Saturday, July 14, 2012

Advice For New Photographers I

This is really a followup to this post and is followed by this post.

Put the camera down. Or don't, it doesn't matter. This part is about learning to look at a photograph. It has nothing to do with the camera.

Most of us think in words. You can't think about baseball without knowing some words for ball and bat. Look up the meaning of these words: tone, value, hue, saturation, actutance, sharpness, contrast, form, line, weight in the context of photography and visual arts. You will find more words to know as you read about these, so look them up even if you think you know what they mean. Meditate on them a little. Ideally, find definitions that include sample images so you can connect the word, the idea, with the visual reality it represents.

Name three photographers whose work you admire. If you can't, spend some time browsing in a bookstore, library, or even online until you can name three.

Find 100 photographs by one of your admired photographers. You needn't find them all at once, but you will need them eventually. You don't even need 100. Any unreasonably large number will work. Spend a few minutes looking at each one, this will probably feel like forever. Take notes, if you like. What do you like about it? How does it make you feel, and why? Where is the light coming from? Where are the objects in the frame? Note both your reaction to the image, and technical details.

Find a book written by a photographer you admire, or at any rate can tolerate, a book of mostly words, not pictures. Not every photographer writes these things, so your favorites might not have written anything. Pick someone else, then. You want something about process, technical or artistic, it doesn't matter much. Read what that photographer had to say about how they made their photographs. You just want to hang out with that photographer, listening to them ramble on about photography and art. Your local library may be a great resource here.

Don't read anything that looks like a How To book. How to Shoot Portraits or How to Sell Stock Photography.

Go back to looking at photographs. Look over some of the same ones again, do they take you differently? Can you understand them better? If not, go read some more or... something. If your views and ideas are not evolving, something is probably wrong.

Repeat until you can, at least some of the time, explain to yourself why you like a photograph or why you don't. Repeat until, at least some of the time, you can get something of a handle on why a photograph makes you feel the way it makes you feel.

You are beginning to learn to see.

Learning to see, the astute observer will note, involves a lot of looking and not very much shooting.

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