Advice you wish you had when you began photog.

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by rebecca_fowler|1, Jan 25, 2008.

  1. Hi everyone,
    I'm new here to, and actually I'm new to b&w photography too. I'm
    just finishing up building my darkroom and I'm starting to get overwhelmed with
    all the choices of equipment and supplies. I was just curious if anyone had
    some advice they'd like to pass on that would've made their voyage into
    photography a little more pleasant. Any advice will be more than appreciated.
    Thanks so much!


    P.S. I did search the website to make sure nothing like this has been posted, if
    it has feel free to point me in the right direction and delete this.
  2. No piece of gear will make you a better photographer - only making lots of photos and learning , possibly with input of people you respect for their vision, to edit tightly will.
  3. Ellis makes a great point! It is true that the photographer takes/makes the photo, but I would add to buy the best equipment YOU can.

    Read all you can, take photo classes at local colleges/arts centers, go to photo exhibits/art galleries and look at other peoples work. Don't necessarily copy their work, but learn from it and perhaps improve on it.

    Most of all, go out and take all the photos you can, but, make them all good ones!
  4. If you can not see it, you can not photograph it,so work on your awareness level.
  5. Gear has a big influence on final image quality, there can be no doubt about that. Get the
    best you can afford, stick to one film/developer combination and go take pictures.
  6. Maybe keep it simple at first. One film, one format. Your work flow will become a snap. Good suggestions above about "seeing and "educating". Also maybe find a style and subject matter that appeals to you. A passion for the subject will show in the end results.
  7. Be yourself.

    Read and look a lot (art, photography). Absorb ideas and choose those that fit your

    Ask specific questions where answers might aid you to overcome a problem or
    unknown (PN is pretty good for that, most of us like to share experience).
  8. I suppose you have a camera of some sort already. However, it is a lot more enjoyable to deal with rollfilm when enlarging. Each format has its challenges, but the larger the negative, the easier it is to print.

    I didn't get to 4X5 until I was 66, but that meant getting an enlarger and a good way to develop sheets. I now use an expert drum for developing and a gravity system for washing.

    Each format has some good advice from those of us who stumbled through trial and error.
  9. Wow! I agree with everything said above. Would add this: do not make a photograph that looks like one you have seen already. If you want real satisfaction, force yourself to do original work.
  10. There is no magic combination of film and dev, or paper and dev, that will make your photographs brilliant - but practice will. Initially, stick to one fast film, one slow film and one film developer. Ditto paper and paper developer. When you have mastered these, then, and only then, try other films and developers. Always make sure you have a tried and tested routine to fall back on.
  11. "Gear has a big influence on final image quality, there can be no doubt about that."

    Untrue on all levels. Gear doesn't make photographs, photographers do. owning better gear doesn't make you a better photographer, hard work does. Better gear might make it easier but that's all.
  12. Don't get too caught up in multiple lenses and multiple cameras.

    Before learning to shoot with any kind of artificial lighting, learn to use the sun as a light source.

    And lastly... a $2000 digital body is a waste of money if it isn't making money for you.
  13. "Gear has a big influence on final image quality, there can be no doubt about that."

    I agree, to a point. I have made some great images with a pinhole camera, but won't a better quality lens make a better QUALITY photograph when it comes to sharpness,resolution...?

    Then again, just because an image is soft, does not mean it's poor quality...

    I'm talking in circles I think...

    I love making good photographs from cheap/poor gear. Makes it very satisfying :)
  14. Back in 1968 or '69 when I was beginning in news journalism, I wish someone had told me, "Wait for digital!" :) <p>
    I'd be much wealthier, assuming I knew what 'digital' meant! My mother was more philosophical with her comment back then, "At least you did not choose horse-racing!" :) <p>
    . . . and so it goes . . . <p>
    Learn a few tools and practice a lot! There is no end, so enjoy the journey!
  15. 1) The only way to understand, to learn, to improve, is to go out and burn lots of film. In this way you'll come to learn the difference between "taking pictures" and "making photographs."

    2) Master your craft to the point that it's all just a set of tools for you to use. Do this so that the craft is nearly automatic and you can therefore concentrate on making your art.

    3) Take every chance you can to get into galleries and museums and look at other people's art. Spend the time to see if you can figure out why some art "works" for you and other art doesn't. Consciously or unconsciously you'll pull this learning into your own art.

    Repeat continuously.
  16. 1. Save ALL your negatives/slides and ...files... for the worst are also important. You will
    learn from your mistakes.

    Where you are depends an awfully lot on where you have been.

    [I have found that it is a lot easier to save 'film' in an easily accessible fashion than it is to
    save ''digital files' in tomorrow's format.]

    2. Follow the light.

  17. The one piece of advice that I got when I began, and that I give everyday is "Everything in the frame must contribute to the picture"

    Unfortunately, I had been taking pictures for several years before I got that advice, so I wasted a lot of film, paper, and darkroom time.

    As for life advice, also applicable to photography: "If you don't have time to do it right the first time, you certainly don't have time to do it over."

