I think I’ve found my calling! Well, at least for this particular time in my life. In the last few months I’ve been engaged in flower photography and loving it. Who would have thought. Here’s just one of my images for you to enjoy.
When it comes to photography and the quest to improve, there is no shortage of advice out there. Some of it’s great, some of it is rather questionable, and some of it is utter nonsense. Here’s some of the worst advice I’ve received over the years.
First, before we get into the article itself I want to make it absolutely clear that I’m talking from a purely personal, subjective viewpoint. As the title suggests, this is the worst advice that I have ever received. It may not be applicable to you and you may well disagree with my viewpoint, but I’m sure there are other types of advice that you have received that have been equally as bad from your own perspective. So with that out of the way, let’s get going.
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not but when I was an undergraduate student at university in Sydney, I studied liberal arts. A Bachelor of Arts is what I graduated with, to be specific. A B.Arts (or BA) in Australia is often derogatorily referred to as a “Bugger All” degree, which in local lingo means it’s pretty much worthless because of the idea that it doesn’t really train you to enter into any particular vocation. However, what it does certainly help you with is critical thinking and I learned very early during my time at university that advice and opinions, no matter who they’re from, are very similar in that everyone has them but they’re not necessarily helpful a lot of the time when you get them. Learning to become a critical thinker is immensely beneficial in that it allows you to sift through a myriad of information more acutely and more quickly identify things that might assist you in whatever research you’re doing.
Thus, when I began my journey into photography and started to get a little bit more serious about it, quite naturally I began to encounter more and more people in the field. Some were teachers, others were experienced professionals, while others were simply enthusiastic hobbyists. Yet they all had their own opinions about what good photography is and what you should do to improve. I found it incredibly interesting listening to so many different viewpoints but it very quickly became apparent that, for me, a lot of it was nonsense that was completely irrelevant to me and my goals.
Only Shoot in Manual Mode
One of the worst pieces of advice I got from many people in different genres was to always shoot in manual mode. No doubt, looking back, it was purely an ego thing and a desire to show other people how much they knew about the craft and their equipment, and a way to separate themselves from the plebs beneath them who used any kind of auto function on their cameras. Usually, the idea behind shooting manual only was that it gave you total control over all of the settings so you weren’t held hostage in any way by the whims of the pre-installed computer inside your camera making decisions for you.
For me, there are very few absolutes in life, more so in photography, so using all of the available options on a camera seems rather prudent to me in most situations. Therefore, when people insisted that I didn’t use any other setting except for manual mode I usually gave them a polite smile and quickly left them to their own devices.
Drill Down Into A Specific Niche
Another piece of advice that I’ve always found rather baffling is the idea that you should find your niche in photography quickly and really focus on that specific type of photography at the expense of everything else. Or, as another friend said, “always stay in your lane.” The essence of this is the notion that you should master your craft in a very specific area of photography rather than float around in different genres while becoming a master of none. Of course, this idea might apply perfectly to people whose sole income relies on a rigid type of photography such as studio portraits of newborns but for the majority of photographers, I can’t think of anything more limiting.
Going back to point one above and the benefits of a liberal arts education, it might come as quite a surprise to you that over a third of the current CEOs in Fortune 500 companies have a liberal arts degree. For example, Slack founder Stewart Butterfield, as well as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, both have a master’s degree in philosophy, and co-founder of the search engine Aardvark, Damon Horowitz, holds a doctorate in philosophy. What does this mean? It means that having a broad education and a wide understanding of a variety of different areas helps you immensely in your chosen field.
Thus, when you apply that to photography, understanding and practicing a vast array of genres will, ultimately, help you in whatever specific genre of photography you’re focused on. For instance, if you’re a wedding photographer who makes money by shooting weddings every weekend then it will benefit you greatly if you also have a good understanding of landscape and seascape photography. That way, when you’re shooting the bride and groom before the wedding or after the wedding for their specific couple shots you can take them out into areas of nature and use your knowledge of landscape photography to produce shots that are much better than if you had no idea about any of the concepts in landscape photography or how to use natural light. You can say the same about mixing and matching many different genres.
Finally, we arrive at, by far, the worst photography advice I’ve ever received. For me, photography is a creative pursuit where I can express my views and emotions through imagery. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t, but producing images must always come from my love for taking photos. Like everyone, I go through phases where I just don’t feel in love with photography. Indeed, for the last month or so I’ve barely picked up a camera owing to different circumstances, but I haven’t missed it at all because I haven’t felt any real enthusiasm or desire to go out and take photos. That’s absolutely fine because I know the creative juices will start flowing again, as they always do.
However, when I first started out with photography and found myself in these periods of inertia, I got so many people suggesting the same thing to me. What was it? To go out and give myself a 30-day challenge taking photos in a genre I’m not normally interested in. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything worse. I always wondered why on earth anyone would force themselves to do something they have no particular interest in for 30 straight days. Just why?
