How to be happier with your photos.
There are many articles and posts and videos and tutorials about photographic techniques and how to improve and expand your skill set, but there are few that deal with the photographer’s mindset.
Clarity of thought and vision is the path that leads to creating better photos. It’s easy to get lost in the technique and rely on set patterns and caught up in gear and sometimes you get just a little too comfortable.
When something works, we stick with it, blindly shooting away as we trust our standard settings to get an acceptable image. I’m guilty of this. There have been many shoots where I get things dialed in ‘just so’ to get a usable image and just blank. I press the button, the shutter clicks, the flash fires, things happen, an image is recorded. I’m barely registering the image though and am left wondering later during editing why I have so many of the same boring shot.
Conversely, sometimes the technique and the gear gets in the way. When the set up just isn’t working. For some reason your flash isn’t firing. The light balance is just all wrong and no matter what you do to fix it, things get so far slanted from normal that you feel lost in the woods, staring at the readouts of the back of your camera and the ugly image plaguing you, that you lose all connection with the subject and end up firing away at nothing because you’re so caught up in what’s wrong you can’t see what’s right.
Yes. That was a run on sentence. The reeling you feel in that situation is twice as fast and four times as breathless – seriously, sometimes I forget to breathe.
Neither of these situations is conducive to clarity or creativity.
How do you improve?
Step 1: Slow down and think.
Stop fiddling with settings and take a look around. Put the box down for a moment and really look. Notice shapes and lines and form in the subject of your intended photo. Sit with it a while and quietly observe. As one great article on fstoppers puts it, Linger.
You’re going to have to ignore the itch, the one that tells you you’re wasting precious light when you’re NOT firing away on a shoot.
I know it feels counter-intuitive to take a better picture by not taking pictures, but do it, it works.
Step 2: Breathe.
Sometimes you do forget to breathe. Steady, measured breaths are a good calming technique and helps you slow down and think. Breathing also is important for continued living and all, but more importantly, it helps you focus. Always shoot on an exhale. You are more steady then and it will help you get the eyes in focus.
It’s something I’ve noticed. I like to shoot hand held and I like to shoot with a shallow depth of field. No matter how good your eyes are, or your auto-focus is, you’re likely focusing on your subject’s nose or forehead. If you focus on the inhale and release on the exhale, you’re going to sway just enough to compensate for the slight recess of the eyes. I noticed when I held my breath to take a shot, it was just out of tack sharp, but when I exhaled, I hit it.
So breathe, you stay conscious and tend to improve sharpness.
Step 3: Stop relying on gear.
The camera does not take the picture, you do. I hate it when people say “that’s a nice camera, it must take really great pictures,” or “I’ve got the latest greatest SuperSLR3500S, it’s mirrorless and takes the best pictures ever!”
-_-‘ Ignorant people irk me.
Point is, before the picture is ever put to the pixels, the image must be made in your brain. You don’t need a camera to make images. To see the world. To know what’s a great image and great composition.
You only need a camera to express to others what you see.
Do this. Walk around without a camera, shut one eye, look at something, and make a picture in your brain. Do it everywhere you go. Train your eye and your brain to think in terms of those moments where you would take a shot so that when you do have a camera in your hand, the expression of your vision becomes second nature.
Enjoy living in the moment first, work on capturing the moment for others second.
Step 4: Get out.
This should be the most obvious part.
Get out. Get out. Get out.
Quit sitting around like a bump on a log and get to exploring. In fact, you don’t even have to get out, but for the love of all that’s good, get off yer ass and explore the dust bunnies living under your couch.
I’m absolutely shocked at the number of people who bemoan their lack of decent work when they never seek out new photo opportunities.
I’ve been stuck, and am still stuck in some senses, for material or places to shoot or people to work with, but things aren’t just going to fall in your lap.
One day, I was feeling particularly insipid in terms of my creativity and what I was photographing, so I went for a drive. I drove and drove and drove. Then I drove some more. Nothing came to me. I drove for a hundred miles up and down highways and back roads, and round about the one hundred and first mile, I glanced out the side window of my car and saw horses along a ridge in a pasture, with the light just right. I pulled right off the side of the road and snapped a few frames. Here are two.
Step 5: Get over it.
I think I suck. You probably think you suck. Get over it. I have.
It’s true. Most of the images photographers make are not good. It’s a leaden weight around our necks, the tens of thousands of shutter depressions that resulted in sub par images, that drags our confidence down. We only release what’s good or great and hope to goodness the rest stay buried.
It makes accepting praise difficult, actually. Really difficult. Someone says, “I’ve never seen you take a bad picture,” and my neck bursts into flames, and I feel a fraud. I know they’re trying to be complimentary, but all I think is “Yeah, because I WON’T show you the bad ones…they far outnumber the good.”
What I am good at is editing and filtering. I’ve made somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 photos in the last five years. I’ve seen every single one, you haven’t.
You just have to accept that bad pictures will be made, it’s part of the process, you aren’t a failure, your camera hasn’t betrayed you, it just happens. Just don’t show the bad ones.
Step 6: The hardest part.
Don’t compare yourself to others. No good comes from it.
You have to realize that you were not in that place at that time under those circumstances with that person’s particular skill set, history, and technique. So you are never going to make that shot.
All you can do is make your shots. Learn what you like, why you like it, improve your skills, improve your situation, so that you can be in an improved position, to take a better shot. One that’s your’s.
The only person you should compete with is yourself. Progress, not perfection. Am I a better photographer than I was yesterday?
If so, you’ll be happier with your photos.