Everything I know about photography, I learned from my guitar

Tune in, peg out

I read an article recently by Scott Kelby ( www.scottkelby.com ) about the difference between noodling on a guitar (you know, like riffing or jamming, often while watching TV, just producing some pleasing tones) and practicing (like learning a song, studying a technique), and how that paralleled to peoples photography efforts.  In summary a lot of people noodle away with their camera (take it out, snap a few shots, not really having a purpose or aim to the shooting) and don't have a structured practice regime or goal to achieve.  This leads to lots of photos but a lack of progression in peoples photography skills/knowledge. 

This got me thinking about how we perceive learning a musical instrument (say a guitar) vs learning photography.  Let me explain:

If I sat someone down who had no experience of playing music (but lots of experience listening to music), and gave them a guitar to play, within seconds of trying to play their first note they would (a) realise it is a lot harder than it looks, and (b) they would lose any expectation at all that they would be able to produce a tune within the first weeks of learning.  Playing a guitar involves physically learning techniques / co-ordination and learning to listen to what you are playing.  This takes time and practice.

I think anyone learning a musical instrument understands the need for practice once they they start to learn.  It is the only way to get better.

The understanding of whether or not someone has 'talent' as a guitar player will only come after mastering the basic techniques required to play the instrument.  It makes sense that if you can't play the instrument it is hard to know if you are gifted at it.

Yet when people pick up a "serious" camera for the first time they often become frustrated and disheartened very quickly when they can't produce good photos straight away, or even after years of trying. They have been looking at photos their whole lives and therefore know what they think the photos should look like, so they think that using a "good" camera should allow them to produce "good" images, without first learning the basic techniques of photography.

In short they are trying to play like Jimi Hendrix without learning a chord.

So what is my point in this blog?

If you want to get better at photography treat it like learning a musical instrument (analogies in brackets):

  • learn how the camera works first (read the manual, play with the settings one at a time to see what effect it has on the photos) (Learn the basics of making a noise on the guitar, learn what different techniques do to the sound)
  • get out there and shoot with a purpose ("today I want to shoot with lens X and try to get portrait shots", "today I want to use a slow shutter speed to blur motion") not just wanting to take great photos (Set a small target for learning, a song or a solo, not trying to learn everything that Led Zeppelin ever played)
  • research new techniques before you head out to shoot them, understand the concepts of you want to learn (See/hear how other musicians create that sound and try to replicate it)
  • do not try to learn new techniques when there is a expectation of providing images (ie don't try completely new camera settings at a wedding shoot!) (Don't try to learn a new song from scratch at a gig, that is what rehearsals are for)
  • review your work, compare it to photographers that you admire / like the work of, ask someone you trust to critique your work (Record your playing / play for a musician you know, get feedback)
  • Repeat. Forever. Do not stop practicing. Do not stop learning (Play until you can't play anymore).