Thursday, April 22, 2010

The "Rules" of Photography

We've all heard about the "rules" you're supposed to follow when it comes to taking photos. Anyone who has taken a photography course has probably had the rules drilled into their brains until they can recite them in their sleep. But what exactly are the rules, and do you really have to follow them to get good results?

Rules are things such as:
  • Sunny 16 (f/16 1/125sec for photographing the sun)
  • Catchlights in human eyes
  • Using short lighting
  • Color cast removal
  • Never centering an image
  • Specific uses of light
  • Angle usage

These are just a few examples of things you may have heard of/been taught. And many people probably follow them without a second thought.

The rules aren't so much rules, as they are a foundation though. They're a starting point for learning, on which one can build. Everyone needs to learn and use the rules to start--it's just a good base to get yourself started with. It's a way to see how a photo will be effected by certain elements. And by forcing yourself to use the rules at first, you will learn to be a careful photographer who plans a shot. Planning allows for a finer execution 90% of the time, and can really make the difference in many cases.

Of course, once you have the solid foundation, you have to start building the creativity on top of it.

Photography is nothing but a big experiment. By learning the rules, and using them, you've created a control for yourself; think back to science labs on this one. Now that you have a control, you can start breaking the rules and experimenting to see what works, and what you probably never want to do again. And since you have the control, you'll be able to identify just what it is that's causing the effect you're getting.

For example, the Sunny 16 rule states that when photographing the sun (or moon, since it's a reflection of the sun) you should shoot with an aperture of f/16, and a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. This does indeed produce a crisp sun or moon with no halo. And in some cases, it's a beautiful capture. But maybe you want a gentle gradation and for the sun to really blend into the sky or sunset. You can leave the aperture alone, and try slowing the shutter speed down, or you can leave the shutter speed and open your aperture up more; at least to start. Then maybe you'll stop down or up. The choices are endless, but because you understand what the Sunny 16 does, you'll understand what's going on in your experiments all the more. And for someone who is just starting out in photography and really getting to know their camera, this can be a crucial learning point to really understand what each function does. After all, hands on is usually the best teaching tool!

The other thing we must always bear in mind though, is that the rules came about because they work, and almost always create beautiful imagery so long as the creativity is there. So when people look at your photography, they may be a bit adverse to your experimentation. Don't sweat it. We all have a personal opinion, and everyone has certain things that they just don't like. You're going to meet personal opinions all over the place, and most of the time you just have to let them go.

My suggestion: Don't take the advice unless you hear it from three or more people, or over 50% of the comments echo the same feeling (depending on how many you get). If multiple people feel that you didn't do too well in one aspect, then chances are you could do better. But just one opinion doesn't mean too much a lot of the time. After all, it's only one person.

Why do I say this?

Let me give you an example.

A big thing right now in the world of photography is the use of angles to create interesting views. Photographers all over are tilting their cameras and their photos to come up with more interesting crops. The rules state that you shouldn't do this. Most people out there really enjoy it when this rule is broken though, and so the angles have become quite the fad. Me personally? I usually hate angles. It's not because of the rule, but it's because unless they're done really well, I feel like the subject is falling out of the frame most time.

So if I were to comment on a photo taken that uses the angle idea, I would probably mention that I don't care for the angle much. However, I wouldn't expect that advice to necessarily be taken because the majority of people who left comments will probably love the use of the angle.

Basically, this means when it comes to these "rules", you do need to learn them before you break them. They will be a good foundation on which you can build. Don't get hung-up on them though, because it's the rebellious that get noticed. Use them to find what works for you, get rid of what doesn't, and improve yourself. And don't let anyone's opinion get in your way of this journey because remember, everyone has one and most of them stink.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It's a Three-Part Process

Many times, as a photographer, I find that people who are in awe of my photos wonder how someone can learn to see the way I do, and take the shots that I do. And I know I'm not the only photographer who gets this--anyone who has learned the craft and spent years doing so and refining their knowledge does. Granted, I don't have as many years under my belt as some of my fellow photographers, but I can tell you a little bit about how I learned what I know.

Photography, for me, started off as something fun. Like so many out there, I just picked up a camera and went with it. The difference is, I was somewhat selective in the shots I took, and shared. I was no Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz, but I tried. I had no technical skill at all. I set my camera to Aperture Priority, and I ran with it. Mostly because that's what seemed easy to do at the time. And rarely did I change anything except the ISO, because I only had a loose idea of what anything did.

What I did have at this time, back in 2006, was an eye. I saw things that I knew I liked, and I had a vision in my head of what I wanted. I didn't realize how much of this was done out-of-camera, so I never quite achieved it. But I did do a lot of fun things with posing, and just of breaking all the rules--mostly because I didn't know the rules. I had a creative vision, and I had a lot of fun.

When I entered the Hallmark Institute of Photography in the fall of 2007, that changed. Slowly I lost my creativity as I worked to learn all the technical details. And, when I learned the rules I naturally wanted to follow them--all of them. I didn't break the rules, and it wasn't as fun any more. Now I had technically sound photos, but the life and creativity in them just wasn't there as much. I could see it, and it disheartened me a bit. Part of this was because I was trying to do it "right", and a big portion of it was from the stress of the school. I can do well under short bursts of stress, and in fact I often excel in those circumstances, however this was a year of stress and it does take its toll after a while.

So when I left Hallmark the summer of 2008, I had all the knowledge in the world of the technical side of photography. I always properly exposed my images, I knew how to crop them, I had a finer grasp of composition than previously, I understood color theory, and so much more. Photoshop had gone from being an enemy to my best friend, my tablet was now actually an asset, and I had all the makings for starting my own business.

It's been two years since I attended Hallmark. And in those two years I have been on the third part of my journey where I'm slowly combining together the creativity I once had, with the technical skills I recently learned. It's not an easy journey, either, because I am constantly second-guessing myself on whether it's okay to break the rules, and still there are times that I get so caught up in the rules that I forget to try breaking them. But as I watch the work I produce, I see more and more of me in my photos, and less and less of technical knowledge. I know I'm on the right path again, finally.

So if you're an aspiring photographer out there reading this, wondering if you'll have a similar experience, you might. We all have to learn the technical side of photography at some point if we truly want to master the craft. The question is, will you be able to learn the technical side without loosing your creativity to it? It's not a bad thing if you do, as you can see from my experience, but it does mean your process is going to take longer than others perhaps.

Someone once told me, and sadly I am no longer in contact with this person due to the circumstances of life, that "Sometimes, I wish I didn't know all the technical stuff so that I could just shoot. But I'm glad I have it."

How true those words are.

So remember, photography is a journey. No one truly gets it over night, and few are lucky enough to have the talent to just pick up a camera and run with it. It takes time to learn your tools (camera, software, lighting, ect) and time to discover your creativity and where you do best in the world of photography.