A web site mini-essay linked here talks about the ladder of appreciation for photographic skill. This person has a very good point. It’s easy to identify what got you to a certain skill level, but it’s more difficult to see how to take the next step. It’s just like watching professional sports. “How do they do that?” I’ve played soccer, hockey, and volleyball in competitive settings. I’ve watched baseball and hockey from up close. I am amazed at the things the professionals can do. The way Wayne Gretsky could weave down the rink with the puck nailed to his stick or Chipper Jones’ ability to see the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand or Tiger Woods’ skill in dropping a tiny white ball within inches of where he was aiming. Wow. Unfortunately, as so many people understand, sports skill can be learned, but a lot of it is inborn aptitude. No matter how much I practice, I’ll never be as good at kicking a soccer ball as David Beckham. I’ll never have the same touch with the club as Tiger Woods. And I’ll probably not have the same eye as Ansel Adams, which segues me back to the topic of this post.
I’ve looked at a lot of excellent photography. I’ve even put a few images on film (and CCD) which could be called “good”. But I don’t have the eye. Not yet.
As with all things, practice makes better. Poking around through internet searches for “improve photos” or “photography 101,” etc. you pick up a lot of tips*. There’s the rule of thirds, effective composition, appreciating light, using depth of field, finding uncluttered subjects, understanding how your camera works… These are all technical skills which can be improved with diligent practice**.
But “the eye” is something more difficult. It can be learned and taught, but the best of all photographers have that something more, just like professional sports players. They can see things that the rest of us do not. Not only can they see it, but their diligently developed skills allow them to capture it in that fleeting momemt before it’s gone. How many times have you thought, “Gosh that would be a good picture! Where’s my camera?” (or “I wish I’d brought my camera”)
I have no pretentions to a level of photography that would allow me to dispaly in galleries, or submit to professional contests. However, I am working on developing “the eye.” Hopefully, the images I post to Flickr will reflect that as time goes by.
*One of the good ideas I came across in my internet searching was: look for photos you think are excellent, then try to duplicate them. I guarantee that there will be lot of learning in that endeavor.
**The advent of the instant-check digital camera is wonderful for improving skills. You can see immediately how well things are doing. Half of the pain with film was taking good notes so you knew what it was you set your camera to during the shots on the roll. I love EXIF information.