Today’s blog post is taken from my book ‘Home Photography’ Published By Argentum in 2003.
The quality of photography that you produce is dependent on the amount of time that you are willing to devote to it. So the obvious question is: are you shooting enough? A possible reason for not producing many good pictures is that you are probably not taking enough — the more you do it, the better you get. I don’t mean pick up the camera once a month and run off a number of films at a sporting event or whatever. Shoot every day, think about pictures every day, use the camera every day.
The ability to see pictures comes from exercising that part of your mind as much as possible; any period of abstinence causes you to become ‘rusty’. It is definitely not like riding a bike, the ability does not stay with you unless you use it. One way to keep it functioning well is to look at the work of good and great photographers. Avoid looking at the work of poor photographers, as this will also influence your vision. Seek out high quality photography and think carefully about how it was done. Many times there are big clues in the picture. For instance, ask yourself where the light is coming from, are there two or more sources of light? If so, then how has that been achieved, by the use of artificial light, or reflectors? Is there a hard edged shadow or a very soft one, is it midday sun or late/early in the day when the sun is lower? Can you estimate the focal length of the lens used? Is it a wide angle shot or standard? Perhaps a longer lens? Has it been shot on 35mm or a larger format?
Look closely and see if there is plenty of depth of field throughout the photograph, indicating a small aperture. Perhaps the picture shows very little evidence of depth of field, indicating a wide aperture and probably a fast shutter speed. If there is subject movement in a shot displaying shallow focus, then this would suggest low light or a very slow film. There are many more ways to extract the information from photographs, but to list them would get boring. You must work it out for yourself. This is a useful exercise which helps to demystify photography. Asking these questions puts you next to the photographer at the moment of exposure. The important thing to bear in mind after the technical information has been extracted is: it is essential that you ask yourself whether this picture would have worked if any of these details had been different. Would the picture have been poorer had a larger or smaller format been chosen? And so on. Once the essential points have been established, you have a valuable reference point for creating strong images in a similar situation. This kind of detective work saves a lot of wasted film and can be a fascinating exercise which can be enjoyed whilst reading a magazine or watching a film. Old black and white films are rich in such details.