Next up learning to edit your shots and using raw.