I have a friend and fellow photographer that is fond of saying “Photography is a hobby, that all it takes is money.” To me that means if you spend enough money on equipment then you will get world class pictures. I have seen other photographers really take this to heat, I have seen photographers carry more gear everyday then some professionals carry on a photo shoot. Fortunately for I don’t have extra money to spend on gear, this fact has also really helped control my GAS, or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. My lack of extra money has also helped fuel my need to find inexpensive ways of educated myself about photography, free is always good.
My experience has shown me that it is not about how much money you spend but how much you educate yourself on your gear and about photography. My experience has also taught me that my friends saying should be changed to read; “Photography is an art, that all it takes is education.” Scott Robert Lim says that we should be spending as much or more on educating ourselves as we spend on all our gear. The best part is that there are free ways of getting education. One place to get high quality education about a lot of different topics, are you ready for plug, is CreativeLive. After watching one class on CrestiveLive, namely Crazy Stupid Light with Scott Robert Lim, my photography has grown by leaps and bounds.
Nikon d3100, ISO 100, 20mm, f/4.0, 1/100 sec, on camera flash. This shot was done before I really started to educated myself about photography (this is what it looks like after recently redoing the editing)
Nikon d5100, ISO 100, 34mm, f/11, 1/90 sec, off camera flash. This is after learning all about off camera flash from Scott Robert Lim on CreativeLive, the flash was on the left side. Behold the power of education.
As you educate yourself on techniques and you equipment you can do more with less gear. For example Scott Robert Lim, who is a world class award winning photographer, lights everything with just flashes and his own brand of portable lights, sometimes even just a flashlight. Scott Robert Lim also indicated that he doesn’t own a tripod and the only light modifier he uses is a shoot through umbrella. Because I have educated myself I now know that I have all the gear I need to take great images.
This brings up the question, what do we need to educate ourselves about? I think that there are two main areas that our education should be focused in. The 1st is equipment, or how does your equipment work. If you can’t use the equipment you have then you have worthless equipment. I have seen people with a lot of gear that don’t take the time to learn how to use it, so when they show up to a photo shoot they spend all their time trying to figure out how to make their work and not shooting. Because I have educated myself I have gone and really looked at my gear and taken the time to figure out how everything works, which has also really helped to improve my photography skills.
The 2nd area we need to focus our education is what I consider the 3 main components of a photograph; the subject, the lighting and the composition. The subject; who is the star, or the hero, of the photograph? I have seen a lot of photographs where the subject of the shot is not clearly identifiable, you need to know who is the star of the shot be it human, animal, or object. The lighting; what your subject is will help determine how you will light it. To use light effectively we must understand where the light is coming from; above, the side, back, front, etc., we must also understand the quality of light we are getting, hard or soft. For example in a portrait if the background is lit more than the subject then viewers eye is drawn to the background and not to the main person which means that the person is not the hero of the shot, the background is.
Which bring us to composition, composition that big word that we all carry around that we claim to understand. Let’s be honest here I am not a master at composition. I hear you all out there saying to yourself, “If he is not a master at composition then what makes him qualified to talk about it?” I feel I am qualified to talk about this because; A, I have educated myself some about composition, and B, because I have taught myself to slow down really look at a photo and put into words what I like and what I don’t like. When we slow down and put what we are seeing into words we make a better and more lasting connection. Scott Robert Lim say that we have the main subject of our photograph and each element in that photo needs to support the main subject. We need to be aware of the rule of thirds, our foreground, middle-ground, and back-ground elements, and what is making contact with the edges of the photo. Know the rules before you break them so when you do break them that you break them artistically and intelligently.
As photographers it is part of our job to help educate our clients; however, we cannot expect our clients to know everything about photography and what makes or breaks a photograph, but we as photographers had better know. We cannot expect to teach what we do not know. If we are not educating ourselves then we are not progressing and we are also not providing the maximum value to our customers. If we are not continuing to increase the value we are providing to our clients we are cheating them, we don’t like to spend money for average quality and we should not be happy if we our quality average. This does not mean we have to find outlandish or crazy news ways to take photos. This does mean that we need to educate ourselves on our gear and about what makes a great photograph. Scott Robert Lim once told me that to overcome creative block and I think this also applies to every aspect of photography; we need to have “knowledge, need to understand world class skills so that you can feed yourself inspiration.”
When I got started in photography I felt that my work would speak for itself, that people would be able to see the difference between my work and others; however, because I have educated myself I have learned that this is not the case. I have learned the elements of a great photograph, and I have learned that there is a lot a lot to learn. If we are not learning we are not progressing. One final thought; I overheard someone say once that the hardest thing to teach in photography is the difference between a scrapbook shot and fine art. If we want to make fine art we need to know what makes it fine art and be inspired by fine art. Remember “Photography is an art that all it takes is education.”