In 2001, I decided to take up photography once more after being laid off for more than a decade. This was the year when I realized that digital photography and the internet will revolutionize the art. Revolutionize in the sense that what took the master photographers decades to accomplish could now be done in a matter of years given the proper approach.
I did some soul searching to find an answer to this question – what is it that makes me thrive in most of the things that I do? I was able to identify the following as some sort of a generic step by step method that I always go through:
LEARN & FORGET
RESEARCH & MENTORING
READ, LOOK, & SEE
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Looking back, I learned that I actually kept going around this four stage cycle, L2RP, every time I try to learn something new. This is exactly the same process I went through before deciding to 'switch' to MAC OS X. Here is how I apply the concept in photography.
1. LEARN & FORGET. I am talking here of basic photographic techniques. A week before I decided to buy my first digital camera, I bought my first photography book- Idiot's Photography Like A Pro. I found this book wanting in the sense that it did not satisfy my craving for more information about composition, the rule of thirds, color, tone, etc. So, I surfed the web looking for more advice from the "masters." I even enrolled in an online Photo School which had me taking pictures of an egg in 25 different angles. Another lesson entitled "the Cat's Eye," had me taking every picture at low level which made me sore for about a week. When I finally completed the online course, here is what my diploma says, "now that you have the basics of photography, forget all about them and just go out and take pictures that pleases you." Just like in driving, learn to trust your instinct.
2. RESEARCH & MENTORING. It is through research that I found out that a lot of amateur photographers could not afford the equipment they really want simply because they have splurged on cameras, accessories, software, etc. which they do not really need or found later to be wanting. The web is where you should start your research. I never buy any equipment without first reading the reviews on the web. Do your research first before reaching for your wallet. Also, you should not underestimate the value of your mentors. The best resource person in photography is someone who is already established in the craft. My mentors not only inspired my creativity but also saved me tons of time and money by pointing me towards the right direction.
3. READ, LOOK & SEE. Read photography books, magazines and look at tons of pictures to include posters and even billboards. With what you have learned in Stages 1 & 2, you will note that you will be looking at pictures with a more discerning eye. At this stage you are also armed with the necessary information to decide which equipment is right for you. Looking at pictures, you should find yourself studying their composition, color, tone and texture, the type of lighting used, etc. In the short period that I have been involved, I have collected quite a few books on photography. Now, seeing is a totally different ballgame. I must admit that this is one area that I still need a lot of work. Seeing photographically is a skill that allows you to see in your mind how a particular scene would look photographically even before raising your camera at eye level.
4. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. I must admit that a good number of my choice shots were as a result of luck. But as Ben Hogan aptly puts it about golf, "Golf is a game of luck. The more I practice, the luckier I get." Of late, I pride myself for being able to look at a scene and immediately say that that might make a good picture. Of course I am only right, maybe, less than half of the time. But, I can say that I have improved my batting average tremendously over the years. I now find myself taking more time before I click that shutter. I attribute this improvement to constant practice. I consider this stage as the most important which could make or break one's photographic skills. It is also the stage where one could turn something good into something great.
I still consider myself as an advance amateur photographer in terms of the quality of images that I am presently capable of producing. Heck, in Lightroom, I only rate my 'portfolio' shots 3 stars when 5 stars is the highest. However, provided that I continue applying L2RP, I know that a 5 star rating is not that unreachable.