Resources to help a photography beginner become a photography wonk.
April 5, 2016 12:23 PM   Subscribe

After asking this question previously on the Green, I am ready to dive headfirst into photography. Aside from snapping obsessively, what else can I do to keep myself interested, encouraged, and excited about this new hobby?

Specifically, I'm looking for good websites with easy to understand but not condescending info as well as actual magazines (preferably with a digital subscription option), really cool inspiring photography blogs and websites, even online tutorials (I have access to

I'm not looking to make living here; I'm just looking to become obsessive and nerdy about a pursuit that I am fascinated by.

I have taken a beginner 101 class to get me comfy with my Nikon D3300 and I will likely take more classes IRL. I still feel overwhelmed by possibilities but please hit me with your best shots! (heh heh)
posted by Kitteh to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
You could look at photo books/art books obsessively for inspiration.
posted by heyho at 12:29 PM on April 5, 2016

Sounds like you are doing many of the right things already. #1 most important tip: don't waste all your time reading tips, taking classes, and shopping for gear! Just go out and shoot. Lots and lots. Try to recreate photos that you like. Give yourself mini assignments, like shoot doors and windows all day or shoot for a day with long exposures or try to capture "jealousy." And if something neat appears that takes you off that assignment, shoot it! Shoot first. Edit later.

Also, having a "real camera" can be amazing (you can do sooo much with it!), but may also be limiting. If you don't feel like lugging it along on some outing, don't forget that you can still snap pics with a smartphone or tiny point and shoot. Keep shooting!

#2 tip: share your work. Find a place to share and get feedback. Instagram can be good for this. You could even print some favorites and hang them at a local café (maybe some will sell!). You don't have to have good photos to share them.

As a parent of two little ones, I basically have no time to shoot. So for now I am still shooting all the time, but just about all my pictures are of the kids. This is helping me continue to develop a good eye and feel connected to my camera while also having the benefit of producing a thorough documentation of their early lives. Plus everybody wants to see all the cute pics on Facebook. It's not exactly high art, but I'm shooting and I'm sharing. Point is -- find a way to keep doing those things, no matter what, and you'll be a photographer.
posted by cubby at 12:34 PM on April 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

I really like Photo.Net's learning area. Digital Photography Review is a great place to stay up to date on the new technology that's coming out. Ken Rockwell has a bunch of good articles on photographic technique and on equipment. Canon & Nikon have big learning areas too. 4chan's photography board is mean and weird, but sometimes you'll read stuff that you'd never see other places.

Inspired/inspiring images can be hard to come by. I really like looking at books of photography. In a book the color, contrast, etc are right; they've been vetted by the artist or at least an expert, whereas online you've got no idea what the original image looked like on the creator's monitor (or darkroom). Go to your local library and see where the photography books are and flip through them.

I've taken a bunch of photo classes and taught a bunch of photo classes, so here's the real deal advice: Take a bunch of photos every day, wait a few days and then look back at your photos, and see which ones are good. Try and figure why they are good; take more like that. You're teaching yourself to see, not how to use a camera. Getting a group of folks together once a month to talk about your and their work will help a whole lot too.
posted by gregr at 12:47 PM on April 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

While this book is technically oriented towards weddings, it offers a ton of practice exercises I have found useful in my own bumblings.
posted by praemunire at 12:54 PM on April 5, 2016

I would suggest getting Letting Go of the Camera by Brooks Jensen and Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. They won't teach you cool tricks with photography but they will show you ways to think about photography as making art/a final product. It's very easy to get swept up in taking a lot of photos but not actually finish/publish them.

I recommend getting a copy of Lightroom and a good book on how to use it. Scott Kelby's writing style is grating to me (cheesy jokes), but his coverage of Lightroom's features is pretty good. Martin Evening's writing is better IMO but can be kind of overwhelmingly technical so I don't know that I would recommend it for someone just starting.

I keep an eye on Petapixel and DIY Photography (which share a lot of content) for blurbs about inspirational projects and links to interesting tutorials.

Ken Rockwell has some decent information but he writes as an entertainer/referral bonus site rather than a serious journalist and gives out some just bad advice (like not shooting in RAW).

There's various photo per day/week challenges that you might like for providing structure - if you search for them, you'll find a bunch.

An important concept that I think marks a shift from casual photographer to serious photographer is understanding lighting (both natural and artificial). To that end, books that talk about lighting are good - the basics are covered pretty well in many introduction to photography books, so I'd just look for one that has examples of what different reflectors do in different positions, front lighting vs. side lighting, etc. Strobist is also an excellent starting point.

After you have the basics down, you can find authors that write about it in ways that work well with what you want to do. For example, Joe McNally is well regarded for his writing on lighting but has a very over the top photography style. Nick Fancher is less known but writes about working with limited budgets and equipment, so that might be more up your alley. But you have time to learn what you want to do and then find the resources to help with it.
posted by Candleman at 12:54 PM on April 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

What worked for me:

- Obsessively reading dry technical and historical literature about photography through the ages
- Forgetting most of the above as it didn't matter beyond having sufficient technical familiarity to operate my equipment without thinking
- Poring over as many monographs as I could find - having my architecture school's library was instrumental for this
- Shamelessly aping the styles of photographers and other artists whose work I admired, through the equipment I had and the subjects available
- Shooting a lot, post processing a lot in Lightroom
- Making 8x12 metallic work prints of seemingly EVERYTHING to lay it all out on the floor and look at it in contextual distance

NB, I'm not a working professional photographer, though I occasionally sell work. I use photos to analyze something or sketch it to produce in a different medium. Mostly I'm just a light and shadow fetishist.

