Man 5 years can change A LOT! Both of these are pictures I proudly took and at some point proudly displayed. I want to touch on a topic that keeps coming up and is a sore spot for some professional photographers: aspiring photographers. Now before you get offended and run off, know I am approaching this from a “been there” perspective. There are several pitfalls that I fell face first into, that I want to share in hopes that others who “aspire” can skip my shame and embarrassment. ***Disclaimer: All of these images ARE MINE! I took these and have a hard time even admitting that some of these were published.
Pitfall #1: Assuming a Good Camera = Good Pictures
I started learning photography on an advanced Point & Shoot with Manual Options. I didn’t even begin to offer sessions for practice or portfolio until I could maneuver the manual settings and got ready to move up to a DSLR. The first image here was taken on my first DSLR with full manual settings. I “thought” I had a good handle on “M” mode and “thought” that this new fancy camera was going to change everything. BOY WAS I WRONG! Turns out, although I shot in Manual, I had NO REAL CLUE how each setting related to the other, and the fancy DSLR just made finding my settings more difficult!
How to avoid this pitfall?
First off realize that the camera is only as good as the button pusher. DO NOT fear Manual mode, BUT don’t spend your time “practicing” by offering free sessions that end up turning out terrible. You’ll end up embarrassed, even if just privately embarrassed because everyone is “Liking” them on Facebook. These first images you sell still represent you, but they also paint a picture of how far you’ve come…I’ve got more scary ones to share. Instead of offering sessions to learn and practice, practice on inanimate objects: a bowl of fruit, a glass of marbles, flowers, something that doesn’t require constant changes. Sit down with the chosen inanimate subject and shoot away. Try changing just your shutter speed, then reset it and just change ISO, then reset it and just change F-Stop. Take these images to your computer and see how the settings relate. No one has to see these blurry messes, this is your time to play and practice. This is digital so it costs nothing to click DELETE!
Pitfall #2: Not getting it right in the camera
When I started editing, I had a freeware editing software and then a bootleg copy of some “professional” software. (This was YEARS AGO!) I thought having that software would make all my in-camera mistakes disappear. AGAIN I WAS WRONG! When I teach photography classes, I teach my students get it right in the camera! Even the best Lightroom and Photoshop can’t fix a bad picture. They can make it bearable or shareable but can’t make it GREAT!
How to avoid this pitfall?
The key is knowing your camera, especially knowing manual mode, because in any auto mode (A, P, T, etc.) you are trusting your camera to not be stupid. Guess What? THEY’RE STUPID! They pick the wrong settings ALL THE TIME! And if you don’t control the settings, it will. Then you and your reputation are at the mercy of some silicon bits. Take the time to learn the exposure triangle. Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO. Learn how they intermingle with each other. Changing one affects all 3.
Pitfall #3: Using filters, apps, and presets to try and cover up a poorly taken image
No amount of expensive presets and filters OR free apps and web editors will fix my poorly taken 2nd and 3rd image. Selective color, sepia, Instagram looks only disguise a bad image. Deep down behind all that faux sun-flair is still the remnants of something that could have been great. Usually this is a fall back technique when an auto mode chose a stupid setting OR in my case the problem was always PIPNIC (Problem In Photographer, Not In Camera) because I always shot manual. I would try these “creative touches” as a smoke screen for the truth: MY IMAGE SUCKED!!! It was grainy, out of focus, blown out, had motion blur…whatever the case was, it sucked!
How to avoid this pitfall?
Stop using these things! PicMonkey and Instagram filters aren’t editing software. And even if you have Lightroom and Photoshop, all these downloadable filters and “actions” aren’t hiding the truth. All those images will follow you, as you gain skill and try to build a reputable portfolio. I recommend watching videos and having a licensed copy of Lightroom. That is the MOST powerful editor you’ll ever need, ESPECIALLY if you are getting it right in camera. Keep your images true-to-life, whether they a posed, done with props, or lifestyle, keep it real.
Even though someone may click “Like” or give your image a ❤ on social media, it doesn’t mean it is a good image. It means some is being nice and either likes the subject of the picture or likes you. They may not have a photographic eye or not want to hurt your feelings. They see a cute kid, but what you want them to see is an amazing photo. I will tell you that honesty will help you grow, BUT IT HURTS! And to get honesty, you often have to go to someone more experienced who can not only tell you what is wrong BUT WHY! Seeing the problem is only half the battle, figuring out a solution so that you can advance is the other.
I was once in those “Aspiring Photographer” shoes, in some ways I still am, because I ALWAYS aspire to do better. I don’t forget the embarrassment of having to turn over a sub-par session or going back to a friend and apologizing for how terrible those wedding pictures were after looking back on them. I teach classes now to help people avoid being in my shoes, and I am always happy to help ANYONE who asks.