You’ve just bought your first serious digital camera and you cannot conceal your delight. Or maybe you already have one but feel you are ready for the next phase. You want to take your interest in photography further and become a committed amateur or maybe even a semi-pro.
You spend hours looking at the perfect, gorgeous, clinically sharp images on online forums and galleries. You soak up all the advice you can find. Then, you invest in a faster computer, start backing up your images and purchase post-processing software, a lot of it. You come across numerous articles dealing with the ideal settings for sharpening. Then, you look at the photographers you follow and admire: What great post-processing! “If only I knew the settings for this photo my life would be so much easier,” you think. After experimenting with different looks, you buy a new set of presets. Then you see stunning images from another online guru and you just love them. You need to get your hands on those presets as well.
You go deeper into technical know-how, you start learning Photoshop: curves, layers, sharpening, expose-to-the-right…the cycle of technical learning seems to have no end. You jump on photo forums passionately discussing settings, software choices, lenses…you know you can do better. You are nervous when you crop your image. The thought that you will somehow lose those precious pixels terrifies you. A careful examination at 100% magnification only confirms your deepest fears. Your friend is shooting at a higher ISO?! No way! Even the smallest trace of grain turns your already-restless nights into nightmares. You are becoming obsessed with technical perfection – after all, it is digital photography and you want only the best.
The problem is…you are getting tired.
You spend very little time taking photos as most of your time is consumed with technical aspects. All these hi-tech decisions take a toll on you. You become tired and disengaged. You have thousands of unprocessed images on your hard drive because you cannot decide which simulation, program or plug-in to use. Your photography is limited to sharing your technical titbits with like members of countless online forums – 37 last time you counted. The connection, light, composition – not right now please – there are much more important things to worry about.
What happened to the joy of photography? Why, despite all your hard work, knowledge and expertise are your images so bland? Why, despite all your commitment and effort, after taking thousands of images – are you getting nowhere?
Have you ever gone through a similar experience?
I did to some extent in my early digital days. This spiral of technical addiction not only takes a serious toll on your seeing but turns you into a disengaged and crusty caricature of a sub-photographer. After my own experience and after talking to many successful photographers and interacting with my students, I realized how common this problem is. Of course, some people barely experience any symptoms, while others recognize the problem early and start working on it. However, many people struggle for years, with some giving up on photography entirely.
Before I discuss solutions, let me offer a disclaimer. I am not against technical knowledge or expertise. There are many important facets of digital photography which to some extent should be pursued by every photographer, depending on their interests and subject matter. However, if this approach starts swamping artistic and visual considerations, you may need to take action. Please note: graphic artists who create their visual art in software are not the subject of this article. I am referring here to the craft of photography.
What are the solutions?
The first step is to recognize that the problem exists. If you cannot stop buying new gear or lenses without a clear purpose, if you spend more time in front of your computer than in the field, if you feel frustrated with post-processing choices and participate in countless technical-oriented this vs. that discussions – you may need to make some drastic changes.
First, you need to simplify your gear. Identify the lenses or cameras you don’t use and sell them. Leave only two, maximum three lenses and go out shooting with one at a time. Ideally, if you are into street or travel photography reduce your equipment to just one camera and one lens. You won’t believe how this simplifies your seeing.
(For the last few months I have been shooting almost exclusively with the X100F. I quickly realized that I didn’t need anything else).
Second, shift your focus from technical know-how to visual know-how. Observe light, work on your framing skills, find yourself an innovative visual project and pursue it. When looking at other people’s work, ignore the technical qualities but look for emotional punch, the arrangement of elements within the frame, lighting, etc.
Third, try to outsource most functions to your camera so you can focus on seeing and crafting the image. Turn off most information in your viewfinder so your frame stays unobstructed and free of technical clutter. Set up your ISO at Auto 200-6,400 and don’t be afraid of grain. If you have trouble with the manual focus, let the camera do it for you. I am always amazed how some photographic “gurus” grimace at people who use autofocus – I DO IT MOST OF THE TIME!
Fourth, avoid technical forums and discussions and instead focus on the visual qualities of each photograph.
Fifth, create two, simple, do-it-all presets – one for colour and one for black and white photography and apply them to all your photographs. I personally apply customised Classic Chrome and ACROS film simulations to 95% of my photographs. With one press of the button my images are processed and ready. Instead of dwelling on technical aspects I spend my time examining the visual aspects of each photograph. I often create a few images from one file by cropping the image in so many ways (I’ll write more about this great exercise soon).
Sixth – spend more time with painters, sculptors and visual artists and talk to them about inspiration, lighting, artistic choices, etc. Extend your circle of photographic friends, lean toward those who talk about visual aspects of photography.
Seventh – print your work, create books, work on meaningful projects.
Most importantly, reclaim your joy of photography!
Feel free to share your own solutions – what works and what doesn’t!
It’s time to share some of my latest work.
This image is from my project “Encounters” – I have always been fascinated by random encounters on the streets of our cities and towns. I am sure you’ve glanced at a stranger passing by or someone sitting in a coffee shop and your sight locked for a split second, you don’t really know why. Are those fleeting encounters random or is the universe pulling us together for reasons we don’t know?
Here is more of our latest work shot mostly with the X-T2 and the XF 80mm F2.8 lens or the X-E3 paired with the XF 35mm F1.4
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