You’ve Decided To Become A Photographer: a guide to your first year - Zack Frank

You’ve Decided to Become a Photographer:

a guide to your first year

Your camera is cheap and small, but it works. Your lens is nothing special, but you’re eying a better one, not that you know what to do with it. The important thing is that you’ve decided what you want to do in your upcoming career: National Geographic, shoot models in a high tech studio, travel the world and get paid for it… you’ll be the first photographer to do them all!

In preparation for your future success you’re carrying your DSLR around like it’s an extension of your arm (even when it doesn’t make sense). Hanging out with friends? Check! Shady part of town at night? Yep! You might not need your camera at work, but you can’t miss out on a mind-blowing shot!

You’re also heading out into nature more to shoot leaves, animals, and sunsets. This is your chance to show how you grasp the majesty of that wooded trail by your house like no one ever has. You take too many photos of the least interesting animal you can find. Probably a squirrel but if you happen upon something less exotic than a squirrel, it’ll be that. These are your first steps to that National Geographic gig. At least you’re getting some exercise.

The exposure triangle is something you’ve come across online. You treat aperture, shutter-speed, and ISO like your new best friends, but at best you probably only understand the basics of one of them. Aperture makes things blurry, bokeh! Kai Wong is your source for all knowledge. “What is Composition Kai?” you ask. “No idea,” responds his video library. You spin the dial (oops, other dial) so the lowest aperture number is showing (How is f-stop different than aperture? You’ll look more into that when you get home).

“Aperture is amazing”, you think to yourself. “I can distort reality!” The background is a smear of colors and bright circles. Multiple angles. Getting it just right. Nailed it! You run back to your underpowered computer with your photos of tree branches and perfectly blurred backdrops. Load the photos in Gimp, because photoshop is overly complicated and harder to pirate now. What’s this? The photo is shaky and the depth of field is so narrow that you can barely tell what the photo is of. You weren’t even focusing on the that spot, why is that in focus? Hmmm… piece of shit camera, why didn’t you do what I told you to do?? You’ll might get around to figuring out shutter-speed too at some point.

Now that you’ve mastered exposure, it’s time to call in every favor you have. “Hello (insert attractive friends name), do you want to do a photoshoot?” The hopelessly vain say yes. The ones who can see through your lack of skill pass on this fantastic opportunity. Luckily, the family is getting together for Generic Holiday and grandma flatters you into taking the group photo. It may be for family, but you can use it in your portfolio for when you start charging for these kinds of things, so you agree. You ready to shoot the group, then someone says, “You have to be in the photo.” This surprises and annoys you, but you hand off the camera to Random Family Friend who shoots the photo as you make your protest-y face. I’ve been used! This will never happen again… my family is the enemy.

Despite your setbacks you’ve created a handful of photos you’re proud of. They’re middling, but you won’t know that for a few more years. You show them off to as many people who will listen, and maybe even get a handful of likes and hearts on social media. Really though, these garbage photos have all the tell-tale signs of mediocrity:

          -Black & White (because the color looked off, so just ditch color)

          -Lens Flare (so much lens flare)

          -Isolated Colors (probably a child’s eyes, or a lone flower)

          -Textures (with a depth of field that’s too narrow)

          -Inanimate Objects (that motion blur isn’t so bad it’s noticeable)

          -Model Friends (with awkward poses and expressions)

          -Over-saturation (I saw it like that, I swear)

          -Everything centered (it’s the subject of the photo, of course it goes in the middle)

And that’s year one. Almost nothing you’ve shot is worthwhile or redeemable. Even if you have created a quality image by accident,  you don’t know why it turned out that way. You just assume your photographer's eye and innate talent are making up for your lack of knowledge and experience. Someday your photos will make sense to you...

Now, are there any tutorials on “composition”?


(in the interest of full disclosure, here are some mediocre photos from my first year as a photographer, but please keep in mind, the better the photos look the more accidental their creation)

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