Of course, the idea is that it might give you new ideas or rekindle your passion for taking photos, but that’s simply not how I work. You might think this is counter-intuitive to my ideas above about liberal arts and educating yourself in many areas, but it’s not. In liberal arts, as in photography genres, you have a lot of choices about what you can study, but that doesn’t mean you should study things you’re simply not interested in. For example, during my BA I never went anywhere near anything related to business or economics. Just as in photography, I’ve never had any interest whatsoever in product photography. That’s just personal.
If I’m not interested in something, I won’t do it, so I can’t think of anything worse than forcing myself to photograph things for 30 days straight in the hope that I find the bug again. And it’s not just the photography, is it? You have to categorize your raw files, edit them, cull the ones you don’t like, and so forth. Can you imagine how much time that would take over 30 days? Doing such a challenge would likely kill me off rather than help me in any way.
To reiterate, these ideas are personal. Your feelings might be different. But the big takeaway here is that you don’t need to follow all the advice you get, no matter who it comes from. Take what works for you but don’t be afraid to ditch the other stuff. What about you? What’s some of the worst photography advice you’ve ever had? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Self-improvement is paramount to success and a well-rounded, happy life, at least in my eyes. I am always looking for ways I can change for the better and learn, but the older I get, the more I realize that one change mattered more than most.
While I find it largely inexplicable, Pareto’s Principle appears to apply to most areas of my life. For the unfamiliar, Pareto’s Principle is — roughly put — that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. That is, for example, 80% of your rewards will come from 20% of your work. It isn’t always true for my businesses, and this kind of thinking can send you into unwanted stagnation and a reticence to try new things, but you might be surprised just how applicable to your life it is.
When I look at changes I have made to how I operate based on what I have learned, most have had an impact to some degree. However, there is one simplistic alteration to how I approach everything and its impact has been significant. I won’t bury the lede — I’ll put the mindset shift in the subheading below — but this article will explore why it’s a philosophy you ought to adopt if you haven’t already.
Failing Is Almost Always More Valuable Than Not Trying
There is a common thread with creatives — very common in fact. It is this bizarre blend of perfectionism and anxiety, where you will accept nothing less than perfect, but as a result, are terrified of falling short. It is a crippling concoction at times that leads to an unwillingness to start. Fear of failure isn’t exclusive to creatives, but we are a strange breed, and it is most certainly more common than many other professions. This fear of failure is only paralyzing, however, when it is paired with perfectionism.
Society looks at perfectionism through favorable goggles. It is usually seen as the hallmark of the industrious, ideal employee, but I believe that to seldom be the case. While perfectionists are generally more conscientious — and that is a good thing — they’re also more risk-averse and reluctant to challenge themselves. I have seen this regularly with creatives and am guilty of it myself. The desire — or more likely, the expectancy — of only the very best at all times is a heavy cross to bear. In the early days of my career, I was extremely hesitant to take on shoots where I felt underqualified. There seemed to be a steady procession of opportunities that gave me anxiety and filled me with self-doubt. “I can’t do that,” “what if I’m not good enough,” and “I’ll expose myself as some sort of fraud,” goes the self-talk. I truly can’t remember which shoot was the first that I took on despite those toxic words floating around my mind, but I realized afterward that the rewards and satisfaction upon its conclusion was phenomenal.
This article isn’t, however, about fearing failure and then succeeding per se (though that is what will usually happen, I assure you), but instead about avoiding putting yourself into situations where you can fail. The world is obsessed with perfect records, win streaks, and flawless careers, but that is white noise. Nobody who has ever achieved anything significant has done so without wading through failures — they can’t. To do great things — and I mean that in both local and global terms — you must push past the comfortable and into the unknown.
This isn’t to say that a fear of failure is irrational, or that failure doesn’t hurt, or that you ought not to care if you fail. Rather, as far as I can tell, the best rewards — the ones worth having — are gated behind the opportunities where you have the fear of failure, the anxiety, the self-doubt.
The Rewards of Failure
The term “failure” is all too broad and is synonymous with absolute catastrophe. This plays into the hands of the pessimistic defeatist that is coiled at the back of the creative’s mind — imagined horrors of being called a fraud and a career in ruins. I am sure this has happened, but the likelihood of it happening to someone with a fear of failure is slim, of that I’m sure. As the old adage goes, if you think you’re going mad, you probably aren’t. That is, a truly mad person wouldn’t be compos mentis enough to reasonably assess they’re going mad. The conscientious creative is far too worried about disappointing someone and making large mistakes to really fail so tremendously that it is a complete and mortifying failure.
This isn’t to claim that failures won’t happen — they will — but do not be fooled into thinking they’re rarer than dog eggs just by how little they are discussed. Every photographer I know in this business has failures under their belt; a few even talk about them. I have a couple and I can’t lie to you, they still haunt me, but so they should, as that leads to growth. One failure of mine was for a client who wanted a lot in a very short amount of time (incidentally, my two go-to failures if I fancy torturing myself follow the exact same lead-up of high demand and low time, to an almost unrealistic degree). Much of the work required was unchartered territory for me, and while I informed the client of that, I also made it clear I could do the work. The issue arose when I started hitting unexpected speed bumps left and right, and despite working every hour I could keep myself awake, it was not enough. Some of the work I had done was fantastic, but the work out of my comfort zone had been a mixed bag of success and failure. The client discussed working together again in the future, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath.
