By Bill Dobbins
One key to becoming an excellent photographer in the digital age is to shoot a lot and shoot often.
Any photographer or people interested in photography know how much the technology of shooting pictures has changed since the late 1990s. Back in the day photos were done on film. You made exposures and had to wait until the film was developed to see the results. The film cost money and so did development and processing. If you were making prints that was another effort that required time, effort and cost. So shooting any large amount of photos could be very expensive. I remember spending $1000 on film and processing on several occasions shooting an event taking place over a single weekend.
The problem is that it takes a long time to become a really good photographer. You not only need to learn the technology but also develop your ability to visualize images in your mind. Author Malcolm Glasswell has written that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. When you consider the cost of film photography it is obvious that is costs a fortune to put in the requisite amount of time and effort.
I remember being at my local photo store back in the 1990s buying hundreds of dollars worth of film and watching a photo student from Santa Monica College buying one roll of BW film – for the week. It is obvious that it takes an awful lot of time to accumulate 10,000 hours when you are limited to 36 exposures in seven days.
But digital has changed all of this. That same film student can now shoot the equivalent of 36 rolls of film in a week! Or more. You record all your images on a card and there are no development or processing expenses. You see a representation of the image on the back of the camera and can upload it to a computer for a better view. So you can shoot to your heart’s content, quickly see the results and use this feedback to make corrections and improvements. Given this technology is becomes a lot easier to rack up the experience equivalent to 10,000 hours.
Practice doesn’t make perfect but if done intelligently it is certainly the path to improvement. Professional golfers spend endless hours on the range. Musicians spend years developing their skills on various instruments. And photographers need to keep shooting lots and lots of photos and learning by experience.
But aspiring photographers often don’t take advantage of their ability to shoot at almost no cost. What they should be doing, in addition to the jobs, assignments or projects they are involved in, is to simply make the effort to do as much photography of any kind featuring any subjects they can. Shooting a lot doesn’t mean casual, not taking pains to create excellent images, being sloppy or undisciplined. The rule should always be to look through the viewfinder and pay careful attention as to whether what you see would result in a good picture. If it looks good, shoot it. If not, change things until it does. Shooting often on a regular basis involves keeping your hand and eye in practice, the way an athlete would.
Although I do a lot of studio photography, I also make it a point to go out and about every once in a while carrying a camera. It’s what Ringo called “perambulating” walking around shooting photos in Hard Day’s Night. If you do this and keep your eye out for photo possibilities, paying that much attention for that length of time can be exhausting. You look at what is going on around you, what the light is doing and visualize what make for a good photograph. That is a lot of work. But it does help to train you to see in terms of images. Later, you put the pics on your computer and get a good idea of whether your original perception was a good one or not. But the point is you go ahead and shoot anything that catches your attention. This is digital, not film. Whatever you later feel is not worth it you just learn from it, push the delete button and move on.