Become a Better Photographer

Bright yellow building and its reflection in a park in Salzburg, Austria.

Would you like to become a better photographer? While film based photography might seem attractive, I’m of the belief that the best way to become a better photographer is to embrace digital photography.

I’m sure that statement probably seems obvious, even unhelpful. After all film-based photography can be fun, creative and even liberating.

I think that’s true, in the short term.

However, from years of darkroom experience I’m convinced that film is just not going to be the best way forward for most folks.

That’s particularly the case if you’re driven as much by quality, consistency and efficiency as by creativity.

Here’s why?

Have you ever wondered how to get your photos published? It’s both easier and, almost always, less financially rewarding than was the case in days gone by.

There’s no doubt that an incredible democratization of photography has occurred since the introduction of digital photography.

Access to the internet has allowed tens of millions of people to be involved in photography in ways that were simply not possible in the days of film-based photography.

Let’s look at some of the more positive aspects of this revolution.

Digital Photography is Cheap

Once the camera and memory card have been purchased there are, theoretically, no extra costs involved with making photos.

Naturally, you have to store those photos. But the price, availability and capacity of external hard drives is far cheaper than it once was.

It’s now far cheaper to store digital photos than it would be to print and store a similar number of images in traditional photo albums.

No More Film and Processing Costs

You never have to buy film and processing again. How significant is this fact?

I worked for Kodak (Australasia) Pty Ltd for eight years. I started there in 1990, on the factory floor, when Kodak was a USD 20 billion dollar company.

Kodak was the Apple of their day, some might say, with over 130,000 employees worldwide.

Back then Kodak even owned Sterling Winthrop, the manufactures of Panadol.

Working at Kodak had been a dream of mine since my early days in photography retail. When I joined the company there was an internal only hiring policy in place at the time.

But I was determined and found a way in. It didn’t bother me at all that it was a blue collar job in manufacturing. I had achieved my dream.

The fact that it was a shift work job would allow me to make most of my classes in the full time photography BA degree in which I was currently enrolled.

I worked hard during my eight year tenure and progressed, while undertaking various tertiary level qualifications in photography, through the following roles:

  • Online Emulsion Testing

  • Customer Service Representative

  • Technical Specialist in the Pro Passport Hotline and Photo Information Department

  • Product Manager, Kodak Professional Division, Australia and New Zealand

Film was the great cash cow for Kodak being highly profitable and driving sales of photographic paper, processing chemicals and photo processing machines.

However, as a direct result of the digital photography revolution, those days are long gone and that once great company is now but a shadow of its former glory.

Kodak has made something of a comeback over recent years and are, once again, manufacturing a range of photography products.

But, have no doubt, old yellow just isn’t what it used to be.

By all means support old yellow by buying some Kodak film. Get your hands on a 35 mm camera and crank off a roll or three.

If you’ve purchased print film you can enjoy the tactile experience of shuffling through a stack of postcard size prints once your film has been processed.

If you opted for 35 mm transparency film perhaps you have access to an old school projector and a white wall in your house or apartment on which to project those images in the evening.

Which ever way you go consider getting decent quality scans of those images which you can then archive and, if it’s you wish to do so, share via social media.

Better photography via a Digital Workflow

I think it’s great that some folks are attracted to the ideal of film based photography. But it’s no longer for me.

I don’t believe film-based photography is more authentic than digital photography.

What’s more since I’ve embraced the cost benefits, easier storage, retrieval and sharing of digital images there’s no way I’d want to go back to film.

I’ve thrown out most of my large prints, though I still have about four hundred sixteen inch square prints I need to get rid of and around thirty three-ring binders full of negatives and slides.

Over recent years I’ve gradually been moving towards a more minimalist lifestyle. The aim is to reduce my footprint to about twenty percent of what I use to have.