  18. I think JohnnyCake has good advice. Spend time looking at the stuff you shoot. In grad
    school, all of us put up a big homasote board in our apartments. We tacked up work prints,
    contact sheets, whatever we had printed. Sometimes even test strips.
    Seeing those everyday you would tend to make little discoveries about what you were
    photographing and how you were printing. It made a big difference.
  19. Avoid being ensnared in the equipment trap. Buy only what will improve your print quality and consider that the very best is hugely more expensive than what is perfectly serviceable. Consider bypassing 35mm and go directly to 120 in the form of a basic twin lens reflex. Your friends will probably roll their eyes but when they see the print quality all the snickering will cease and desist. Tri X and D76 1:1 period. Learn what is meant by "expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights" and let that guide you for the rest of your photographic life.
  20. "Gear has a big influence on final image quality, there can be no doubt about that."

    >Untrue on all levels.

    This has to be the most boring photography debate... right behind "film vs. digital."

    Yes, we all know that guns don't kill people, cameras don't take photos, etc. Yet if this were true then we'd find professionals in ANY field using low-grade equipment because, after all, equipment has little to do with their output, right?

    So golfers and tennis players should use wood clubs/racquets. Super Bowl photographers should use manual focus film cameras with F5.6 lenses.

    Let's extend this logic across all domains and suddenly it appears absolutely bankrupt.
  21. Wow, thank you all so much! I wasn't expecting such a great response. As of right now i'm working strictly with a pinhole. My photography teacher says "If you can make good photo's with a grits box you know you have the talent to make good photos with a better camera." Which kinda goes along with the better equipment debate.
    Thanks again for the response, and i'll look forward to reading more.
  22. You have an uncommonly sensible photography teacher, Rebecca.
  23. (i) Study composition all the time. Look at paintings, architecture, graphic design.

    (ii) Most of your best photos will be made using a normal lens.
  24. I would like to add: photograph from your heart, not just from your head. Make photos that mean something to you, or that move you in some way.
  25. Sorry Lex, but I must disagree -- assuming that the "grits box" is your reference.

    I'm not sure (as an Australian) how deep a grits box is, but I suspect quite wide optically as
    a pinhole camera.

    Apart from a guesstimate of exposure time and a wild guess at composition, a pinhole
    really is hard to learn basic principles from.

    How about depth of focus, good composition, accurate exposure, perspective of focal
    length, the whole aperture/exposure relationship?

    I have home modified pinhole and Zero Image pinhole cameras, and they are fascinating to
    use, but only as an adjunct and via application of principles learned from conventional

    And the conventional camera doesn't need to be something expensive with lots of bells
    and whistles, you will know that the less the automation, the better the learning

    My apologies if I misunderstand your post.

    Rebecca, when you are fairly happy with your chosen regular film/developer combination
    launch out and try something radically different, there are surprising looks to achieve,
    especially in printing, papers and paper developers.

    Regards - Ross
  26. It's not about the grits box in particular (personally, I prefer Quaker Oats). It's about the common sense approach. Especially, the fact that her teacher didn't insist that she read "The Negative" and "The Print" before she could consider herself remotely qualified to even lay a paw on a camera.

    In recent years among the handful of prints I've seen that caused me to pause for more than one second were cyanotypes, albumen prints and pinhole photos displayed at a local arts festival. The artist really put her thought into composition, not equipment.

    Meanwhile, the many Holga, Diana and Lomo pix displayed at another booth bored me because the photographer seemed to suffer from "Gee, whiz, looky, I use a Holga/Diana/Lomo" syndrome, as tho' the lowbrow-chic equipment was adequate compensation for a weak sense of composition.

    Two very basic approaches using inexpensive equipment, worlds apart due to differences in artistic sensibility.
  27. Ellis,

    I said that "Gear has a big influence on final image quality" not that it makes better
    photographs (whatever they may be), which of course are up to the photographer. If you
    want the best image quality, there is no substitute for good gear, which also has a direct
    influence on reliabilty, etc.
  28. ... and read (even buy) 'Teaching Photography - Notes Assembled' by Philip Perkis.
  29. the best advice above...actually a combination of to shoot a lot. Nothing makes one a better photographer than shooting pictures. Then edit ruthlessly. Then go back out and shoot the ones that didn't quite make the edit cut again. It's so much like learning a musical instrument, practice, practice, practice
  30. one needs to state to make your self a lot of notes when shooting so you can see how the film reacts to your processing in your developer then when you try that same shot over, you can then make adjustments to the foto and I agree with all that state to shoot till you drop and this will also give a great foundation in shooting and develope-ing good luck and enjoy yourself
  31. Some things that have worked for me: Looking at the work of really good photographers for inspiration and to see "what's possible" (check your public or university library), having an artist friend critique what I considered to be my "best" images, learning to be unafraid to take "compositional risks", reading books by advanced B&W printers to learn about changing the emotional impact of an image with dodging / burning / contrast control, and using a tripod as much as possible.

