Thursday, January 3, 2013

Things I've Learned, But Already Knew


I've learned a few things during the course of my photographic endeavors, most of which I already knew. I'd heard them or read about them, but some didn't really hit home until I'd experienced them myself. Nothing here is new. There are no startling revelations, just some insights I've come to accept as fact.


1. Pretty Much Everything Is More Important Than Equipment

Don't misunderstand me, quality equipment (notice I didn't say the most "expensive" equipment) will produce higher quality images than junk equipment. But having the best of everything money can buy is not the most important part of photography. Too many people buy expensive gear and are disappointed when their photos don't turn out the way they expected.

Lighting, composition, subject elements, and creativity are more important to a photo than equipment. Even knowledge of the equipment is more important than the equipment itself. All the things that make up a great photo rank higher on the VIP list than equipment. Don't let the fact you don't own top of the line gear distract you from making fantastic photos. While quality equipment is certainly beneficial, the gear itself is too often overrated, particularly camera bodies. I've learned that the elements of a good photo are the most important part of my arsenal.


2. Looking Is NOT The Same As Seeing

I've gradually learned that looking for things to photograph is not the same as seeing what's around me. We all look for subjects, but we don't always see subjects. Seeing is having vision. I don't mean you wake up one morning with a grand vision imparted by a photo fairy while you were asleep. Seeing is having the eye for spotting photographic possibilities others would miss. Vision is seeing beyond the ordinary as well as making the ordinary interesting. Some call it having a "creative eye". I've learned it's not enough just to look, but to really see. It's the difference between a plain photo and a great photo.


3. If You Snooze, You WILL Lose - Eventually

This has happened to me more times than I care to admit. I've been waiting for a long period of time for something I know is going to happen, I get distracted briefly, and then realize the thing I was waiting for happened while I wasn't paying attention. This is especially true when photographing wildlife. It's Murphy's Law at work. I've learned to stay focused (no pun intended) if there's a shot I really want to get. Photographing herons as they hunt has been a huge lesson in patience and focus.


4. Getting Physically Close Is Better Than Optically Close

Generally speaking, getting physically close to your subject is better than relying on a long lens to get close. I'm not knocking long lenses at all. Too many people, however, invest in a big lens with the idea it will cure all of their long distance ills. I use my big glass a lot, but along the way I've learned that I get better results with it by getting as physically close as possible. I think having a long lens also creates laziness. Why bother moving my feet when I can just use a big lens? This actually applies to lenses of all focal lengths. Get physically close first, then use the appropriate lens. And "close" is relative to the subject you're shooting and the situation.





5. Close Is Not Always Better

In case you think I'm contradicting myself, this is not the same thing as the point above. What I'm talking about here is the idea that the frame has to be filled with a single subject in order for the photo to be good. Often that is indeed the case, but there is also too much emphasis placed on getting that "eyeball" shot of an animal or bird. For a long time, I thought the best photos were those where the subject was up close and personal. And those do make very interesting shots. However, I've learned to see beyond just the close up and include other elements. I now try to show an animal's habitat and other things that are a part of the whole scene. I'll take close ups if I want them, but then I also look at the bigger picture and try to include those things that make up an animal's habitat. Showing a critter in its element can be just as interesting, if not more so, than zooming in for that frame-filling head shot.


6. Preparation Prevents Disappointment

Like the rest of life, preparation in photography can prevent the majority of problems. For example, there's no such thing as having too many memory cards. With you. That's a fact. I carry four 32GB cards with me at a minimum. Running out of memory is probably the biggest issue I hear people talk about. Having a fully charged battery is another example. And speaking of batteries, if you own a DSLR and don't have a spare battery, that should be the very next photography item you purchase. Having a second battery (with you) can be a photo saver. 

I often spend several hours at a time in the field. Sometimes I'm close to my vehicle and sometimes I'm not. I always take something to snack on and something to drink even if I don't plan on being gone a long time. I check the weather and take the appropriate foul weather gear if necessary. Taking a few minutes to double check you have everything (cards, batteries, lenses, tripod, monopod, cleaning kit, etc.) can save hassles later.


7. Don't Be Afraid To Delete

I've learned to delete photos I know I'll never use. This goes beyond the bad shots. Those get deleted without question. I try to keep only those photos I know or think I may use. If I look at a shot and don't like it, even if it's technically correct, I delete it. I've heard both sides of the issue. Some people say you should never delete anything other than the obviously bad shots, while others say you should delete anything that's not perfect. I take a middle road. I'm not a photo hoarder, but I don't delete just for the sake of deleting. I often take duplicate photos in the field and I'll look at them later and keep a few and delete the rest. I've also learned that if I go back a few months later and look at older shots again, I will often find more I don't like. My goal is to keep the photos that could be useful and delete the excess.


