Becoming a better photographer

Kompong Klaeng kids, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Wet Season in Kampong Kleang – Tonle Sap Lake – Cambodia – George Mann

Years ago you had a 35mm SLR and a bag full of lenses. Then the digital camera revolution came along and like most people you just bought a point and shoot camera. As a matter of fact you have bought quite a few of them over the years, as the technology has evolved.

Now you feel an urge to get back into enjoying photography and have finally broken down and bought an expensive digital SLR and a couple of nice lenses. The only problem is that you are not too happy with the results. In some ways your old point and shoot actually gave you better results. What should you do next?

Should you buy more camera equipment?

A lot of photographers (both Amateur and Professional) seem to think that this is the answer to their problems. So they are constantly shopping for new camera bodies, lenses and other accessories. The camera equipment manufacturers certainly support this solution, as a matter of fact they encourage it quite vigorously.

For some types of photography, highly specialized equipment, is actually very important. Sports and wildlife photographers require cameras that are very responsive (both focusing and metering) and can shoot long sequences of exposures, at the highest speeds available. Just as important the lenses need to be fast focusing and able to give good results in every kind of weather and light that they might encounter. To cover many different situations a professional sports photographer also need a wide range of different focal length lenses, from extreme wide angle to very long telephoto.

Commercial photographers also need to have access to a lot of special cameras, lenses and special lighting equipment, because they have to produce the exact image that their client requires. More than any other type of photographers, they rely on equipment rental companies, to provide them with the equipment needed for specific assignments, and only buy what they use on a daily basis.

Photojournalists and commercial photographers who travel a lot, actually used to carry quite a lot of equipment with them in the film camera days. The new travel regulations and the high cost of digital camera equipment has changed this situation quite dramatically though. Even small format professional camera bodies and lenses are also fairly large and heavy now.

Not to say that there is anything wrong with buying a lot of expensive camera equipment (especially if you can afford it), but it is not really necessary to own a lot of equipment, to produce great images. Most importantly it is not really necessary to carry all that equipment with you, every time you go out to do some photography.

Should you change your shooting day habits?

This is probably a very sensitive subject to some people, but how you approach your photography and who you take on your photography trips, is going to be a very big influence on how your photography turns out. Friends, wives, girlfriends and children are very important in our lives, but they can be a very big distraction and also often make it impossible to devote the time and energy necessary to get even a good shot, much less a great one.

For some people photography is something they can only do alone, for others it is a great experience to share with like minded friends. For the lucky few, it is even something they can do with their entire family and friends around them. Whatever the successful formula is for you, you have to realize that a great picture can take an entire day to capture, and sometimes a number of days, spread out over an even longer period of time.

Ansel Adams once said something to the effect, that he was happy if he took one good (OK, one incredibly great) picture a year. This is the kind of sacrifice that really good photography often demands.

Should you join a photography club, class or workshop?

Yes, to all the above. If you want to get better as a photographer, it is very important to have friends that are also photographers. The best way to meet other photographers are in photography groups, classes and workshops. Many experienced photographers (including seasoned professionals) attend workshops several times a year, because they know that there is always something new to learn.

Photography clubs either virtual or in the real world are good because they give you access to others people, who are also into “taking pictures” and understand the rewards and frustrations of having photography as a hobby. Even if you don’t always get the best advice from your fellow club members, you are at least encouraged to keep trying new things. If you are lucky you can also find someone in a photo club, who really does know everything and is also willing to share his knowledge.

Photography classes and seminars can usually be found in large metropolitan areas and although I have been bored to death at some of them, I always manage to learn something. It doesn’t really matter how much or how little you know, someone else can always teach you something and sometimes really surprise you.

Workshops are my favorite way to learn anything. There is nothing like actually doing it, while you are learning. Even though I give workshops myself, I enjoy nothing better than attending another photographer’s workshop.

Please contact George Mann for more information – george@nikondp.com

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