Making sense of my photography hobby in retirement

Climbing the Learning Ladder

If one was to believe all of the camera advertisements about how easy it is to make terrific photographs, then every person who owns a modern digital camera would taking award-winning pictures at every press of the shutter button.  If only it was that easy!

Sure, anyone can create an image by just “pressing the button”, but would they be satisfied with the result? For some, the thought about whether it is a good or bad image isn’t a worry – they’ve got a picture and that’s all that matters.  Others agonise over the technical perfection of their images, but still produce ordinary photographs. And there are people who don’t care a damn about the technical details of the shot, but have a natural ability to see things that others overlook, and regularly turn out great images that capture the mood of the moment or the essence of the soul.  Wouldn’t it be great to not only do the latter, but also know why and how the result was achieved so that you could be repeat the process on purpose on another occasion?

Oil Tank - Tank Farm, Western Reclamation, Waitemata Harbour, Auckland, New Zealand

Oil Tank Inspection Ladder - Is the tank half empty of half full?

When looking at this image – taken on a recent photo walk around the Western Reclamation oil storage area near Auckland’s Viaduct Basin – I began to wonder where I was on my imagined photography ladder.  Climbing my ladder has at times been very satisfying, and other times highly frustrating.  Sometimes when looking into the tank of photographic experiences it has appeared to be “half full”.  At other times, when I am not getting the results I want, it looked very much “half empty”.  The photography game can be very frustrating, especially when trying to find one’s own “voice” or style.

As a regular reader of photography blogs, browser of magazines, and borrower of library books on the subject, I see versions of my own journey retold by others.  Whilst that is comforting, it is not necessarily helpful. When I read comments by the likes of Joe McNally who says “if you want to make more interesting photographs put yourself in more interesting places” it makes sense, but you still have to know your craft to make a good image.  Learning the “craft” of photography takes practice – lots of it – where making mistakes leads to learning how to achieve better results.

During my journey I have learned that I shouldn’t expect every photograph to be a masterpiece – not even the masters could achieve that!  I’ve learned that experimentation can lead to unexpected surprises, and that leads to incremental improvement.  I’ve also learned to look at the world differently, to take notice of the small things as well as the obvious, about how light changes the shape and colour of things, to look for patterns, angles, lines and curves, to seek a different point of view, and much more.  Most of this  comes from practice, making mistakes, observing, listening, reading, and making an effort to continually ask questions on how to do find a better way.

Have I reached my destination yet? No. The road ahead is still long, but it is a journey worth the effort.

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