Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tilt a Whirl


InsideTheTiltAWhirl, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Ok, so, after yesterday's blog rant about how only a manual Leica and black and white film will do, I thought I would change it up on you.

So, let's say you're one of the many people who have already bought a digital camera, started taking pictures, and now want to advance to the next level. What do you do?

For starters, I still recommend the advice in that column. But, let's go ahead and move it to the digital world. I'd recommend that you start with something like a 2G compact flash card a week. Buy one of these cards, each and every week, for the next year. Now, you don't have to fill it up every week, or even shoot every day, but this is going to be your starting point. Try for about 200 frames a week, or so, depending on the megapixel count of your camera, of course. (That's actually a high number, you can go as low as 50 frames if you must.)

The trick here is, shoot that much every week. You don't have to force yourself to shoot that every day, in fact, it might be a good technique to take one day of the week (for me, it was Sunday. Yes, I admit it, I went to the "Church of Photography" for a few years) and go out shooting on that day. You should be able to shoot at least 50 frames if you force yourself to go out at least once a week. If you're stuck, try going to your local parks, fairs, festivals, read the paper, see which events are happening in your area, take a walk, etc. Just do things that interest you, but plan on having the camera there along with you, to take pictures.

The big trick is not just taking the pictures, it's what happens afterward.

Ok, so now you've got your 50+ frames, what are you going to do with them? For starters, you can make a contact sheet, either using Photoshop or another tool. You might want to do this to proof your work. Contact sheets are handy, because they allow us to see, on one sheet of paper, the work items from the day (or week, as the case may be.) You can look, at a glance, and see how you've done. As the article suggests, put them in a binder, and monitor your progress (and your mis-steps, there are going to be some of those as well) over time to see how you are progressing.

Finally, and this is an important step, challenge yourself to make "1 nice print" a month, maybe more, perhaps (if you've got the time, money, and inclination) but at least one. And, yes, it has to be at least one from every batch of contact sheets.

Why make a nice print? Well, this is hard to explain if you've never done it before but printing serves a few different purposes. For starters, it's a way of taking that contact sheet and blowing it up BIG, so that you can see all the "little imperfections" in your work. It's also a way of "living with" your images. You become familiar with your compositions, learn to appreciate how you see things. This is paramount for a photographer-you need to not only develop your eye but recognize it. You need to learn to see how you see things, to see your approach to shooting, if you will. You have to start to get to know your own work-what you do well, what you could improve upon, and just, well, how you tend to see things. This will help you later on, as you'll be able to better talk about your work. It helps build an aesthetic, which is a primary marketing tool for a photographer. It's important in so many ways. So, yes, learn to print, even if you only print 8x10 but DO IT. Make one nice print a batch and learn to look at it.

Don't fuss with gear.

Like the article said, use a simple camera, single lens. Don't run out and buy every lens in every focal length that you think you might need "someday." Instead, slap something on there like a "nifty fifty" (50mm 1.8 or so will do.) Learn to see through the lens, not look at the lens and think "it's not good enough" or "I need this." Being a photographer is about taking pictures, not using lenses. It's not "Save the Whales! Collect the Whole Set!" You only really need one, honest.

By picking a single fixed focal length lens, over time, you will really get to know that lens. At first, it might seem maddening to not have a zoom but, I promise you, over time, you'll learn exactly where you need to stand to use that lens. You won't spend time working on "footwork" anymore. And, having a single, fixed lens will give you a fixed perspective, a fixed view on things-this will make compositional choices easier for you. At this stage of the game, you're trying to teach yourself how to compose, how to envision a finished image, not how to work a lens.

Here's an interesting fact, one you might not have considered. Once you develop your compositional style, once you learn to see with something like a 50 mm lens, you can use any lens in the catalog and get the same results. Your pictures will start to look like *you've* taken them-you'll look like you. And, that's what you should be shooting for, right? You want to develop your style, your look, not collect gear that's mostly going to sit on a shelf anyway.

Also, and this must be said if you are going the digital route. Take your camera off any program mode it might have. Put it in aperture or shutter priority or even, gasp! fully manual mode if you have one. (You can do it! We know you can!) Learn to work the primary settings on your camera-the aperture, shutter speed, ASA/ISO or "film" speed, and white balance. Learn what these things mean and how they all work together to help make your photography what it is.

This may sound really impossible to do. A year might sound like an eternity. You are probably feeling this is pointless, a useless waste of time, or perhaps, just an "academic exercise" but, I promise you, it's not. A year of actually seeing photographs is the best investment you can make.

Look, you've already bought yourself a digital camera. You're interested in this right? Might as well learn, I mean really learn, how to do it. Or, were you just planning on wearing that camera around your neck and pretending a bit?

Once again, we're set for record highs here in River City and, once again, I shall get down off my soapbox to let you enjoy your day.

Until next time...

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