Learning photography, like anything, takes a lot of time. Amongst technical details and creative rules there’s a lot to take in and it can be too overwhelming for the uninitiated and uninspired. Everyone learns at different speeds and have their own preferred methods. Some like to kick it old school with books and DVDs, while others prefer online tutorials and workshops – and either way is fine.
Tutorials are amazing tools to learn almost everything there is to know about photography, but there are four elements of photography that can only be self-taught. Everyone will have their own method for dealing with and learning these four elements and I believe that if you can successfully experience them all you will stick around for the long haul and be a photographer for the rest of your life.
While I’m speaking from experience as a landscape photographer, you can apply this advice to any type of photography.
How to develop a style.
When you start out in photography and editing, you will find inspiration in other photos you see online or elsewhere. And it’s only natural that you will emulate their stylistic choices or even flat out copy their edits. Is this a bad thing? No. I think it’s a perfect way of getting started and sets you on the path to putting your own twist on things and eventually developing your own style completely.
So while tutorials can show you how to create certain looks or moods in your work, they can’t teach you how to make it your own. This skill comes from practice, a load of inspiration, and trial and error. Eventually your own style will show, and maybe it will be very similar to someone else’s – but if your artistic instinct leads you to that position you’ll know it’s what you need to be creating.
One of my favourite quotes is “There is no conformity in using something purely as inspiration rather than imitation.” I have no idea who said it, but it works well for the point I’m trying to make.
My advice: Edit your photo in a few different styles. Was the first one faded and vintage? Do another with high contrast and vibrancy. Maybe try black and white. Trial and error is inevitable, so speed up the process!
How to be patient.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed and exasperated with the amount of quality photography being shared with the world. In fact, you may even feel like there’s no point to trying when so many people are doing it better.
Landscape photography is a game of patience, and there are times when you will come home empty handed. Even the best have their off days, weeks or even months. While great landscape photography requires skill, it also requires a lot of luck. It’s not your fault the sunrise was boring, or that the sky has been cloudless for the past week. Waiting for things to happen is sometimes just a part of the game.
One of the best things I’ve learned through experience is to just enjoy the method. I love driving to the location while playing my favourite tunes. I love being able to switch my brain off and take in nature. I love the challenge of looking for new compositions. It’s good just to be out and about!
My advice: When you go out to shoot, try and come home with at least 2 different shots. Not only is it a good backup if the first one sucks, but you’ll be able to release more content under your name while you haven’t had the option to get anything new.
How to make your own rules.
While we’re talking about being overwhelmed, can we talk about how many invisible rules landscape photography has? Rules of thirds, broken and unbroken symmetry, fill the frame, negative space, leading lines, watch the background – ugh, can I just take a photo already?!
Rules exist for a reason, and in most cases they are going to benefit you, but stressing over them will only hinder you. As you become more comfortable with photography you’ll be more comfortable in bending the rules (or ignoring them completely). Eventually you’ll develop the “I can do whatever I want” attitude and start changing things about your image based on what you like and what you want to see. So, that boathouse is best centred but you want it to the left? Awesome, you go for it!
Now it’s true that there are tutorials that will tell you which rules are and how to break them, but the idea stretches beyond that. It’s about the attitude that comes with being comfortable. Be confident, carefree, and even a little cocky if it pushes you. At the end of the day you are creating art – art that you should be proud of. And if you’re proud of it, who cares what rules you followed to accomplish that?
My advice: Go with your instinct, because quite often it’s right. Don’t be afraid to break rules for the sake of getting an image you want. You can always take an image following the rules as a safety net if you’re scared.
Why you’re doing it.
There’s a lot of different reasons why you might be, or want to be, a photographer. Maybe you were inspired by someone on YouTube, or someone in your family has been a photographer for years and you want to have a go. Maybe you want to be an influencer on Instagram, or someone who creates billboards.
Experience has taught me that whatever the starting reason is it probably isn’t going to be the real reason. Personally, I was inspired by Joe Allam and his creative work. I wanted to travel and make videos all about photography. I started doing that, and now I’m not. I didn’t enjoy it, and I was happy to switch things up.
Tutorials are a great place you get you passionate and excited, but only you can determine why you’re really sticking with it. And it may take time, or maybe your first reason is the final one. Whatever it is, it needs to come from you.
My advice: Don’t be afraid to change things up every now and then, even if it’s only as small as editing a photo in a different way. Sticking with the same thing will only limit you, experimenting with style and methods can help you find your true calling.