I expect I’II get there by years end. Items that I’ve found quite easy to throw out include the following:

  • Clothes

  • Audio CD’s

  • Movies on DVD

  • Books, once I got into it

  • Old and outdated travel research

  • Camera bags and accessories

What’s been far harder is sorting through thousands of pages of technical information, much of it from my days at Kodak.

Fortunately that task is mostly completed and, while much of it has been assigned to the tip, some important documents and brochures I created have ended up in the hands of the State Library Of Victoria in Australia.

Those now historic resources will form a small part of the Kodak collection the Library is building.

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Immediate Feedback Leads To Better Photography

One of the great advantages of digital photography is getting immediate feedback through the viewfinder or LCD screen on a mirrorless camera, or via the LCD screen on a DSLR camera.

Of course having that feedback is one thing, but knowing how to act on it is another thing entirely.

This is where continuous education, both technical and aesthetic, becomes so important.

But once you know what you’re doing the feedback your camera provides you becomes a great asset to improving composition, sharpness and exposure.

This means better photos, more often.

Your Digital Camera Is A Bit Like Kodak

Your camera is here to record the events that help shape your life, but it also has the capacity to process those images for you.

For folks using their DSLR or mirrorless camera on JPEG mode (which, in my opinion, is what the vast majority of photographers should be doing), their camera becomes both an image recorder and photo lab.

Amazing!

You can, of course, significantly improve your photos on the desktop.

But the point is that each of your JPEG photos has already been processed, to a pretty decent standard, by the time it reaches the memory card.

For most folks that’s an advantage that cannot be overstated.

Of course those of us who want ultimate control over the quality and appearance of our images will continue to photograph with our camera quality setting switched to RAW.

But we are exceptions to the rule.

I’m convinced that JPEG makes more sense, both from a workflow and a financial point of view, for most amateur and enthusiast level photographers.

A lot of professional photographers (e.g., newspaper, sport, lower priced wedding and portrait photographers) also choose to photograph in JPEG mode.

In the case of newspaper photography the notion (or fiction) of truth in photography is still accepted.

It’s important then that only minimal amounts of processing are applied to images to prevent the possibility of major image editing resulting in factually incorrect coverage.

Well, that’s the theory.

Sports photographers at high end events like the Olympics simply don’t have the time to process the images they create.

Their on-site workflow is to get the images from the camera to the picture editor’s desk, via the internet, as quickly as possible.

Many lower end wedding and portrait photographers believe that they’ll make more money by making photos in camera, more often, rather than by spending a lot of time post processing those pics on the desktop.

JPEG is not the way I roll, but I believe it to be the most appropriate way forward for most photographers.

I’ve created this special post to help you determine whether a JPEG or RAW workflow is best for you.

Iceberg from the Breiòamerkurjökull Glacier on Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in southern Iceland.

Take a Photograph That Matters

If you want a larger and more engaged audience the best tip I can give you is to work hard to take a photograph that matters.

Be clear about not just what you want to photograph and how best to achieve that image but, most importantly, why it is you feel the need to photograph certain things in the way you do.

In art why is always the most important question.

By understanding why it is you do what you do you’ll be able to develop a more coherent photographic style and a clearer idea about the inspirations, motivations, messages and themes that underpin your very best images.

It’s hard to imagine life without the internet. While I’m rarely excited by incoming emails, the opportunity to share my thoughts and photos with the world has certainly changed my life.

I have a whole new audience for my work, which has led to a significantly expanded range of creative and commercial opportunities.

In my case commercial means what I want it to mean. Primarily private one-to-one teaching and photo tours. Other opportunities will follow.

The ongoing need to improve and share one’s work, with an ever larger audience, is important to most artists.

However, the initial struggle to grasp new technologies, techniques and workflows has been a major impediment to many aspiring photographers.

Personally I found this to be an incredibly difficult road, particularly as the digital revolution reached me well into my photography career.

In fact I didn’t use a computer until I was in my mid twenties.

Since then I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years on cameras and computers, not to mention travel, and I don’t even want to think about all the hours I’ve invested in education, both formal and self taught.

