On Photography (it’s not rocket science) - LEKULE BLOG


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Thursday, 14 January 2016

On Photography (it’s not rocket science)

Welcome to the 1st lesson in this introduction to photography class. Before jumping in the deep end and discussing the nuts and bolts of photography, let’s take a step back.

Little Cottonwood Canyon
Technically, photography is an easy subject to master. There are lots of subtleties, of course, but as we will see in the next few weeks, the basics are straightforward. Of course, it will require a fair amount of practice and experimenting on your part to really internalize what you have learned, but taking sharp, well exposed images is not very difficult.

On the other hand, photography is art. Creating an image that follows your personal vision is a much, much harder task. This is not something that can be transmitted by someone else or learned from a book or a webpage. There is no shortcut, you will have to go through this process yourself. The best I can do, and this is what we will be attempting in this course, is to give you the tools to turn this vision into a concrete image you can share with others. We will do this by progressively moving away from the automated modes of the camera, putting you, the photographer, in charge.

One more thing about auto modes: there is no shame in using them. Sometimes, they are the right choice for what you want to do. All I really want is for you to have the option not to use them and to really understand what they do and when they are useful. Again, it’s all about having the right tool for your purpose.

Gear is important, and having the right camera or lens can sometimes make all the difference, but it is far too easy to mistake the tree for the forest. Buying better equipment will not make you a better photographer, it will merely enable you to shoot in more conditions. If you are not satisfied with your pictures, there are very good chances the problem is you, not your camera. In particular, any DSLR will do the job more than adequately, and, with a few exceptions, only pro shooters will really benefit from upgrading to more expensive bodies. If you have a DSLR, a micro-4/3 or an advanced compact camera (easy test: does it have P,A,S,M along with the usual scene modes?), then you will be all set. Try to resist the temptation to buy more gear and get to really know what you already own.

Finally, let’s remember to have fun. Photography is amazing but, like any art form, it can also be very frustrating. The worst thing that could happen to you would be to try too hard, burn out and start believing that “serious” photography is too hard. It’s not, it’s just that you are forgetting to enjoy yourself. So, to avoid this, here is the most important instruction I can possibly give you: if at any point you realize that you are bored or frustrated, give yourself a break. Shoot for fun, in auto mode, and rediscover the simple joy of creating pictures. Or don’t shoot at all for a while. Stop thinking about photography and come back when you are ready. It’s perfectly ok, I do it all the time and so do most professional photographers. They wouldn’t last very long otherwise.

Biker in the streets of Copenhagen


Since we haven’t really started yet, let’s have a fun assignment. It shouldn’t take too long, and everyone who has ever taken a photo can participate. There are three parts:
  • First, I want you to go dig in your archives and post the favourite photo you ever took. There is no criterion of subject or camera, simply post the one that makes you proudest. Either upload it to imgur or to flickr, but please make sure it is reasonably big (900×750 pixels is a good default size). If you have trouble with the upload, ask in the comments. 
  • Next to the link to the image, please write a small paragraph explaining, in your own words, why you like it. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy, just try to put into words what it is you think make this image interesting to look at. Something like “I think this works well because it shows the energy of the climber and how tenuous his position is. His expression also shows it is a difficult route.” would be perfect. 

  • The final part is to go look at someone else’s image and leave some feedback. It needs to be constructive, so comments like “this sucks” or “this is great” won’t be acceptable. “This sucks because it is underexposed” or “this is great because it shows perspective” is much better. It is perfectly ok not to like a picture, but rude comments will be deleted without warning.
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