If you were allowed only one Photography lesson..What would it be?
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There are endless routes in traditional media, the Internet and of course good old human interaction where we can learn and develop our craft in Photography. I think it’s arguable that we are overloaded. Everyone seems to have advice to give, often good, often inspirational and often just regurgitated with some venom from the last ‘mag’ or blog we read. Offered smugly like its are own brain born advice. It all gets kind of crazy and we end up not really knowing who to listen to, who to learn from.
Many of the greats say little, unless asked, and usually because they are too busy being great. Unless we are into formal photographic education we are left a little confused where to go for some decent guidance. So we are left with heaps of un qualified advice, self prophesied gurus offering side shows and money making ‘courses’ in basic photographic principles we could have got from a decent book for a fraction of the price. We have speed light courses. Portfolio building courses. Nude courses. Fashion courses. Professional diplomas. A photo walks, talks and portfolio critique services.
I guess we all pays our money and takes our chances. There is nothing wrong with all of this of course, it’s enterprise and if we have something worth sharing why not market it. But I for one am often left wondering where the substance is when I read so many of the course descriptions. What will I really learn from this? Which of these are value for money with real pedigree and worth, and which are shameless self stroking by our self nominated shining stars of photography? Which are simply fetish days dressed up as ‘une journée de nu artistique’ ? (A day of art nude) oh it’s a mine field and it’s just maybe worth avoiding. In most cases they just aren’t necessary.
So then we come to thinking about those two words, self taught. Often encourages a snigger and sneak from many because it implies that ‘I’m pretty darn good and I did it all myself’. With pretty darn good always being a matter of opinion, what are we really qualifying there? In fact no one is self taught per se. We learn from others all the time, it doesn’t have to be formal or carry a ticket. We replicate what we see, what we read and what we hear. We are being taught by others, all the time. So why do we need to pay someone? Well it’s about experience and doing something you like in the company of other like minded people. It’s worth paying for, sure it is.
So I should get to the point, at last. If we choose not to seek any formal learning, what is the one thing we should go and try to master above everything else? Well for me its composition. I say that because you can strip all other elements of design out of a photograph but with strong composition it can still be a good photograph. It doesn’t have to be in focus, can lack even tone, miss a story, be any colour variant, be of any subject or any genre but as long as it has good thoughtful and crafted composition it can still be interesting. Or put the other way, an image can have all the fore mentioned thought of not composed well will be as uninspiring as the blank paper it was printed on. For me balance is more important than sharpness, arrangement more so than subject and depth trumps a fancy post preset every time.
So craft comes before everything else you can learn, you can compose with a pin hole camera and still create a winner. If you have time only for one lesson in photography, make it one in composition and the elements of design of images. You won’t regret that at all.