I love taking photographs; I love reminiscing over shots I’ve taken, I love the fact that it can take me to places I’d never have gone otherwise and I love the fact that I’ve found a hobby that has so much to master and perfect. I feel so proud of myself when I get compliments and it’s not as noisy as playing the guitar (which I’ve had to admit to myself, I was pretty crap at, and it annoyed the hell out of the neighbours).
Here’s some things I wish I’d known before I started doing this. If I’d known these, I might have got to where I think I am before now, but I’m glad I picked them up along the way.
1. Photography can be a cheap thrill.
Some people get interested and go out and spend £500 or more on a consumer level SLR. Don’t be daft. Chase Jarvis’s mantra is “the best camera is the one that’s with you”. You can take a brilliant photo on your mobile phone, you just have to know what it and you are capable of. My first proper camera was a Kodak DX6340 that I got for going to New Zealand in 2003. I loved it and used it for 4 years. It was basic, but I soon figured out how to get the best out of it, without even having to resort to manual. I use a Canon EOS 450D now, and I love it to bits, but only because I know how to use most of it (and I can use manual to get some better results!).
2. The starting point is being self-critical
Once you’ve taken a picture and kick yourself because you know you could have done better – that’s the point of no return. You can’t give up now – go back and do it again. And again. And again in the evening and again in the morning and again in the snow and again in the rain. Photography, like most of the other arts is about practice.
3. What you think is good is not necessarily what anyone else likes
I worked on this picture three times – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ross_vernal/4894857581/
I had a crisis of confidence twice and thought to myself “All my pictures are terrible, I just can’t learn the skills”. But I got a little drunk, spent a few minutes cropping and balancing the colours then just went for it and posted it on Flickr. I still don’t think it’s quite what I wanted, but it’s the most popular picture in my photostream by Interestingness. Still doesn’t mean I’m any good though.
4. The Holy Trinity
Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. It’s all a big trade off – change one and you’ll need to change the others, but you might get a better picture. Once you get down to this level of control you’ll start to get some impressive results.
5. Shoot loads
Don’t stop; memory and disk space are cheap. I am lucky if I get one picture from each walk and I maybe take 30-40 pictures.
6. Compose, don’t process
This took me a long time to work out. I tried vignettes, curves, embossing, everything. But the only two things that matter are cropping (which you should be able to do if you take your time taking the picture) and getting your histogram to have an even spread of colours (again – this can be done on camera). Everything else is secondary, if it doesn’t help tell your story – this is the most important thing – then don’t bother.
7. Push your camera
Do it – switch to manual, change to RAW, try a hugely long exposure at night. Yes, you’ll fail at first but you’ll get there eventually and most importantly, you’ll appreciate the effort that goes into photos like this:
8. Be a snob
Be critical, tell people what you think could be better or what is getting in the way of their story. They might not want to hear it, but it might help them. Would you prefer to hear what could be better about the your pictures? What if you’d put in a huge effort?
9. Don’t be a snob
Some people don’t like it when you tell them what could be better. You’ll know who they are, best keep shooshed and just say they’re pictures are lovely.
10. Never stop learning
I’ll never master this. I know that, but I have so much to learn and I think I’ll be doing this for years to come and getting more and more pleasure from it. Who knows, I might even make more cash than the £20 I made for selling this in a nice frame last year.
I’m sure everyone has different views on these, and I’d love to hear them. Comment below, or tweet me @ross_vernal