There’s no use in mincing my words here: I was devastated. I felt like a con artist who had been caught out, an arrogant person who overstated their abilities. In retrospect, there were a lot of mitigating circumstances and the client did admit a fair amount of fault too, but I did not do myself justice, and my new client and I parted ways. But, that’s where the story ends. Nothing actually changed. The streets weren’t lined with cackling accusers, and my life and career continued. It wasn’t a career-ending disaster, and I’d go as far as to say if that client and I had never met, I’d have still continued in the same way, still acquiring new clients at the same pace I did.
The failure was worth the risk and for a few reasons. Firstly, I have a sadistic appreciation for extremely demanding clients. You typically learn the most and improve the most when you have to perform at your very best. Secondly, the failure really wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it might be. There are cases in which failures have been awful, I’m sure, but they’re rare, and I have to reiterate here: everybody fails. I’m not interested in “outing” any of my fellow professionals, but I have heard some horror stories of far greater failures, and still, they march on with successful careers in the industry. The sort of failure you concoct in your mind and before a shoot that pushes you and the consequent fallout after it is more or less never going to happen.
Conclusion and TLDR
I will keep this succinct, and for those of you who have scrolled straight to this, firstly, how dare you, but secondly, these are the takeaways: failure is common, and the sort of failure you imagine is borderline unheard of. In failure, however, you learn far more than you ever could in success, and so not only are the best rewards hiding behind failure and therefore worth the risk, but the bonus of learning hard lessons rounds out the risk versus reward nicely in favor of the latter.
To summarize the first section, I will just reiterate the most important part: this isn’t to say that a fear of failure is irrational, or that failure doesn’t hurt, or that you ought not to care if you fail. Rather, as far as I can tell, the best rewards — the ones worth having — are gated behind the opportunities where you have the fear of failure, the anxiety, the self-doubt.
I just realized that I’ve been doing photography seriously for ten years (plus some change). So, I’d like to take this chance to look back and share ten of the most important things I’ve learned along the way, in chronological order.
2012: JPEG Has Consequences
The first trip I took with a “serious” camera (the Nikon D5100) was to Oregon and the Pacific Coast in the Northwest United States. I daresay that most of my photos were awful, but I was having fun, and a couple of them didn’t turn out so bad.
Unfortunately, I shot all but a handful of the photos during the trip with highly compressed JPEG settings. They looked fine on the back of my camera, but when I brought them back to my computer for editing, I noticed the issues right away. Blocky details and weird artifacts up close. Colors and highlights that I couldn’t shift without strange results. And harsh sharpening artifacts on all the edges in the photo. (That one was my fault for setting in-camera sharpening to the max!)
Anyway, I know that shooting raw files isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a dedicated photographer who wants to edit your photos much at all (hey, like almost everyone reading this!) go for raw.
2013: Practice Is Key
The lesson I realized next was even more important than shooting in raw, and possibly the most important thing I’ve ever learned as a photographer. Practice is the best – and possibly only – way to improve.
It’s clearest at the beginning but applies no matter your skill level. For the vast majority of photographers, your later photos will be better than your earlier photos.
For practice, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the most beautiful scenery in the world or whether you take pictures in your backyard. The key is to get some photos and as many hours as possible doing photography.
2014: There’s Value in Prime Lenses
Something that I lacked for a while as a photographer was thought. I was a point-and-shoot photographer even though I had a DSLR. It took a couple years (at least) before my best photos were the result of deliberate effort on my part rather than lucky chance.
I credit this to a few things – practice foremost of all – but switching from a zoom kit to a prime lens kit helped a lot. With primes, the photo you’re about to take often won’t look quite right at first. Rather than zooming until it looks acceptable, you’re almost forced to walk around and figure out a better composition.
This doesn’t mean prime lenses are better than zooms (and my current kit includes some of both) but that for photographers starting out, a set of primes might push you to improve faster than a set of zooms.
2015: Effort Has a Complex Relationship with Results
This is the year I went on one of the most influential trips of my life, to Iceland – the first time I traveled somewhere specifically for photography and little else.
On that trip, I did two of the more difficult hikes of my life. The first was an amazing trail that followed dozens of waterfalls and was filled with photographic opportunities. The second was a 17-mile slog (about 27 km) through swarms of flies and difficult terrain, with very little photographic payoff.
The effort was worth it the first time and not the second. And after I returned home, I realized that my favorite photo from the trip was one of the easiest ones I had taken, just a few hundred feet from a parking lot.
Effort can lead to results in photography, but it doesn’t always, and sometimes the best photos are the easiest to take. Don’t confuse the quality of a photo with how difficult or easy it was to take.
2016: Focus at Double the Distance
To this day, the technique that I find the most useful as a landscape photographer – when my goal is to have an equally sharp foreground and background – is a little tip called double the distance.
