5.24.2010

On Practice

While I'm gathering my life, I just wanted to share this.

When my younger students see my work for the first time, their eyes usually get wide and they make this "Aaaaccchhhhhh!?" sound, then they grab at their eyes and yell "How did you do that?! I WILL NEVER BE THAT GOOD."

Actually, not only my students have done this. And I think a lot of photographers have had this happen to them. This is like... one of the things I hate hearing the most.

One, you're making me feel guilty, as if I lucked out and you didn't— two, I don't want the first thing I hear about my new photo or movie that I've shot to be COMPLETE ANGST.

So you who need encouragement, who think you will NEVER BE AS GOOD AS _____, shut up for a second and I'll tell you the magic secret!

Ready? Oh wait. Yeah. You were expecting this the second I told you there was a "secret".

You know this: practice, research, experiment, fail, ask for critique, research, practice, repeat.

Here is one of the very first "portraits" I took of a person (probably 6 or 7 years ago):


Yeah I just embarrassed myself on the internet for you. Let's look at this. You can't see his face, there is no depth, the colors are all muddy and off, it's way too dark, it's coming from a low angle (which is usually very unflattering), half of his body is cut off (and not in a good way, but a claustrophobic where is his arm? way) and the line of the fence goes straight through his head. Not to mention, I thought adding a lame black and white border in photoshop made it more professional looking. I literally did this to ALL my photos when I first started. I regret all of them.

Here's my more recent progress:



I tried to choose pictures that were similar. All four of those photos were taken in all-natural outdoor light, on a 50mm lens. All four had post work done by me (so no, there is no photo-shop miracle for a mediocre photo). The top two were even taken in the exact same location. You can see a big difference, yes? Contrast, color, lighting (basically, the angles and time of day I decided to shoot), depth of field, framing and composition, sharpness. Even my post skills got better (hint: I read a lot of photography blogs and photoshop articles).

Research is key. I read American Cinematographer, I read scripts and re-watch movies and look at the lighting, and try and keep up with new equipment. I study my actor's friends' headshots and talk with them what they're looking for, and page through portraiture books in the library. When I first started doing headshots and portraits, I totally sucked. I had no idea what I was doing, because I didn't understand and wasn't familiar with the medium. People (including myself) assumed that since I was a good photographer, I was a good headshot photographer. But just because I was really good taking candids and could shoot a pretty movie, it didn't mean I'd automatically be good at a different, very specific form of photography. Basically, I had to school myself on what I wanted to learn.

So I know there are a billion photography blogs out there that say to get better, just go out, shoot, practice, and challenge yourself. So I thought I'd add to it and show you how that's proven true for me. And seriously, guys. That's it. Yes, talent is important... but what are you doing with it?

New photographers discount and undermine all my hard work (yes, WORK) and practice by saying "I will never be that good!"... because I really wasn't that good at first, either. I just put in the work, and will continue to do so, because I'm still learning. Which is what makes the difference.

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