If one has been photographing for any length of time, he or she will invariably come to the realization that the progression from simple snapshots to meaningful photographs involves multiple stages. The learning curve is steep at first, but given ample time and sufficient effort, one may overcome the initial technical difficulties inherent to capturing images. In the first stage of a photographer’s development, getting off the “auto” mode and achieving proper exposures may prove relatively easy with the aid of online tutorials, forums and books. Soon, the amateur photographer acquires an understanding of the camera’s limited dynamic range and becomes able to “tame” even the harshest of light by utilizing filters or combining exposures, whether via HDR or manual blending. These beginning steps usually yield incredible improvements in the quality of photographs, spurring the photographer on.
The second major stage of a photographer’s evolution involves the understanding of basic compositional rules which serve to improve the resultant images even further, although not as exponentially as in the first phase. Hopefully, soon the photographer starts to inquire, “What is it that attracts me to this particular scene? Which objects to I need to include or exclude?” prior to pressing the shutter. Inevitably, the influence of artists the photographer admires starts to play a role in the creative process. Perhaps, the photographer begins to “pre-visualize” the images, knowing exactly what a certain exposure is meant to achieve. This stage also involves the knowledge of the tools that will allow one to achieve the intended image, making it possible to tell the story to the viewer and convey, to the best of one’s ability, the feeling of being there.
The third, most advanced phase resembles more or less of a plateau if plotted on a curve, depending on the artist’s success of navigating this stage which involves the painstaking process of perfecting one’s photographs through years of practice, hopefully resulting in a development of a personal style to help one stand out from others. The factor that comes to one’s aid (or for some, results in the sudden realization of one’s creative limits) is the art of seeing. It is the ability to notice and find wonder in the things others walk by every day and may even consider mundane and boring. Only partially learned, it may be considered more of a “gift.” In the city such potential subjects may include a simple reflection of a building in a puddle of rainwater; in nature, the subtle beauty of lichen growing on a rock illuminated by warm morning light. The art of seeing gives the photographer the ability to showcase the subject in a way that would completely escape the casual observer, giving the newly minted artist significant power and granting him or her an important role as a storyteller. For the nature photographer, it represents the liberation from the consistent need to produce “big light,” high-impact epic images. Although intimate landscapes may not sell as well as the iconic shots, this newly found creativity leads to the most satisfying images the photographer will ever make.
No matter which of these evolutionary stages you find yourself in, it is vital to never stop shooting and strive to consistently improve!
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