You simply compose your photo and look for whatever object in the foreground is the closest to your camera. If that object is three feet / one meter away (horizontally), focus on something six feet / 2 meters away from your camera. When you do, you’ll equalize foreground and background sharpness every time. (Likewise if your subject is any other distance away. Focus at double the distance.)
This equalization happens no matter what focal length or aperture you use, which I find really remarkable. Of course, you still need to use a decent aperture in order to get enough depth of field – but even if you shoot at f/1.4, the foreground and background will be equal in how out of focus they are.
It took me more years to learn than it should have, since the technique is surprisingly little-known, but I’m glad I got there eventually.
2017: Don’t Skimp on Focal Lengths
For several years prior to 2017, my entire kit in photography consisted of (at most) three lenses: a 24mm, 50mm, and 105mm prime. I had been wondering for a while what possibilities I was missing by ignoring the wider and longer ends. Near the end of 2016, I expanded my kit with a 14-24mm and 70-200mm, and I started to realize throughout 2017 how good of a decision this was.
In the years since, I’ve taken at least a third of my favorite photos wider than 24mm or longer than 105mm. That’s not to say everyone needs such a broad range of focal lengths, but if you think you might, go for it – with primes, zooms, or a mix. Even a low-quality superzoom is better than not covering important focal lengths at all.
2018: Broaden Your Skillset
This is the year that I interned at Backpacker magazine for a few months. I had always thought of myself as “outdoorsy” and reasonably good at hiking, camping, and so on. Being around actual experts made it clear that I still had a lot of skills to pick up.
I did my best to pick up those skills when I could, and I put them to the test later in the year when I did a 100 mile (160 km) hike in Iceland with my dad that summer. It’s the most difficult and beautiful hike I’ve ever done in my life, and I took some of my all-time favorite photos along the way. It would not have been possible without broadening my skillset to other, not-quite-photography areas.
In other words, the more I learned about related fields like hiking and camping, the better my photography got.
2019: Image Averaging Is Underrated
Every photographer knows about panoramas and HDR. Most know about focus stacking. But until recently, a fourth method of merging photos – image averaging – was relegated to very niche fields like astrophotography.
I’ve learned much more about image averaging in the years since, but this is when I first realized how powerful it could be. Rather than lugging around a heavy, expensive 14-24mm f/2.8 everywhere I went for astrophotography, I could bring along practically any lens and get excellent image quality at night.
I’ve written about image averaging before, a few times actually (see for star photography, mimicking HDR, and just in general). But it’s one of the more recent “new techniques” I’ve added to my toolbox, and I only wish I had started using it sooner.
2020: Make Time for Photography
This was an awful year in so many ways. Even just looking at the field of photography, a lot changed for the worse. Photographers thrive on travel and meeting people – two things that were severely limited, if possible at all, for much of the year.
2020 is also the only year since I started photography where I have a month (actually more than one) without a single photo in my Lightroom catalog. I simply stopped doing photography for weeks at a time.
When I finally started to get out a bit more near the end of the year, I found that taking pictures helped me feel happier and less stressed. My overall mental state improved as a result of a few weekends here and there that I dedicated to photography.
Most of us are photographers because it’s something we love and enjoy. Don’t forget that, and try to make time for photography whenever possible.
2021: Explore Your Local Areas
I’ve lived in Colorado for just over two years, and while I’ve explored some parts of the state in detail, massive areas are totally unknown to me. I’ve tried to make a point in recent months to get out to places that I haven’t been, and it’s been a great decision.
I also spent a couple months in Florida at the start of 2021 and found several places for macro photography that I had never seen before. So far this year, I’ve taken more photos than any other year, and I’ve spent more days doing photography – almost all of it local.
Even if you don’t think you live in an interesting area for photography, that’s almost certainly untrue. See if there are any waterfalls or forests within an hour’s drive from you. If not, what about macro photography opportunities? You can take great macro photos anywhere, even indoors, with a bit of effort.
Photographers can get caught up in the idea of visiting exotic locales and forget that good photos can be taken anywhere. Bring out your camera and go exploring!
There are literally thousands and thousands of 35mm film cameras that have been produced over the last 100 years or so, and more are being manufactured even now. However, there’s one camera that sits at the top of the tree, at least for me.
The sheer number of 35mm film cameras is astounding. Thousands of brands and models have been made over multiple decades, and there are still new ones being manufactured to this day by companies like Lomography and Leica. They offered more affordable film cameras to the masses while maintaining a high degree of precision and accuracy in image capture.
Though some were big and bulky, there have been many variants that slip easily into the pocket. With such a wide range of 35mm flavors, it’s probably impossible to pick the best 35mm film camera in the world. That’s why I have to get subjective in my pick of the best 35mm film camera ever made, because it’s what is perfect to me. I know a lot of others will agree with me and many more will disagree entirely, but this is my two cents.
