my flickr photostream

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Words of Encouragement

Green House
© 2009 Simon Hucko

If you're starting to get serious about photography, it's very easy to become discouraged by looking at other people's work. You start comparing your shots to the beautiful contrasty perfectly-composed richly-colored photos that you see on someone's website and think that you'll never be good enough.

Here's the secret: everyone started in the same place, and had to work to get where they are now. By putting your efforts into learning a few valuable skills, you can greatly improve your photography in less time than you might think.

First and foremost, shoot a lot. I mean, a lot a lot. And don't just fire off 5 of the same shots in a row, spend some time covering your subject from different angles, with different framing, at different focal lengths, using a different aperture/shutter combination, at different times of the day. Digital is invaluable for this type of learning - you can spend an afternoon shooting, go home, download all of your photos, and immediately get feedback on what works. More importantly, you'll get feedback on what doesn't work, or (best of all) what is almost right but needs some tweaking. Those are the ones that give you the little "ah ha!" moment, and inspire you to go and improve a concept or technique.

Second, delete all the crap. Just get rid of it. You don't need 500 mediocre photos of a flower sitting on your hard drive. Pick the 5 or so that speak to you in some way and delete the rest. Not only will this clear up space on your hard drive, but will keep you from digging through the dregs of your photography to get to the gems. Instant ego boost. And ego is important as an artist. If you don't believe in your work, who else will?

Third, learn how to process your images. Even with the best equipment, no one's photos look stunning straight out of camera. So you may not have the most expensive lens in the world, but it's easy to add contrast and color via software. You can even cheat and add some blur to your backgrounds in photoshop. Fix your exposure if necessary, and note any trends in your shots (hint: usually they'll be underexposed) so that you can start to fix them in camera. Pay attention to how photos that you like are processed, and learn to emulate the look. Once you really understand how all of the sliders and numbers and filters work, you can apply them to an image to express your artistic vision. Crop your photos to get the desired composition and aspect ratio, and to remove elements that take away from your image. You'll start to know just by looking at a photo what direction you want to take it, and how to get it there. Run noise reduction on your photos, and make sure they're sharpened (preferably by you at the end of your workflow, not by the camera shooting jpeg).

Finally, only share your best work with the world. I've said this before, but it bears repeating. Remember those 500 flower photos? Pick the best one, and share only that one. No one out there has to know you took 499 other photos that aren't as good. They see your one excellent shot and think "wow, what a great photographer!" It's sort of like the "chain is only as strong as its weakest link" philosophy - your skills as a photographer are judged by every image you show, so stack the deck in your favor and only show off your best stuff. One mediocre image can drag your entire portfolio down. Don't waffle and show 4 of the same images (vertical, horizontal, color, black and white...), pick one and stick to it. (I've been guilty of this lately, so this is as much a reminder to me as it is to all of you.) And continue raising your standards as you improve. Something that would have been a hero shot a few months ago might just be average for you now. Don't be afraid to go back and replace older photos with your newer, better work.

Don't get discouraged. Photography is an art, but it's also a skill. Things like exposure, post processing and even composition can be learned through trial and error. Review and critique every photo you take, and you'll learn very quickly what you like and don't like. Play around with different processing techniques and software and you'll learn what works best for you, and how you can get the look you want. Keep learning and improving, and shoot often. Eventually, you'll be the one with the website that everyone oo's and ah's over.


[title of blog] on flickr


  1. Heh, as you know, I have a problem with #2. It's just so hard for me to let go of shots, because I'm sentimental and they "don't take up any space" (although as you have rightly point out, THEY DO). I dunno, now I'm way too lazy to go back and delete old photos from the past 6+ yrs, but maybe I can try to be EVEN TOUGHER on the ones that make it from now...

    (Or at least the ones that make it publicly? But then, I use my Flickr as a backup! Aiya, the dilemma...)

  2. @ Kristan - it's hard to let go of photos. Photography is very personal, and it's hard to cold-heartedly delete something that you worked at.

    I find I have two categories of photos. The first are of family and friends or important events, and those I largely hang on to unless something is really blurry or bad or I have duplicate shots and can pick a winner. Even if I don't spend the time to edit them and put them on Facebook or Flickr, I'll save them on my computer. The other category is my more "artsy" stuff, and that is where I have no remorse in deleting anything that doesn't make the 5 star cut. If I'm experimenting with something new, I don't need to keep the failures unless there's some sort of inspiration or jumping off point in there that I can use down the line.

    So yeah, my second point is somewhat situational depending on why you take photos. But I stand by my assertion that you really don't need multiples of a given subject/situation. Pick your favorite and let the rest go.

  3. Fantastic post, great words of wisdom. I really like the "here's how it is" style of this one.

    Not to jump on the "me too" train, but I too have a problem with deleting photos. I'm a digital pack-rat, and I need to fix the problem. Your method of keeping the family photos, and deleting the "artsy" ones is a good one - family photos you'll always want more of later in life, but the day you shot 1000 frames trying trying to get a really fresh new take on roadside garbage, you might actually want to forget.

  4. @ Matt - thanks, glad you enjoyed it. The key to deleting photos is to be honest with yourself, both in the "when am I ever going to need this?" sense and in the "it's really not that great a photo" sense. Both are hard, but once you get over those hurdles it's very freeing (both mentally and in terms of physical hard drive space)