QUESTION FROM A GREEK TRAGEDY READER: I love photography and have been a photo freak since I was little. My dad always had camera on hand, and I got that from him. Now, I’m not a pro by any means, but I take pretty good pictures. I always wonder, how did you get started in photography? Did you take classes or have to read books to refine your talent? Are you strictly on digital now, or do you still use film? What editing software do you use? When you do outdoor shoots, do you use additional lighting? They are just so perfect and crisp. I would love to use my photography skills to develop a career, etc. I see so many friends that are hiring professionals to take photos of their family events, and it makes me wonder if that’s something I could do?
Photography is storytelling. Sometimes it’s our memory dipped in ink. It’s about capturing gestures the way we see them and replicating what we see and feel at that exact moment. The actual "capturing" is about technique. And that, you’ve got to learn. It isn’t about talent or instinct; it’s about learning how to use a flash in conjunction with shutter speed, or when to not use a steady hand and to pan instead. When to step closer to your subject, which lens to grab if you want the foreground to be prominent, which to flatten or flatter.
It’s ironic that I fell into photography as a way to get the fcuk out of my own head, and then had to spend so much brain time taking notes and reading about depth of field—to get out of my own head just to get back in it again. I write about my actual journey into professional photography in Straight Up And Dirty (where each chapter begins with a photograph of mine), how I began to shoot red carpet events, and for The Hotel Gansevoort. I took night classes at ICP in NYC. I learned on film—well, I really learned by shooting color slide transparencies. But it’s far more cost-efficient to learn on a digital SLR. That’s key. You need an SLR. Canon or Nikon. Once you’re in bed with your camera base, you’re in bed forever and get to keep things freaky with new lenses. You purchase lenses as the years pass, and you cannot use the same lens you would on a Nikon on any other type of camera, so they’ve got you by what’s left after your bikini wax.
So here’s what I recommend:
Invest in a digital SLR with removable lenses. Then read your owners manual to the point where you could be on The Newlywed Game with it. Then take either a one-day or weekend intensive class, or invest in a real class. Or, quite frankly, if you can’t afford a class or one isn’t available near you, I seriously suggest pairing up with a friend who also might like to learn (or finding someone online who’s also interesting in learning), and you meet up and do assignments. You know your learning style best, so go with what works for you. Personally, I think you can absolutely teach yourself with your owner’s manual and online sites that actually give assignments, paired with online forums where you can ask for help. But if you need a formal hands-on class to keep you commited, then do that. I think giving classes is possibly the best gift you can give someone.
I used to spend nights at home, with a glass of red, classical music piped in, under a blanket, reading about photography after class. I figured I could be out dating, but all those guys I was putting energy into meeting, analyzing, was energy better spent on me… better spent on something no one could ever take away from me: knowledge. If I learned photography, put in the time and effort, no one could take that away with a, "Sorry, this just isn’t working" talk. I took notes on everything I learned at class and then taught/reviewed everything I learned with my friend who couldn’t afford the class. Teaching someone else, even as you’re learning, is the best way to really learn and know that you understand the material.
Are you strictly digital now?
Yes, except when I’m asked to photograph a wedding. I shot all the photographs for The Hotel Gansevoort on film because I knew the prints were going to be very large, so I needed the quality. Film is just romantic, really. Silky.
Which editing software do you use?
Adobe Bridge mostly (which is part of Adobe Photoshop). Sometimes I’ll open a batch of photos in Photoshop and try out a new action set/ filter, like Lomoize, which makes photos look as if they’ve been shot with a Lomo camera. Best bet is to try to get the photo as close to the way you want it on the actual camera, so there’s less work in the digital darkroom.
Do You ever use additional lighting for outdoor shots?
Hell, no. I’m not that dedicated. When photographers come to shoot me for magazines or newspapers, they do bring many extra lights for outdoor shots, and they look… like they’re real professional magazine ads. I don’t have time, or the knowledge, or even the desire to learn about lighting technique outdoors… though photographing food… that kind of lighting can be simple or hardcore, and it fascinates me. When it comes to outdoor shots, I use a low ISP (400) if I can, and I use all natural light. The best time of day is when you can look into the sun, and if forced, could try not to squint for a second or two.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a new year (soon enough), follow your nose!
As for your wondering if it’s something you can do, I say, life leaps! Go chase it! Curiosity and a love of learning is what keeps life exciting. Learning new skills makes me as giddy as a matinee of Annie with Abigail on my lap (one of my most treasured moments).
GOT QUESTIONS? NEED ADVICE?
If you have questions or need advice on anything from where to eat to how to get over the bastard, just email your question to my advice email address.