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To be or not to be
Old 06-09-2006, 08:02 AM   #1 (permalink)
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after much deliberating and internal conflict i am posting my conumdrum.

i have been shooting mildy serious for a few years now, done a few weddings, some local fashion, sports, and the glamour scene. and i have come to the place where i have been asking myself lately a lot. how good of a photographer am i? or rather what else can i learn? what else is out there? not that i am trying to win any contest or awards. or say one person is better than another person. i seem to be in neutral and i want my work to be on a higher plane than it is now.

i find myself looking at great photographers works like andy pearlman, rolando, JT, jimmy and many many many other outstanding photographers around here. the vast majority i know for fact that they are outstanding photographers. and they have so much knowledge, these guys have probably forgotten more about this thing called photography than i will ever know.

but i see so many fantastic images i look at them and i start to think:
"is this guy really that good? what skill set does he possess that i need to hone? does he just possess natural ability to capture a moment like i will never "learn"?"

or

"is this guy just an good/average photgrapher but exceptional at PP? does he have the ability to make chicken salad out of anything?

and i see post from time to time that read "image straight out of camera. no PP" and i look at an image and start to wonder about lighting an camera settings and perspective and dof and sometimes i come to the conclusion "ya right straight out the camera".

the point of the rant is; you guys that are on "top" how did you make the leap? was there a defining moment? an image? a project? that when you completed it you had this feeling inside that said "wow!" i just made a piece or art and i can create on demand. when did the majority of your work fall in the category of exceptional, instead of being the odd image every now and then might be just above average?
for the rest of you/us, what are you doing to try and better yourself in your craft? is it working?

am i alone on this one way way out in left field?
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Re: To be or not to be
Old 06-09-2006, 08:08 AM   #2 (permalink)
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i realize that by asking this question that i am "judging" something that is hard to judge.
how can i comment on an image, photograph, a work of art? arent we all artist? so what difference does it make if one uses the tool/medium of a camera and another uses software?
do i need to look down on or say one method is "better" than another to achieve greatness and find beauty?

but dont we do that? dont we somtimes look down on one? is it the puriest inside us? is it that monster called pride?
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Re: To be or not to be
Old 06-09-2006, 08:30 AM   #3 (permalink)
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First off, I don't consider myself on top... far from it as a mater of fact... but I'll respond anyway.

I'm pretty much self taught, as I suspect, most are here. I read a lot (and have a huge library of photography-related books.)

For me, there was no one-deciding-moment. It has been a matter of learning and evolution. I'm always pushing myself and I'm rarely 100% pleased with my work, which is an impetus to drive me to do better... to challenge myself. And I challenge myself on all fronts... using the camera, different exposures, different lighting, different shooting positions and learning and using different post-processing techniques in PS.

That said, I don't worry about the perfect image out of the camera. I do strive to produce the best possible image out of the camera, but that is not my ultimate goal. My goal is to create the best image (from the vision in my minds eye) using whatever tools are available to make it happen.

Best regards,
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Re: To be or not to be
Old 06-09-2006, 09:30 AM   #4 (permalink)
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You'll never hear me say I'm on top of anything. I feel I'm competent in several areas, but won't admit to more than that. That said, the biggest thing I can recommend to you is to:

1) Practice, practice, practice. The more you shoot, the better you'll get (assuming you're analyzing your results and trying to improve). Plan ahead of time exactly what you're trying to achieve and then shoot it. When you screw up a shoot, figure out what went wrong and how you should fix it. Always be willing to learn, even from a "newbie". Who knows, they might know something you don't. Always try to learn something new.

2) Become your own harshest critic and only show your best work. Deep down, you know what's average and what's superb. Although my client might see everything I shoot for his/her/their particular assignment, 3/4 of my work (at least) is never seen by anyone else. Sometimes you only get one shot out of a hundred. Don't try to "fix" the "almosts". Learn from it and move on. My experience has been that the more expensive the mistake, the more you learn from it. I'll just say that it really sucks to screw up $500 worth of film have to shoot everything over again on your dime. But I also guarantee you'll never make the same mistake again.

It is expensive to fix things you should have caught. Let's say you're doing a lingerie shoot and you forget to snip the stray threads and cut out the tags. Now you've got (for example) 30 images that need 10 minutes of retouching to clean up. That's 300 minutes, or 6 hours of work that you either need to do or have someone else do for you. I'd much rather spend that time working on my next paid assignment or my money on something other than clean up.

You'll know you've reached a certain level of competency when, more often than not, the shot you got is the shot you planned. When that happens, raise your standards and make yourself work harder at getting even better. Try areas of photography that aren't in your comfort zone. Do things that make you uncomfortable. Take risks. Want to get better? Spend $1000 of your own money on a shoot and plan it down to the gnat's a$$.

Anyone who says the majority of their work is exceptional is lying. They appear (and are) exceptional because you don't see all of the stuff they dropped in the trash can.


