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Can you develop a photographer's eye?
Old 07-27-2019   #1
Tim Murphy
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Can you develop a photographer's eye?

Dear Board,

Except for the occasional bird or deer, I simply cannot take a picture that is worth a crap.

When is it time to quit?

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA
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Old 07-27-2019   #2
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Don't quit - assuming you enjoy photography.

I would also say start with researching and understanding the "rules" of good photography (rule of thirds, etc blah, blah, blah) understand them and and practice using them. If you think many of your photos are crap then try to work out why - is it due to poor technical skills, or is it a lack of knowledge about the laws which guide good composition. But use those rules as a guide not hard binding laws. And, experiment with them.

Study the work of any great photographers you like and work out how you can emulate them. Also look at photos you like generally and try to understand why it si you like them. This will give you hints about what to try with your own. Eventually you should feel confidence in going beyond what they have done allowing you to develop your own style.

Developing a style of your own that others like is a good end.

Incidentally most of my photos are crap too. Most of every bodies' photos are crap, lets face it - it is that kind of pursuit and so much can go wrong while pursuing it. Because the image has to be made in a fraction of an instant - e.g. I cannot tell you how many "perfect" images I have lost when making street photos because someone has walking in front of me as I pressed the shutter button.

Having said alal of the above some people can never seem to develop much of a photographers eye. But you seem interest and I happen to think that enthusiasm is part of the battle.

BTW one final thought. I find it is easier to envisage an image if you are actually viewing it through the viewfinder not by looking at the scene and then bringing the camera up to take the image. Especially in those kind of shots where the potential image is changing quickly. Here you need to see the image forming and you can really only do this through the finder. This is a question of specific technique - too big a topic for here but you may need to study some of those tricks of the trade too.
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Old 07-27-2019   #3
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Dear Tim,

If you're having fun, why the angst?

Consider Van Gogh, or Vivian Maier - they probably felt the same. Perhaps you are creating a legacy that will be appreciated and valued by others!

Warmest,
Lynn
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Old 07-27-2019   #4
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I can't find a recipe on Massive Dev, but probably Rodinal 1:100 for an hour would no doubt work on a photographer's eye too.
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Old 07-28-2019   #5
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Once you know what it is you love (or hate) and why you want to record or show it, photography is real easy.

took me only 1.5 decade to figure that one out


But really, the first bit is the photographers mind, the photographers eye is only exposure, color/B&W, composition etc. The eye can be learnt by looking at the work of others and reflecting on one's own, but the mind can only be acquired by living consciously I reckon...
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Old 07-28-2019   #6
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Just be a Bird and Deer photographer. Maybe branch into dogs eventually.
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Old 07-28-2019   #7
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There's a lot of people about who haven't got a photographer's eye but who do have a book about their kind of photography and have memorised the sort of picture they like so that they can do minor variations of it. A lot of "old masters" using oil paints had the same technique...

The books have titles like landscape/portrait/travel photography; with apologies to any author of them called exactly that.

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Old 07-28-2019   #8
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Some ideas:

Maybe this will help; practice the FART in photography (I believe it was Ken Rockwell who came up with the acronym).
F - Feel the need to take a photograph;
A - Ask yourself why you want to take the picture;
R - Refine, to bring out the reason for taking the picture;
T - Take the picture.

Turn 'failure' on its head in terms of assessing photographic output. Use the photographic failures as a guide to understand where you went wrong. Try to fail less progressively.

I assessed my own failures and discovered I was including too much 'confusion' in the images I was making; less is more as it is often said and I try to practice this.

If shooting colour, reduce the number of colours present in the scene. Too much and it becomes visual overload. In fact colour photography is very difficult to pull off correctly, I find it easier to produce a nicer (for my taste) black and white image.
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Old 07-28-2019   #9
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I generally find that putting an eye in Rodinal or D76 stings, and can cause permanent damage, so I don’t recommend developing eyes, even ones belonging to photographers.

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Old 07-28-2019   #10
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For over 15 years I have had a chance to interact with people who are (at least somewhat) interested in photography... everyone shares their photos. People rotate in and out, but there has always been a certain percentage who don't change and don't "improve". Improve is a bit tricky, but set that aside for a minute.

I would like to say that there's a correlation between that 'percentage group' and their ability to accept criticism... it's part of the story but it's not that simple. The tipping point, the light-bulb moment seems to be when the individual starts to seriously review their own work... which requires some experience and knowledge of "good" photography.

