The photography equivalent of being Jedi'd?

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  • The photography equivalent of being Jedi'd?
  • Alpha1653

    I’ve had a casual interest in photography for several years now, principally outdoor based photography, landscapes, outdoor sports and nature. I bought a Sony a57 a few years ago and using my dad’s old Minolta lenses I’ve enjoyed some satisfying results. However, when a picture goes right it is more by accident rather than design and it’s starting to get a bit frustrating. There are clearly some very talented photographers on this site, but where did you do your learning? Trial and error? Via a book? Online? A course?

    If anyone has got any recommendations about the most efficient way to get the basics nailed it would be appreciated. I say efficient not because I’m in a rush to learn, but rather that work & family life is super busy so time is at a premium! Thanks in advance.

    And of course, any excuse to post some images…


    but where did you do your learning? Trial and error? Via a book? Online? A course?

    2years btec, 3 years degree, a decade of assisting some of the best and worst* fashion/car/portrait/still life photographers london had to offer and I’m still learning/honing the skills but the mechanics/physics of image making is the easy bit it’s the visual awareness that’s harder to aquire.

    It’s obvious you can take a picture and probably don’t need to re-do the basics.
    My advice would be to steer clear of camera clubs/fellow amateurs and forums and watch some good films.
    The opening scenes of once upon a time in the west were what inspired me early on and that led me towards a whole raft of imagery that influenced me but also helped my visual awareness.

    Ignore the standard responses, look at inspirational things go and make pictures.

    Same route as MrSmith but A levels instead of btec and weddings / dogs instead of commercial stuff.

    Wholeheartedly agree with the above but I did learn a lot from forums whilst at uni. Photo books did it for me – I couldn’t quite believe the books available to borrow for free from the Edinburgh art and design library. Had to buy a bigger rucksack to get some of them back home.

    Premier Icon BigDummy

    A mate of mine goes on courses occasionally, led/coached by people whose work he admires. Spendy, but he reckons having what he does looked at by (say) Antonio Olmos is worth it.


    I’m so glad you two got in first with your responses! I was tempted to say ‘there isn’t one’ since the technical aspects are relatively easy to self teach and what really makes a difference is the creative urge and vision. It’s a lot less about the how and far more about the why and you can’t teach that, that’s more of a personal journey as highlighted by MrSmith’s comments that it’s taken him 15 years to develop that creative vision.

    Not that I am holding myself up as qualified but what I have found has really helped is simply asking myself the question ‘what kind of photographer do I want to be?’

    Premier Icon justinbieber

    Completely self taught, except for my dad who showed me how to use a fully manual camera years ago.

    Trying to sell photos commercially and to magazines has been a great refiner of skills – clients will quite happily tell you what works and what doesn’t and enables you to look at your images more subjectively

    Premier Icon trailwagger

    but where did you do your learning? Trial and error? Via a book? Online? A course?

    All of the above.

    You have two crackers there imo. The Orangutans, (but please edit out that line in top left) and the last landscape. Both very nice.

    I too started out with lots of inspiration (both from subjects and ideas) and like yourself a good few happy accidents which spurred me onwards. Have always been a somewhat indolent student (while a keen practitioner) and my formal art-school photography instruction was so long ago that I hit 30 and subsequently re-taught self via the internet. I would wish to achieve something (say, more shadow detail, less noise, how to solve blown highlights etc) become frusrated, then look it up on a forum or blog etc. You have to learn the basics simply to get an image exposed and focused correctly. Use manual settings to learn this process fully.

    Digital photography was a shot in the arm for me. Instant results. After a promising start with a small Nikon digi-zoom I then took the plunge and spent 10 years almost exclusively behind a 50mm prime (simply what I could afford at the time) stuck on a Canon dslr on a quest to photograph nature and the landscape, with some success. I learned a lot about composition and addressing the ‘accident vs design’ equation. Use pinterest, look up great photographers. Look at their pics. Learn to critique them (why you like them, and why you don’t like them). If you’re not sure quite ‘why’ you appreciate a certain photo then take the time to break it down. Did they focus on any particular element/subject? Did they frame the composition in any specific way? Did they use a certain lens to create drama? Does the tone\colour denote the mood? High key or low key used for a reason? Etc, etc…

    Example: I quite like the chilly drama of your Hartland Quay shot, for instance and I wonder why you choose to compose the image in two halves with the horizon-line bang-centre ? Same with the other landscape. This is not to say my observations are ‘correct’, just that I am making an evaluative critique based upon my understanding/appreciation of compositional/visual harmony.