Strobist is great. Rockwell is an engineer writing about photography equipment, and though he's apparently commercially successful, his images are the pinnacle of banal to my eye.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:35 PM on April 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you haven't already, work on developing your personal style. You can look at photos that you admire that others have taken and compare them with your current work and see where the similarities are. Some people are passionate about capturing people's faces with emotion. Others are looking at lines and shadows, or nature, or weird shapes. What is your signature? What makes your photos special? Once you figure that out, everything will come into focus for you.
posted by myselfasme at 3:26 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Print and mount some your best images. The transition to a printed image has at least as many choices and difficulties as taking the shot in the first place. It's easy to have a shot that looks great on the mo itor by ho-hum on paper.

Don't be afraid to give mounted, framed photos of gifts if the subject is special to the recipient.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:34 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cambridge in Color. Started by a PhD student at Cambridge who became interested in photography. It's mostly explanations of the technical for the non-technical, providing enough information to understand the both the 'why' and how to use it.

Ken Rockwell does things his way. I've found his writing on the non-technical side of photography, also known as the decisions leading up to what's in the frame when one presses the shutter, to be valuable. Start here with a short example.

Petapixel has some good tutorials, and some not so good ones. Look for ones with 'composition' in the title.

The rest of this post addresses topics you didn't ask about, but like most obsessed with photography, I just gotta advocate.

Shoot every day, or as often as you can. At the very least you'll learn how to manipulate the manual controls without thinking or taking the camera away from your eye. I'm in my second year at 365Project. Tons of ideas to get one past the photographer's equivalent of writers block. Many excellent photographers to follow as a way of learning by being inspired by their work.

Avoid photo forums, especially dpreview, unless you enjoy arguments about whether A or B is better, where, to use a horse race analogy, 'better' means both the first place horse won by 1/2", or won by 50 yards. Of course, the magnitude of 'better' is rarely mentioned because that would kill the argument.
posted by Homer42 at 4:05 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think there's an essential separation in photography that's important to understand. There's the pretty/cool/visually stimulating picture people typified by the Strobist guy and Joe McNally, and there's the thinking/feeling/artistic kind of photography typified by people like Dawoud Bey or Joakim Eskildsen (two of my favorites).

It's an important distinction because the two worlds don't really share that much.

Personally I'm a big fan of the latter (which reflects the history of artistic photography). But there is a lot to learn from the former. But for me, there are just about a couple trillion "cool" pictures, but very few thinking/feeling kind of pictures.

As far as inspiration, I think having a good book collection and actually sitting down and looking at them is the most helpful thing you can do. Trying to understand how and why the picture was created, reverse engineering it, that's basically how you learn.

Other than the above mentioned, check out
Irving Penn
Edward Curtis
Vivian Maier
Cartier Bresson

well those are a few. Also is the best photo site.
posted by sully75 at 5:33 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Look for local camera/photo clubs and attend. I really enjoyed my local club despite the fact that most attendees were retirement age and loved to take bird photos; it was a big departure from the heavily processed pictures I was seeing online. At that time, I was big into Flickr, Strobist, and (among others) with Flickr probably being the most helpful due to its sheer size and depth. I would look at photo after photo and try to puzzle out how they got that result, whether it was equipment or processing. But it's been awhile now.

Bryan Peterson wrote some excellent books that I recommend you look up at your local library. Understanding Exposure and Learning to See Creatively provide crucial foundation to the understanding of the manual functions of your camera (particularly the interplay of shutter speed & aperture & ISO) as well as the importance of composition.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:22 AM on April 6, 2016

I've attended local photography MeetUps, might there be one near you? Meetups can be super handy to be able to bounce ideas and questions off others in the group, and it's neat to review all the photos everyone uploads to our web page. It's a nice opportunity to review how other people shot the exact same things I did. I also really appreciate the 'no pressure' vibe.
posted by mcbeth at 12:49 PM on April 6, 2016

Spending lots of time on Flickr has definitely encouraged me to be nerdy and obsessive. There are many many different photographic topics and styles that you can discover and be inspired by. There are people who are all about the gear, people who only want to take the kind of pictures you find in the Sierra Club calendar, people who only take portraits in fancy costumes in European forests, people who only take pictures of seashells surrounded by sparkly bokeh, people who are always experimenting with different creatives styles, people who heavily Photoshop their pictures, people who are snotty about never using Photoshop, etc etc etc.

Perusing the groups or the Explore page is a way to get started, but once you find someone whose photos you like, look at what that person has favorited. And then look at the photo streams of those people. Look at what groups they've put their photos into, and browse those groups. Remember that people who've put their photos into groups are happy to have you comment or favorite their pictures. Some of them will turn around and give you feedback (and many won't). Building a circle of contacts can take a long time, but can be very worthwhile.

I recommend not falling into a pattern of trying to get lots of feedback just as a result of making lots of Flickr friends. Rather, think about whether you are making the kind of photos that you find interesting and interacting with the photographers that you find interesting.

I've read many photo books, and some of them were inspiring to me. After having read a few, I find that at least 95% of the photo books in the library say 95% of the same things. Every now and then I still look for books that will tell me something new.
posted by polecat at 1:39 PM on April 6, 2016

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