Over the last several years, I’ve been fortunate enough to grow an audience wider than I’d ever thought possible. From the days of taking photos of whatever was in front of me, to speaking at the Phase One Stand Out Photographic Forums this October in LA and San Francisco, it’s been, to the say the least, quite an adventure. All that would not be possible, however, if it wasn’t for the Google and, more importantly, a core group of photographers who, at one point or another, shared with me the answers to questions that had been burning so bright in my mind, that I literally couldn’t sleep until I’d found a satisfactory answer.
Sleep deprivation aside, the irony of the position I’m now in isn’t lost on me. With each new message and/or email that I get, I’m seeing that it wasn’t just me burring with these photography-related questions - it’s everyone who picks up a camera (for the most part). For each person who either doesn’t want to know, doesn’t care to know, or just doesn’t think to ask, there are, I’ve found, a ridiculous amount of people who, like me, yearn for the these questions - some basic, some advanced - to be answered. So, with that said, I’ve paired some of the photography-related questions that I get emailed to me or Facebook messaged to me from time to time along with some photography-related answers.
Disclaimer: the following list isn’t exhaustive nor is it the work of a professional trained in such matters of answering such hard-hitting questions such as those found below. These questions and their respective answers are what I’ve learned over the last few years which have helped me avoid some of the analysis paralysis that prevented me from moving forward with my work. As with anything, your mileage may vary, tongue should sometimes be planted firmly in cheek, and this offer may not be valid in all states…
Photographer-Related Questions and Photography-Related Answers
1. What Camera Should I Use? I’ll admit that even now, several years after I picked up my DSLR and began shooting and years after I honed in on shooting what I want and creating images as I envision them (eh, mostly), I still lie awake at night imagining what life would be like if I shot with a Sony, Nikon, Hassie, Phase One, or if I became strictly an iPhone shooter. Honestly, it’s a question for the ages and can be answered quite simply… No camera is going to change what you shoot. Will it change the way some of what you're shooting look? Perhaps in some cases like when you start hitting the Medium Format range, but the difference now between consumer and pro-sumer cameras, etc is not really enough for you to allow it to be a stumbling block to your work and developing a style. Second and third cameras are great and may be useful in boosting your interest in shooting and when it comes down to it, it's one camera and one lens... And remember, it’s not the gear.
2. What Lens Should I Use? This question is a bit more difficult to answer. I know that loudmouth Internet Yahoo’s will be quick to spout the “it’s not the gear” mantra whenever someone brings up a question about what camera or lens to get, but in my experience, in some cases, it actually is the gear - specifically - it’s the lens. For example, if you want a decent amount of bokeh, you’re not going to get it with an f/4 lens nor are you going to get the contrast and color pop from a 100.00 plastic starter lens. THAT SAID, this shouldn’t be a limiting factor to your work. If that’s what you got, embrace it and run with it. Search around on Flickr for the cheapest lens you can think of and within minutes you’ll find there are people who are doing absolutely incredible work with it. I think a good mantra to follow is, "it’s not the gear, except when it is..."
3. How Do You Develop A Style? Over the years, I’ve learned that there are a couple of different answers to this question. To me, style comes from somewhere incredibly deep down inside of us - it’s our core values, our principles, it is, quite literally, who we are. Developing a style is somewhat more difficult than simply recognizing that, but the boiled-down answer to this question is simple: keep shooting and it'll bubble out of you. While there are fundamentals to learn, there is something to be said about putting those fundamentals aside for a minute and working toward something. Yes, you should learn how to expose properly, yes, you should learn the rule of thirds, but NOT because that’s how science tells you will make a photo work. Learn the rules so you know WHY a photo works. Er, I digress again. Developing a style doesn’t come from years and years of work - it comes from somewhere much deeper and much more personal. Keep shooting and you’ll see it.
4. Do I Really Need To Learn The Fundamentals? Believe it or not, this still keeps me up at night. Part of me wants to say “yes, you need to learn ‘em” but then I think about all the incredible work that I’ve seen put up by people who don’t know a Rule of Thirds from a Micro Four Thirds and I think, “well hell.. why even bother? Just keep shooting…” I would say, personally, that there was never a period of time in my photography upbringing where I sat down with a book and said, “ok, chapter one - rule of thirds, etc” It just sort of happened through shooting and absorbing what was around me. That’s not to say I didn’t Google stuff like, “why do my photos sucks” and “how to sell your camera online.” I did. Often. What I mean here is that if keep shooting, you keep developing your eye and eventually you’ll begin to see what works and what doesn’t. Amazingly enough, once you find what makes a photo “work,” you might be surprised to learn that people have written entire libraries on the subject…
5. Do I Really Need To Learn Post Processing - I mean, Ansel Adams didn’t use Photoshop and…? Yes. It’s 2014 and most likely none of us are actually Ansel Adams. Beside that, even in the darkroom I’m sure AA did some post work. In fact, I’m certain there’s a quote floating around the Internet about how he feels about Photoshop, etc. Regardless. There are few things that irk me more than looking back at old work and knowing that with just a little bit of photoshop and/or proper lightroom technique, my work would have been much more solid. I recognize there are purists and film shooters who'll disagree, but learning how to bring out the best in your images Capture One, Lightroom, and/or Photoshop is what'll make your work stand out, 9 times out of 10.
In all seriousness, I hope these answers are helpful to at least a few someones out there. I know when I started out, I read article after article that comparing lenses, cameras, strobes, filters, etc when in fact, I should have spent all that time shooting and while I love the fact that you're here, I can't help but want you to close the computer and go shoot something right now.
Lastly, I mentioned in the opener that I am speaking at the Phase One Standout! Photographic Forum in Los Angeles on October 15th and San Francisco on October 18th. If you’ve got a moment, please check out the website and consider joining us. In addiiton to some very cool things offered by Phase One (no, it's not a free IQ250), I’ll be sharing the stage with a bevy of talented photographers who will bring you some incredibly killer information. Tickets are affordable. I truly hope to see you all there! www.standoutphotoforum.com
Thanks for reading,