The Nikon F100
Like many 35mm film cameras, you can only pick up the Nikon F100 secondhand, as it was introduced in 1999 with a production run of seven years, ending in 2006 alongside many other Nikon film cameras. As digital started to slip into the camera market in the early to mid-2000s, film cameras were slowly phased out, and I believe that this period was the peak for 35mm film cameras, especially in the SLR range, because of modern manufacturing techniques and engineering refinement throughout decades of production. It’s easy to forget that 35mm cameras have still been manufactured for many decades longer than any digital counterpart, and so, the engineering involved in these cameras was absolutely top-notch.
The F100 was a high-end 35mm SLR camera, and as such, it was a little bigger than other types of 35mm cameras, (though certainly not the biggest). Compared to many of today’s DSLRs, though, it will sit happily in a camera bag with no extra room required; in fact, it is slightly thinner than most modern DSLRs. Thanks to its compact magnesium body, it weighs in at 785 g without batteries and so will carry well, making it ideal for landscape, portraits, travel, and just about any other kind of work you need to do.
It’ll keep up with you as well, with Programmed Auto, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual modes being your main port of call. This makes it easy for beginners to get stuck in with the semi-automatic modes while maintaining the pro-level handling with manual mode for those more experienced. Although originally aimed at professional users, beginners will also find this camera accessible and easy to get good exposures thanks to its 10-segment Matrix metering system.
One of the big differences I found between DSLRs and the F100 is the amount of space in the viewfinder. It’s not the largest optical viewfinder in the world, sitting only at 0.76x magnification, but it feels spacious, airy, and bright. It really allows me to connect with my scene and subject matter much more intimately. I cannot stress how much this changes the shooting experience; you’re actually able to look around the scene with the same precision as the naked eye.
The F100 uses the Multi-CAM1300 AF system as seen in its bigger brother, the F5, which gives the F100 the ability to choose between five autofocus points, and utilizes TTL phase detection autofocus for fast focusing and super-sharp results. Because of this, it has an autofocus detection range from EV -1 all the way up to EV 19 — not massive by modern mirrorless standards, but still awesome for its time. It shoots at 4.5 frames per second (and will go up to 5 with the additional Nikon MB-15 battery pack). There’s also no winding of film due to the automatic film advance. There’s a whole host of camera features here and plenty of automatic, electronically controlled modern conveniences to boot, including automatic exposure bracketing with two or three shots in steps of 1/3-, 1/2-, 2/3- or 1-stop increments.
You’re also able to use a wide range of Nikon-mount lenses on this camera thanks to the compatibility with the F mount. Older lenses and newer lenses will work on the F100 with only a few specialist lenses not functioning properly or unable to be attached to the body, such as extreme fisheyes, pre-AI lenses, and AF-P lenses.
There are drawbacks to the F100, but I like to ignore them for the most part because this camera is just so incredibly good all around. However, it wouldn’t be right of me not to mention them here. The first to highlight is the possible issues one might face with the body sealing. There’s a lack of foam seals on the F100, and some users have reported that this makes it prone to dust and dirt entering the camera body, with regular cleaning and servicing needed. Personally, I’ve never experienced that, but then, I haven’t lugged it through a desert or a hurricane. Perhaps these issues are more brought about depending on the conditions in which you use the F100, or maybe it’s a lack of regular cleaning that you should be doing any way. However, it’s important to point out that this is something others have found with the camera.
It doesn’t shoot quite as fast as the F5, but then that’s because it was introduced in a different class. It also has a different price bracket. Due to the reliability and incredible robustness of the F100, this is still quite pricey secondhand when compared with some other more budget-friendly options out there. It’s currently on the market floating at around $200 for the body (and occasionally a lens depending on its condition).
No, it’s not going to keep up with a modern mirrorless camera, nor is it the absolute peak of SLR technology when it comes to high FPS, autofocus points, or focusing technology. But it’s a fantastic mid-point of cost, reliability, features, and accessibility for a range of photographers. The beauty of the F100 is in its modern conveniences, its size, its price point (even in the secondhand world), and that stunning optical viewfinder that just opens up the world to your eyes. That’s why, for my money, it’s the best 35mm film camera ever made.
What a strange year this has been, right? Yet, curiously, this has also been a year in which I have probably taken the greatest leaps in my photography for some time. Because when you are doing something new, or have been pushed into a new way of life, you can either freeze and panic… or you can use it as an opportunity to try new things. To innovate.
What a strange year this has been, right? Yet curiously this has been a year in which I have probably taken the greatest leaps in my photography for some time. Because when you are doing something new, or have been pushed into a new way of life, you can either freeze and panic, or you can use it as an opportunity to try new things. To innovate.
Of course, we’ve had our share of freezing and panicking, but overall we have been focusing on this idea from Albert Einstein as a way to keep ourselves inspired:
“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
I would love to share 4 ideas that have made an impact and helped me develop my photography this year.
1. Being a beginner is an awesome opportunity
During the lockdown I got super into watching youtube videos of people painting with a tablet. It really inspired me! So I ordered a tablet and have been, in my odd moments of time, usually late at night when my kids are in bed, playing around with it.
