Today this blog has its third anniversary, a truly momentous occasion worthy of celebration. It started out mostly as a way to motivate myself and keep pushing my photography, a task that I think it has succeeded fairly well with. It still serves that same purpose as well, but I think it has also reached a point where it can actually be helpful to those in the same position as I was three years ago: that of a complete beginner just about to develop a healthy obsession with photography.
Often it feels like my progress has been very slow; two steps forward and one step back seems to be the norm and, sometimes, one step forward and two back. However, when I look back at the earliest posts on this blog, I can’t deny that I’ve come a long way. So, let us take stroll down memory lane and see what has happened in the past three years.
The above portrait of my wife was the first photo I posted on the blog and one of the first I took after getting started with flash photography. Now let’s compare it a bit with the one below, which is a new portrait that haven’t had time to write about yet (there will be a post dedicated to it in 2-3 weeks).
I tried to find a new portrait that was as close as possible to the old one in style, so we can easier see how it has improved. I think that the main difference you’ll notice as we go through these examples is that the final result with the newer shots just looks much more polished and feels more like a finished product. The old ones look and feel more like someone just messing around with a camera and some lights in the living room…which is exactly what they are.
Here’s another example that I was actually very happy with at the time when I shot it. However, if I compare it to what I can do today, my feelings for it aren’t very fuzzy anymore.
This is basically the same shot as the one above; same pose, same light. The resulting photos, however, are miles (or kilometers, just adopt the damn metric system worldwide already) apart. If I were to attempt to explain why the difference is so large, I would say that it’s mainly a combination of me being pickier as a photographer and my post-processing skills getting better.
Perhaps I should explain a bit what I mean by that. The better I get the less I shoot. It’s not that I want to shoot less, it’s just that I don’t bother shooting if I don’t think there’s a good picture to be made. That also means that I work harder to give myself good chances to actually make a good picture. I look for cheap and easy ways to get good backgrounds or, even better, shoot in more interesting locations than the living room. I wait for both the right weather and the right time of day.
When it comes to editing I feel that I might finally be starting to settle a bit on my own style, though I have no doubt that it will evolve again in the future. I’ve learned to use my editing program (Lightroom) a lot better, becoming more effective in my workflow and acquiring more tools to help me achieve the look that I want.
Here’s a look at something outside the studio realm. This isn’t bad (except for the fact that the light is hitting her from the wrong direction) but if you compare it to the one below you’ll again see a more polished result with much better colour grading.
In the old shot above I actually had some decent light to work with but that was probably more luck than anything else. In contrast, the ambient light in the new shot was scouted and planned ahead; another example of the extra effort I put in to get the shot I have in mind. Sometimes the effort doesn’t pay off and then you just have to make the best of what you get or try again later. Still, the important part is to not stop trying and to keep pushing.
Another example where I just went out and shot something without much regard to the light. You might also get the sense that I didn’t really know what look I was after when I edited it.
Here’s a newer photo that’s also in the forest but the light is much more pleasing. I had been out the day before to check what time the sun would come from the direction I wanted and then I executed the shoot the next day.
From looking at all these examples I think you can also see that the style of the new ones is a lot more consistent and feels more like they come from the same photographer, while the old ones are a bit all over the place.
So what’s the point of me bringing all of this up? The point is that if you’re just starting out, or if you’ve been shooting for a while but are just getting serious, don’t despair if you’re not getting the results you want. As long as you keep shooting, keep experimenting and keep pushing yourself, you will get better. You don’t need to spend a lot on gear either, work with what you’ve got. Yes, there are times when you can only achieve a certain look if you have the right gear; yes, good gear sometimes helps; yes, the lust for gear can indeed be great. I’ve spent a fair amount of money on my photography but I’m not a rich guy, I save a lot and I don’t really spend money on anything else. Get the best you can afford (without selling any major organs) and be happy with that. What’s more important, by far, is that you master your gear and push it while also pushing yourself. I’m not only talking about the gear you can touch either, the software you use is just as important.
I’m entirely convinced that if I can achieve results like these, then anyone can do so. I don’t see myself as someone with a lot of talent, artistry or creativity, quite the opposite in fact, so if you have just a bit of one of those, all you need is some work and dedication.
If someone can find some inspiration or motivation in this post that helps them shoot better and not give up, then it’s a success. I hope I can keep going myself as well, keep shooting, keep getting better. Even if I shoot less every year, I’ll be happy as long as my results are better. If the choice is between 10 good photos or 1 great, I’ll pick the great one every time.
Off you go now, you’ve been listening to my ramblings long enough.