What's the most valuable thing you've learned about photography?


No longer a newbie, moving up!
Oct 27, 2008
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The reason I started this thread is to tell my most valuable learned knowledge and to gain insight on others' opinions and maybe learn a lot in the process. Call it an anecdotal rant, but I think you may enjoy it..

For me, the greatest thing I've learned since I began to be critical of photos is FILL FLASH. And here's why:

Although I've taken tens of thousands of pictures since the advent of the digital camera, starting with a really crappy camera that I got free for signing up with Earthlink Internet, I never really gave a hoot about the composition and lighting, etc., as long as I got a picture of what I wanted a picture of.

Well, when my first daughter was born I wanted a nice camera because I knew I'd be taking a lot of pictures.. I've never known anyone who either took photography seriously as a hobby or did it professionally, so I had no knowledge about good photography at all. I just thought that an expensive camera would take good pictures, and to me $500 was an insane amount to spend on a camera, as I had always had cameras in the $50 range and been satisfied with them. They did what I asked-took a picture of what I was looking at so that I could show others my escapades when I returned home.

I searched online for a nice camera (now identified to me as a P&S), and I decided on the Canon Powershot A620. Three years ago this was a pretty damn nice camera for smeone of my skill and interest level, and I paid $500 for it. It is 7.1 MP, and it has a nice screen and has all the features of an SLR if you care to set the settings via menus.. It also has movie mode with sound.

The problem-I never once took it off of AUTO, unless it was to go into one of the other "green" modes, such as nighttime or kids & pets.. So, like any camera in AUTO, it would decide whether or not to fire the flash. If the scene was brightly lit, no flash, resulting in many bad shots of subject with dark faces, etc..

I joined a photo forum and started displaying pictures. Needless to say, they were picked apart because they really were bad, but I couldn't see it. If I saw a picture of a neat rock, I'd take a picture of it and show it to people while saying, "Check out this cool rock." And you could see the rock fine, but the responses would always be, "background's blown," or, "It's too centered," or, "the tops of the peoples' heads is distracting." Hell, I only wanted a picture of the rock, and you could see the rock fine!!

Well, that was when I began to read, and I found out that photographers don't just look at the subject of a picture but every single little detail-composition, clutter, background quality, white balance, exposure, whether the focus is perfectly on the subject or just a little to the side, and on and on..

With all that I've learned, I think the single most important thing I've learned that will save pictures is fill flash!! As simple as it is, I know first-hand that using a camera in AUTO, as most P&S shooters do (I presume), you will get many a ruined shot due to not flashing your subject, and I would have never even dreamed of flashing on a sunny day. I just never thought of it.

Here's one classic example where I just would have never gotten the shot I wanted if I had not learned about fill flash:

My daughter got a plant kit, and my wife wanted a picture of it to show her coworkers. Now the first shot I'll post is with my Canon Powershot in AUTO. You can clearly see what the plant is, and I would have been satisfied with this two years ago because it clearly shows a planter and plant, and you can see the progress of the growth, but it's NOT GOOD because of the dark subject. Of course, the flash did not fire because of the amount of ambient light. I did not bother with cropping, etc., simply because it wasn't worth the effort on such a bad shot:


I've since purchased my Nikon and several lenses and the SB600, along with some tripods and such, so I've begun the long journey toward taking good pictures. So, here I used my Nikon with the SB600 mounted, and I got this picture simply by flashing the subject. A much better picture by anyone's standards, even though there are some hot spots on the shoes and cup due to being flashed directly:


Fill flash, such a simple concept, but the culprit for many millions of missed shots simply becuase people don't force the flash. And this, I think, is the most valuable and simplest thing I've learned so far..