I am pretty terrible at it so far! But you know what is so cool about being a beginner – you know that you’re not supposed to be good so you can just play around and have fun. Experiment.
Being a beginner means you aren’t constrained by any previous ideas, you can relax and just go with the learning process. People can be at their most creative when they ‘don’t know’ the proper way to do things, and that is something to celebrate. When you are bogged down by knowing a lot, it can actually constrain and confine you. It can make you think of the rules too much and what is and what isn’t possible.
All of this is to say: if you are new to photography, if you are feeling intimidated by how much there is to learn, try to throw out that feeling of overwhelm and instead celebrate the experience of not knowing. Knowledge and skills will come. But the magic of a beginner’s mind happens only once, and you’ll never know what you can make until you get started!
And if you aren’t new to photography, take a leaf out of the Zen Buddhists’ book, and try to cultivate this concept of a beginner’s mind as a way to approach your shooting:
“Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning ‘beginner’s mind.’ It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”
I’ve also been starting out the learning process with my new HD filters, and I’ll tell you this – I’ve already created some downright boring shots. But you know what I also know as a professional? That you often have to go through a lot of boring or rubbish shots when you are trying something new, trying out new ideas and concepts, or new kit.
It’s rare to get good at something straight away, and get something beautiful and incredible. So I am in no way disheartened. In fact I know it’s just part of the process.
2. Constraints can be magic for your creativity and imagination
It’s important to me as a photographer to be taking photos on a regular basis. To remember that it’s important to me, even if it’s not directly related to work or a commission or a project. And so when we were in lockdown, I decided to look around my apartment and find something I could do inside that would be a great project.
This was a huge challenge for me because I am not a still life photographer, I very, very rarely shoot inside. My love is for natural light and for exploring and wandering around outside – and I am just as happy in a cool city as in nature. The point for me is exploration and looking for interesting light.
Setting myself a project inside was pretty strange, but ended up unbelievably cool. So cool in fact that the work I made is the best I have done in probably the last year or two – so much so it’s going to be my next gallery show.
I won’t share it with you right now, but the cool thing is when you have endless choices it can often feel like – what the heck do I shoot? But when you have very few choices it can get your imagination into working overtime to create something. I have often felt like my imagination works best when confined by time or place or location. It makes me work that bit harder to make something beautiful.
So what can you create right now with your photography? Regardless of the situation you are in – on a long commute, confined at home, over busy with kids – how could you use the limitations you are under to make something?
3. Everything ordinary is extraordinary
Like most of us, you’ve probably already experienced deeply challenging periods in your life. Who alive hasn’t had their life upended by grief, loss or pain? But there is something pretty unique about this pandemic situation – it’s an issue that we all share, a challenge that we all face.
Of course, there are people who are suffering way, way, way more than others. Financially, physically and emotionally. It has created a lot of havoc. It has also for many of us made us remember (or realize) what is important.
We really only have one thing in this world, and that is the moment right here. Not yesterday – that is like ancient history now – or even tomorrow because that is not a given. We have now. And so what do we do with it?
What I have realized is that I don’t want to spend endless time worrying unnecessarily or not fully and totally appreciating every single thing that I have. I have remembered that I don’t want to put off the opportunities to go out shooting because I am feeling lazy or distracted. I want to fully and totally appreciate the moonlight on the sea, rather than getting getting sucked into stupid discussions on Facebook.
We can use our craft of photography to create something extraordinary from our lives at any moment. Focusing parts of our life on creating and not just consuming or doing – brings so many benefits. I can’t be reminded enough to look at the big picture and make sure I’m doing things that make me deeply satisfied.
This is to say that I encourage you to always be taking photos, to try and make a photo project, to weave your passions more and more into your daily life.
To live these moments of our life with as much reverence and gratitude as possible.
To always always always have our fingers in the creative pie, as it were.
To not put off shooting because we have too many other things to do.
Because the emails never end, the website is never perfect, and the accountant will always demand more of your attention.
4. Photography is a journey
… and it’s OK to go in and out of it, to have ups and downs. This probably sounds like the opposite of the idea above, but in fact it’s not. It’s accepting the flow of life and therefore the flow of photography.
Even though I try to be regularly doing my own photos, my own projects, I often fall out of the habit of shooting for myself. And that’s totally cool. We are not machines. We can attempt consistency, we can strive for it, but we can also not get het up with ourselves when we stop being creative.
I have periods when I don’t shoot, don’t feel creative, have no new ideas, get distracted, have important life things to do etc. But I know that when I allow myself complete freedom with my photography, and don’t have expectations of what I should be doing, that’s when I come back to photography full of ideas and energy.
So remembering that you love taking photos, but not giving yourself a hard time when it falls out of your life. Just get back to it when you can.
That is awesome and super powerful. I mean, we have expectations about so many areas of our life, so many “shoulds,” so don’t let this mysterious, amazing and wonderful area of photography be tainted by such negative concepts.
I would love to know if any of these ideas resonate with you. If you experienced any of these things this year with your photography. And what have you learnt in 2020? What has made your photography better this year?
