the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


Photography can turn you into a wanderer at times, and not a happy one, either.

Photography can turn you into a wanderer at times, and not a happy one, either.


PHOTOGRAPHERS, IN THE NATURAL COURSE OF THEIR CONTINUING DEVELOPMENT, will, at one point or another, get hopelessly lost. Stuck. Stranded on a desert island. Fumbling for the way out of the scary forest. Artistically adrift. Call it a dead spot, a dry spell, or shooter’s cramp, but you can expect to hit a stretch of it at some time. The pictures won’t come. You can’t buy an idea. And, worst of all, you worry that it will last……like forever.

At such times it’s a great idea to turn yourself into a rabid researcher. The answer to how to get unstuck is, really, out there. In your pictures or in someone else’s. Let’s look at both resources.

Your own past photographs are a file folder of both successes and failures. Pore over both. There are specific reasons that some pictures worked, and other’s didn’t. Approach them with a fresh eye, as if a complete stranger had asked you to assess his portfolio. And be both generous and ruthless. You’re looking for truth here, not a security blanket.

Beyond your own stuff, start drilling down to the divinity of your heroes, those legends whose pictures amaze you, and who just might able to kick your butt a little. And, just so we’re being fair, don’t confine yourself to studying just the gold standard guys. Make yourself look at a whole bunch of bad upstarts and find something, even a small thing, that they are doing right that you’re not. Discover a newbie who shoots like an angel, or an Ansel. Empathize with someone who needs even more help than you do. Once you have mercy on someone else’s lack of perfection, it’s a lot easier to forgive it in yourself.

We “artistes” love to believe that all greatness happens in isolation, just our art and us and the great god Inspiration. But even when you shoot alone, you’re in a kind of phantom collaboration with everyone else who ever took a picture. And that’s as it should be. Slumps happen. But the magic will come back. You just need to know how to reboot your mojo.

And smile. It’s photography, after all.


2 responses

  1. what’s your favourite camera and lens also what starter camera would you recommend?

    May 5, 2015 at 9:31 AM

    • I tend to “focus” on lenses rather than cameras as such, so I believe that, if you are interested in growing as a photographer, you should choose an entry level camera that is one rung above the point-and-shoot types, allowing you the ability to switch out lenses. Given the rapid improvement of mobile phone cameras, P&S models will be going the way of the dinosaur soon. Get yourself a basic consumer DSLR like the new Nikon D3200, as it allows you to switch lenses, avail yourself of through-the-lens composing on a real eyepiece viewfinder, and give you great pictures on full automatic mode. More importantly, a DLSR allows you to grow. Once you are tired of having the camera do all the guesswork on settings, you can gradually move to less automated, and eventually full manual modes, deepening your own independence and moving, as I always like to say, from “taking” pictures to “making them.

      As for lenses, your camera will likely come with an 18-55mm “kit” lens, which is both a decent wide-angle and a modest zoom all in one. But do yourself a favor and look into prime lenses, which have one focal length, do not zoom, and yet will give you some of the best shots you’ll ever make. They are simpler in construction versus the zooms, and are both sharper overall and far faster in how much light they will gather in a wider variety of situations. Since they don’t distort angles and distances the way a wide-angle does, they “see” much the way your eye does. They are thus referred to as “normal” lenses, and may strike you as a more natural choice for street photography. They typically shoot at much wider apertures than zooms, many opening to f/2.8, f/1.8, even f/1.4, letting in a ton of light and allowing you to get great pictures at handheld shutter speeds without jacking up your ISO setting and adding grainy noise to your pictures.

      So that’s the plan: get a camera that’s better than you are, so it allows you growing room as you learn (just don’t break the bank). Think beyond the basic lens that comes with your kit. Consider prime lenses as a way to salvage more low-light shots with a compact, lighter hunk of glass. And work for a better version of you, versus just buying more and more equipment.

      Hope this helps. Thanks so much for visiting THE NORMAL EYE!

      May 5, 2015 at 1:36 PM

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