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Re: To be or not to be
Old 06-09-2006, 10:46 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Sometimes I think that those of us who are old farts, those who learned serious photography before digital and P'shop came along haev abuilt in advantage. Back in thoise days PP was limited to what could be done in a chemical carkroom, meaning when shooting 4x5 or med format chromes, what you shot was what you got. The chrome was pretty much the final product and more important, was what the client got. We learned to really 'see' the light and shadow. we learned to really 'see' the details in the shot before pressing the shutter. There was no P'shop to remove that pesky white label or those wrinkles in the fabric. Of course there was retouching, but that was both time consuming and more than a little expensive.
There is certainly nothing wrong with using P'shop, I use it on a regular basis and love the possibilities it gives me, but depending on P'shop to fix our errors as a matter of regular routine encourages us to be sloppy shooters.

I'm certainly not a "top" photographer, but before retiring my cameras gave me a pretty nice living along with a huge amount of fun. Becoming competent with a camera and making a living from it is not like having some sudden burst of illumination or nirvana, instead it's a gradual process during which you shot, shoot again, then shoot some more. Become your own critic and learn what went wrong when it does so tht you don't do it again. thee are many exceptions, but for those who are successful, photography usually is not just something they do, it becomes a large part of their lives, sort of what the are.

The goal should be to get it right in the camera, but don;t be reluctant to use every tool in your arsenal when needed.
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Re: To be or not to be
Old 06-09-2006, 11:14 AM   #6 (permalink)
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First of all, decide what means more to you ... the art of photography ... or the commercialism of selling images. Not that these are mutually exclusive, but if you had to choose ... would you rather be recognized as a master of his craft, like the great motion picture directors Alfred hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Cecil B. DeMille -- or would you prefer to be a commercial success, like the guys who direct all those high grossing comedy, sci-fi and action adventure pictures (Roger Corman, the Ferelli Brothers or the Troma team)?

I know I'm a good photographer ... some would even say I'm very good --- but I ain't great by any means. I'm a technical master --- my strength is my lighting and Photoshop skills. The one key factor that I lack is --- the "artistic" gene. I.tutor several photographers who have that "artistic" gene and are able to come up with some really creative ideas -- but their image look crappy because they don't know lighting. I can teach them lighting. The sad part is ... you can study and practice all you want, but if you don't have that "artistic" gene, you'll always come up short. Ask me to come up with an original idea for a shoot, or ask me to decorate a set, or even to put together a funky outfit for a model --- and you'll probably get something cliche' or something I saw in another photographer's portfolio. Pair me up with an art director or stylist and I'll deliver some darn good images.

So ... I don't worry about critical recognition and instead seek commercial success. Yes, I want to always strive to be a better photographer, but the reality is -- I'll benefit more from being a better marketer. Besides, when I shoot for ad agencies, they typically provide me with an idea ... and an art director. When I shoot jewelry or fashion for a client, they typically provide their own stylist. My work might not be the most creative, and I may never achieve critical success ... but I pay my bills.
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Re: To be or not to be
Old 06-09-2006, 12:26 PM   #7 (permalink)
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wow! there's some really good answers here to your tough questions.

we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses and it often makes more sense to capitalize on one's strengths. (i.e., while trying to overcome one's weaknesses... assuming they can be overcome in a real and meaningful way.) I think that sort of echoes some of what Marty said.

my advice? learn, practice, learn, practice, learn, practice. when you do enough of that you'll figure out your strengths and, hopefully, how to capitalize on them. (if you don't have regular access to a model, get yourself a mannequin or a life-size blow-up doll and practice on it.)

you don't have to set your sights on becoming a master of the art of photography but you will have to learn how to give your clients what they expect.... make that, "better than what they expect."

it's all in the details. in fact, it's amazing how much it's all in the details. that's why so many shots end up in the trash. train your eye to become detail-oriented-- not just when you're clicking the shutter but also, later, when you're deciding which shots are *THE* shots.

photography derives from ancient greek meaning painting (or writing) with light. learning to see the light, making light work for you and manipulating the light, therefore, is of paramount importance.

know your production gear. know what it can do and what it can't do and focus on what it can do until you get more/other gear that can do the things your other gear can't do... assuming you need gear to do what your current gear cannot.

learn everything you can about post-production tools. photoshop isn't learned overnight. i'm not sure photoshop is ever completely learned. but, the better you learn how to use it, the better your images will become. i'm not talking about makin "chicken salad out of anything" cuz that ain't gonna happen. i'm talking about how to maximize your best images... sometimes that's not too much more than becoming skilled and adept at cropping and using levels/curves.

if you're shooting people, hone your people skills.
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Re: To be or not to be
Old 06-09-2006, 01:08 PM   #8 (permalink)
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you guys have some really great replies. i think part of the idea is what marty was saying. i think i am still trying to figure out what my strengths are. i know i havent shot enough different setups, lighting, indoor, outdoor, people, architecture, etc etc to know what "type" of photography i am good at or if i am even technically proficient at anything or if i have an artist side. i know i have a gazzillion "snapshots" and that is what i am struggling with. i want to have a focus, a purpose when i push that button. i want to be tuned in technically and artistically to what is being presented in the viewfinder.

a lot of us around here are here because we dont have any other place to hang out on the web. no seriously, we are here because we all (i think this is true anyway) want to become better photographers. we dont want to become masters of photoshop. PP is a part of what we do but i dont think its the core reason we hold that camera in our hands.

like rolando says. garage glamour. this is our passion. while some of us it is also our profession. we are still just as passionate about the craft of photography.
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