Monday, June 16, 2008

Epic Edits and Your Weaknesses

Brian Auer over at Epic Edits Weblog has an interesting article today. One of his readers, photographer Neil Creek, asked him what he thought was his weakest area of photography. It seemed like a good question to me. More after the jump.

Mr. Auer broke his weaknesses into a technical weakness and an artistic weakness. I think that is generally how I'd describe my weaknesses as well. Please understand that I am a hyper-self-critical Virgo, so I don't think anything I do is ever really good enough. Thus, my first answer would probably be that I'm weak at everything. ;-) Looking a bit closer and distilling the issues down, there a couple of areas that I don't feel comfortable with right now.

Technically, I really am still learning how to use the camera, but let's not hold something so general against me for the purpose of this discussion. I would say my biggest technical weakness would be judging good light from bad light and using lighting to my advantage. By lighting I mean both natural and artificial sources such as flashes, strobes, modifiers, etc. Photography is all about the light. A good understanding of how light works, how it affects contrast, how it can change appearances and so on is vital to good photography. This is part of the learning process of photography. We need to become as conversant in understanding light and it's nuances as possible. I think my photograhy is just starting to get to the point of taking light into consideration, rather than simply copying the scene in front of the lens.

How will I work to improve this? Practice. Light is everywhere. I will try to observe how light reflects, refracts, highlights and shades the scenes that I photograph. I will try to extend that to observing the world around me even when I don't have a camera with me. Becoming more aware of light and it's intereactions in general should help improve my photography. Working with artificial lighting will require some additional equipment. I will try to get or improvise the equipment to work with artificial lighting.

Now what about my artistic weaknesses. There are a couple of things that I think I need to work on. The first being composition or perhaps more precisely graphic design. I come from a technical background and have little formal education in graphic techniques and design. Actually, a lot of us probably have very little formal education in this area as it is not a subject that is emphasised in our educational system. While I have learned to follow certain rules for techical issues in my careers, the artistic side of thought hasn't gotten as much exercise. How am I working to improve it? I have been reading some books on the subject in to better understand the building blocks of graphic image design. In addition to that, I try to think about what might be good compositional elements for a given photograph and apply the ideas presented in what I've read.

The other artistic area I need to work on is people. Many of my photographs are taken of landscapes, flowers, or even still lifes. Relatively few of my photographs are taken of people. The people that I am most comfortable photographing are of course my family. I am very hestitant to photograph strangers. Street photography looks like an interesting genre of photography, but when I'm out with my camera I have a very hard time pointing my camera at strangers. I don't like to intrude on people, and some people consider having their photograph taken very intrusive. I am also a fairly introspective person, and like to keep to myself. Approaching someone to ask permission to photograph them is also difficult for me. How will I work on changing this? That is probably going to be a bigger issue than the others. Indeed, it may be one that I don't improve at all. There are certainly enough other things that interest me photographically, that I still would have plenty of subjects available if I don't practice street photography. Maybe I could try wedding photography. That should give me a good kick in the gut to be more intereactive with people, eh?

In the end how would I improve any of my weakness? Practice, Education, and more Practice.

What do you think are your weakest areas?


Dorky Musician said...

Like you, I'm a pretty keep-to-myself kind of guy. I don't like to go up to people that I don't know unless I know I have something in common with them I can talk about. I find I'm much more comfortable talking to strangers at Church than I am out on the street. I'm usually uncomfortable with having a camera with me in a populated area. That's one thing I plan on getting over as I would like to take pictures of old buildings.

If you haven't already seen it, Steve Paxton has an excellent series on his site, "The Least of These". He shoots homeless people (always sounds weird saying that as one of my other hobbies is target shooting). Here's the link:

The Least of These

Watch the video. Steve did a great job with it, I think. His landscape shots are great too.

As for learning, I'm reading "The Photographer's Eye" by Michael Freeman. It's interesting for sure, but I haven't really set down to spend much time studying its contents. I'll have to do that. I'm not much of a reader. I'd rather watch a video.

For now, I'm content learning how to select aperture settings in priority mode, shutter speeds in shutter priority modes and when I should just be using program mode. I haven't jumped into full manual yet. I have taken a few shots with it, but they turned out bad.

Craig Lee said...

I have read that book by Michael Freeman too. It is good, although I found that I had to put it down on occassions. His illustrations of compositional elements in his example photographs are quite helpful though.

One thing I have noticed is that having a camera can also be something of an ice-breaker as well. I've had people come up to me at a park and ask what kind of camera I had, then we would have a nice, if brief conversation about cameras or photography. One time I took my son to a local park and sat down while he went to the playground. A gentleman next to me asked who I was "with" as he assumed I was with a newspaper due to my camera. We then talked about the camera and he would periodically look at his wife next to him as if he was saying, "See those cameras aren't all THAT expensive."