8. Get It Right In Camera

Getting the shot correct in camera is better than trying to "correct" it later in post-processing. I've always tried to do this, it's not really something I had to learn the hard way. Digital cameras and editing software have created some lazy photographers. I've heard people say they just shoot and worry about fixing things later in Photoshop. That's a bit like painting a room without taping things off or using drop cloths and then going back after the fact and trying to remove the paint from things you didn't want it on. I started in the days of film long before digital came along. I had to get it right in the camera or the photos would be useless. You might get a photo lab to make some corrections, but for the most part, what you shot was what you got. Getting it right in camera (as close a possible) is the best policy. On a side note, the photo of the heron I included in this post was shot at ISO 1000. Using the lowest ISO possible is usually the way to go, but don't be afraid to use a high ISO if it means getting the shot you want.


Photography is a learning process and I've certainly had a lot to learn. I'll never know it all and even knowing it all doesn't guarantee great photographs. I try not to make the same mistakes over and over and I try to learn everything I can from other photographers. I'm sure there will be a time when I'll have a whole new list of things I've learned that I already knew, but had to do some of it the hard way.


31 comments:

Andy said...

Perfect advice along with a perfect photo.

Carole M. said...

a great post to read and learn from Brian; thanks for sharing your knowledge gained over the years with so much photography experience achieved. Your heron photograph was another perfect and beautiful shot

Tanya said...

thanks for all the info!

Marc Heath said...

What a great read Brian. Some excellent advise.

Andee said...

I always enjoy your tips. Thanks for taking the time to share. I learn so much here!

Kerri said...

Excellent post!!!

Pamela Gordon said...

This is great advice Brian. Thanks for sharing these tips with us.

From The Heart said...

Thank you for all the tips.
I must say your photography is outstanding. You have some of the most beautiful pictures on your blog that I have ever seen.Some of this is due to your hard work.....and you have a GIFT!

Tricia Hays said...

Thank you for this post, Brian, very much appreciated! =)

Lindsjö taxar said...

Great reading and very useful! Thanks Brian....After one year as a beginner and still beginner its very good to get advice like this. I have during this year got a lot of answers on my question from those who are very ahead of me.
I learnt a lot and your post very learning.

TexWisGirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sharon said...

I am new to your blog and new to photography; thank you for sharing these helpful thoughts.

barbara l. hale said...

Such good advice though we shoot very different subjects, I think I should go back through your suggestions and take them to heart. Your photography is excellent so it must all work.

Renae said...

Awh thank you, Brian! All great info that I need. and ...for your nice words that I love to hear. yay!

Nancy J said...

Great words, and I will read them again, and absorb. And as always, your photo, with the details, superb.Thank you so much for sharing with us, words, photos, helpful advice and so much more,we truly are so fortunate ,your generosity has no limit, greetings from Jean

Shaun Gibbs said...

Some very good, knowledgeable and sound advice there Brian. I understand what you mean about becoming lazy with 'big glass' its time like that when you bolt on a fast 50mm prime lens and then see how lazy you are... not very as you need to position, re-position and continually thing about composition.
Excellent post.

Deb said...

I love your pointers....I just realized that when I first got my Cannon I was trying to do closeups of everything...recently I like the broader view...thank you for giving me some good ideas...

Amanda said...

Thanks for the tips Brian! Your photos are amazing.

Do you shot in raw? How much processing do you do?


Debbie said...

I have learned much but I am not a deleter. I am a buyer of memory cards! We all have our problems, it could be worse!

Beth @ E. lizard Breath Speaks said...

interesting. i would love a better camera ... but i use what i have & enjoy it. not sure i would be patient enough to wait for birds to get in the right position. there are times when i get rid of photos & think back on them all the time. miss them. ha. ha!! keep up with what you enjoy. you do it well. glad you share with us all. a real gift. ( :

Heather Wilde said...

Lots of notes taken. Great advice. Thanks

MTWaggin said...

Can you see me nodding my head in agreement?? All this is stuff I believe in and still am learning. I would add a couple thing - take the camera with you as much as possible, don't go out JUST to take photos (part of that seeing thing) and if you truly are happy and joyful taking your photos, it will be reflected in them. BTW that heron looks like a punk rocker dude!

Andrew said...

A wonderful post Brian...

Coy Hill said...

Excellent post Brian
To comment on one of your tips, getting close, you are spot on. While big glass will work for distant subjects the results may be disappointing because of atmospheric conditions. Dust, moisture and particularly mirage can destroy a shot. I find the big lenses most useful for capturing close-up images of wary small critters like songbirds etc.

bailey-road.com said...

Great list of tips and a beautiful photo!

Coloring Outside the Lines said...

Thanks for the advice. I finally got a decent camera and I hope I can learn how to use it.

Gail Dixon (Louisiana Belle) said...

These are all very valid and useful points. I recently read a birding post that touted getting close to your subject rather than rely on a long lens. That's why I'm shopping around for a bird blind. :)

P.S. That shot of the GBH is stellar!

TexWisGirl said...

you have a passion for photography and your work reflects it. your skills are enviable, as is your desire to continue to learn. i'd be grateful to have a fraction of it instead of being intimidated by it all.

TexWisGirl said...

p.s. wonderful new header.

Stewart M said...

Good advice - I would also add "dont obey all the rules all of the time" - shot into the light, point the camera away from what others are taking, lie down when others are standing!

cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

Buckaroo Barbie said...

I don't consider myself a photographer, but I will take this advice to heart!! Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom with us! :)