So I’ve been taking a lot of pictures lately. Every week for the past couple of years pretty much. Lately I’ve seen an improvement in my work and it’s gratifying. Not that I’m trying to toot my own horn or anything so arrogant, it’s just something I’ve noticed. Pretty much at the same time I’ve also noticed that some people just never seem to get better and I wonder why they are photographers at all.
For me at least, photography is about improving the way I see. Observationally as well as critically. Both can apply to what’s around you and the decision making process of producing a photograph, and to photos after they’ve been captured and you’re deciding what to do with them. As an extension, I also include looking at other people’s work. If you’re like me you participate in online forums and follow people on flickr and other hosting sites. There’s one of these that I’ve been a part of for quite a few years, participating off and on since my film days. Lately I’ve noticed that some of the other folks just haven’t improved. The photos they submit in threads are at best nice snaps and sometimes downright terrible. Some of them have been photographing in this way for years and it makes me wonder, why do they bother? Can’t they see?
Some of the blame I think has to be that on most forums people are either discouraged from or afraid to give really harsh criticism. I’m guilty, too, because I don’t want to make people feel bad, I don’t want to be a jerk, I don’t want to get bounced out of a forum and I don’t want the backlash that comes (flamewar). Even in “critique” forums I tread lightly, offering what I hope are constructive ideas with a dash of praise. Strangely I don’t offer much up to other’s review because I know how confining it can be distanced from the photographer and the situation when the image was made. So how the hell can I be so chickenshit and yet claim to have improved? Well, let me show you an example using the same subject.
This is Tucker falls in early December 2009. At the time I was pretty proud of this and my technique. It’s an OK shot, but I can see a lot wrong with it now. The highlights are blown in the water and in the trees. The colors are flat and the foreground is pretty dull. I can’t remember if I used a polarizer or not, but I stopped the lens down to an extreme (f20) so I doubt I used one. The poor thing could stand a bit of contrast and curves adjustment. Also it’s a jpeg file so is somewhat limited as to processing options. I do like the touch of sun on the tree trunks just above the water, but I didn’t do anything with it. Probably because I didn’t ‘see’ it. Oh and dig my crooked horizon (that oak on the left doesn’t really tilt like that). Sigh – you gotta start somewhere, right?
Let’s move to a shot I took yesterday at the same location. Granted it’s a different season, but I don’t think that matters.
Now that’s an improvement. No blown highlights in the water, just a very few in the center of the trees above. The composition is much more compelling with those logs lined up that way. The colors POP like they did to my eyes…spring greens and muted sun. Some of that is processing, but for me that’s part of my skill as a photographer. Aligning a RAW file with my vision and intent are no less important than framing, composing and exposing the thing in the first place. Also I used a polarizer to minimize reflection and glare and didn’t choke the lens down, instead keeping it in its sweet spot for maximum sharpness (f14 this time).
Is it the most amazing picture ever? Nah. Will this stand as one of my best photos a year from now? Maybe, maybe not, but I hope I will have made another step toward being a better photographer in that time. That will include continuing to evaluate my previous work and finding ways to advance my skills. It will include studying other people’s work and discovering new ways to view scenes or process images. It will include taking risks and trying out new things (future post alert!). It will include failing and crappy pictures, too. If I’m lucky and diligent, hopefully fewer of those, but I’m sure I’ll still take them.
So what do you think? Am I nuts? Am I still taking shitty pictures? Has there been any discernable growth? I’m not fishing for compliments, really. It’s tough to stand outside your own head sometimes. So go ahead. Dogpile!