Let me know in the comments.
In the meantime, stay safe and stay creative!
About the Author: Anthony Epes is a photographer, traveller, and teacher. He lives with his writer wife Diana and their kids by the beach in Southern Spain. Each week, he sends out a free newsletter with his very best ideas on how to become a more artistic and creative photographer. Join him on an inspiring journey to bring out the artist in you through the power and joy of photography. This article was also published on anthonyepes.com.
AP readers will need no introduction to David, a well-known travel and landscape photographer who has written numerous books on photography and is a regular speaker at camera clubs. He is also an Hon. FRPS and a Canon ambassador. Here, David tells us why he has happily changed over to mirrorless camera, despite being a long-time DSLR user – he also shares some newer work taking on the Canon EOS R5.
Comet Neowise over Cadbury Castle, Somerset, England
We remember interviewing you a few years ago and you said you weren’t that impressed by mirrorless cameras, comparing electronic viewfinders (EVFs) to cheap TV screens. So what has changed? If I am honest I still prefer optical viewfinders (OVFs) from DSLRs most of the time, and when working with mirrorless I still have to remind myself to switch the camera on before looking through it! But what has changed is the quality of the EVFs. They have improved so much, and while there are some situations where I still would prefer an OVF, mirrorless EVFs now give you a big advantage in low light.
A lightning shattered larch abover Iserables, Valais, Switzerland
Do you also like being able to get a ‘clearer’ idea of the final exposure before you take the shot? Mirrorless cameras are more ‘what you see if what you get’ That is not such a isue for me. I still use the histogram to tell me what I need to know before I take the shot. in conjunction with highlight alerts. I also use exposure compensation as necessary, particularly with travel, where opportunities can present themselves quickly.
Are you currently using the Canon EOS R series? Yes, the EOS R5.
What do you like about it? Well it’s a camera that can pretty much do it all. For landscape work, it has a high-resolution sensor. There is also a lovely tonal feel to the pictures and the dynamic range is good. I am also impressed by the ISO performance. You’d expect a 45Mp camera to be sacrificing high ISO because of the pixel density, but it is not the case here. Image quality is great. On top of that, the in-body image stabilisation is a real stop forward. I won’t stop taking a tripod out with me, but it’s quite an advantage for my travel work, especially when shooting in low light.
An Eagle Owl, Pitcombe Rock Falconry, Somerset, England
So are you still shooting with DSLRs for certain jobs? No, I have gone over to mirrorless completely and recently sold six DSLR lenses. I haven’t had so little equipment since the early 80s, it’s much more minimalist now, which is in tune with the times. Before Covid-19 struck I did a trip to Mexico, with just three lenses, and my bag was so much lighter.
Is there anything else you miss about DSLRs? Good question… I will wait and see how robust the EOS R5 is compared to a pro-spec DSLR and how it copes with a winter in Iceland. I find the battery consumption is higher with mirrorless cameras. too. But generally I am glad I changed to mirrorless. The new RF lenses deliver very impressive quality, and the eye detection AF is great when shooting portraits wide open. I like fast 85mm primes for travel portraits, and the eye detection AF on the R5 is simply amazing – its very dependable.
Perhaps it was a technical mistake, gear breakdown, blocked access, or a moment of hesitation. We’ve all missed shots at some time or another. Here are mine along with my lessons learned. Tell me about you?
Reading Robert Bagg’s article on the images we might chase as photographers got me thinking about what shots I’ve missed. I’d love to hear your stories, find out what you’ve learned, and maybe see the shots that make up for those that got away.
I wanted something like this. It was these Adams’ images from the U.S. Southwest of rocks darker than the sky that had me fascinated with how photography could do more than capture what the world looked like, that photography could be a representation of how I personally saw the world.
I certainly couldn’t afford a copy selling for some $20,000 at Christie’s. So, as an amateur, I went out and bought a wide angle and found my way to Arizona. I hiked down into Canyon de Chelly and snapped my photos. I was giddy. After a few hours, I was sure I got something that would be my version of Adams’ masterpiece. Standing on the shoulders of giants and all.
By the time I got home a week later, the image was gone, lost somewhere in the downloading and card formatting cycle. I also lost my images of Monument Valley. Crushed.
Lesson learned: create a workflow for downloading and then erasing your media files from memory cards.
Sitting in a Jeep, watching a coalition of four brother cheetahs stalk some antelope across the short grass plains of Tanzania is one of my most cherished memories. I don’t have a photograph, though. Basically, the cheetah was just too fast. As we prepared for the chase, I zeroed in on one particular cheetah. Focused. Set exposure. I was ready. When the cheetah broke for the antelope, I followed it through the viewfinder. It must have been running at about 60 or 70 kph. It was gaining on the antelope, and I was keeping up. I couldn’t believe my luck. Then, of course, the antelope started to zig and zag, and the cheetah fell slightly behind. Seeing the antelope getting away, the cheetah changed directions and then changed gears. Closing in on 100 kph, I just couldn’t keep up. The cheetah zipped out of my viewfinder. I struggled and failed to find the cheetah in the 400mm’s narrow field of vision. By the time I realized I should scan for the cheetah outside the lens, it was over. The cheetah had tripped the antelope and was in the process of finishing it off. I had missed it.
