All it takes to be a “photographer” is to take pictures with a camera. If you’re reading this you’re probably not a professional photographer, so for us regular folks – don’t let worrying about doing things like the pros hold you up…with digital cameras, or even many cell phones, you can create wonders!
I’d love for more people to get into photography, and know that they don’t have to spend a ton of money or take classes or otherwise feel a need to immediately become technically proficient – you only need a working camera (digital preferred because it can cost a small fortune to have prints developed), a computer with some affordable software, and mostly, passion and patience.
And hang up your self-flaggelation equipment for a while. I’m always surprised when I hear someone say that they don’t even take pictures because they’re terrible at it and their pictures don’t turn out well. Have you ever noticed when people say something like that, they never look you in the eye? I’m guessing they’re not happy about it…they’d like to take more pictures, but someone, somewhere, one day or on many days, told them they weren’t any good.
People have told me me that I wasn’t any good, they’ve openly scoffed at some of my best photos, while condescendingly refusing to educate me on the smallest of technical details which just happen to make major differences under certain conditions. Still now, decades later, I hear those criticisms and I ‘believe’ them, and I almost don’t hear (and I certainly don’t remember or believe) most of the positive remarks people have made over the years. But I keep taking photos and I keep working at it, because I’m not doing it for the douchebags of the world, I’m doing it for me, first and foremost.
I remember one photography buff co-worker laughing and eye-rolling and dramatically emphasizing his speechlessness about one of my photos which I loved and had spent money (that I couldn’t afford) on, having it matted and framed, with special glass. I hung it in my office because I loved it. He laughed again when he saw I’d actually hung it in my office, and almost angrily pointed out what he considered to be some of it’s unforgivable flaws. A day or so later, another photography buff co-worker was in my office and saw the photo, and started discussing it with me because he thought it was an Ansel Adams.
Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Of course I was much younger and had very little technical knowledge at the time of those incidents, but you really don’t need all that much. And I was a lot bolder(!). I notice I’m less thick-skinned about these things now…I think because they mean so much more to me, because I do put a lot of time, energy, and effort into my photos now. I don’t have it in me, so I marvel at the millions of artists throughout human history who have either been so brave or so desperate for approval that they had the courage to put their work on display for all to see – and for all of the public to scrutinize (i.e., criticize). And they kept doing it, over and over, because they weren’t alive if they weren’t producing art (and is it art if no one else sees it?). And I suppose in many cases they couldn’t live without the public’s adulation, even if there were some who criticized their work with some measure of brutality.
But that’s really not where I wanted to go with this! Most people will never have any desire to approach that level of public display of their work, they just want to take good snapshots of their dogs and cats and human families, and maybe some nice landscapes. Those are the things I hear most from people, and there’s no reason for them to feel discouraged from learning to take the shots they want to produce.
Here are a couple of tips:
The single biggest factor in ‘what makes a good photo’ is composition. Have an idea of what you want your photo to convey, and then start framing it. Everything else comes afterwards. Start looking more closely at photos you see in magazines and ads, online and in print – you’ll begin noticing that the majority of them are far from what we often think is considered “perfect”. But you don’t notice those so-called imperfections, because of what the photos convey.
And don’t let anyone else tell you that something you like isn’t “good” – let your heart and your eyes guide your photography. Your head will know when to step forward and take you to the next level in technique.
Ignore unconstructive criticism from the equipment-snobs – they produce some of the most beautiful work in the world and we’re all better off with them around – but unless you intend to become a professional photographer, that kind of criticism can instantly kill your passion. It can abort and destroy an enormous amount of beautiful work that can, and does, come from amateur photographers who allow their hearts and their eyes to be their guide.
Just start taking pictures. Worry about the rest later. Plenty of photographers take hundreds of shots just to get one “great” photo. You can buy an old copy of Photoshop Elements (even 2.0) on Ebay and do all kinds of amazing things with it. I know some (okay, older) people who think of themselves as purists and don’t want to digitally ‘enhance’ their photos because it feels like cheating…or something. Don’t ever worry about that – film processors and photographers with their own darkrooms have been doing it since the beginning of photography! That set of prints from your last roll of film only looks as good as it does because the photo lab performed post processing – that’s the same basic stuff you’ll be doing with digital software.
There’s a neverending supply of Photoshop Elements tutorials and forums online with people eager to help, for all levels of knowledge, including noobs. Youtube has lots and lots of video tutorials (and I think Lyndapodcast is constantly adding tutorials). Don’t worry too much about the software versions mentioned in them, most are close enough for you to learn the basics (other than CS or lightroom, etc. – you want PSE/ Photoshop Elements). Once you learn the basics you’ll know if you want to take the hobby further and whether you’re willing to spend a little more time and money. The important thing is to just start taking pictures.