Digital photography is offered as one of those easy ways. Between smartphones and digital cameras, today everyone is a photographer. I recently read a blog by a "professional" photographer, who should have known better, who wrote that because of digital cameras, there is no longer a difference between professional and amateur photographers.
While this is a bizarre and depressing statement, it is nothing new. Nearly 2,500 years ago, the philosopher Socrates said most people actually believe that difficult tasks are at their core truly simple, because they are told that by others. If a famous person or lots of one's friends state that throwing pots (or taking photos) is easy, then most people will simply accept this as truth. To this, Socrates pointed out that it is foolish to think that a good pot could result from intuition itself. Without an understanding of how to wedge clay, throw a pot, or use a kiln, you can't make a pot or be a potter. Socrates knew his craftwork.
I see the effect of this thinking in the e-mails I get from craftspeople. While most of these artists constantly practice their art, honing their skills in difficult processes like pottery or jewelry, when it comes to photography they, too, slip into the easy "point and shoot" mode.
I frequently point out that most people are happy to practice fun things, like their tennis serve, golf swing, or their cooking. When it comes to photography--something that is pivotal to their career as an artist--they don't seem to have practiced at all.
Making strong photographs is based on three things--understanding light, knowing your camera, and practice, practice, practice.
Knowing Your Camera
In over 35 years as a photographer, I have had dozens of cameras; and yet to this day, whenever I get a new camera, I have to spend at least a week trying to figure out how it works and get comfortable with it. Of course, the reason to get to know your camera is so you don't have to think about it when you take pictures. Whether you are shooting a raku pot, a flower-filled hillside, or your kids at play, you need to be thinking about the subject and not wondering where to find a button on the camera. Simply setting the camera to AUTO helps in some situations, but not when you are shooting crafts.
It was simpler with film cameras because all their controls were pretty much located in the same places, camera to camera, brand to brand. All had a shutter speed dial on the right of the top deck and an aperture control and a focusing ring around the lens. Today it is a nightmare. Between touchscreens, hidden menu pages, and strange and stranger camera designs, learning a new camera can be an ordeal. Therefore, when I get a new camera, I sit down at my desk and take photos of the things around me--furniture, my laptop, pens, etc.--just to get a feel for the camera and the placement of its controls.
Practice, Practice, Practice
One trick that will help is to "steal" ideas. Repetition alone isn't enough. You need goals and benchmarks. For me, one of the best ways to do this is by thievery. It is that simple. Find crafts photos you really like, strong images of work similar to your own, and then learn to copy the photos' lighting and design. Steal my pictures from these columns--it really is okay. That's what these images were meant for.
Practice also by exploring your camera's potential. Having familiarized yourself with the camera's operation, try different things. One day, for example, shoot pictures only using Aperture Priority mode or at a very high ISO setting. Another day, photograph using the Manual mode. Several times during the day, pop the memory card out of the camera and into your laptop--or plug a USB into your phone--and review the pictures you have made and compare them to your past work.
Learn to see the differences between ISO speeds and alternative aperture settings and note down the settings that produce the best images so you can apply in actual crafts photography.
And through all this hard work, remember Socrates, who told us in effect that few folks can pick up a guitar first time and immediately play a Bach fugue or "Purple Haze." No matter how much we may want to.
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