Photography is a creative endeavor, but it is an endeavor that requires tools. You may have a “good eye”, but you still need a camera to make a picture. You need to learn to control the camera so you can forget about the tools and be creative. I think your goal as a student should be to reach a point where the camera controls become second nature. The more you practice the faster it all makes sense. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is worth the effort.
The other thing that is integral to every type of photography is composition. You CAN practice composition, and you WILL get better with practice. I once heard an instructor talk about how the traditional rules of composition are blasé and outdated, yet all of his favorite images were text-book examples of those same rules. If you think about the rule of thirds, leading lines, patterns, etc while you are shooting, your images will get better faster. Much like controlling exposure, with practice the “rules” of composition become second nature and you won’t have to think about them.
Pick one of the “rules” of composition, then go out and shoot with only that one rule in mind. Apply it to everything you shoot. Spend a day or a couple of hours with the rule of thirds, leading lines, patterns, frame within a frame, etc and you will see when each rule works and when it doesn’t. [/box_grey]
OK, Now What?
Now you have to decide what to shoot! Exposure and composition are tools to help you capture what you see in a specific way. All of the techniques in the world won’t help you if you don’t know what photo you want to make. The more you’re thinking about your tools (camera, lenses, f-stop, shutter speed, etc) the less you’re seeing what’s in front of you.
The first decision you should be making is, “what photo am I trying to make?” What do you want to communicate to your viewer? Are you trying to tell a story, capture a pretty flower or make a revealing portrait? It could be anything. It’s up to you. The rest is technique… What focal length should I use? How should I expose for the light on my subject? How can I compose the picture to most effectively communicate my idea? It may seem like a lot, but if you know what phto you are trying to make the process becomes exponentially easier.
Example number 1: You go to the park with your camera and a bag full of lenses. There are people, statues, trees, etc. that you think would make good subjects for a photograph. You decide you use a wide-angle lens, set the aperture at f5.6, and head off looking for something to shoot.
Example number 2: You go to the park with your camera and a bag full of lenses. You see a statue and you decide you want to make a photograph that shows the expression on the statue’s face. You choose a telephoto lens to isolate the statue’s face and a wide aperture (low f-number) to blur the background. You choose your shooting position so that the statue has a pleasing background that isn’t distracting, and compose the picture so that the head is off center and facing into the frame.
Big difference, right? Once you decide what to shoot, the how becomes obvious. The techniques you employ should serve your images, not the other way around.
The good news is you can practice seeing too! Give yourself assignments to force yourself to think and see differently. Self assignments can be as simple as only using one lens (try using your least used lens), or something abstract like only shoot the color blue. Have fun with it, and don’t get bummed out if every shot is not a prize winner. That’s why they call it practice!