NatGeo photographer Sam Abell (1945-present), said "Greatness is not the goal, goodness is"... work with it, make the best picture you can. A good place to start is Abell's video "The Life of a Photograph: What makes a lasting photograph?".

Sharing selected photographs with like minded photographers also seems to help... not so much the feedback (although that can be helpful), more the internal process of selecting which photographs to share and why.

Just some random thoughts...
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Old 07-28-2019   #11
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I think it is possible. In my case I started shooting a lot of events for churches and other organizations. Since the subjects were generally active, expressions and groupings were constantly changing. I had to shoot quickly and came home with lots of shots with too many backs of heads, weird expressions, etc. In curating those shots I developed a better sense of what made a good, or at least interesting, photograph. As my curating standards increased I found I was getting a higher percentage of "keepers" in my shots. The curating skills were now helping me identify good shots before I took them.
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Old 07-28-2019   #12
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Just imitate the photographers or photographs you like. The results will be always different.


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Old 07-28-2019   #13
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It sounds silly, but the fact that you see that your pictures are ‘crap’ means your on the way. I find it more troubling when people who take crap pictures think their pictures are great. Also, go back and look at stuff you have shot in the past and what was once ‘crap’ may look better that you would think.

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Old 07-28-2019   #14
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Study the work of good photographers. You don't need to buy books - online searches have reproductions of many great names in photography. And there are many great photographers on Flickr, where you can follow their work.

For any genre there are great moderated (curated) groups on Flickr. You can learn a ton from browsing those. For learning, stick with moderated groups.

Once you have mentally absorbed tens of thousands of good pictures, you at least start to develop a taste to recognize what is good.

Even then, don't expect more than 1 in a 100 of your pictures to be a really good picture worth sharing. This happens to the best of photographers and is totally normal. Many of the best photographers on Flickr will post maybe one picture a week, or one a month.
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Old 07-28-2019   #15
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Well, for myself I learned finally that I simply was no artist. But have always loved ‘tinkering’ with photography. So, since at 70, having been at this hobby for about 50 years, I just look at it as a bit of fun that I personally enjoy, and don’t sweat the lack of artistic skills. Other than a few basic rules, you know the type, ‘don’t have light poles growing out of a portrait subject’s head’, etc. I’m still having fun.
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Old 07-28-2019   #16
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When I first go involved with photography, I started researching the photographers whose work inspired me. I have a passion for black&white that was fostered by Ansel Adams. For subject matter, it has always been [mostly] about people. I was fortunate late in life (I was 51) to be able to make my dream of being a newspaper shooter for 10 years. As far as my eye, I found once I was shooting daily (10-12 hours/day) for work that my number of keepers skyrocketed. Like the old adage says: "PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!" Now that I am retired from daily shooting, my keepers have fallen.


You want to get better? Shoot more! It is an easy thing to do today with the digital cameras.
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Old 07-28-2019   #17
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Find a person who sees the world as you do and can make beautiful photographs. Ask this person, if by chance, s(he) would help you with your photography, serve as your coach and mentor.

If you don’t, some person will tell you this is the way to make photographs. Then some one else will tell you something different. And on and on.

All this advice taking from different people will lead you down a path of confusion.

I was fortunate to find some one who really helped me. I found out about him from articles he wrote for a magazine called Shutterbug. He died sbout 10 years ago. But there are some of his videos on you tube. Just type in search, “Monte Zucker.” You could also do a google search on him.

So that’s my two cents!

Hope it helps you.
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Old 07-28-2019   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zuiko85 View Post
... Ďdonít have light poles growing out of a portrait subjectís headí....
I was so bad about that, I finally just took the bull by the horns and did it on purpose. The intention was "Do it on purpose to learn it why I always do it on accident." Got both my kids, one at a time, to stand where a huge tree in the distance was growing out of their heads - I even moved around to get the tree lined up perfectly. That helped me learn NOT to do it.
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Old 07-28-2019   #19
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This kind of photography is 99.9% about failure.” – Alex Webb
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Old 07-28-2019   #20
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Deer and bird? BIF and wildlife is tough enough photography.

It is hard to learn the talent. But if you take pictures of somethings you are really interested in and if you applying same rules from somethings you know good...

For example, I like to look at people and I know fishing. I apply it in street photography.

Trying to get good, right picture is often way to bad results.
Trying to take something you like is the opposite.

