Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

Backroads

Backroads
Kentucky Backroads Wheat Stubble

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Four Levels of the Photographic Learning Curve

There are some great photographers out there and every time I visit one of their websites I realize just how much I still have to learn..  A year or so ago I was asked to teach a short workshop on photography. I really had a lot of fun putting it all together and then presenting the material. Part of that workshop included what I like to call "The Four Levels of the Photographic Learning Curve".  It raised a few eyebrows at the time, but it actually made a lot of sense.

Level 1: The Snapshot...or "nice picture...you must have a good camera."
Everyone takes snapshots...even the pro's. Snapshots are those images that when taken you really don't put a lot of thought behind it...or put another way, it's simply a way to capture memories, as a photographer friend of mine once said.  They may capture memories, but they don't necessarily possess a lot of artistic value.  Snapshots are where every aspiring photographer begins.  They are the shots you bring home from vacations and show to your friends and family.  More often than not their reactions are along the lines of, "...those are nice pictures, you must have a good camera..."  Well, you may have heard this before, but that's like saying to a cook, "Nice meal...you must have a lot of good pots and pans."

To a novice photographer, snapshots are a necessary stepping stone and valuable learning tool.  Only when you begin to separate yourself from the notion that the camera does all the work, then you will begin to understand the difference between what it takes to create a snapshot verses what it takes to create a photograph with artistic value.

Level 2:  "That's a good picture...it looks just like a post card."  How many times have you heard that one?  I've graciously heard it more times than I really want to hear...because what is really being said is, "I've seen this kind of image a thousand times before."  That answer would probably be right...there are thousands of post cards in every drugstore and tourist trap you go into.  What this means is that the image may be a technically good photograph, but it's not unique...it looks just like  every other post card image in the same category.  There is not much to separate it from the ordinary photograph that every vacationer takes by the millions.  What is needed to separate those kinds of images from all the rest is to visualize the same scene in an extraordinary way...and then add a bit of 'Wow' to the composition and light.

Level 3:  "Wow...Great picture". Wow factor photographs are generally powerful enough to elicit an emotional response  from whoever is viewing it.  They clearly stand apart from most photographs, but...what this kind of reaction really means is..."Hey, this is a really good photograph, but can you consistently take these kinds of images...or did you just get lucky."  Even novice photographers will from time to time manage to take a Wow photograph.  What separates the novice from someone who consistently generates this level of image is that the novice tends to rely on luck, while the other relies on his or her ability to visualize the potential of a location, plan out a strategy, returns again and again until just the right light is present...and has the technical skills to take advantage of the moment...and do it over and over.

Level 4:  "Whoa...". The forth and highest level of photography is what I call "The Whoa Factor". Like the term whoa suggest...these images stop the viewer in their tracks.  They are so powerful that they move well beyond wow and generate a "Whoa! How did you do that?"  This means you have reached a level of creative understanding and mastery of what you are attempting to accomplish photographically.  Your photographs become like fine music.  Images you create are consistently at a high level because you have an exceptional knowledge of the principles of exposure, composition, story telling, visualization, and technical expertise...and you understand how to combine those principles into an extraordinary photographic solution.  Like the very best musicians, your photographic music imparts feeling, emotion, and depth.  Only a few photographers ever really consistently reach this level.  Even though I know it when I see it...very...very few of my images might fall into this category...but...that's why I keep shooting.

1 comment:

Jenn said...

Yes! I'm with you! Trying again and again to reach that WHOA factor!