Note: May I direct your attention to Olympus Ambassador of South Africa, Dallas Dahms who runs an amazing blog rich in useful Micro Four Thirds contents here (click). I think it is great seeing more and more people shoot with Olympus OM-D and Micro Four Thirds in general, and more importantly share their thoughts, photographs and experience.
I have often been asked questions, either by my beautiful blog readers here or friends in real life, on how to make good photographs. I think that is too general of a question, and it is not as simple as answering in a few lines of descriptions. It is also not as straightforward as coming to a classroom and me giving you all the tips and knowledge (from whatever limited experience that I have) on photography and you will walk away being able to make good photographs. Often I observe people looking for answers at the wrong directions, or asking all the wrong questions. Therefore, I want to share what I think that new/beginner photographers should watch out for in their learning process in becoming better in their craft.
Before I go on sharing any further, I mention that this blog entry is written for learning photographers, mostly newcomers and beginners who are very young to the photography world. Although that was the main target audience, strangely, I also acknowledge that a huge number of blog readers here are actually much more experienced, and better photographers than I am. I have often been humbled by the sharing of great photographs by my readers and I have had great privileges to meet a few great photographers who happen to read my blog in real life. Ultimately we admit that there is no right and wrong or hard written rules in photography, what we find mostly are guidelines, tips or recommendations that can positively help us improve our photography.
All images in this blog entry were taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5 and M.Zuiko Lenses, 45mm F1.8 and 12-50mm F3.5-6.3 kit lens.
Bridge in Morning Sun
Vegetables and the Cat.
Taken at ISO5,000, in a dimly lit environment. E-M5 is still as awesome. And yes, this was taken with the 12-50mm kit lens.
GETTING BACK TO BASICS
There are important reasons why basics are called basics, because they should not be forgotten, and should be kept as useful reminders as we venture further and further into what we do. When all things fail, the basics will not.
I have seen many photographers trying too hard, too fast and too blindly too soon. Let's take street photography for easier reference of discussion. Many would have come across books of famous and successful photographers such as Henri-Cartier Bresson, Bruce Gilden and Martin Paar. Having that "ideal" photography goal in mind, and rushing to accomplish greatness, there are many who would push and try to imitate the advanced execution or techniques used by the famous photographers. They even reverse engineered the thought process and ideology behind each iconic photographs taken, in hopes of being able to reproduce similar process in adaptation to their own real life shooting. Much energy was spent in calculating the "geometry" and seek the mysterious secret of framing that made some photographs so outstanding. These are regarded as very high level photography and require very deep understanding in attaining that level of perfection, and superiority. Workshops and workshops after that, with supplementary reading books piling up, I think that trying too hard is not the wise way in going about photography. Do not get me wrong, it is great to attend workshops to learn, and read to broaden our perspectives and views. Overdoing so won't help any further either.
Sometimes we run too far to seek the answers that may appear right in front of us. We all have to go through the basics of what and how to construct a strong photograph. Nothing fancy, nothing too advanced. In fact it can be as simple as looking for leading lines, playing with the available light direction and shooting with multiple subjects contradicting each other in one frame. It can be as simple as a subject versus a simple background, and no more than that. Sometimes we complicate things too much, and often simplicity is the best way to go. Did it ever occur to you that some of those famous photographs taken by those celebrity photographers (pick your choice) could have been done by the photographers instinct and intuition, as he was shooting and approaching his photography opportunity? I am not saying that luck plays a huge parts (there are times it does) but we should not read too much into things that might not even be there. Come back to Earth, get yourself grounded on the basics of photography. Rule of Thirds. That S-Curve. Get as close as you can to your subject. Watch your timing for that "decisive moment". Shoot at the best times of the day for the best lighting impact. Things that are so basic but stand the test of time.
Morning Ray 2
BUILD A STRONG FOUNDATION
I have also observed a group of photographers dabbling with advanced technicalities of photography such as multiple wireless flash execution, but without strong knowledge on how ISO settings and aperture opening would affect the light, and whether stopping down the aperture would alter the outcome of their images or not, and blindly just tinkling with the flash settings in hope to magically produce that effect that may not even be clear in their mind what they wanted to do in the first place. There are many cases where the photographer using a very advanced camera but did not even know where to change the focusing points, and just stayed with fully automatic modes. There are also many users who know that shooting images in dark conditions will have higher chance of camera shake, but did not know why. So it was because of shutter speed not fast enough. Then they set their camera to very high shutter speed (eg, 1/8000sec) to minimize the shake, and then ask "how come the image came out black?"
Again, as I have blogged several times before, there is NO shortcut in photography. Get your photography foundation right.
Learn and master the exposure basics and their triangular relationship: ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. Most people know individually what ISO, aperture or shutter speed is, but when you put two or three of them together, they are lost. These settings are inseparable and you must know how they all work together hand in hand to produce a photograph.
And before you even started doing all that, learn the right way to hand-hold the camera, and how to steady them even further as you are shooting with slower shutter speed. It is crucial to pay attention to where the camera is focusing, and set the focusing point manually. Do not expect the camera to do everything, because the camera is as smart as any computer, giving you only an average reading of whatever situation you are in, without being able to read your mind. What the camera sees and what you see can be something completely different, and it is your part to tell the camera to do what you want it to do. Without strong understanding and mastering these very crucial controls, it is difficult to bend the camera to your will. When the camera is smarter than you, you can't control it, and you won't get the results that you want.
Portrait of a Young Boy
KNOW YOUR CAMERA INSIDE OUT
These days, modern digital cameras have more buttons and controls and are even more sophisticated than an ordinary car!
The truth is, it takes time to get to know a camera, and it takes even longer time to REALLY know your camera inside out.
That is why I am often disappointed when I found out about my friends selling their gear when they have just only used them for a few months, and their reasons are: the camera was not fast enough, it was not "professional" enough, or did not give them the results that they wanted. How can you expect the camera to perform at its best if you do not even know how to fully utilize it? How would you know the camera cannot give you what you wanted if you did not spend enough time getting to know the behaviour of the camera to overcome its limitations and successfully exploit its strengths? Changing or upgrading the gear will not solve that problem.
I rarely talk about what the camera can do for you, I always talk about what you can do with your camera. There is a difference.
The camera is just as good as the photographer gets, not the other way around. A photographer is not defined by the camera he uses, but his photography style and needs dictate what choice of equipment he is using. A great photograph may not necessarily be made by a great camera, but a great photographer can make great photographs with any camera. The photographer may not be using the best camera ever made in the world, but the photographer can take a better photograph if he knows how to fully use his camera, in contrast to another photographer with the illusive best camera but knows not how to maximize its potential. Use the right tool for the job, learn how to use the tool. A pen may be more lethal than a sword, if the person using the pen has killed hundreds of people with the pen before, while the swordsman has never even cut a single thing in his life, but just swings his sword arrogantly in the air.
Do not give up on your gear too soon. Sometimes, the fault does not lie in the gear.
By the door
SHOOT, SHOOT and SHOOT
There is no other better way to improve but to shoot more, and learn from your mistakes from all the shooting sessions. The more experience shooting in the field you have under your belt, the faster and better you will progress, that is just how things work. Some people will learn faster some people slower, that is completely normal. Over a course of time, everyone improves, and that amazing piece of artwork by that famous photographer was not achieved in one year, or two years or five years of photography experience. It may be 20-30 years of dedication, hard work and sacrifice to be able to make those kind of photographs happens. You never knew what they went through and how they got to the level they were at.
The old saying "practice makes perfect" is fitting here. Keep shooting, no matter how slow the steps are, eventually we will get there.
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