    Some things that have not worked for me (in terms of advancing my photographic skills), but from which I've learned a lot: Being too equipment-focussed, trying too many films and too many developers, and obsessing over fine grain in B&W photography.
  32. I have been really fortunate in my journey through photography thus far, an especially as a rank beginner in the dark-room - I had (still have!) a very good friend, a very smart man with a wealth of knowledge. It is thanks to his guidance that I avoided some of the more perilous parts of the journey... Now, I know that a great friend oozing photographic knowledge is not something you can go out and buy, but I would suggest that finding a "mentor" is an invaluable gift.
    Now - let me just qualify that a little: this has to be a person who will not try to impose their tastes and sensibilities upon you - that is not what its all about.
    I suppose that doesn't really contribute to "what I wish I knew", but I think what I am trying to say is that not knowing was a lot less difficult with a guiding, helpful hand.
  33. I find having my camera with me whenever practical is better than going out with one looking
    to make a picture. Take intimate photographs, the more personal the concept the more
    universal the message. Use the best gear you can afford, generally it will be more reliable but
    it won't "take" better photographs. That said, I use pinhole cameras for almost all of my
    personal work these days. Here's an example of the best you can afford pinhole camera.
  34. To Paul Jones:I actually just bought a vintage pack of kodak paper that comes in a box just like that!

    To everyone:Thank you all so very much for all the great responses. I've learned a lot, and had a lot of things to think about just from your input. As always, I'd love to read more.
  35. If you are just doing this as as hobby, skip the very expensive exotic equipment and get some basic stuff that will help you produce what you need. At this stage, it is going to be pretty difficult trying to discriminate between good and great gear, much less understand it. After you had some experience, you might decide to move up, or buy gear that better fits your purposes. Right now I would concentrate on getting good lenses, because lenses are the bottom line when it comes to photography.
  36. Stay curious, Rebecca, and don't lose your sense of child-like wonder about the world. Allow yourself to be amazed by the things your eyes caress. No matter what the subject, when you feel the word "WOW" beginging to form on your lips, bring the camera to your eye.
  37. Expose for the shadows - develop for the highlights! I wish I understood this when I started my b&w-darkroom. And, gear is not important.
  38. "...when you feel the word "WOW" beginging to form on your lips, bring the camera to your eye..."..........heh.........great advice, but sometimes I may as well keep the camera to my eye. This means I tend to "see" pictures all the time. Just walking to work in the morning........sitting eating work.....there's pics everywhere, you, as the photographer have to sift them out of all the clutter the rest of the world is throwing at you all the time.

    the advice to go and see pics at museums and galleries.......looking thru photographers monographs.....will astound you what the better image makers "see". Stuff you see everyday......and just walk on by. That's why you have to train your eye and mind to see pics all the time. That's why youu have to shoot tons of pics. Not to get 10,000 pics under your belt......but as some master photographer once said, who I forget said it right now, but........I take pictures to see what they look like on paper (paraprased)...theres a lot of truth to that. 3D life does not look quite the same on 2D paper or monitor. And if it don't look the way you like it.....then you gotta reshoot something similair. shoot, shoot, shoot....

    after much agonizing about the right equipment when I first started, and the right way to develop film and paper..........years later........I saw a great little excercise to put myself thru. Take one camera body, with one lens attached to it......and go take pics............WITHIN 50 ft of where you live. It will help you to SEE the images in that same old, same old world you see everyday.
  39. Hope that this won't become a rant...

    Most important is doing what YOU believe is best. Your opinions will change over time. As they should, as new experiences shape you...

    Don't get stuck in semi-religious 'do's' and 'don'ts'. To me, the whole "using a pinhole camera/reading the photographic bible" issue seems quite over te top. But hey, if it's your choice, fine. Great even. But don't do it because your teacher tells you to.

    Know your maths. Yes, it sounds boring and doesn't help your composition. But at least train your brain as a photographic computer. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO. What do they mean when tackling movement, low light, depth of field, fill in flash, f16 rule etc. etc?

    That having said, I know people who don't understand one bit about photography, but just push the button on their P&S... and their pictures are more exciting than mine.

    Do something that challenges you. This can take many forms. If your shy, try to shoot strangers. If you are overfocused on technical perfection, try shooting a Holga. If you are intimidated what can be done with chemicals (I sure was!), just start developing your own. Any developer, any process. You have to start somewhere and you will in all likelihood get SOMETHING. It will only get better.

    Look at pictures you like and put a few in a scrapbook or in a folder on your computer. Try to figure out why you like them or how you would try to replicate a particular picture. And if you fail, as you most likely will, try to figure out why.

    Everything you use, be it gear, chemicals or software is just means to an end. It really doesn't matter what you used or if you even know how you did it. Marvel at your pictures and enjoy photography first, and learning a close second.
  40. Don't let anyone tell you your time is too valuable for experimentation and trying new things. Yeah, it's a good idea to find a combination (or two or three maybe) that you like for your day-to-day stuff, but you're not hurting yourself or being "unfaithful" if you want to see how a different film or developer combination behaves. Try 35mm, box cameras, pinholes, and whatever else you're curious about. Soup up that expired film you got for free, just to see what happens. It's a lot like cooking - don't throw out your recipe book, but feel free to make something new once in a while. Really, what's the worst that could happen?

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