So, I guess that I am getting better at that aspect of things.

Dorky Musician said...

I never thought much about that. I'll have to bring my wife and kids to a park soon. Actually, I have been wanting to do that, but worried how people will react to a guy with a camera at a park where kids are playing. Interesting world we live in. Other than people wonder who you're reporting for, have you had any other strange reactions?

I understand the look very well. My wife gets it from time to time. :) I'm grateful that she's tight with the checkbook though. I'd have all our money spent if she didn't keep tabs on it!

Craig Lee said...

Strange reactions? Yeah, just about always when you have a DSLR around your neck.

Last September we went to a pro bicycle championship race. We decided to go to a park they would be riding by on their circuits and got there early to scope out good places to sit. While I was walking around before the race started, one of the pro photographers there kept giving me dirty looks as I kept finding the nice spots before he did. He was a Nikon shooter too and I think he assumed I was a rival pro.

Later in that same race one of the official race photographers that was on one of the chase motorcycles stopped near us. He jumped off the back of the motorcycle and came jogging toward where me and that other pro were standing. This guy was really nice though. He picked a spot about 10 feet from me, turned and said "Hey, this is a nice spot." Then backed up and said, "Let me get out of your shot." I chuckled, thanked him and told him it was ok. I was just a guy with a camera, and he was a pro doing his job. It was funny, as the riders past us, the three of us panned them in unison. Three sets of Nikons turning together like a ballet. Quite funny. The motorcyle guy had two or three Nikons around his neck. After the riders past, his drive came up, he got on the back, and said good-bye. Nice guy. The other photographer scowled at him though.

Funny people.

Dorky Musician said...

Gives you a glimmer of hope when you have encounters like that. It's nice to find cool people. I have to learn to deal with the others better. I get too stressed out sometimes.

I imagine the three Nikons panning at the same time would have made for some interesting stock video footage.

Imagine having to deal with two or three cameras around your neck while maneuvering a motorcycle. They should create a camera chain, like a key chain, that you get to fumble around with while trying to select the right camera for the shot!

You ever wish you had more than one camera with you when you're out shooting? Yesterday, I was out at Calico Pond taking some wide-angle shots and spotted a dragon fly. I had to go back to my camera bag, swap lenses then go back again to the dragon fly without scaring him away. That happened twice. It made me wish I could afford a Canon 5D so I could keep the 70-300mm lens permanently attached to my XTi.

Craig Lee said...

The motorcycle photographer was a rider. Someone else was driving while he was shooting from the back.

There have been a couple of times that a second body would have been useful. Not very many though. If I were to do event/wedding photography professionally, then a second body would almost be a requirement.

Chris Osborne said...

I'd love to have a second body for sports stuff. 1 with the 50mm 1.8 permanently attached and one to change between my other lenses.

Thankfully, I haven't had any bad reactions with my camera. A few "real" newspaper people (as opposed to me with my university's paper) not really paying attention to where I was and running into me, but they were always apologetic about it when the action stopped.

Anonymous said...

Incredibly Good Composition Book

Whether you paint/draw or not,
that composition-book is totally effective:

The One Rule of composition,
is Make No 2 Intervals The Same.

Don't put the egg in the center ( same left/right distance )

Don't make half the shot light,
the other half dark
( use thirds or fifths, or something )

Don't have half vertical and half horizontal
( give one dominance )


gives examples in many different dimensions of visuality.

Excellent book.

BTW, if you REALLY want to become a striking photographer,
then WORK THROUGH, not Merely-Read

She got her PhD ( in brain-mode and learning, ttbomk ),
and this book's devised specifically to UNdo the damage our one-sided "education" produced among our brains.

( a few thousand years ago there was a shift among humanity FROM
when women had rights,
written language was visual-totality, not sequential,
everyone played-with drumming,
& Earth was our mother,

TO sequential/logic dominance,
no *personhood* for women,
segregation of music - trumpets-for-kings not everyone-drumming,

Simply a tide-shift, is all...

We're capable of right-brainedness & left-brainedness,
but instead of being WHOLE humans,
we prefer to be lopsided,
as it means we don't have to balance,
or work to know both sides of our meaning.

You want to become REALLY capable?

Become whole.

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
has specific exercises in it to get you to experience that right-brain-dominance shift,
so you can *choose* which kind of mind you want to be,
in any given moment.

Once you try driving/flying/shooting/any-visual-work IN r-mind mode,
you won't go back.

It's like the difference between using a broken wheelbarrow versus using a hydraulic robot:
HUGE power, awesome autonomy,
all of one's own mind-mode.

Try it,
if you have it in you to know your own meaning...

Craig Lee said...

Thanks for the book recommendations. I'll take a look at them.