Basically, my images go from this:
Lesson learned: understand the capabilities of your subjects and make plans ahead of time for what you’ll do when they still surprise you.
Issues of Timing
As part of my trip to Bhutan, I had a week-long stopover in India. With a bit of time to burn, I figured I’d make my way to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately for me, the four minarets surrounding the Taj were covered in scaffolding and the reflecting ponds were dry for maintenance. I had to be creative and went across the Yamuna River, cropping in tight to avoid the construction.
Lesson learned: sometimes, construction or maintenance will close off the angle you want. Take advantage of the situation and find a new way of looking at your subject.
Timing isn’t always related to construction or closures. Sometimes, you miss the rains in Africa by just a few days. I had planned a trip to Tanzania to see the migration, not the oft-photographed crossing of the Mara or Grumeti Rivers. I was after something different. The migration is mostly made up of wildebeests that are constantly traveling a giant circle around the Masa Mara/Serengeti ecosystem. The wildebeest are following the rain, which gives life to the vast grasslands. This ensures that there is enough food for their vast numbers, and, when it’s time, for the 80,000 calves born during an exceptionally short few weeks, the calving season.
With these calves come the predators. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but this is a season of plenty for the big cats, hyena, and other scavengers and predators. Unfortunately, the rains were a bit late and I missed the bulk of the wildebeest. I was still incredibly lucky and ended up with a lot of time with a pride of lions with a bit too much time on their hands:
With the impending buffet, most lion prides we found had cubs galore. But, I never did get to see a lion hunt.
Speaking of rain, I had always wanted to see Venice during the Aqua Alta — a city half-submerged. A ready set of reflections for the incredible Venetian architecture. To make this dream a reality, I planned to spend a few weeks in Venice during the mid-winter rainy season. Unfortunately for me, fortunately for the Venetians, the rain never came and I never did get my opportunity. I’ll tell you what, though, having Venice half-empty was a perfect trade-off.
Finally, being a Canadian and all, I’ve always wanted to spend a bit of time with the polar bears in Northern Manitoba. As luck would have it, the year I traveled to Churchill, Hudson Bay froze a little earlier than typical — great for the bears, as they were out onto the ice a few weeks early to hunt, but not great for my portfolio. Again though, making the best of it, I did have some incredible bear encounters, just not in the numbers I was expecting.
Without the bears, we did have a lot more time to focus on some of the other animals living on the tundra.
Lesson learned: If you miss the stars, focus on some of the lesser-known cast.
Climbing just before dawn, our goals were to reach Paro Taktsang, or Tiger’s Nest, at sunrise. First, the hike was a bit longer than we expected, and second, the sun just wasn’t in the right spot. I ended up with flat, uninspiring photos.
Two days later, we tried again, this time at the end of the day. It meant we’d be hiking down in the dark, but we got the light and images we wanted.
Lesson learned: Research exposureof the sun at different times of the day. If you miss, try again.
Issues of Access
As a fan of Edward Burtynsky, while in Arizona I also made plans to get to the AMARG storage fields at Davis-Monthan AFB. I wanted to find a way to capture something like:
When I was there, it wasn’t possible to walk around on your own. The only way to see the “Boneyard” was to take a bus tour. So, my shots look more like:
I did manage to get one image that I still enjoy.
Lesson: Understand access before you show up.
Issues of Earthquakes
Having traveled halfway around the world by plane and then spent an entire day bouncing along dusty roads to reach Bwindi, I could barely sleep with the excitement of tracking mountain gorillas the next day. Sometime in the middle of the night, the jungle came alive as the ground started to shake. The relatively minor earthquake only lasted about 15 seconds or so, but it was long enough that neither the jungle nor I were going back to sleep.
Still, excited beyond words, I bounded up with the sun, ready to hike. Normally, the mountain gorillas will travel a few hundred meters a day as they forage for food and then look for somewhere to bed down. Because of the earthquake, we later learned that the spooked gorillas had moved almost 11 kilometers. By the time we found them, we had been hiking for almost 12 hours, through Bwindi, the aptly named Impenetrable Forest. Far from my imagined idyllic moment with quiet and reserved gorillas, it was a running photoshoot. Low light, a lot of movement, and long lenses meant I ended up with almost nothing from the day. It was close to impossible to find the right angle or eliminate extraneous vines and trees as the gorillas bushwhacked through the jungle, resting only long enough to taunt me.
I have one image from that day I still treasure:
Thankfully, I had booked three more treks in various parks around Uganda and Rwanda. Spoiled, I was lucky to meet Guhonda, the largest silverback in the world:
And, a newborn:
Lesson learned: always have multiple opportunities to photograph your subject if you can.
All images provided by let us go photo, except embedded Burtynsky and Ansel Adams (public domain).
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