Recently I’ve started another self portrait project. My first was almost 7 years ago. I’ve blogged about it before, so I won’t get all long winded. It was a wonderful growth experience.
A wonderful side effect is that I’m taking more pictures again. Or rather, I’m posting more pictures again. Facebook is a much bigger deal now. I think we were all on Tribe last time. Well, not everyone. A bunch of us were. Facebook is really it’s own animal.
Now, a lot more people are seeing my pictures. They’ve seen my pictures of Lily. I’ve received wonderful compliments, but until recently that other question hasn’t come up much. People are asking, “How do you take pictures like that?”
It comes pretty easily these days. I appreciate crops and filters, but that really isn’t where it starts. Better equipment would be nice, but it doesn’t have to cripple you. I haven’t gotten around to buying better equipment. Most of the photographs on my blog are taken with my iPhone4S and edited in instagram. A better camera is not necessary to learn. Buying an expensive camera will not make you take a compelling photograph. It will take a better pictures. Your focus, clarity, and resolution can be immaculate – and you will still be looking at a crappy photograph.
This is a shame, because there are a few simple rules in photography that can make people ask you the same question, “How do you take pictures like that?”
The First 50%
More than half of what I learned came from one website. Long ago in a galaxy far away, before DSLR, Kodak was really the best non professional digital camera on the market. I scrimped and saved and bought a refurbished camera. I had used an identical one that my best friend had, and I was in love. So naturally, when I went to the internet to look for help taking better pictures I went to the Kodak website.
Here is the menu from the Kodak website. Much of it is the same as it was fifteen years ago. Contained in these pages is the bulk of my “formal” education as a photographer. A basic understanding of composition will take you half way there.
The Rest Of The Story
“For the things we have to learn before we can do them,
we learn by doing them.”
~ Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics
The other half of my education taking photographs came from that ancient super secret method: practice. I took pictures of the kids til they screamed and ran. I took pictures of the man, my friends, my pets, my plants – anything that wasn’t moving to faster than I could click. I took pictures during the day. I took pictures at night. I took pictures with and without flash. I cycled through all the automatic settings of my camera. I switched to the manual settings and got some really awful results. And then it got better.
“For a long time I limited myself to one color…
as a form of discipline”
Then… I spent 365 days taking pictures of the exact same thing. The power of that is more than I can convey. Aside from what I learned about myself – aside from my personal growth – being confined to a single subject and required to photograph it daily – does something different. You really start to see the difference between daylight, incandescent, and fluorescent. You really start to appreciate highlights and shadows and contrast. Somewhere in there you get bored and they get lazy and terrible. Then two or three days later a creative dam bursts within you and you come up with something you never thought of – and it stops being a picture and becomes art.
Photography is less like riding a bicycle than using a muscle. When I put my camera down for too long my eye grew weak. It took time to start seeing the whole picture again. The muscle memory was there, though, and it is coming back.
“Know the rules well,
so you can break them effectively.”
~ Dalai Lama XIV
Not everyone falls in love with the world through a lens. If you feel the pull, though, let it carry you. Read a little. Learn the rules. Then take pictures. Lots of pictures. And break the rules when you want to. The rules don’t always apply.