… you will be mostly disappointed, but you should also be encouraged. Encouraged by others, as well as yourself.
Something will have kick-started your photography. That moment is unique for all of us. For me, it was when I was about 12 years old, sat by a beautiful pond on a hot summer’s day in Somerset. The light was falling through the overhanging trees, and swimming serenely on the water was a swan. I wanted to remember that scene, every detail, and realised that if I had had a camera, I could have captured that moment. The problem was, that I was 12 years old and didn’t have the money for a camera.
Years later, I met the Delightful Mr F, who did have a camera, and taught me about the exposure triangle, how to compose and focus. With my first proper pay packet I bought a Nikon FM2 and I was off.
Learning photography is a slow process. There are some technical things to learn, and then there is experimentation to find out what you like, your self expression, and how best to translate what is in your head and capture it in that perfect shot. You will take a lot of shots that don’t quite hit the mark, but you will learn from them, and you will get fantastic shots too. The question is what did you do to capture that shot so well? Nothing beats practise, but what also helps is critique.
Critique. Hmmm. This is really where this blog post started. I am a member of numerous photography groups on Facebook and of late I have been increasingly horrified at the way beginners are treated. One post had me furious. A young lad, early teens, had started taking photos on an old camera that had been given to him. He posted his favourite shot so far. The photograph was of a bike, leaning against a wall. The composition was fairly run of the mill, but he had spotted the most beautiful light and had made a really good attempt at capturing it. He put up his post, asking for guidance and was greeted with ridicule. If this was his favourite shot, how boring were all his others?
How long do you think this poor fellow had been taking photographs? One week, that’s how long. In that week, he had worked out how metering worked, and could spot good light. Sounds like excellent progress to me. Clearly, those offering their “advice” first picked up a camera with the skills of David Baily fully fledged within them, and were taking photographs for the National Geographic within days of first pressing the shutter button. At the top of this post is one of my first digital images as I started to experiment with how my digital Fuji X10 worked compared to my film camera. Is it my best shot ever? Nope. I learned from it though. You can see the embryonic start to my obsession with deep shadows. They were a little bit too deep in this one, but I was beginning to understand how to control them.
So, this is a plea to beginners and experienced photographers alike. If you are a beginner, be careful where you ask for critique. Choose people who will be constructive. If they just say it’s terrible, or they say it is great, that’s no help at all. Why is it great? What’s good about it, how can it be improved? Is the colour good, the composition interesting, does it tell a story? What is it that you can learn from this, for the next time you go out with your camera? If you are not finding useful support, then go elsewhere, keep trying until you find a group or individual who will help you.
If you are providing critique, think carefully about how you phrase it. Everyone started somewhere, including you, be supportive and helpful, or don’t say anything at all. Belittling other photographers makes you a bully. It isn’t clever, it isn’t kind, and it isn’t helping spread the joy of the creative art that is photography.