I’ve decided there is really only one important thing when it comes to photography, and that is to lose all fear. Go boldly in the direction of capturing something new to you. Be brave enough to take pictures that fail miserably and can’t be saved. Don’t be afraid to take a picture in a public space or to take a self-portrait or to ask a friend (or even a stranger) to be your model.
I first started to learn about photography for real in a high school journalism class. Before that, I only had instamatic type cameras – point and shoots with 35mm, 110 or even disc film. In fact, I should have learned something from the disc camera, but I’ll come back to that in a bit. In journalism class they threw photography vocabulary words at us, set us loose with Canon SLRs and sent us into the darkroom to develop and print our own images. The darkroom is magical. You know how memorable smells stay with you? I can dream of the smell of darkroom chemicals. I shot everything with a fixed 50mm lens, printed everything in black and white, and ‘everything’ was a mix of indoor school moments and outdoor school football games. A few of us were able to get a tiny bit of work with the local newspaper selling on our assorted football pictures, because Friday night football was a big deal and I think they paid between $5 and $15 per picture. A few of us absolutely fell in love with cameras and I’m pretty sure I could guess from the roll call of that group of teenagers who still shoots on some form of SLR today.
Then there was the rest of the class. As soon as there was vocabulary and technique and procedure, the group split. We hadn’t even gotten to the fun we could have with composition or depth of field or anything remotely creative: they had hit the wall with the technical know-how and suddenly felt photography just wasn’t their thing. Of course I didn’t realise it then, but years (and so many discussions with scrapbookers) later, it all makes perfect sense. The truth is photography is a balance of technical and creative stuff, and no matter what your gut instinct, there is no reason to be afraid of any of it.
LESSON ONE: Let go of all fear.
You may want a notebook for Camera School, by the way. Somewhere you can track things to do, remember things you want to try and note things that inspire you greatly. And to track your progress through a series of assignments. I’m only calling them assignments to match this whole idea of Camera School and I’ve already told you this is school in the loosest sense of the word, so don’t worry. You can pick and choose what you want to take on. You can take all the time you need. You can work out of order. You can do absolutely whatever you would like really – I’m just going to call them assignments because that makes it clear and easy.
So your first assignment is to take a photo that gets over your particular fear. Which means it may help to identify your photography fears in the first place. Do any of these apply to you?
Facing my technical fear: shooting cupcakes in an entirely different style for me with some specific technical needs – for this cupcake workshop at The Make Lounge.
Technical fear: When someone starts talking about exposure and aperture and compensation and f-stops and grey cards, you’re convinced it’s another language. If your camera manual intimidates you, this may be you.
Facing my creative fear: trying to find an interesting angle to shoot for a pillow fight flash mob in Trafalgar Square.
Creative fear: Do you like the safe shot? So most of your images look the same, maybe with the subject right in the centre? Do you always stand straight up to take a picture? Do you see other pictures that look lush but you automatically think you couldn’t take a photo like that? Then creative fear may have captured you, I’m afraid.
Facing my confidence fear: photos, fancy dress and a public playground filled with staring onlookers? Fear definitely faced.
Confidence fear: If you pick up your camera and automatically become shy and overly polite, this is you. You don’t want to get in someone’s way – to the point you will lose the shot. You would be terrified to take a picture in a shop or a library or in front of many people. The idea of asking someone if it’s okay to take a photograph in front of their house absolutely and completely fills you with dread. You want to take pictures of other people so you can learn, but you’re totally lost with how to make that happen.
Facing my accuracy fear: a lucky shot grabbed while riding on a golf cart and not looking through the viewfinder.
Accuracy fear: A little like creative fear but more along the lines of specifically knowing that a shot might not work and therefore you would rather not click the shutter button. Trying a something that might not work with the settings you know pretty much freaks you out. The fact that I take a fair amount of shots without looking through my viewfinder in any way makes you think I am a crazy woman. You want everything lined up, perfectly framed and perfectly exposed at all times… because a blurry or ill-coloured photo makes you feel like you totally screwed up.
Facing my self-portrait fear: trying to capture something very real that I wouldn’t normally photograph, complete with eyes that say I need more sleep and vitamins.
In-the-picture fear: Right now, you’re already dreading me asking you to take a self-portrait. You are absolutely fine with photographs as long as you are not in them. Turning the lens toward yourself makes you want to run and hide like you just saw something dart across the floor that was part rat, part tarantula.
Facing a whole bunch of fears at once, but mostly the idea that once I climb a zillion stairs to get the great view, will I make it back down with taking a tumble with my camera?
Can’t-put-my-finger-on-it fear: To be honest, you’re not quite sure why you don’t push yourself to take better pictures. You want to, but you haven’t found the right thing to motivate you to step up your game. You might not feel afraid of anything at all, but in a way, you’re a little bit afraid of just being awesome. Or in general, you’re not too sure what it is that holds you back.
Got it? If you have found something there that applies to you, it’s time to set it aside. Officially. At least until the end of these blog posts. I’ll make you these promises:
You don’t have to share a photo with anyone in the world if you don’t want to.
Your camera will not explode or laugh at you if you try something and the pictures just don’t come out that great.
You won’t have to memorise a list of vocabulary words or read your camera manual from cover to cover. (I have to admit it can be handy for a few things though, okay?)
You don’t have to have any special fancy camera.
But I also hope:
You will give new things a try.
You will let yourself be happy with your work.
You will accept compliments from others.
Because all three of those things make for a lot of good in life, I do believe.
So here’s assignment one: take one photo that proves you can set aside your personal photography fear.
There’s no deadline. You don’t have to share (but if you would like to, please do). You can interpret that assignment in any way you like.
Just let it go and click the shutter, and I’ll be back here tomorrow with something new.
By the way, all of these pictures are straight out of camera (SOOC) without any editing other than resizing and compressing for the web. They are not perfect by any means – but each one represents some bit of progress in my own little journey. Throughout Camera School, I’ll tell you what edits I’ve added to the photos, I promise.06 September 2011