As with any hobby or profession, one can’t claim to love the subject without being open to trying new things and adapting to an ever-changing learning curve. It remains the same with photography – both for amateurs and professionals. As the world of technology continues to evolve, the essential tools as well as the accompanying knowledge and skills must evolve with it, and the enthusiastic photographer must be chomping at the bit to acquire both the tools and the know-how to grow themselves and their business. Below is a list of some essential things, both old and new, that every photographer, both aspiring and established, needs to learn.
1. Get to Know Your Equipment
This initially seems like a no-brainer, but oftentimes photographers who are just starting out spend too much time relying on a few settings on their digital camera and then ignoring all the other features it has to offer. Perhaps it’s a preference to spend more time focusing on taking pictures rather than meddling with bells and whistles or perhaps it seems like falling back on automated settings is using a crutch that “professionals” don’t need to rely on. Either way, most high-end and mid-level cameras have special features that are there to enhance the usability of their product for novice to advanced users. Just because a carpenter occasionally used a nail gun instead of a hammer doesn’t mean he didn’t still use his expertise to complete his work; the same goes for the extra features available on your photography equipment. Familiarize yourself with everything and utilize it to the extent that it helps you achieve your desired effects.
2. Know Your Photography Goals
What kind of photos are you wanting to take? Where are you going to take them? Not all cameras are going to function the same. If you’re planning on shooting outdoors you’ll want something durable. However, with durability you may have to sacrifice in functionality. If you’re planning on shooting portraits, you will want extensive functionality and can sacrifice by skimping on something more bulky or less durable. If you want to shoot weddings, you’ll need a camera that’s portable, can withstand external elements, and holds a high standard for detail for both posed and candid photos. Of course, cameras are becoming more and more versatile and fewer sacrifices have to be made, but even subtle differences can affect your performance and experience as a photographer. Define your goals, evaluate your priorities and potential setbacks and research all the resources available to you.
3. Become a Student of Light
The development and definition of form is not visible as the form itself, but visible only as the light that falls upon it allows it to be. To be a photographer or a visual artist of any sort, you must understand light and its effects as well as the effects of the absence of light, or shadows. You must also understand how light falling on form translates to the unimpeded human eye versus how it’s interpreted through the chosen medium, like photography. Begin to study every source of light around you – where it comes from, what shadows it creates, what tones it creates, how it affects color and line definition. As you begin to understand the intricacies of light, also begin to experiment with manipulating it in its various forms. Invest in an external flash and look into renting different types of studio light setups to play around with. The more you experiment, the more you’ll take away.
4. Learn to Adapt
There are several different schools of thought that can vary greatly among photographers. Some are bold and patient enough to call themselves absolute purists, determined to remain in the world of analog film cameras. On the other side are the digital natives who so firmly adopt the digital camera world that they see no need to understand the workings of a pre-digital age camera. Then there are the dispensations that fall within those groups. One group admonishes post-processing while another views it as an essential tool. Whatever camp you find yourself falling into, work to understand all your options because eventually you may find you need to switch camps for a time or for the rest of your career. Don’t adhere to only one style or one philosophy. Explore and learn it all.
Above all, photographers must learn perspective. Not visual perspective, although that’s necessary too, but perspective of each individual, subject and audience member. Who will be seeing your photos? What will they look like to them? Who are you photographing? How will they interpret your representation of them? These are important questions to ask yourself as you go through every step of your process. To be a photographer is to see the world through new eyes, through potentially a thousand eyes at once, and you must strive to do it justice.