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Can I be a successful Photographer without being very technical?

  • Inspiration
  • 04/02/24
  • 11 minute read
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If you were to dive into my twenty years of experience in photography, you’d observe an evolution. Initially, like many others, I found myself captivated by equipment catalogs, the latest camera releases, and technical specifications. However, as the years passed, my focus shifted dramatically from the technical aspects of photography to the art of creating a story – the essence of capturing a moment.

For some, photography is a purely technical endeavour. While that’s perfectly fine and it can be valuable to spend time learning about the latest gadgets and staying updated, there’s only a certain level of technical expertise that’s truly necessary. Trust me, beyond that, it’s all about your unique approach and deciding which technical elements truly serve your photography.

Here’s a short list of the topics I will discuss in this article:

  • Is Photography difficult to learn?
  • Are all Professional Photographers Tech-Wizards?
  • How important is the latest Technology in Photography?
  • Post-Processing in the Modern Era
  • Finding your own Technical Path in Photography!
  • Final Thoughts

Is Photography difficult to learn?

Every Professional and Enthusiast started as a novice. They, too, grappled with technicalities before finding their stride. Mastering the technical aspects of photography is achievable with the right Training, especially when educators tailor their approach to accommodate diverse learning styles. Breaking the content down into smaller, logical steps that are practiced until they become second nature is key. Remember, ultimately, success in photography hinges on your vision and creativity. We’ve had the privilege of guiding many budding photographers through their “lightbulb moments,” helping them piece together concepts one by one.

Looking at a modern camera might initially feel overwhelming due to its complexity and the sheer number of functions. However, if you distill photography to its core elements—the “Big 5”: Focus, Focal Length, ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture – that’s essentially it! Once you understand their functions and how they interrelate, you’ve essentially grasped the fundamentals. Whether you’re using a trusty DSLR or the latest mirrorless camera, the fundamental principles have remained unchanged since the invention of photography more than a century ago. The truth is, once you’ve reached a certain level of technical proficiency, it’s your unique perspective and storytelling ability that sets you apart.

Are all Professional Photographers Tech-Wizards?

Definitively not! The iconic status of many photographs doesn’t stem from their technical complexity but rather from the emotions they evoke.

Consider the groundbreaking work of Jürgen Teller, an artist who has significantly influenced the aesthetics of ID magazine and The Face and remains one of the most sought-after fashion photographers. His transition from high-end medium format cameras to point-and-shoot cameras was viewed as revolutionary at the time. His images continue to appear fresh, challenging conventional notions of beauty.

Then there’s Martin Parr, a revered documentary photographer whose choice of shooting mode doesn’t reflect a lack of technical knowledge; it rather highlights his emphasis on the narrative he’s capturing.

Nan Goldin’s work, especially her slideshow “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” is intensely personal, raw, and impactful. While many of her photographs might not meet traditional criteria of “technical perfection,” they deeply resonate with audiences due to the emotional depth they convey.

And we must not overlook Annie Leibovitz, who delegates technical details to her team, focusing instead on fostering a connection with her subject. This underscores that while technical skill is significant, the true essence of a photograph often resides in its ability to convey emotion and tell a story.

How important is the latest Technology in Photography?

The allure of the latest gadgets is undeniable. We live in an era of rapid technological advancement, where cameras are constantly evolving, introducing new features almost every year. While understanding these advancements can be beneficial, it’s essential to recognise when more doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Consider the evolution of sensor resolution over the last decade for example. The Canon 5D Mark II, one of the first truly professional digital full-frame cameras, boasted a resolution of 21MP, which at the time was revolutionary for its compact size, speed, and reliability. It’s no surprise that many iconic images were captured with this model. Fast forward to today, and while the latest models are approaching 60MP, you’ll find that several current high-end cameras still offer a resolution not much higher than the 5D MKII. This is because 21MP is approximately equivalent to a magazine’s double-page spread, and for most practical purposes, images won’t need to be printed larger than that.

The key takeaway is that the fundamentals of photography remain unchanged, and while advanced tools can enhance our capabilities, they should not detract from the foundational elements of light, composition, and perspective. On the contrary, modern digital cameras have simplified many complexities. Features such as auto-focus, auto-exposure, and advanced metering manage the technical details, allowing photographers to concentrate more on the aspects that truly matter: the emotions and the stories being told.

Post-Processing in the Modern Era

In our digital era, the act of taking the photo marks merely the beginning of its journey. While it’s a common belief that an experienced photographer captures everything perfectly in-camera, reality paints a different picture. Post-processing emerges as a critical stage in photography today, serving as a bridge that carries a photographer’s initial vision to its final, polished form. With the advent of software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic, the post-shot phase grants photographers an unparalleled level of creative freedom, allowing for detailed refinement and bold experimentation.

Shooting in RAW offering the flexibility to adjust critical elements during post-production, without the pressure of achieving absolute perfection at the moment of capture. This includes:

  • Correct exposure and contrast
  • Modify colours
  • Erase imperfections
  • Apply artistic filters

This post-processing stage offers a secondary canvas on which photographers can reimagine their initial vision, refining and sometimes even reinventing the story they wish to tell.

Finding your own Technical Path in Photography!

This is probably the most important chapter and we saved it for last.

There are so many ways to express your vision in photography and the beauty lies in the diversity of its expression. The trick is to find a style and methodology that resonates with you, leveraging your unique skills and perspective.

Don’t worry about mastering every technical detail out there, you don’t need to know everything!

The most important thing is that you learn what you need for your style of work. For instance, a Fashion Photographer doesn’t work solo and will rely on assistants for the lighting, a stylist and hair/makeup artists to enhance model aesthetics and a retoucher in Photoshop to do the editing of the images. Whereas a Still Life Photographer might operate as a one-man-band, adjusting composition and lighting in small steps to create the perfect photo.

Embracing what might initially seem like personal limitations can often be the trick to developing a unique photographic style. Many photographers have found their niche by adapting their approach to match their circumstances, transforming perceived weaknesses into their most definitive strengths. This adaptability can open up new avenues for creativity, proving that sometimes, the most distinctive styles emerge from the most unexpected places.

Final Thoughts

As a newcomer to photography, you might feel overwhelmed. I understand that you might be saying to yourself “Easy for you to say”, there are many things to learn such as:

  • How to use Manual Mode & when to rely on the camera’s auto settings
  • Achieving sharp focus, understanding autofocus points & deciding when to use manual focus
  • Lens choice
  • When to use flash
  • Image composition and avoiding distracting elements
  • Post production

It might seem like there’s an endless stream of technical details to grapple with. But remember, every professional started as a beginner. These concerns, while valid, become manageable milestones in your photographic journey. I overcame my technical challenges by practicing and by going to a school like LIoP to teach me the fundamentals of the camera. When someone showed me, I was so much more confident. This is because I struggle to read a manual and “get it”, I don’t have the capacity to do it. I also assisted and this was an amazing route for me to get to really understand how different photographers do a job. I assisted many different areas which led me to be who I am today in photography and to choose the right route for me.

While a foundational understanding of camera technology and post-processing can enhance your photographic journey, the soul of photography lies in storytelling and emotion. It’s the blend of technique and vision that leads to compelling results. Photography is more than just settings and equipment; understanding exposure, composition and light is a must but it’s something you can learn and it’s actually not difficult!

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