Friday, January 13, 2012

Getting Started in Photography - Part One

Here we are at the beginning of 2012, less than 12 months away from the END OF THE WORLD on December 21st according to the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar.  As a major socioeconomic force, Fly to Water will now respond to these most weighty of matters by discussing: How I got started in photography.

In the Fall of 2005 I was contemplating a great truth: There were people who could take a quality photograph, and I was NOT one of them.  At the time my definition of "quality" was somewhat limited, but I knew that certain images were engaging, held my attention, and struck me as art.  By contrast my work was as attractive as an uncorked bung hole.

Of course I had the option of going out and buying a nicer camera than the Nikon D70 I was shooting, which would make an immediate difference by doubling the file size of my schlocky snapshots.  Oddly, many people believe in the mathematical formula E = GP², where E is an expensive camera and GP is a constant called "good photos."  I call this the Kopi Luwak delusion: You'd think I was making this up, but there are actual people who profess that because coffee beans are eaten by a civet cat and shat out in the jungle, they make a phenomenal beverage.  Now the civet cat is a fine animal, and my Nikon D70 was a solid camera, but it turns out both can be sorely misused.

This leads me to my point: Dudes are out there selling palm civet dingle berries for $160/lb. 
If you're getting started in photography or looking to improve prior to December's sweet release, consider this:
  • Anyone can take great photos, regardless of what you feel your natural talent/ability level might be.
  • You will need to work at it, with the same kind of dedication that it takes to sell cat crap coffee.
Very early on I came to the realization that successful images happened because of the human elements of photography.  More importantly, I began to discover that many of the qualities generally described as "artistic" were acquirable.  There were principals, camera controls, and techniques which could allow me to get the results I wanted - if I was willing to educate myself.

Step One: Composition

We live in a 3-dimensional world, and from the youngest of ages our minds are conditioned to connect with an environment that involves depth, distance, and perspective.

I was fascinated to learn that the human mind naturally imposes 3-dimensional thinking on flat, 2-dimensional images.  It turns out that fairly straight-forward guidelines exist which help broker the connection with the viewer.

In a general sense, this is called "composition," or the way in which objects are arranged (intentionally and creatively) within the frame. There is nothing about composition that should be left to chance. Inclusion, exclusion, angle of view, position relative to the subject(s), portrait vs. landscape orientation, foreground, background, and many other considerations play an enormous part in how the viewer will interpret a 2-dimensional image.

It took some reprogramming for me to begin seeing in 2 dimensions - actively thinking about how I would use the spacial relationships in the frame to hold attention rather than create distraction.

The topic is too broad to cover in a blog post, but here is the take away: Regardless of your equipment, there is a FREE way of making your photos more engaging with simple compositional techniques that can be learned and practiced at home.  I started by reading Photographic Composition, and Brenda Tharp's excellent Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography - both available on Amazon for about $15 bucks.

Read up before 12/21/12, when it will be human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... MASS HYSTERIA.  If this has been helpful, drop me a line.  I've got a few more pre-cataclysm thoughts brewing.


  1. Great read Brett, I'm to the point where I want to start doing this and I appreciate the straightforward approach of this piece. Please, go on...

  2. Thanks Kyle. Nice work on your new blog man, if anyone is checking out these comments make sure to drop in on and poke around.