AA was crappy portraits photographer, but we all know where he was good at.
Keep on searching. Maybe you are king of Macro.
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Old 07-28-2019   #21
David Hughes
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Murphy View Post
Dear Board,

Except for the occasional bird or deer, I simply cannot take a picture that is worth a crap.

When is it time to quit?

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA

Hi,


Far better is to go on taking pictures and quit worrying about it. I often look at how many hits my snaps get and wonder what on earth people see in the pictures but the stat's say they are popular or something.


Regards, David
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Old 07-28-2019   #22
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Another consideration is that even well known photographers only had a few ‘keepers’. I wonder how many pictures HCB took that never were printed or seen by the public. Especially working with small formats, there are bound to be a lot of non keepers on those contact sheets. (Or with digital, stuff that is examined and either rejected or outright deleted.)
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Old 07-28-2019   #23
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Everyone takes crappy pictures. Lots of them. The trick is to only show the good ones.

From what I hear (since I don't own the book) "Magnum - Contact Sheets" will illustrate that nicely.

Keep shooting!

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Old 07-28-2019   #24
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Old 07-28-2019   #25
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I agree with a number of points already made

1. Get a mentor if possible. I was very lucky that my dad was a photographer and was my mentor at a young age.
2. Look at pictures of the masters. As someone said you don't have to buy books, but I find that used photography books on Amazon are quite a deal.
3. As @jszokoli said, the fact that you find your work bad means that you are being self critical, and this is the key to getting better pictures.

I would add to point 3 that sometimes I get a roll back and scan through the scans quickly and think, geez nothing good on this one, but then come back later and after looking more carefully, find that in fact there are some keepers on the roll. As you look at the work of the masters you will find that many great photographs are technically not great, but otherwise (composition, subject, moment in time, etc.) actually great. The worst thing to do is to compare your work to highly post processed digital masterpieces, because the classic great photographers rarely if ever produced work that perfect, but their work is still great.
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Old 07-28-2019   #26
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Speaking mostly of my own experience... I found that my photographic eye and composition skills were drastically improved when I was forced to compose photos without using a viewfinder at all. I think of composition as something that occurs in the photographer's mind, and the viewfinder is purely for framing and focusing.
Also, ask yourself why you're taking photos, and with that in mind, look through your work from the perspective of trying to understand why you think a photo is not good.
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Old 07-28-2019   #27
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“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Just keep taking them.

Also in my case I have photos I took in the past that were disregarded at the time, that feel completely different to me when viewed today.
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Old 07-28-2019   #28
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It is time to quit when you don't have good reasons to do something.
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Old 07-28-2019   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Murphy View Post
................ Except for the occasional bird or deer, I simply cannot take a picture that is worth a crap.
When is it time to quit?...............
Tim: my 2 cents is a variance with most here but that's no problem for me. I can only tell you what worked for me when I was in your situation.

First, do you have a general idea what is wrong with your photography? That is a tough one as most don't. Is is just when you look at all your work, do you conclude there is simply little of merit there?

I concluded in the late 80's there was little of significance that I had accomplished since I began seriously photographing in the mid 70's. I had to admit that in 15 years that I had become technically quite proficient, was a pretty good darkroom printer, had established that I could consistently do well in local camera club contests. But when I stepped back and critically analyzed my results, I had to conclude there was just not much of real value there. I disposed of all my gear and did only family happy snaps almost 20 years.

Then around 2000, several things came together that set me off photographing seriously again and satisfied with my results.

First of all, I became interested in my own local culture which led to photographing it in order to document what was disappearing and to spread that knowledge to others. I finally accepted what some had been telling me that you must create a cohesive body of work. I realized that one must love what they are photographing more than the act of photographing it. Almost 20 years later, I am still working on that basic theme although the locations have shifted geographically.

Secondly, I began to constantly have a goal in mind. Both with individual photographs and with photo series in general. Based on input from a bit of mentor, a newspaper writer and not a photographer, I began asking myself why a photo existed, what was I trying to accomplish, and how well did I accomplish my goal. I began to develop satisfaction with my work.

I also concluded that there was little I could learn from other photographers. I am satisfied with my technical skills. Their critique would only lead me to photograph to satisfy other photographers and not the overall population. I am fortunate to have a few excellent photographers as friends. But when we get together, we don't discuss photos or photography. Instead it is culture, communications, travel, life experiences.

