Monday, October 29, 2012

The Challenges of Amateur Photography

Oh, You Have a Camera Too?

Whether it’s a digital camera or simply a smartphone, it seems like everyone has a photographic device at his or her fingertips these days.  Growing up, having a camera was something of a luxury for my family.  I remember as a child when we purchased our first waterproof camera.  We were so excited because not only was it waterproof, but it took panoramic shots as well. Imagine my mother’s delight when she would pay a hefty price to get the expensive panoramic pictures developed, only to find out that I had taken seven shots of silt-clogged ocean water and a couple crooked shots of people fishing from the pier!


In times past, getting film developed cost both time and money.  Definitely two things no struggling photographer that I know of has to spare! Film was expensive as well, so each shot had to be the shot. Every frame was precious, so with every press of the shutter came a certain amount of care and responsibility.  It all had to count, or none of it did.

Technology is both friend and foe to the photographer, allowing for better, faster ways to capture our shots and develop them, and also to share them with a wider range of people. Now you can upload your pictures directly from the camera to your computer and share them with a larger audience of people. How is this a problem, you might ask? Or maybe you already know. Go ahead and Google “wedding photographers.”

40,500,000 results…just for wedding photographers! Technology really changed the game with the introduction of digital cameras, allowing everyone access to a camera at any moment. This can be problematic when you are just one person trying to prove that you are a talented photographer, and distinguish yourself from everyone else with a camera.  Part of the work of photography is to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are the best, in whatever aspect you can. Landscapes? Portraits? Find your niche and rise above the crowd.

Just Point and Click, Right?

Many times in photography, something that affects us all, from novice to professional, is the question of purpose behind the frame. From the composition of each piece to its final finish lays a bevy of hurdles in both professional and personal life. Unlike many careers where you may have a structured set of tasks, photography is focused on art, which changes its nature. You have to focus on finding that one thing in each frame - either the ugly, the beautiful, the sad or the obscure - and piece it together like a puzzle with no definitive edges.


Photography isn't always about just knowing your camera - it’s about knowing your subject, the reason you’re taking the photo, and even what you intend to do with the images themselves. A quiet morning picture taken of a branch dipping into the water might be a lovely personal reminder, but would you try and sell that piece to a magazine? Because of the very flexible and often unforgiving aspects of photography, it can present many challenges to the photographers themselves.  Sure, you “point and click” your camera, but you always strive to have a certain amount of skill and creativity behind your work.  

Knowledge, or Inspiration?
   
Although there are no official rules to photography, there are plenty of unwritten rules that are generally accepted and enforced. There is no real “right” or “wrong” when it comes to creating art, but any experienced photographer can look at a “bad” piece of work and tell you what isn’t correct, from the high ISO to the poorly cropped frame, or the flash-shadow that’s flattening your composition.
   
Many photography instructors even argue that learning the overtly technical aspects of camera usage can hinder an amateur’s desire to continue with the process. When I took my first photography class several years ago, my teacher was adamant that we absolutely had to learn everything there was about the camera to take decent pictures. The first lesson that we had on the camera was learning about the f-stop.


I had never learned anything about cameras prior to that moment, and that was a frightening crash course introduction. It immediately went over my head and scared me away from even touching a camera for nearly a full week. The subsequent classes did little to relieve that fright, but what helped me the most was simply taking pictures. I did my best to find inspiration in each image, and that is what drove me onward.

Oftentimes, people may find themselves focusing on the more technical parts because they believe that to take great pictures you need to know your equipment inside and out. And this may be true…eventually!  However, the point of photography, the thing that creates great compositions, is the connection that we as photographers feel to the art.

I once asked that same teacher what she would advise to better my photography, and her answer surprised me. She told me that the best way to overcome the hurdles of amateur photography was to take as many photos as I could, and I would offer anyone else the same advice. Take pictures of everything, candid or staged. Get familiar with your camera, and learn what makes you tick, what makes you take fantastic photos. Once you know that, great photography is just around the corner.

Contributor Bio:
M. Walther is a full-time creative writing student and aspiring amateur photographer. She lives in Atlanta, GA and has loved cameras ever since she was a little girl when she received her grandfather's Brownie Hawkeye.