    This process of evaluation is the key to converting your initial inspiration into satisfying results . The camera ‘basics’ are merely technical know-how and can be addressed via a simple book or by googling/photo forums. Composition is a whole other subject and received wisdom is there to be broken and messed with. Like a musician, if you don’t first learn to play music then how can you mess with it? One chord strumming is easy but it’s no composition. Learn to look at an image theway you might listen to music. It is a composition and more than the sum of parts, but nonetheless IS comprised of many parts/players/elements that contribute to the finished piece.

    Premier Icon molgrips

    the mechanics/physics of image making is the easy bit it’s the visual awareness that’s harder to aquire.

    That. Go to a gallery, learn about art.

    You need to decide what you actually want to portray in your pictures. Art is self expression. ‘Better’ is a bit of a meaningless word.


    Thanks for the advice, guidance and encouragement – all of it taken on board. I suppose it’s like asking how to become a good MTBer – it’s easy to understand how a bike works and read about how you should approach different situations but whilst useful, it’s no substitute for actually getting out to ride and enjoy it. Experience & enjoyment = improvement.

    I’ve just asked the same question of a couple of people at work who are keen photographers and they’ve reminded me that we all get an annual learning allowance which can be used to offset the price of a course, and would cover a 5 week evening course in town if I can commit the time. I’ll also be digging out my library card and visiting exhibitions too.

    Trailwagger – I’ll have a go at editing out the line in the orangutan photo. The second landscape photo actually illustrates my original point about not knowing why it worked: it was taken at 5.30am whilst on exercise using a shockproof compact. I’d been living in a shell-scrape for a week and was just in the right place at the right time. It with no real clue how to secure the right shot!


    For the technical aspects there is a free photography course on the “Shaw academy” website that my wife has completed. Extended courses are billed for.

    As these guys have all said, composition is more important to most though and this can’t be taught as much.

    was just in the right place at the right time

    You’ve nailed the essence of it right there.

    To improve, you just need to be in more places at more times.

    The biggest technical improvement I made was reading “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson. It made all the technical gobbledegook suddenly make a lot more sense to me.


    Example: I quite like the chilly drama of your Hartland Quay shot, for instance and I wonder why you choose to compose the image in two halves with the horizon-line bang-centre ?

    I’d never really thought why I compose an image as I do, other than just getting a composition which I instinctively think looks good. Very good point about Hartland Quay and the frozen lake pictures, I’ve never asked myself the question. Maybe it’s time to become a bit more objective and less impulsive…

    As for what I want to portray or what sort of photographer do I want to be…a difficult couple of questions but certainly ones I need to answer.

    All fantastic advice so far so thank you! I love this forum 😀

    Premier Icon trailwagger

    I like the atmosphere in that landscape shot but it could be better technically. It is a little one sided with the foreground interest and the clouds drawing the eye to the left. The balance of ground to sky is 50/50.

    So my suggestion for improving the shot at the time, would of been to change your position in an attempt to balance out the composition left to right and also make the balance of sky/ground 1 third to two thirds either way.

    Everytime you take a photo, always think “how can i make it better”.

    Premier Icon jimdubleyou

    I did a day’s course with Mark Carwardine – not sure if he still does them, but some good materials on his website (which look like they might well have been in BBC Wildlife magazine).

    Have a look though a few of the articles here



    All, thanks for taking the time to offer guidance and encouragement. I think I’m going to try to get hold of a technical book so that I can better understand the basics; start playing around on manual some more instead of relying on program; and work on the whole composition thing by identifying good sources of photography and critiquing them; and finally, start identifying locations/scenes/animals/birds I want to photograph and work out how best to achieve the photo. I’ll also have a look at some of those online courses if I can commit the regular time.

    Wish me luck!

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