I don’t do things by half. I estimate that I’ve invested well over one thousand hours developing content for this website and blog.

But I’m better for it and, these days, learning new software applications and techniques isn’t all that difficult.

And I do enjoy writing and sharing my knowledge, experience and the occasional opinion with other creative folk.

I’m no geek, but I have a workflow that allows me to keep track of all my images and the skills to be able to process and share them quickly and efficiently.

The best thing is that I love the act of making photos, in camera, more than I ever did.

With such a busy life I’ve become acutely aware of the need to get outside, into the fresh air and natural light and I do so whenever I can. It’s just so important for our well-being, health and happiness.

Photography grounds us and allows us to reconnect with so much of what’s most important in our lives.

Better Photography | The Proof And The Pudding

The most obvious extension of this effort has been the creation and upkeep of my website and blog.

The site is a labor of love that has allowed me to keep up to date with emerging technologies and trends and, as a consequence, stay relevant to the needs of my students and other folk who regularly visit.

The good news, thankfully, is that any ongoing study is now much easier. My ability to absorb and act upon new information is now so much faster than it used to be in the days of film-based photography.

I’m no longer afraid of technology although, as in all things, practice makes perfect.

And it’s so much easier to practice a new technique or hone your current skills when there’s no ongoing costs associated with film and processing.

Software has become far more intuitive and computers far faster and more reliable over the years.

Likewise, internet speeds are keeping up with my needs, though not always when I’ve travelling.

Digital technology continues to improve at a rapid pace compared to my years using film with what was a mature but limited technology.

Large pipe transfers steam near the Viki Crater near Myvatn in Iceland.

Better Tools Results In Better Photography

I’m now at a stage where my internet endeavors have become a significant part of my lifestyle.

As I teach photography online I still spend a great deal of time at the desktop, and I find that to be far more interesting than watching endless hours of TV.

My mind is, for the most part, actively engaged, rather than being in a state of passive submission.

Back in the day working in the darkroom was seen to be the natural extension for the artist photographer.

Today the desktop has completely replaced the darkroom in my artistic workflow.

It’s quicker, healthier (though I must remember to get up and stretch more often), repeatable and far more efficient.

And, just like the digital camera, once you have a computer and sufficient storage space for your photos, there are no ongoing costs associated with the processing of those photos.

Improve Photography Workflow

It’s true that, for folks like me, more than one computer is required. It’s a big expense, but it’s been worth it to realize an improved photography workflow.

I need the power of a desktop computer, in addition to a large monitor, for some of the serious image processing I conduct and for some of the tasks associated with my online teaching.

As a consequence I run two 27 inch monitors most of the day. I also utilize a laptop for travel and some off site teaching.

While a second monitor is ideal for online hangouts, for most folks a single computer monitor should more than meet their needs.

Technology Is No Longer the Great Unknown

Over coming months I’II be paying more attention to systems and workflow so that I’II be able to produce and share even more of my photography with less effort and in a more timely manner.

Naturally, whatever I learn I can teach.

Because I’ve spent so long in the trenches I truly understand how frustrating photography and it’s associated technologies can be for the enthusiast.

It’s great knowing that all those years of struggle are largely behind me, that something of consequence has resulted and that I’m able to share what I’ve learned with many people around the world.

Let Me Help You Be A Better Photographer

Everything I teach is based on the premise that photography must be experience based.

It must allow us to be in the moment, free from the restrictions of technology, in such a way that allows our creativity to bloom.

The trick is to be able to utilize technology, without fear and without becoming a slave to it.

It’s important to remember that the joy of photography is, for the most part, associated with making images in camera.

That approach, and my ability to explain seemingly complex subjects in simple and actionable language, is what makes me a great teacher.

There, I’ve said it!

Actually it’s an easy road to become a better photographer. That is so long as you have the right guide to help you along the way.

If you’d like to investigate a single or multiply session private photography course feel free to contact me directly.

 Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru