What’s keeping you from being the photographer or even the artist that you hope to be? How much of it is under your control, and what can you do to get past the roadblocks?
The journey of being a photographer, developing your skills, reaching and building your audience, and the constant cycle of learning, unlearning, and relearning altogether make a lifelong process. Unless one decides to quit photography altogether and never hold a camera with artistic intent again, the creative journey takes a path parallel to all the endeavors in our lifetime.
Most photographers would agree that learning photography and the pursuit of beautiful subjects and phenomena to photograph is a journey that is filled with excitement, wonder, and fulfillment. However, this potentially wonderful journey is also never devoid of limitations and the frustrations that result from them. These limitations hinder our progress towards our self-defined goals and whatever definition of success we formulate for ourselves. How much of these limitations can we manage and get past? How do we progress amidst circumstances that continually slow us down?
Camera Gear as Limitations
Perhaps the most common and most talked-about limitation is the capabilities of the camera gear that they currently have. These hindrances can be due to the overall image quality that their camera can offer, limitations on focal ranges of lenses, low-light capabilities, focusing, frame rate, etc. Many experienced photographers would certainly say that having less capable camera gear should not be considered a limitation. However, the truth is that in some instances, especially at a stage when a photographer is learning specific genres that require specialized functions, these limitations can be real and the availability of more capable equipment can be crucial.
On the other hand, for most cases, the perceived limitations of camera gear may just be out of the desire for nicer equipment or new features that make shooting convenient. Especially in the context of simply taking photos for practice without any printing or publishing requirements, we can generally say that any camera is good enough as long as the user knows how to properly use it. The technical aspects of a photograph, such as resolution, sharpness, low-light performance, and noise, may hinder the photographer from producing the best prints, especially when larger output is desired, but for the sake of learning and developing both artistic and technical skills, any camera, even that of a smartphone, can be a viable learning tool.
Every camera, no matter how advanced or expensive, will have its limitations. There is no such thing as a camera that would be perfect in every single shooting scenario. There might be cameras that would come close, but these would probably be cameras that even working professionals might not easily be able to afford. In general, no matter what kind of camera you are using, what is important is that you know the limitations of it and seek ways to get past them one way or another. A photography project can always be expected to have challenges, especially if it is anything worth paying for. The role of the photographer is not just to point a camera and shoot but instead to identify and solve these problems one way or another. Being “stuck” with inferior gear just might be the perfect place to start learning because these limitations will push you to figure out ways to improvise and improve amidst all the limitations. There are thousands of ways to improvise using DIY lighting, filters, adapters, and even household tools, and figuring these out is a great way to learn the principle behind such limitations. While having good gear will always be an advantage, being limited by gear can be a great kick-off point for learning.
Accessibility of Learning Resources
It’s safe to say that at least for the fraction of the population who can read this article, this limitation is no longer valid. Before the internet became generally accessible, probably three decades back, one would have to rely on learning resources that have any form of distribution in their area. Learning resources come in the form of books, magazines, workshops, formal training, and perhaps in the latter parts of that period, video tutorials. Two factors would, of course, come into play, and those are the overall availability of the material and the capability of the photographer to purchase them.
Nowadays, with a smartphone, tablet, or computer and any decent internet connection, any aspiring photographer can access an infinite number of learning resources in the form of books, articles, tutorial videos, or even simply by asking for help in a public forum. Needless to say, the internet has made it extremely easy (for most people) to find and learn what they seek to learn.
Social Skills and Self Esteem
One thing that not a lot of people talk about regarding photography is the fact that one does not simply have to know how to take pictures. One way or another, a social aspect comes into play, whether it be about seeking help and guidance from more experienced photographers, being able to connect with and direct models, communicating with an audience to promote your art (or business), or simply being confident enough to showcase your work. This is perhaps the hardest challenge to overcome and would take a lot of determination to do so. However, perhaps one thing to consider is that instead of seeing it as a limitation, one can consider it as a guide.
Knowing such personal limitations is quite similar to knowing your strengths and weaknesses. As a beginning photographer who may be jumping from one genre to another, learning as many styles and approaches as possible, this probably would not matter. However, as one begins to focus on one genre in particular, it is important to understand that any step that leads to the final output reaching its intended viewers would require more than just pressing the shutter button and will most likely need some form of communication. It’s important to be aware of such aspects of one's personality to find the kind of workflow that would suit you best. If a photographer has trouble working and communicating with other people then perhaps the kind of photography for them is also one that doesn’t require that. On the other hand, it is evident in the industry that some of the most successful portrait photographers are those who communicate very well with their subjects. It’s not about removing the limitation but instead finding one’s strength and going down the path where it becomes an advantage.
Imagination and Artistic Vision
Probably the least talked about yet most important aspect of being a photographer is having and developing your own artistic vision. No matter what kind of photography you do, the aim is to come up with an image that is pleasing to look at, one that sends a message, or both. To be able to effectively do this, creativity plays a crucial role.
Photography is heavily plagued by people imposing limitations on the work that photographers do. Throughout all the generations of photographers who have been in pursuit of beautiful images, there have been people who created boxes that put limitations on what is acceptable. From using film to digital, using filters, post-processing, double exposures, composite images, etc., there have always been debates about whether such methods are valid approaches in photography. Photography has been downplayed so much as an art form compared to more traditional approaches in visual art which is why it is ironic that even among us photographers, there are people who fail to see and accept that if photography is indeed art, then it has to be free and the expression of the artist must be rid (as much as possible) of limitations.
The only valid limitations to what a photographer can do should be the lines that are drawn by context and ethics. For someone who seeks to learn, progress, and develop their own artistry, the abundance of styles, methods, and technology should be at their disposal. If photography is being done for specific people as commissioned work, then their preference has to be considered, which may or may not translate to accepted limitations. On the other hand, if a photograph either has the capability to mislead or cause harm in any way, then ethics would draw the line based on the implications of how the photograph would be used.