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Make Photographs for Yourself, Critics are Critics for a Reason
Over the past ten installments from the Learning to See series (linked to below), I have hoped to lead the novice photographer through the basic concepts of not only what makes a photograph better, but also introduce some of the theories and principles to why. I have also received comments of appreciation from advanced photographers who also might have learned a new concept, or perhaps provided a refresher from some long forgotten workshop. However, at the end of the day this series was for the beginner and I do hope it has inspired you to make even more pictures, and above all else have fun doing it.
Generally speaking, the lessons presented followed a general flow I have employed for quite a few years whilst instructing novice photographers. You should be able to take these basic concepts of colour, tone and composition and practise these for the remaining time you are able to hold a camera – and I do hope that is forever.
As you gain a better grasp of these concepts you will soon discover why many advanced photographers will suggest rules are made to be broken. I also subscribe to this notion, but also believe we have to learn to walk before we can run. Usually the reason you want to make a picture in the first place will be the reason you should make the picture. Once you have made the image, then it is time to start exploring with your curiosity and creativity by being adventuresome.
Don’t be afraid of failure – there is no such word in the amateur photographer’s dictionary. If you are not pleased with the results of your efforts don’t see those images as disappointments, but as opportunities to learn. What could I have done better … what should I have done? By challenging yourself to always advance and to learn from your results, I will guarantee you a lifelong pursuit of enjoyment from an incredible craft. I have known photographers who have been making pictures for 5, 6 and even 7 decades and the one common constant they all have is an insatiable desire to learn.
As a quick recap let’s reconsider some of the primary components and concepts that have been raised over the length of this series.
Subject: First and foremost what is your subject? Something caught your attention and made you focus on a specific object; what was it? Once that subject is identified you should try to avoid surrounding distractions other than incorporatinge those elements as supporting components to enhance the primary subject.
Tonal Range: The subject will most likely be the most colourful or brightest part of the scene. When this is the case look for supporting colours or tones that will naturally enhance the contrast of the subject, and by default elevate the impact of the subject. Think of our lesson on complementary colour and how red works well with green, blue with yellow, and so on around the colour wheel. Disregard the arguments of CMYK colours space at this junction of your photo career – think basic, primary colours and they will hold you in good stead until you are ready to explore colour theory further.
Composition: Once you have located the subject consider where you are going to place the subject in the final frame. Recall our discussion on the Rule of Thirds and identifying the “Point of Impact.” Also remember we can adjust the Rule of Thirds to become the Rule of Fifths, Sevenths, Ninths, or any other odd number we might choose to place the subject at a location to maximize impact. At this juncture don’t be distracted by those who would have us believe we must understand the Fibonacci theorems; just move the subject away from the centre of the viewfinder.
Elements to Support the Composition: Think of diagonals and leading lines such as c-curves and s-curves. As you start making pictures try keeping them simple and uncluttered, allow the leading lines to draw our attention to the subject.
Conclusion: Challenge yourself with assignments – perhaps one per week. Analyse your results immediately after you make the photo, and then again just before your next self-assignment a week later. By being self-critical of last week’s assignment, the lesson will be fresh in your mind for this week’s assignment and you will more than likely see improved results immediately from week-to-week. Start training your eye to see things intuitively even though you don’t have a camera in your hands. Look at architecture and see how the design of a building affects shadows at different times of day. Study the artworks of the great masters from the different periods and notice how they incorporate all of our discussion points in a single painting. Study the work of photographers whose work you admire, but be careful not to copy. It is alright to emulate, but once you duplicate you are no longer true to yourself. Photography, and art in general, is a universal language; learn to express yourself freely and with confidence.
Most importantly, and if I have been able to drive one extremely important lesson into your creative mind that would be: Always have fun. After all, if you are having fun you are doing it right.