Anyone can take a great photo

Welcome to the first NineB (‘Now I’m no expert, but’) blog

A while ago Things Bogans Like had an excellent piece on bogans purchasing camera equipment and assuming that they were automatically great photographers. As usual I started reading the article and thought ‘Ha, ha…those stupid bogans!’…and then gradually began to see more and more of myself in the article. Then I stopped reading it. I don’t have time for that sort of pseudo-intellectual lefty crap.

The problem that the bogan and I have, is that pretty much anyone can take a great photo. If everything goes right, and all the moons align, and you take enough photos…eventually you’re going to have one that is a great image. And you’ll look at it, and you’ll think ‘If I can do this once…I can do it again…so clearly I’m now a photographer!’ But you’re not. The big difference between me/you and a good photographer, is that they continually get great shots. They definitely shoot some duds…but then they also shoot some photos that are so good they make you want to just give up on ever taking another shot (I call this the Lee Jeffries effect).

But there are some things we non-pro’s can do to improve our ratio of crap photos to good ones.

1. ‘It is about the bike’
Sure Lance Armstrong may have said that his success was ‘not about the bike’…but that’s a lot easier to say from the comfort of a $10K road bike. Likewise, the money you put into good equipment (particularly lenses) will make a massive difference to quality of the images you take.

2. Using ‘auto’ features does not make you less of a man.
Yes, a great photographer doesn’t need a stabiliser, or autofocus…and they set the f-stop and aperture and everything else manually (they probably even know what the f-stop is). But you are not a great photographer…yet.
When I first got my DSLR I shot everything on full auto (other than flash..I hate using flash), and they are still some of my favourite photos.
By all means learn how to do everything manually (it will make you a better photographer), but if you see a great photo happening in front of you…don’t forsake capturing the moment for some sort of misplaced professional pride. Besides, when someone asks about your photo, you can still lie and claim you did it all yourself.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from photographers whose work you like.
Most good photographers know that there is more to what they do than just the settings they use (such as the way they work with the people they’re photographing, the post production processes they use, the time they spend in the freezing cold to get the shot), so they won’t mind answering your questions.
If I want to ask someone about taking a MTB our outdoorsy photo I’ll ask Tim Arch, or if I want some tips on taking a great portrait shot I’ll ask Veeral Patel, or if I want a great car shot I’ll ask Joel Strickland…and of course if I want a photo that represents the pain of riding from Melbourne to Adelaide on a fixie I’ll ask Andy.
But be warned, some photographers are just jerks and won’t get back to you…I’ve sent numerous emails and tweets to Ansel Adams asking if he uses a Canon or a Nikon DSLR. He still hasn’t responded to any of them.

4. Shoot what you know

If you like cars or bikes or wilderness or ponies, then shoot cars, bikes, wilderness or ponies. If you have an interest in something, then you’re likely to have an intuitive idea of; how things should look, when is a good time to take a shot…and ideally where you can find a pony who can either drive a car or ride a bike in the wilderness.
Most importantly, it is a lot easier to fit photography into your life than it is to make time to go and take photos. So the more you can work photography into what you do everyday, the more practice you will get,and the better you will become.

5. Shoot early, shoot often

The joy of shooting digital (and there’s no way you made it this far through this blog if you’re shooting on film…so don’t try to claim otherwise) is that you can take a whole lot of shots, and you can see them immediately, and then you can adjust things accordingly …and then you can shoot a whole lot of shots again.
It’s basically the snowboarding/surfing scenario. It’s a lot easier to learn to snowboard, because each time you fall over, you can just get up and try again. Whereas with surfing, each time you fall off you have to paddle back out, wait for a wave, catch the wave then try to stand up again. So be like a snowboarder, and take a lot of shots so that you can learn how things work. But at all times know that surfing is way cooler.
It is also very important that you get as good at deleting photos as you are at taking them. If you’re shooting a 100 shots and keeping more than 10 of them, you are either setting your standards way too low or you are some sort of photographic wunderkind. Either way you are not the target audience for this blog…so it’s probably best if you left.

So there you have my hints for taking a better photo, to paraphrase a DJ Shadow sample ‘It won’t make a bad photographer good…but hopefully it will make a good photographer better’.


8 thoughts on “Anyone can take a great photo”

  1. Nice one Chris – I shall follow this with interest (especially as I have just invested in my first DSLR – now all I have to do is work out how it works!).

    1. Hey Fran,
      Using a DSLR works like this:
      Step 1: “These photos are so much better than my point and shoot”
      Step 2: “But they’re not as good as I want them to be”
      Step 3: Purchase a more expensive lens
      Step 4: “These photos are so much better with my new lens”
      Step 5: “But they’re not good as I want them to be”
      Step 6: Purchase another expensive lens
      Repeat this until broke.
      But if you have any specific questions, please feel free to ask.

      1. I have a few friends doing that…and I really don’t need photos of their withering looks as I try to explain again why I’m not doing the ride with them.
        Instead I shall be down at the beach finding new ways to mess up some time-lapse stuff.

    1. That may be true (and I certainly have similar feelings about transmissions on cars)…but if you’ve just made the leap from a point and shoot you can learn a fair bit about ISO’s f-stops etc by just looking at what the camera does in auto mode.
      Plus if you’ve ever taken photos of kids you can get pretty tired of saying ‘No, just do what you were doing before while daddy was trying to get the exposure right…no not that…no DON’T TOUCH THE LENS!…no,no,no don’t cry…can you just go back to what you were doing before? No please don’t tell Mum I yelled at you!”

  2. Good one Chris – I also will be reading your posts with interest. I don’t know if you’ve read the quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson, worth repeating:

    “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”

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