It was beneficial for me to begin publicly exhibiting. While the initial venues were very pedestrian, I learned the differences between what the public and other photographers considered important. It became apparent that the public wanted emotion, impact, and information with very little emphasis on the technical as contrasted to photographers who were primarily interested in the technical aspects.

Tim: I am not sure what you are looking for in your photography that you think is missing. Just have a goal. No problem if your goal is to happily wander around looking to occasionally find something unique that will made an interesting stand alone photo. Just have a reasonable expectation and evaluate your results accordingly. Do be cautious of proposed simple solutions to a complex problem.
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Old 07-28-2019   #30
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Aside from your sketchy first post you haven't really given us much information Tim. You seem to think your pics are crap but self analysis is dangerous at best in my opinion.

What in particular don't you personally like about your efforts ... is it composition that displeases you or the technical side of your photos? Subject material is neither here nor there in my opinion but maybe you are frustrated with a lack of imagination in that area?

More information please Tim.
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Old 07-28-2019   #31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post
Tim: my 2 cents is a variance with most here but that's no problem for me. I can only tell you what worked for me when I was in your situation.

First, do you have a general idea what is wrong with your photography? That is a tough one as most don't. Is is just when you look at all your work, do you conclude there is simply little of merit there?

I concluded in the late 80's there was little of significance that I had accomplished since I began seriously photographing in the mid 70's. I had to admit that in 15 years that I had become technically quite proficient, was a pretty good darkroom printer, had established that I could consistently do well in local camera club contests. But when I stepped back and critically analyzed my results, I had to conclude there was just not much of real value there. I disposed of all my gear and did only family happy snaps almost 20 years.

Then around 2000, several things came together that set me off photographing seriously again and satisfied with my results.

First of all, I became interested in my own local culture which led to photographing it in order to document what was disappearing and to spread that knowledge to others. I finally accepted what some had been telling me that you must create a cohesive body of work. I realized that one must love what they are photographing more than the act of photographing it. Almost 20 years later, I am still working on that basic theme although the locations have shifted geographically.

Secondly, I began to constantly have a goal in mind. Both with individual photographs and with photo series in general. Based on input from a bit of mentor, a newspaper writer and not a photographer, I began asking myself why a photo existed, what was I trying to accomplish, and how well did I accomplish my goal. I began to develop satisfaction with my work.

I also concluded that there was little I could learn from other photographers. I am satisfied with my technical skills. Their critique would only lead me to photograph to satisfy other photographers and not the overall population. I am fortunate to have a few excellent photographers as friends. But when we get together, we don't discuss photos or photography. Instead it is culture, communications, travel, life experiences.

It was beneficial for me to begin publicly exhibiting. While the initial venues were very pedestrian, I learned the differences between what the public and other photographers considered important. It became apparent that the public wanted emotion, impact, and information with very little emphasis on the technical as contrasted to photographers who were primarily interested in the technical aspects.

Tim: I am not sure what you are looking for in your photography that you think is missing. Just have a goal. No problem if your goal is to happily wander around looking to occasionally find something unique that will made an interesting stand alone photo. Just have a reasonable expectation and evaluate your results accordingly. Do be cautious of proposed simple solutions to a complex problem.
As someone who has very little regard for his own work and who often asks the same question Tim asks, I enjoyed reading this thoughtful and reflective response. Thanks.
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Old 07-28-2019   #32
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Great thread. Lots of good suggestions.

You are still at it, so you care. I agree you should examine why your bad ones are bad. But look for the good in your good ones too.

Questions and purpose are the key to moving forwards. And effort and ambition. I had developed a certain proficiency over the years but it was in 2008, when I was 47 that I suddenly moved forwards. Two reasons. One, Rangefinder forum. I have learnt so much here about photographs. Two, I just tried harder. A bit like the Sam Abell quote earlier in the thread, just go for good, as in better than it might otherwise have been, the best you can do on the day.

That year I had my first roll of Fuji Velvia, for $36 Australian. A dollar a slide. I went for a walk, in pain from a broken rib the day before. It was 6:10am on a beautiful morning by the sea with my M6 and 35 Summicron. I did not want to the think about getting this roll of film back with 37 indifferent pictures I had wasted time and money on. All these conditions aligned. I looked through the viewfinder almost as I had never done before, looking at the composition very critically, how much sky, which rocks, a bit closer, back a bit? Breaking wave, still water, wait for a better wave? I think I took 9 shots in an hour and bit. Four were quite good, not great, but so much better than I would have had without this new effort.

