Photography has been a hobby of mine for my entire adult life. This started when I was around 18 when I decided to start using my father’s old film camera. This was when digital was overtaking film in the early 2000’s, and I suppose I was more interested in the mechanical and technical aspects of the machinery of film cameras rather than something I picked up out of raw creative drive.
So I bought some film from the supermarket and took 24 exposures, just kind of playing around. And wouldn’t you know it, I actually did create a couple of half decent photos! I can still recall some of them instantly. At any rate, I was inspired, and from an interest in the machinery came an interest in the art.
However, the vast majority of my photos were incompetently exposed and/or compositionally boring. When you’re paying about a dollar per exposure, the drive to get good is something that must be prioritized. So soon I developed a system where I would walk around with a clipboard with a stack of self-developed forms on it. For every photograph I would write down technical details such as the shutter speed, f-stop, lens focal length, focusing distance, et cetera. After a few dozen rolls of film, I actually was able to expose a decent shot! After this my interest in cameras exploded, and having little money or wisdom, I was soon into Toy Cameras.
Too bad my composition skills were still garbage! In reviewing my old film albums, it is so funny how all the images are competently exposed but are so boring to look at. Actually learning how to compose a decent shot would require a level of self-criticism that the expense and hassle of film did not facilitate. I kind of intuited this, and as a graduation gift I asked my father to buy me a camera. My first digital was a Pentax K-r.
For a few years pretty much every image I produced was directly out of the camera. No editing at all. This was how I was used to operating, because when working with film, what you got from the supermarket was what you got! However, shooting on digital eventually allowed me to start editing my photographs digitally. Actually being able to crop after the fact teaches you a lot about how to compose while you’re actually taking the photo. Being able to produce developed photos that are slightly better than what I started with taught me the difference between middling composition and better composition, which was an intuition I would take with me into my next photo shoot.
I no longer shoot with my K-r, and most of my photography is still relatively boring, however the median level of quality and artistic vision is far better than what it was a decade ago. I definitely produce images that I are actually decent from an artistic point of view with a far greater frequency than back when I didn’t make a discipline out of it! This ability is the hard won reward of a lifetime of effort, experimentation, and self-criticism. In building my photo gallery for this site, I revisited my photographic history since about 2014. I included what I consider to be my highlights, which is probably about 1% of every image I’ve ever created (artistically).
The secret to taking good photos is just to take a lot of photos, keep the good ones, consider what it is about them that makes them good, and keep those qualities in mind for subsequent photo shoots. Nobody is born good at anything; in fact, a defining characteristic of humans is that we suck at pretty much everything in our natural state, but we’re very good at learning. This is a trade off: what we lose in innate skill we gain in the ability to profit from experience. A squirrel can only be a squirrel – a human can be whatever it sets its attention to (including a squirrel).
So go out: set the intention to focus your attention, put yourself in the way of experience, and profit by it!