Last spring I had a decision to make; either get out of nature photography or get serious about it. I had opened an account on Flickr and wanted to add some of my best images from the previous year and out of several hundred photos I only had about two dozen that I thought were portfolio worthy. If I was going to continue to invest in new gear, and spend time shooting, then I needed to get better at taking images. So instead of ditching the DSLR and buying a point and shoot camera I came up with a list of macro resolutions and really pushed myself to see what I could do. Here they are, along with a new one for the coming year.
Become my own worst critic: I will never improve as a photographer unless I can subjectively analyze my work, figure out what I’m doing wrong, and correct the mistakes that I’m making so that I don’t keep making them. If one of my photos sucks I have to be the first to admit it. Get use to deleting photos that I would have kept in the past.
Don’t get hung up on the process: If I get locked into a specific way of shooting, or too hung up on one piece of equipment, then I will limit the subjects that I can photograph and reduce the odds that I’m going to get the image that I want. So let the subject dictate how I’m going to shoot and not let my gear, or the way I’m using it, limit the subjects that I can photograph. Be flexible.
Use Photoshop as an image editor, and not as a crutch: The computer will never be able to recover information that I did not take with the camera –and it will never be that smart. So I have to get it right before I press the shutter release and use post processing to “develop my negatives” and not use it to fix errors that I could easily correct with the camera. To keep from developing lazy habits the cropping tool is off limits –I have to compose my images with the view finder.
Shoot in multiple locations: If I shoot in the same areas all the time I’ll shoot the same subjects and I won’t have a diverse portfolio. My experience as a photographer will also be limited unless I’m shooting a wide variety of subjects. Even when I’m shooting in a familiar place I need to get into the habit of looking for new and unique critters. The other side of this goal is to pick a local species of insect and thoroughly document it. Learn its habits and get really good at photographing it so that I become a source for high quality images of a specific insect.
Go for the low hanging fruit: I need to stop wasting time shooting subjects that are difficult to reach, or that put me at a disadvantage due to the angle. By passing on situations that present a low probability of success I’ll have more time to photograph subjects in situations where I’ll have an advantage and my “keeper rate” will be higher.
Learn flash photography: It’s very difficult to use natural light above half life size so learning how to use a flash, and to control the quality of the light is very important. My ultimate goal is to get so good at flash photography that the color and contrast rivals early morning or late afternoon sunlight. I’ve made significant progress on this one, but I still have a long way to go…
Don’t become a magnification junkie: Let the composition dictate the magnification of the image. Some subjects don’t look good at high magnification and sometimes sacrificing some magnification for more depth of field is a good thing.
Don’t get hung up on diffraction: Getting sharp images is great, but only getting an insect’s eyes in focus because the depth of field is too narrow isn’t all that special. Composition is king, and if that means stopping the lens down to get more depth of field at the risk of losing some image sharpness then so be it. No one prints at 100% pixels…
Cherry pick ideas: Take the best of what I see others doing, and adapt it to my style of photography. Don’t copy other people’s work because I’ll never stand out that way, but put my own spin on their images.
Practice: Reading magazines and getting ideas from other photographers is good, but it’s not a substitute for having the camera in my hand. I have to get more practice shooting macro, especially in the winter months when the insects are gone.
Be unique: If my images look like everyone else’s images then I’ll never stand out. So look for new ways to photograph common subjects and develop my own style of photography. This is the new resolution for this coming year. In 2007 I spent a lot of time experimenting with different things to see what I liked and what I didn’t. 2008 will be the year that I zero in on a specific “look” and concentrate my efforts on perfecting it…