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On Photography

I’m sure that you’ve heard the saying “it’s not the camera. it’s the person behind.” It’s true. the world’s most expensive camera is useless in the hands of a person who doesn’t know how to use it or someone who knows nothing about the basics of photography. That expensive camera will take high quality snap shots but wouldn’t make brilliant photographs. Well, that being said, high quality gear (expensive stuff) does help. It improves the quality of the picture but to make it a memorable photograph is the job of a photographer.

If you’re just getting your first DSLR, read your manual. There’s a lot of information available in there and some of them will be specific to your camera. You need to know your camera like the back of your hand so you won’t miss an opportunity when it presents itself. Look at a lot of photographs. See what you like about them and what you don’t like about them. It’ a subjective field. Think of what you would’ve done differently. Accept constructive criticism. That’s one of the best methods to learn IMO. There are a lot of websites that teach you a lot of different things, different kinds of photography. Read them regularly. Some of them will start to make more sense when you read it for a second time. Be a part of a photography forum. Go on field trips with friends with similar interests. Talk to professionals/experienced photographers. Figure out what type of photography you’re most interested in. Sooner or later you will find out that you tend to take certain types of pictures (landscapes, portraits, street photography, macro, wild life etc.)

There are several stages an upcoming photographer goes through. When you first get your DSLR, it’s like ohh look I took a close up of a flower. My pictures are amazing stage. Unfortunately many don’t get over this stage. Next is my photos are crap stage. You compare your shots with everything else you see and then get disappointed. You see pictures on flashy travel magazines, all over the internet, art galleries etc. and then think to yourself that you’re not good enough. This is where you need inspiration. Instead of thinking that you’re not good enough, learn from all the pictures you see. There’s always a take home message. You will always learn new tricks, from how to compose a good shot to how to manage your pictures to how to process your pictures. Given enough time, anybody can master photoshop. But make no mistake, no amount of photoshopping will turn a snap shot into a brilliant photograph. After this stage, your skill level gradually increases. You will feel satisfied with some of your shots. Good photographs are hard to come by. Even Ansel Adams only expected one good photograph every month. Soon you will have a collection of your favorites. Upload your pictures to somewhere like flickr or 500px. They are great places to share your pictures. Facebook is not as good. It’s good if you want to share your pictures with friends and family but flickr and 500px are mostly for photographer and if offers a whole lot that facebook doesn’t. And I can’t stress this enough, print your favorite pictures. If you think your pictures look good on a monitor, it will blow your mind when you print them. It is a great feeling. This is what helps you feel good about what you’re doing. It’s like “wow, I made that”.

If it’s ever possible, forget digital and get a film camera and use a prime lens (fixed focal length, no zooms) for a little while. It will drastically improve your photographs because you have a limited number of exposures and you have to do the leg work to compose a pictures properly. At the same time, you will be thinking of aperture and shutter speed depending on your film ISO and available light. You need to understand the basics before you try this.

There’s a lot more I can tell but it already turned out to be longer than I expected. I’m sure you can find most of them all over the internet. However, as an end note, I’ll share this.

Ira Glass

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