Two photographers I enjoy spending time with are Rick Dole and Regis Lefebure. What I appreciate most is both these gentlemen possess an incredible amount of knowledge beyond the world of race cars. We spend a lot time at the track, so it's nice to get away from it with either of these guys and pass the time discussing photography in general along with art, culture, music, cinema and a host of other subjects.
And that brings me to this entry's topic.
Rick Dole recently passed on a book called 101 Things To Learn in Art School by Kip White. A small clever book with 101 brief philosophies regarding art. Many of these apply to us as photographers. So I thought I'd pick one now and then and expand on the thought behind the suggestion.
The first that caught my eye was #30: For every hour making, spend an hour of looking and thinking.
What is ironic about this when you apply it to photography is the fact that today's DSLR cameras can fire off 3-10 frames per second. So, there's a contradiction right there. Although, personally, I look at a burst of frames as a "shot" anyway. In fact, if I'm in one specific location, I consider that entire time spent in that location as a "shot." I may get several images I like… but it's still a "shot." Think about it, if you were discussing it with another photographer later, you'd say, "hey… I found a great shot just past turn four on driver's left…" or something to that effect.
I interpret this suggestion several ways. First, is a mistake I see a lot of newer photographers make. They pull the memory card out their camera, get the thumbnails on screen and go looking for the killer shots… or the good ones. That's ok… but don't delete or skip over the bad ones. Not right away at least.
Even if you start by separating the good ones, study them and make sure you know WHY you think they're good. Then go back through the others…. the less desirable. Make sure you know WHY you think they're less desirable. Now I'm not talking about the obvious… things out of focus, or a bad exposure etc. I'm talking about the image.. the shot.
- What do you like?
- What don't you like? Why?
- How would you improve a shot?
- What makes one shot better than another?
- Are you improving?
- Is your critique the same as an editors or the same as your audience?
- Are you simply giving an audience what they want or are you exposing them to something new?
- Are you taking your work to a new level?
- Are you making work that stands out as your own?
There are a lot of lessons in your mistakes. Valuable lessons. If digital has given us a single advantage over the past, it's the advantage of seeing our work and LEARNING from our mistakes immediately. Are you taking advantage of that? Or are you lazily allowing it to simply serve as a crutch?
If you're using a nondestructive work flow tool such as Lightroom or Aperture, (you should be) take advantage of it. Rework images to extremes. Use that dynamic capability to look at your work in different ways. Try different crops or different levels of contrast and saturation. Even look at an image as black and white. This is a great way to develop your taste and your own aesthetic.
Given we return to tracks year in and year out, we generally return to locations we always shoot. The good guys will also go looking for new points of view and new shooting locations, but I assure you, when they return to the typical locations, they know exactly what they did the year before and exactly what they're going to do to try and improve up on it this year.
The point is, the good guys have studied their work AFTER THE FACT. They've made notes from this year's take on how they'll improve next year's take. And it's not just the following year… they'll even find things they want to try or improve the following week.
So don't just find your "winners" and sit and admire them. They can be better… and the secret to making them better might just lie in the ones you deleted.
Consider this; What would it be worth to you to have me or another working photographer look over your shoulder and critique your work? It would be invaluable, right? Well… you don't need me. You can do it. You know what's good and what's bad.
Study your work. You put time into taking those photos… valuable time. Get something out of it. There's a lot to be learned.