What I’ve Learned about Photography in 2011

I Got You Babe - Battery Mendell - 2011

2011 turned out to be a big year for me in my pursuit of photography skills. As I reflect back on my learnings, I thought I’d try to write down the highlights of the year for me in this New Year’s Eve post.

Beginning with my purchase of my first digital SLR about five years ago (a Canon 30D which I purchased immediately after reading Doc Searls post about his evaluation of this camera!), I’ve been making steady progress learning more about both the most important shooting skills for capturing images as well as the post-processing techniques that can really help enhance an image.

For me, it’s all about trying to get it right at capture time in the camera – but then also maximizing the image’s beauty in post-processing. Among other things, I’ve learned that even if the capture isn’t perfect, the end result can still be stunning with the right post-processing. But, it all begins with trying to get the right image at capture.

Capture

This year, I made more progress at trying to apply what I already know – taking the time to get the image right in capture. For much of my photography so far – mostly landscapes, urban scenes, etc. – this means slowing down and taking the time to really “work the subject”. It’s like breathing – forcing myself to stop, take a deep breath and think (and re-think) what it is I’m trying to do.

Early on, I tended to just fire away – without taking the time to think, compose, and really work the capture. DSLRs, in my experience, make this difficult – as you’re so inclined to just fire away.

The first photo workshop I attended (2009 – North Beach in San Francisco with Chris Honeysett) brought this issue to a head for me. And, ever since, I’ve tried to make sure that when I’m in the field that I slow down, breathe, and think about the capture I’m wanting to make.

In 2011, I tried to make this practice “muscle memory” on a shoot – still learning to do so effectively, but at least it’s now a conscious part of my approach.

Post-Processing

As Ansel Adams famously once said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.” Anyone who has seen a series of Ansel’s prints of the same image produced over time knows that he had different interpretations that he brought to the image. As he got older, many of his most famous images got darker as he printed them – adding more drama to them.

In today’s digital era, the performance art is all about the post-processing we do – since we might choose to print or, much more commonly, choose to post our images someplace online. Obviously, capture and post-processing go hand in hand – and, for me, involve very different parts of my brain. I find the two different experiences fascinating.

Photowalks

Another very valuable learning for me in 2011 was the great benefit of shooting with another photographer. In the photography community, photowalks of groups of photographers have been quite popular – and they can be a lot of fun. For me, I’ve come to really value doing a photowalk not with a large group but, rather, with one other photographer.

My good friend Doug Kaye and I did several of these 1:1 photowalks together during 2011 – and we learned a lot from each other – both in the field during capture (“seeing through each other’s eyes”) as well as how we post-processed similar images after the fact. For me, a 1:1 photowalk was a learning accelerator – opening new doors in both capture and post-processing.

Evolution

This year also saw me shifting away a bit from my earlier experiments in High Dynamic Range photography and back toward trying to enhance my craft at capture and in post-processing. Over the last couple of years, I experimented a lot with HDR – learning from Trey Ratcliff, RC Conception and others about their techniques. I continue to use HDR in post-processing – especially enjoying using the technique for single image RAW files – but it’s become a bit less important to me in 2011.

I began, for the first time, to try to learn more about portraiture. I’m still a relative novice at it – there’s a lot of difference between shooting a landscape and a person – but I’m beginning to appreciate and try to apply those differences. Portraiture is definitely an area I want to continue to focus on in 2012!

I also became much more aware of the techniques available in post-processing – including some of the great filters available (Nik, Topaz, and others) along with the application of techniques from some of today’s masters. I feel much more confident today that I can import and process and image into my vision than ever before – yet I also feel like I’m only 10-20% down the path toward really being a master at applying these techniques.

Portfolio

One of the best things I did in 2011 for my photography was to create my first portfolio – both online and in print – of what I considered some of my best work. Can’t believe I hadn’t done this before – but I hadn’t – and now it’s become a regular part of my workflow in post-processing.

While having my portfolio online is great, there’s nothing quite like holding my portfolio book in my hand and seeing these images on real paper. This year, I used iPhoto to create my 100 page portfolio book – and gave away a few copies as gifts to family friends.

Summary

All in all, 2011 was a great year for me in learning about photography. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn in 2012. One thing is clear – I really enjoy all of these aspects of photography. At my age, it’s great fun to have such a stimulating avocation to pursue – and to benefit from all of its rewards.

My 2011 Photography Resources

One Reply to “What I’ve Learned about Photography in 2011”

  1. What a terrific post, Scott. Other than changing some names, dates and places, I could have written the same thing. Except you did it. 🙂 Obviously, we spent a few of last year’s moments together, but I echo your feelings for the rest of the year as well. May 2012 bring you as much growth in photography as 2011.

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