05 Feb

I (Marc) have been a wildlife and nature photographer for sometime now. In that time, I have learnt a lot, liked a lot of what I have learnt, not liked quite a bit of it and found it hardly useful, and messed up quite a bit due to my own fault as well. I have recently been asking myself a few questions which I thought I would share with you in the hope that you would challenge yourself too. The first questions I asked myself is how did I actually learn and am I still learning.  

Perhaps a bit of my own history. I was a town boy, so to speak, brought up with the few holidays we had on the coast, fishing, swimming etc. Bush? What's that?. OK so it's where maybe the mad, maybe the rich and maybe the stupid went. Let's leave it at that. I worked in a corporate job just after qualifying and there met a wedding photographer who worked with me. He inspired me. I got into film photography and got quite good. 

I then met my wonderful girlfriend and later wife and soon enough learnt that she went to the berg, beach and bush as a child. I got intrigued. She very often shared a sighting I could "feel", almost like I was there. A pride of lions, a male lion, lionesses, cubs, playfulness, all quite in the open in early light. I heard about this often and with it came the "we must do that sometime suggestion" which I agreed with. Then came adult life in full cry, professional work, corporate work, starting a practice, buying a house, career, career, and more career. Then children. Photography had gone into dormancy by then, helped along as the film curse nailed me as well. By that I mean not seeing what you do when you do it and printers doing inconsistent work, with you paying dearly for your (many) mistakes. In the back of our minds though, THAT sighting. 

We had a few holidays, all nice but not in the bush. Then came 2007. We go to the Kruger, armed with a Sony point and shoot, mik en druk, a disaster supreme, complete with a digital delay, and still printing. Noooooo. The next year it all gets better. We have a Nikon dslr, quite an entry level one but we can see what we get when we get it. Progress has by this stage begun.  

By then the bug has well and truly bitten. The love of wildlife and photographing it are well and truly intertwined and I get to answering those questions. I start to read copiously on the subject. I read the camera manual, which does nothing other than show me what I can get the camera do by doing what can be done to it. Nothing about photography really, nothing that will take me anywhere creatively. I watch some videos, many of them good, some average and some, well, rubbish, most of the rubbish being designed to do nothing more than entice you to take courses that I sense will teach me to be no more than a photographic technician, while I am wanting, no actually longing, to be a nature and wildlife photographer that makes great images with use of a camera and minimal use of editing or post processing. I do not want to become a desktop photographer. I want to see, compose, capture and get joy from images that please me, and hopefully some other people too. 

Soon enough I realise that equipment is not everything. Having an eye and good technique is most of it, but that kit is the rest of it. My best exposed images are nearly there by this stage, but they lack a little something. I get into editing. From that I learn the near endless possibilities which come with modern software.....but no, I quickly realise that I prefer to take a great images and only use editing to maximise or enhance it and I there and then set myself the self imposed rule I still use today, that is if it takes long to edit an image, it could and should have been shot better. More reading, more watching (mainly reading) and LOTS of practice. I then decide on some great glass. I get a great wildlife zoom lens before undertaking a trip to the Chobe on a photographic safari. There I meet a guy I still admire to this day. We connect, we talk and I learn at an unparalled rate. I  ask so many questions and feel myself growing as a photographer. I cannot get enough of the practice and I leave that trip having shot an image that went on to win prizes and many other great images. From that point on, all I could dream of, photographically, is being in the best locations and in likeminded company, and shooting while trying to make it better all the time. Then Stella gets involved. In her own words "if you can't beat them, join them". Awesome. She has a great eye and catches what I "earned" with ease. Trial and error, listening but being careful who and what I listen to. Testing, approving or rejecting and trying to push the proverbial boundaries. 

So back to the questions, how did I actually learn and am I still learning? Let me answer the second part of this question first. YES. I am still learning and totally believe that I will be doing so until the moment I have shot my last frame. The advice to you in this? Never think you know it all, never stop learning and always try to improve on where you are as a photographer, but while doing this all, don't be too hard on yourself. We don't say it but that is what we far too often are. I think of my profession here. In my profession, you have to do a certain amount of hours in order to remain registered to practice. That just updates your knowledge. We should do that in photography too. 

Then the second question. How did I learn. I really learnt by a whole lot of different methods which I will list and comment where I think I should. Bear in mind, we all learn differently so what worked for me I am sure will work for you too but maybe with a few differences.

  1. Watching (You Tube and other) video clips and lectures on photography and editing. I do not really like this and a warning here. As all that glitters is not gold, so all that is on You Tube is not right. I have seen posted anything from the good, to the bad to the downright nonsense. What I am really saying is watch which voice you allow into your head and too many at the same time may mean confused understanding. 
  2. Reading. I used and use this quite a lot. I like it because I can read, understand, question, cross reference and test in practice making sure that I have grasped what I should and disregarded what I should have disregarded. 
  3. Practice, practice and practice. Yes I cannot recommend this more. Of course practice is not that easy. It means trying to be in the right places at the right times, in the right light, with the right subjects and knowing and using and then varying techniques and using them. Sometimes practice does mean making some mistakes while practicing and that is the "school fees' we have to pay. A  small super important side note. Check your errors before you delete them. Yes, they teach you a lot, a lot more than you would think and so are valuable. I personally ask myself "how could I have avoided this error?" or in the case of a weak shot "how could this be less weak?". Often your answer is just that the circumstances were not as they could have been. That's all right, you are learning to tell different circumstances apart.  
  4. Critique other photographers images to yourself. By that I mean great images and poor ones. Why did s/he do that? What do I like about it, what do I dislike about it and the endless question "why"?. How was this edited. Do I like  how it was edited?. What are the strengths in this edit and what are not? What would I have done to it?. 
  5. Mentoring. This can be a really powerful tool. It's often one on one. I've had mentoring and it works but never try to become your mentor. Use his/her input to develop your own style or creative voice, as I prefer to call it. 

In conclusion, keep your passion alive. This is really important. That will show in your images. I can't explain it but somehow when I see an image, I know if it was shot with passion. 

Questions or comments? Want to discuss, do not hesitate to leave a question or comment or even give me a call. 

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