Are you fluent in photography?

By Darren Wiedman

photo of dragon fly

1st Grade – Shot from eye level with a busy background, but at least the bug is in focus. Composition needs some work.

“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.”
~ Emily Dickenson

We are all too old to remember if it was difficult to learn our mother tongue. But we can all probably agree that mastering a second language is much harder, especially if your mind is no longer as spongy as a two year old’s.

In many ways, learning a new language is a lot like learning a new skill, such as photography. It’s very exciting at first as you master a few essentials, like how to turn the camera on [Hola] and how to press the shutter-release button [Muy bien]. Before long, you can actually take a picture, download it to your computer, crop it, and post it online. [La fotografía es muy fácil.]

Since I just had to look up that sentence on Google Translate, this is where the Spanish ends. But the metaphor still works in English. Spend just a few weeks with a camera, and you’ve got the basics down. Congratulations! You have the vocabulary of a 1st grader. [See Spot run.] But as you learn more, the quality of what you can create grows exponentially.

Photo of a dragon fly

3rd Grade – Perhaps a fresher look at the standard dragonfly shot but maybe too far away. Nice light on the subject.

So, as a photographer, what grade are you in? Do you have a basic understanding of composition, the exposure triangle, histograms, focal length, white balance, and flash? Do you have to consciously think about the rule of thirds, or does the most interesting part of your subject automatically land in the right spot while you shoot? Is your camera always horizontal and at eye-level, or are you letting the subject itself influence the way you capture the image?

A beginner may walk through a field, see a daisy, point the camera, shoot in Auto mode, and move on. [Title: “Flower”]

A more advanced photographer may see the same daisy, hover around it to find a simple background, wait for a butterfly to land, and shoot repeatedly until the wings catch the sunlight just right. [Title: “Monarch dancing on a daisy”].

Photo of dragonfly on grass.

5th Grade – Typical point of view but the clean background helps draw the eye to the subject. More post-processing now being used (to clean up the branches).

The veteran photographer is only in the field because she knows daisies are blooming this time of year and the best light begins at 7:30 p.m. She brought her tripod and a macro lens because she wants to fill the frame with the center of the daisy and the body of a bee. She’s using a small aperture to be sure the flower and bee stay in focus. She knows she has to shoot at 1/500 of a second because she wants the bee sharp but the wings blurred. And she plans on capturing several  hundred shots like this in case she decides to do a composite image of a bouquet of different flowers and insects. And most of this is done intuitively. [Title? See Emily Dickenson poem above.]

orange dragonfly

“Hangin’ Around” by Jeanne Crockett

So how do we become fluent? We go to school (or at least online). We continue to learn. We listen to people who are better than us. We practice. We shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and our photographs gradually evolve from stilted sentences to pleasant poetry that others want to admire again and again.

See ya in class on June 24!

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