I can think of 6 or 7 good photographs I have taken in the last 40 years from which I learnt more about what it is I am looking for and want to get in a picture. It doesn't matter what luck might have been involved, I learnt form my good fortune. The more you put in, the more you get back.

And as well as the great photographs, from which we all learn, I found here in the Gallery and in discussion, what simple subjects with almost no remarkable content, can make wonderful photographs because of the light, texture, mood etc. There's more to photography than just great photographs.

The problem with deer is that they are just subject material. Same with birds. You'll be more satisfied to make photographs perhaps, than to record subjects.
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Old 07-28-2019   #33
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As in all endeavors, education and experience are the best tutors. I was lucky and had a mentor to help me. I still take crap pictures but now I know why. Galen Rowell mentioned in one of his books that he thought a good day shooting was one where he got one keeper from 200 shots. Any one of us would probably be proud of any of his other 199 but the point is that not all, nor even most, or even some shots are going to be winners. Study so you at least know why.
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Old 07-28-2019   #34
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The real question might be, what do I need to do to get great pics? When I was much, much younger I wanted to be an artist. A painter. Get up when you want, paint naked wahine, drink, and get paid for it! So I embarked on a pilgrimage to galleries and museums across the country which took me literally from San Francisco to New York. The idea was to understand what a painting that really worked was supposed to look like. Believe me, you know it when you see it. Not that imitation was the goal, just the opposite.

I never thought that I had any special inborn talent, but I could learn about composition and colour. You really can't express yourself in a unique manner w/o mastering the fundamentals first. Once the rules are understood, then you can break them. You can develop an eye for what a good photograph is supposed to look like in a number of ways, but this scheme worked for me. It comes from your belly, not your head. Intuition is where creativity is at, and few things good occur w/o hard work and determination. It's quite likely that failure is success on a level that we don't yet understand. It's through failure that we learn how to be successful, strange as that may sound.
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Old 07-28-2019   #35
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Tim, maybe it's time to bone up on your Photoshop skills.


But really, I found I picked up some good knowledge whenever I was around other photographers. Sometimes just watching how they work a scene can be very instructional. And if you think you can/do waste too much film, then get a decent used digital camera with good manual controls, and bang away until you get an idea of what it is that needs improvement, then fix that.


Also, go at it with the idea that you don't care if it's a crappy photo, as long as it conveys to someone else what you want it to. Improvement only comes with practice, along with consistency. Get out there and burn some film/pixels!


PF
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Old 07-28-2019   #36
johannielscom
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Tim,

I meant to say what Bob says but he says it so much better than me!
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Old 07-29-2019   #37
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The best photographers are just the ones who hide their mistakes.
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Old 07-29-2019   #38
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I can't find the link to a great quote by David Hearn, so I'll go from memory. It goes something like this: David Hearn (who himself is an excellent photographer) overheard a conversation between Henry Cartier-Bresson and W Eugine Smith.

HC-B says to WES: 'How many excellent photographs do you make a year?'

WES pauses, then replies: 'Oh, about 12 or 13'.

HC-B replies: 'The trouble with you Eugine, you always exaggerate.'

Moral here is to not expect too many excellent photos. If I get one a year I'm doing well.
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Let me try to explain
Old 07-29-2019   #39
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Let me try to explain

Quote:
Originally Posted by Keith View Post
Aside from your sketchy first post you haven't really given us much information Tim. You seem to think your pics are crap but self analysis is dangerous at best in my opinion.

What in particular don't you personally like about your efforts ... is it composition that displeases you or the technical side of your photos? Subject material is neither here nor there in my opinion but maybe you are frustrated with a lack of imagination in that area?

More information please Tim.
Dear Keith,

I approach photography with the idea of recording what my eyes see and I try to duplicate that. Technically I do pretty well with exposure and focus but my pictures don't often seem to match my vision of the time?

Like I said my main interest in photography lies with nature and birds. I don't always have a camera handy, but I always watch the landscape to see what I can see. Most days something of great interest catches my eyes, but when it comes time to return to the scene and try to record it I fail, even if the birds and animals are doing the same things they did when I first observed them.

I have no doubt that more time spent afield with the camera in hand would improve my results so I will make that my first goal.

Thanks everyone for your thoughts!

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA
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Old 07-29-2019   #40
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It helps to understand composition. The best book that I've read on the subject is geared towards painters.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/15...api_taft_p1_i0
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