Tips & Techniques

I always feel hestitant in  giving advice, recommendations or endorsements when it comes to photographic equipment.  Probably the best advice I can offer about equipment is:
Have your equipment match your vision.

If you like to shoot editorial style work, captured moments, then use  smaller, lighter cameras.  If you seek very fine detail, with the capacity to enlarge greatly, then a larger, tripod based system will suit you better.  Buy the best system you can afford, but don't buy because of a brand name only.  Very often lesser known brands offer equal performance at a significant savings.  Consider used equipment.  If you want to be a film based photographer local camera stores and the internet are overflowing with great used equipment.   Much of my gear was purchased used and I've never had a problem.  Whether you shoot film or digital, always buy the absolute best lenses you can afford.  A great used lens is always better than an average new lens, always...
Save your money for prints and travel.  After all, you're seeking to make great images. 


In this forum I will try to focus much more on approach than on technical matters such as what type of lens or camera or film one should use.  Libraries, bookstores or the internet are tremendous resources for this.  Check the links page for a starting point of websites.  Photography is (or it should be) a very personal journey of self expression.  Compositional choices, subject matter, lighting, etc. are all very subjective.  There are no absolute truths.  One must follow their instincts and accept and learn from their choices.  
However somethings that are undeniably true when trying to improve your work:

1) Learn to "see photographs" around you even when you have no camera.  Take time each day to see interesting compositions, regardless of your environment.  A shaft of light streaming across your desk, showing the texture of the books or papers, light glistening from the coffee cup.  The color juxtapositions of cars in a parking lot.  Raindrops on a window creating abstract shapes on the wall.  There is beauty EVERYWHERE you look.  Take time to see it and enjoy it.

A tool that might help you see interesting compositions is easy to make.  Simply cut an opening in a small piece of black cardboard with the approximate proportions of your camera.  35mm would have about a 1x1.5 ratio, 2 1/4 would be square, large format would be 4x5.  Don't worry if it's not perfectly proportioned, you just want something to mask out your compositions.  Simply hold the card up to your eye and use as a viewfinder.  Bring it closer to your face for a wider angle of view, farther for a more telephoto perspective.  We've all seen film directors use the hands to crop a scene, this is just a little easier.  Make a few to keep around.  After a while you'll realize that you no longer need the card, you can "see photographs" with out it.  This is the beginning of visual concentration.

2) Obviously to really measure your progress, you must actually take photographs to see your growth and improvement.  Countless times I've been asked on how someone could improve their work and the first thing I'll always say is "shoot more, take more photographs."  Not buy a better camera or lens or more expensive film, that is not the problem.  From painters and poets to athletes and actors improvement comes from doing.  There is no magic formula.  Save your money on fancy lenses or expensive cameras and spend it on film.  With today's digital cameras there isn't even that expense.  One less excuse.

3) Study the Masters. They're called masters for a reason.  They've excelled were others have failed.  Look at their work.  Over and over again.  Learn their life story, their motivations.  Be more than a photographer, be a student of photography.  My first "distant mentors" were Eliot Porter and Ernst Haas.  I love their work, their philosophy.  Never met either of them, yet through their work and their  books, I knew them.  How-to books can be good (although often repetitive) but the books that I learned from the most were showcase books featuring the work of a single photographer.  Many are available at local libraries.  There is nothing better that sitting in a comfortable chair looking through a beautifully printed book of photographs.  It can better than actually seeing their work in a gallery or museum because there is no barrier, no distractions between viewer and the work.  Of course if an photography exhibit comes near, be sure to visit.  They can be  very inspirational experiences.

4) More than a Hobby. When talking to people they often tell me how much they love photography, how they wish they could do what I do for a living.  I ask how often they are making photographs and almost exclusively they'll reply " Oh you know, when I get a chance."
Which means almost never, maybe once, twice a year, shooting a roll or two.  You can't develop a skill, any skill, by doing it when you "get a chance."  Let's face it most hobbyist are occasionalist, they'll act on impulse for a short while, and when the results aren't what they hoped for, they put the hobby away, perhaps for years, perhaps forever.  To take your photography to the next level,
it has to be more than a hobby, it has to be a passion. 

 Copyright 2010 John Rehner Fine Art & Framing/ John Rehner jr.  216-227-2790

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