What did you learn today?

An erstwhile colleague of mine once said he enjoyed going to work because he learned something new every day. Another posed the question: when was the last time you did something new? These are good ideas to keep at the back of the mind.

In my photography I do feel I learn each time I go out, usually through mistakes. Increasingly however I am realizing that much of my learning is to be done in the processing field. I bought some training videos a few months back. I am about half way through yet already I feel the lessons I took away from the first half have helped me understand the potential of processing even if I have not yet mastered the execution side.

I am learning through Flickr too. I have quite a few contacts, whose work I follow regularly. Some post daily, others sporadically. Some are people I have simply grown to like. I feel an affinity with them through their work. Others are true masters of their craft. What surprises me is that many of the true stars in my galaxy are relatively new to photography. Or have come back after a long absence. Digital has made the art more accessible to the many. A point and shoot is a truly powerful tool. An iPhone can produce amazing results.

The creativity and proficiency of those ‘beginners’, whom I admire, leads me to conclude that time is not going to guarantee that one day I will suddenly turn into Henri or Art or Steve overnight. They must have something that is deep within them. Just look at this Photostream and read the profile. It makes me green with envy. Look at this one. I see people following projects, writing poetry to go with their images, and adding information to their images that turn them from a high quality picture into something more meaningful, a teaching tool.

All these push me on and make me want to be better than I was yesterday.

I think I am becoming better at self-criticism. I use the delete button more. I go back a few days later and ask myself a simple question: if you didn’t like it enough to mark for processing on day one, why did you keep it? I probably cull more of the weak and marginal at this stage than I do at first trawl through. Sometimes though I find a shot I do want to process and I am glad it didn’t go through the trapdoor to oblivion on day one. I play with colour versus monochrome. I am learning that some things work well in one form but not in another. I have learned that I don’t instinctively like smooth tones and fine grain. I like hard, gritty, contrasty images. Black and white is good for this.

I can spend an hour tinkering with an image and then say “to hell with it. It doesn’t work. Trash it.”

I am learning that gear isn’t everything. Sometimes it isn’t anything. The end result is what counts. I still have my preferred kit of the M9 and a 35mm F1.4 or the 50mm F0.95 but I am happy to reach for my iPhone too. I need to do a triage of my camera cupboard. Keep, maybe, throw. Then ‘throw’ the ‘maybe’s later!

I am also broadening my reading. The conundrum I am grappling with today is how much of a book can you read before you give up on it. I am over 70% of the way through Midnight’s Children. I find it a most frustrating novel. At times superbly written, captivating, a rewarding read. Then  it meanders off into the self-indulgent and I find myself tempted to hurl it across the room in dismay and disgust. As it is on my Kindle I have not actually done that yet. I have a queue of other books waiting and this stands in the way. Life’s too short. I shall move on. Sorry Salman.

Let’s finish with a photo. Taken in 2008, I passed over this many times before coming back to it in B&W. I don’t think I’ve blogged it before, I wonder what you think?

Don't mess with Mama.

4 thoughts on “What did you learn today?

  1. This is a really great set of thoughts, Andrew–I agree that life and photography are both continuous processes by which we learn. I’ve participated in critique forums for far too long now, and my wife hates looking at photography with me, because I critique it to death. Yet, I feel it makes my images better.

    Regarding books…I still don’t know how far you can get before giving up. I read some in pieces, because I can’t take them all at once…

    Great image…I think the caption is appropriate!


  2. Thanks Greg. I took the 2 mama ladies in Venice just off St. Mark’s Square. Formidable they look, too. I have left Salman Rushdie and moved on to a history of the opium wars. But I may go back and read book 3 of the Rushdie novel. If we stop learning I think its time to quit!

  3. You’re brave to tackle Rushdie. If a novel starts to pall, I tend to abandon both it and the author.

    Been re-reading “Liar’s Poker” by Michael Lewis – brilliant !

    • I have read other Rushdie, John, and got through ok. This was an exercise in treacle wading. Lair’s poker is indeed excellent. Try “Traders, Guns & Money” or Das’ other book, “In search of the pangolin.”

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