Oscar Wilde suggested that “Nothing worth knowing can be taught.” These are words that have puzzled some people, but I think Wilde’s meaning is pretty clear — the most valuable knowledge you’ll ever posses won’t come from any textbook or instructional video or blog entry. It’ll come from lived experiences.
This philosophy is as applicable to photography as it is anything else in life. When you’re starting out in photography, you do all the starting out things: read the manual, watch hours of YouTube videos, join online forums, subscribe to newsletters, chat with more experienced photographers.
But at some point down the line — months, years — you realize that you’ve somehow learned a few pretty important things that no one ever bothered to tell you. Of course, I can’t account for the exact nature and number of items of wisdom that others fail to pass along, but below you will find five things that nobody tells you about photography.
The Photos You Make Won’t Always Be As Good As The Time You Had Making Them
There is always going to be some emotion tied up in your photos. It doesn’t really matter what your subject is; if you’re enjoying the process, you’re likely to form a certain attachment to the photos you’re making. Even if the photos aren’t very good.
Having a good time shooting makes it easier for you to overrate your shots. Similarly, if you didn’t have a good time, you’re likelier to underestimate the shots you took.
This is why it’s important to learn to be as objective as possible about your own work. The best way to accomplish this is to exercise some patience. Assuming you’re not on a deadline, wait a few days before going through the editing process (which includes culling).
Putting some time between yourself and your shooting experience will allow the emotions to settle a bit and make it easier for you to pick out your best shots.
Photography Is Difficult
There, I said it. But I’m not equating photography with childbirth or non-Euclidean geometry. I’m just pointing out that so many people step into the photography arena having no clue about what they’re in for.
Of course, “difficult” is a subjective assessment of any given activity, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a photographer who consistently made good photos from the first moment they picked up a camera.
There’s a lot to learn to become, at best, a competent photographer. So much of the marketing behind imaging technology seems to revolve around ease of use and automation. I suppose this isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it can leave the uninitiated with the impression that creating a world-class photo is as simple as pressing a button.
This is false.
It’s also an insult to those, past and present, who have put in the work of learning, understanding, applying and adapting all the varied elements that go into making superior photos — light, composition, subject matter, environment, framing, color, contrast, etc.
Knowing that photography is hard to learn shouldn’t be a deterrent from trying. It should be what drives you.
Camera Gear Matters
Your first camera will probably include a kit lens, which is typically a zoom lens, something in the 18-55mm range, with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 or so. I’ve attempted to make a case for kit lenses — many of them are better than people give them credit for. But sometimes they really aren’t enough.
If you plan to do serious studio work, you’re going to need lights and modifiers and backdrops.
For sports photography, you’ll need a camera with a high burst rate.
Unfortunately, much of the discussion around gear that you’ll encounter online comes down to this brand versus that, crop sensor versus full frame and oh, so many megapixels.
But the logic behind what gear matters and how much is simple: get the tools you need to get the job done.
Camera Gear Doesn’t Matter
Megapixels, sensor size and hybrid AF have nothing to do with what you bring to the table as a creative individual. Captivating photos are truly the product of a photographer’s sharp mind and vision.
You can make a great photo if you have: a $100 35mm camera and roll of expired film; a 5-year-old digital point-and-shoot; a cell phone; a used mirrorless camera and an adapted legacy lens.
No matter what gear you use, you are the critical element that underscores every shot you take.
You’re Going To Spend A Lot Of Time In Front Of A Computer
And I’m not talking about watching photography videos on YouTube or reading Light Stalking articles. I’m talking about editing your photos.
Perhaps it’s not the actual editing itself, rather the entirety of the workflow that so many photographers find tedious. Then again, it might be the actual editing. Either way, you’re going to spend more time than you expected in front of a screen.
There are a few ways around this problem:
- Shoot less – That’s no fun.
- Outsource your photos – That’s expensive.
- Shoot JPGs – Not a perfect solution, but it’s something.
Your best bet is to just get used to it.
Think back to when you were a new photographer. Is there something that you wish a more experienced photographer would have shared with you in the beginning? Feel free to share those thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for part two.