Care to share yours?
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So far?
probably this : Zack Arias - Atlanta based editorial music photographer » Transform :: A short film for ScottKelby.com

There is no one method that I have learnt which I really consider the best or the most important - they all have their uses and their places and there are still many more that I have yet to learn!
Just got to keep going :)

But in the spirit of the thread I will encourage people to research backbutton focusing for your camera (most DSLRs have this feature I don't think point and shoots support this). Being able to move the auto focus off the shutter button makes recomposing the frame much easier and its quicker and simpler than trying to find that AF off/on switch on the lens (often held right back at the base of the lens which is not where your hand is when holding a lens).
ITs great for action photography as it lets you leave the camera in AI servo and yet not use this if its not working (say your shooting into reeds or through bars) for HSM lenses its really a great thing- for normal motor lenses its less usefull for manual altering since you can't use manual AF without switching the lens AF switch
If I had to pick one:

Light makes an image with either its presence or absence. Control the light, you control the image.
Finding and using good light or creating and controlling it yourself.

When there is a beautiful sunset and people gather to look at it...the good photographer is the one who turns around and sees how that setting sun is lighting everything else with beautiful light.
the right lighting and learning how to manipulate lighting is of course, key to working in photography however the subject must also not for forgotten. All the light in the world won't help if your subject is asleep on the job ;)

Hey Overread, I clicked on your Phototracking link and looked at the Attack of the 7 ft. Squirrel thread-what lens did you take the pictures of those foxes with? Is that you in the pic at the top with that huge white lens and beard?

Where do you live that you get all these opportunities to shoot foxes? I live in a pretty rural area, but I can't remember the last time I saw any wildlife here in MA...
Hey Overread, I clicked on your Phototracking link and looked at the Attack of the 7 ft. Squirrel thread-what lens did you take the pictures of those foxes with? Is that you in the pic at the top with that huge white lens and beard?

Where do you live that you get all these opportunities to shoot foxes? I live in a pretty rural area, but I can't remember the last time I saw any wildlife here in MA...

At the moment I use the canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter for pretty much all my foxshots - and they all come from the British Wildlife Centre - so they are in enclosures and I can get close without trouble (plus the feeding points during the day will normally draw out the foxes and otters for some shot as well).

If I were to shoot in the wild more (which I do want to do) I would need some major changes. Firstly a hide along with some good scouting of the area and some fieldcraft (to postion the hide right) would be needed - then leaving he hide in position for a time to let the wildlife get used to it. Then would come long hours sitting in the hide waiting - foxes being nocurnal animals your not likley to see wild ones during the height of the day - mornings and evenings are best (full nighttime photography is a whole other area of specialist kit).
Also lenses would need to be longer - a 300mm lens at least - with 400/500 and 600 being good support lengths as well (probably only one of the longer lenses is needed - otherwise your carrying way too much gear ;)).
Of course those quality longer lenses cost a lot - which is one of the major limiting factors.
What's the most valuable thing you've learned about photography?

That photography is an art...your art. What each person likes & dislikes is different. Some may like what you do, and others will nit-pick it to death......do what you like.
For those with little (or no, like me) skill ... flash is your best friend.

I mostly shoot indoors and flash has made the biggest difference.

If you ask this same question next year, I may answer "Auto ISO" - that feature + 5DMKII capability to shoot high ISO - OH YEAH!!
Understanding Aperture. How it affects Light, Depth of Field, Shutter Speed and the Lenses we use.

That was propably my first biggest (technical) knowledge as well. And i'd also add to that the whole correlation between aperture, exposure and ISO. My first 1000 dslr shots i took in full manual and that way i actually learned the correlation all by myself, without anyone explaining it to me.
Learning to see has got to be at the top of the list for me. I had a P&S for a number of years, and unfortunately for me these were the years that I was traveling quite often to beautiful places. I always looked for "post card" shots, and thus got the occasional "nice shot" feedback from others. However, most of those "nice shots" were quite on accident. I have just recently been going through my archives, and though my technical skill has obviously advanced since then (a 35mm SLR & 2 DSLRs later...so I would hope so:lol:); my one progression that stands out is how I see the environment around me. Previously, if it wasn't pretty and colorful, I would have kept on walking. Now, I'm looking up, down, left, right, and I find myself walking backwards down park trails just to see if I missed something going forward. I see a world I never would have a few years ago, and this has expanded my photographic world as well. I have learned to see the beauty within the "normal" realm and translate that to an image.

That is, to me, my greatest accomplishment as yet.

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