I want to talk about a myth within the photography community that bothers me. I am not going to make many friends with this article. I just might upset some people.
In fact I hope I do shake a few people up, because I feel some changes need to be made. If you're a photographer wanting to improve your photography you need to read this.
There is this idea in photography, not a new one. In fact its very old and although many people dispel it on a daily basis it's still floating around, like a bad stink.
It is the idea of the "Magical Formula." a.k.a if you do X or Y you'll automatically make "professional" images and be more competitive. I hear students ask for it, and educators promote it.
It needs to stop.
Technique Does not MAKE A Good Photographer!
Having a bag full of techniques which you can pull out at a whim, is an awesome feeling. Approaching a subject, knowing what lighting and camera settings to use saves you valuable time. However, without a story to tell within your frame, what's the point?
If I was to tell you that, if you learn my lighting techniques you'll all of a sudden make great photos, I'd be lying.
You would make photos with great light. 😉 And that's it.
If I told you, what separates a professional photographer from an amateur was their technique. I'd be lying.
Professionals are able to create images that consistently attract clients attention within their niche. Images with a vision and creativity that clients believe (for subjective reasons) are worth something.
If I told you that, everyone has a camera, fancy editing tools and filters, photography is a competitive industry, so if you learn my new technique that would mean less competition for you. I'd be lying.
Photography is competitive no matter how awesome your skills are. People don’t hire you based on your technique. That is the minimum requirement. People hire you based on your vision. Based on what really separates you from another photographer, your own style and personality.
This myth that learning the latest techniques will somehow make you a better photographer is the same old trope that if you buy "camera x" then you'll magically start making better pictures. It's simply not true. It's not true about cameras and it's not true about photography techniques.
Technique has never been the cherry on top. It's always been the vanilla ice cream. The base you use to pile on all your delicious art and vision.
The True Magical Formula For Great Photography.
Step 1: Build Muscle Memory
Learn all the techniques you can for your photography then make those techniques INVISIBLE. Practice those techniques until they are a part of you. Build your set, tear it down and build it again. Know your camera, your lights and your other tools until these technique are an effortless extension of your art. Until it pulls nothing away from your focus on making compelling stories.
Step 2: Build Your Vision
Create your world within the frame. Find your voice and use those techniques to express it. In your food photography you can start out by asking yourself these 4 simple questions.
- Who is this photo about? What's their style, their flavor, their taste? How do they live their life?
- What are they doing? Are they eating, drinking, cooking, entertaining guests?
- Where does you story take place? Is it in the kitchen, at the table, outside, inside, in a magical world?
- When does your story take place? Under the crisp morning light, in the evening, anytime of day?
Make a mood board that illustrates the answers to these questions. Use these questions to guide you when it's time to buy props, build your scenes or manipulate your lighting to create a mood. To guide your technical and compositional choices.
Step 3: Practice Until You Bleed
Like the callused fingers of a violinist, you need to practice until you bleed (figuratively of course). Like building muscle memory with your gear so should you memorize your vision. A bag filled with technical tools and another full of compositions. The answers to those questions in Step 2 should become instinctive, driving your motivation to dive deeper into the story of your portfolio.
In the end, there is no Magic Formula, none that's quick at least. All of the extreme amount of effort, blood and equipment it took you to make your wonderful art will go unnoticed. As it should. Leaving more room for wonder, curiosity and beauty for the viewer.
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