Learning to be a Photographer

I am, by all measurements, a bad photographer. Which is more about not being a good photographer than about having some inherent inability to take good looking photographs.

I’ve decided that I should get better.

Here’s what I’ve learned to date:

  • Symmetry is over-valued; more often than not, asymmetrically composed photos look better. This goes against my better judgment, but it’s true.
  • The camera is not you. In other words, the process of taking a photo is not the process of simply recording what your eye sees. This was a big lesson for me. Think of the camera as a complicated paint brush.
  • Understanding how light works is important. Common sense, this one. But I have no understanding of light, and this is crippling me. I need to learn.
  • Early morning and late in the day are good times to take pictures. This is contrary to what I would think, as these are times of “low light.” But the pictures look better. Perhaps for the same reason that cinematographers talk about the “golden hour” at the end of the day? See these examples by Steven.
  • Taking pictures of faces head-on makes people look flat. I learned this from The New Yorker, in an article on film.
  • Photos that are out of focus when large can look pretty good when digitally shrunk. The photo of me on this page was horribly out of focus full-size, and I would have thrown it out but for the fact that I mistakenly downsized it, and it came out looking very interesting. Go figure.

More as I learn.


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on November 12, 2003 - 01:53 Permalink

The best digital camera trick I’ve learned so far (and something professional photographers have long known): take lots of photos — some of them are bound to turn out.

Also, learn the basics of your camera (ISO, shutter speed).

Those morning walk photos you linked too are some of my favourites that I’ve taken. As you pointed out, and as you’ll notice in the date/time stamps on those pages, those photos were all taken before 7AM — the golden hour makes all the difference.

Ken's picture
Ken on November 12, 2003 - 02:01 Permalink

I too am learning, and taking lots of pictures does help me get some good ones. The flash is always messing me up, so
I avoid using it if possible, but then sometime my pictures blur because the lens stays open longer.
Here are some photo’s from the April ice storm last year.
I’m also thinking a lot about videography, about motion and zooming, panning. There is so much to learn.

Brad Pineau's picture
Brad Pineau on November 12, 2003 - 02:21 Permalink

I totally agree.. I would love to know the ins and outs of digital photography. My biggest problem is that I have no idea how lighting conditions work. I have a very hard time trying to take pictures of things for ebay. I need to take like 10 different shots until I get one with no glares, but lots of light. It may have something to do with the fact that I only have a 1.3 megapixel camera.

Shawn's picture
Shawn on November 12, 2003 - 03:05 Permalink

There is a workshop on lighting this Saturday. It concerns video lighting, but I am sure some of the principles carry to photography. Cost is $25, at the door or in advance.

Lighting For Video
Saturday, November 15, 9am-12
Instructor: Fred MacDonald
Location: Atlantic Technology Institute
Corner of University Avenue and Fitzroy Street,

Isaac's picture
Isaac on November 12, 2003 - 14:07 Permalink

Another thing to brush up on (but not completely adhere too) — the rule of thirds.

And as Steve said — best way to get good photos is just take as many as possible, and play around with your camera — and you’re pretty much sure to get some good results.

Alan's picture
Alan on November 12, 2003 - 14:47 Permalink

There is a related concept to the golden hour which is taking pictures as the sun breaks through the clouds. I had it explained to me that both dawn and at clearing, there is less diffusion of light bouncing around and so there is actually sharper vision (both ocular and photocular) about.

Tegan's picture
Tegan on July 29, 2004 - 03:57 Permalink

I am a young photographer and have found that taking photos of the most strangest things can sometimes be the most intersting things.
Also when you go somewhere why not take your camera you never know whatu might find.
If one of your pictures does not work why not try it again from a different angle
never give up t