Over the past few years, due to easy access to internet, photography has become a very popular hobby that is not just engaging but also presents a possibility of fame, a source of side income or even full time career opportunity. You can find many learning resources available on the internet to learn and improve photography but all of these attempt to address only a part of the whole process. Some of these help you in buying a lot of expensive photography gear, others suggest you to travel to far off places in search of great photographs, yet others may suggest you to enrol with a school to learn photography. While each of these does help a person to become better at one aspect of being a photographer but none of these helps in a holistic development as a photographer. In this article we will see a break-up of process of photography. We'll try to analyse each step involved in the making of an image and hope it will help us in realising where we need to put in the most effort.
At this point I am assuming that you already have found your interest in photography. This is the time when you are either thinking about your first camera or have just bought one. It's important to understand your conviction behind your interest in photography. People pickup a camera for various personal reasons. It doesn't matter what the reason is, but it does matter if you know and understand what it is.
“I actually got my courage from being behind the camera as opposed to being in front of it, When I had a camera in my hand, all of a sudden, I felt empowered." ..........Ami Vitale
Let's say your motivation behind photography is to make friends, then you'll prioritise activities like workshops, group tours, photography classes, etc. Or, if it is a deep concern about social justice then you may focus on photo journalism, street photography, etc. May the reason be anything, if you know it with clarity then you will be able to work on it with more directional hard work and achieve the desired results more efficiently. So I'll recommend you to invest in some time and effort in figuring out your conviction behind your interest in photography. Alright, so now you know your motivation behind photography. Let's look at the process of photography.
1 - Going : Get set go
Going or getting up is one of the first things that is required to do photography. It's a change of state from what you are doing and where you are to a more active state. It may mean getting up from your bed, going to another room in your house, going to another city or maybe even to another country. Even if someone buys a lot of equipment, reads or watches a lot of photography tutorials but does not go then the ball will never start rolling. To improve in this section you may become part of a local photography group, join online competitions, weekly challenges, etc.
2 - Seeing : Keep your eyes open
At first, it may seem absurd because one would say that I always see when my eyes are open! Although, I am talking about actively seeing and noticing the details in the environment. Our natural tendency to quickly understand what we see, often, makes us miss out on a lot of details in our environment. Our brain uses shortcuts, like selective attention, to make it easier for us to understand all the visual details around us with the least efforts. These shortcuts, may often, cause us to ignore a lot of interesting visual details in our surrounding. There are two ways to see, you may be seeing for 'what is' or seeing for 'what could be'. Interestingly, as per Carl Jung's theory of cognitive functions, some people have a natural preference to see 'what is' while others have a preference to see 'what could be'. This means that you will have to train yourself to also see in a way which is not your natural preference so that you can see both concrete facts as it is and also the possibilities. While seeing in terms of concrete facts is important to spot an interesting scene, seeing in terms of possibility helps to spot the 'decisive moment' which is a technique strongly advocated by the legendary street photographer Henry Cartier Bresson.
3 - Looking : Chase your vision
It's basically the same as seeing but with a more specific purpose to shoot. Sometimes we photographers like free-rolling which means strolling in a hope to find something interesting to shoot. Different people may find different things interesting. That being said, it's also not completely subjective which means there are some things that universally people will find interesting. Free-rolling is good to produce work which is original, fresh and creative. Travel photography, street photography, etc. usually require more of this kind of looking. Another way of looking is when we have something in our mind and we hunt for it. Themed competitions, paid assignments, personal vision, etc. often require more of this kind of looking. Scottish photographer Alan McFadyen spent an estimated 6 years, 4,200 hours, and 720,000 exposures trying to nail the perfect symmetrical shot of a kingfisher diving into its reflection!
4 - Spotting : Use it or lose it
This is when you actually find what you were looking for. It's an aha moment to find something interesting when you are out to photograph. Sometimes, specially, when you travel to an unfamiliar destination, your senses get overloaded with information and you may fail to spot a photography opportunity when it presents itself. Often, we tend to tell ourselves that we may find the same thing again or there may be a better view a few yards away and miss out on an opportunity. Therefore, it is very important to consciously staying focused and stop looking as soon as you find something interesting or what you were looking for. It really helps to know a place before getting there. Now a days with the internet it's very simple to find out information about any place on the globe, so why not invest some time in finding the information about a place.
5 - Deciding : Is this 'the shot'?
After you've spotted you may decide whether you want to take a photograph or you'd like to keep searching to find better opportunity. This requires you to anticipate what could happen. If the sky is empty, birds can fly in; if the background is dull, maybe you'll wait for the sun to set and fill the sky with interesting colors and so on. Sometimes you may find a beautiful arrangement of lines & curves but not the subject, in such a situation you may decide to visit the place again at a different time of the day to find an interesting subject complete your photograph.
6 - Understanding : Slow down
Have you ever played the game 'Chinese Whisper'? It demonstrates how important information can be lost when it is passed from person to person. Sometimes we photographers click a photograph in a hurry without taking a moment to understand the scene. After you've decided to shoot, it's very important to take a moment to think in terms of, what's going on?, what's the involvement of the characters in whatever is happening?, what does it mean culturally?, what message will this photograph convey?, how will these people (or a place) be impacted after this photograph is shown to the world?, etc.
7 - Thinking : Open the pot on the top
In a photograph there are three parties involved; the photographer, the characters in the photograph and the viewers. You must take time to think how these three parties will be impacted by what you are going to photograph. Think in terms of emotional, social, financial and psychological impact on all concerned parties. You have to consciously decide on how you are going to portray this scene, what story you will tell your viewers. As a photographer, you also have a burden to justice with the stories that you tell or rather, the ones that you do no tell. Photographer Kevin Carter who shot the famous photograph 'The vulture and the little girl', committed suicide after four months of winning the Pulitzer Prize.
8 - Planning : What's your story?
This step is about contemplating how you'd like to portray the story that you thought of in the previous step. It's about choosing the techniques like shutter speed, shallow depth of field, panning, flash, waiting for the right time, etc. You also plan the post processing that you would like to do in the picture that you are about to make. Yes, post processing has to be anticipated in advance right before you click the photograph!
9 - Composing : Put it all together
So far you've been taking inputs from the surrounding and things were limited to yourself. This is the first and the most important step towards communicating to your viewers. Composition is the grammar of the visual language that helps you write your story for the viewers. The basic elements of composition namely, line, shape, colour, value, texture, form, and space are arranged according to the principles of perception & theory of design.
10 - Clicking : Press the button
You choose the camera settings for the right exposure, in line with your planning to click the picture. You may do the post production as planned earlier at step 8. This is the step where your equipment will matter. Choice of equipment will largely depend on what you find interesting and understanding your own motivation behind becoming a photographer.