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The Joy Of Photography Experimentation

One of the great aspects of writing for DPS is the large audience it entails. One of the great challenges of writing for DPS is the large audience it entails.

This post will not be for everyone and I do apologize. Not every post can be. For those who are set in their ways and only wish to see absolute perfect exposure in every single shot, ever, then you can skip this post. I’m going to talk about messing up and getting things wrong, on purpose.

In this post I want to encourage those of you starting out in photography. I want to encourage you to try for two things; 1) Learn the basics. Understand the basics. Become well versed in the basics of how light is captured and presented in the digital realm and in print. Knowledge of the basics will allow you to create art you enjoy seeing. 2) Experiment with abandon. Don’t be afraid to mess up. Don’t bother asking others “What would happen if I forced a higher shutter speed?” Just do it and learn from it.

The joy of experimenting with digital photography is instant feedback (via a camera’s display and histogram) and hopefully instant understanding. “When I do this, this happens.” Photography, for all its glory as an art form, really isn’t all that exciting from a discovery standpoint. It follows certain laws of physics in regard to what light does. From experimentation I know just how much darker my exposure will be if I increase my shutter speed two stops. It’s not like I discovered a new species of plant in a rainforest or a new galaxy in the night sky.  But it is still just as valuable from a learning standpoint.

Experimentation is what you do after you get out of the classroom (as a photography instructor, I of course believe starting with guided explanation of the fundamentals is important). You will read about what you should and shouldn’t do and most people’s intent is in the right place. They are trying to help you learn without you having to spend the time and expense of doing it yourself. In the days of film this was very helpful indeed because experimenting always had an out-of-pocket expense for film and development.

In the age of digital photography, after the initial expense of a camera, lens and memory card, that barrier is gone. Reading websites and books can still be a shortcut to learning (and an eyeopener to ideas you never even thought about) and shouldn’t be totally dismissed. Alongside that learning, though, you will gain more from doing than from reading and this is where experimentation comes in.

Want to see what a scene looks like overexposed? Go for it. Think a picture needs far more blue saturation when viewed on a PC? No problem. Think you can make a great macro lens out of two extension tubes and a reverse mounting ring? More power to you.

Chances are most of your shots will not come out to your level of satisfaction. But some might. Some might look very, very cool to you. A shot might even ‘speak’ to you. And that is the heart of art. Connection with an image. Emotion stirred. If it works for you, don’t worry too much what others, including me or any other fancy writer on a website, might thing. It doesn’t have to a literal rendition of a scene nor does it need to be tack sharp in all corners.

Chances are at some point in the future you will look back at shots you took 10, 20, 40 years ago and they will either still speak to you or you will think they are horrible. “What was I thinking?” is a phrase often spoken with regard to photography, fashion and haircuts. But without experimenting, without trying new things, without learning for yourself, you will not progress towards your own vision and creating art you enjoy.

You will read over and over about what you ‘should’ do in photography. There is a great amount of learning to be had from those who have taken the time to learn and offer their wisdom. Alongside that learning, experiment. See for yourself what happens when you do X or Y. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. They are a great teacher.

And if others don’t have a strong interest in helping you learn, don’t pay much attention to what they have to say while you are experimenting. You’re not doing it for them, anyway.

Have fun and keep shooting.

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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