Photography is a bit different than other creative activities, because it’s very good at fooling its users. A mere press of a button is required to create a great photo. This notion helps us to become lazy and we start to put more and more emphasize on the button. But that button has nothing to do with photography.
Photography is like any other skill set. To be great with it, you need to practice – a lot. You need to practice composition in the same way a musician rehearses musical scales. You need to practice studio lightning in the same way a painter studies three-point perspective. Don’t let that magical button fool you, it’s just a short step in a long process.
There are two ways of practising photography. Both are necessary to master photography, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. The key is knowing when to use one, and not the other.
Practice by doing photography (not deliberate practice)
To be a better photographer, take more pictures. We practice a great amount when we’re actually photographing. You’re practising your camera holding technique, you’re doing mental calculations of flash powers, you’re practising composition and perspective and many other photographic tidbits. All that while taking pictures. This mode of practice is enjoyable, fun, easy and it doesn’t take any time, because it’s hidden in actual work.
If you want to practice by doing, start a photo project, participate in photo challenges and if you’re a professional – just do your job. The more you photograph, the more you practice.
But practice by doing comes with a weakness. It is not targeted, it won’t help you with improving specific skills and it’ll take a long time to incorporate something new into your workflow. This “not deliberate” practice is more of a low effort, low reward kind of learning. It’s great for maintaining your skill, but rubbish when it comes to learning something new.
Training a specific photographic skill (deliberate practice)
On the other hand, deliberate practice is targeted, its only goal is to improve a specific skill. It’s a high effort, high reward kind of learning. It’s boring, it’s hard, it takes time, but you also improve faster. You use deliberate practice when you want to store something into your muscle memory or if you want to internalize activities that you want to do instinctively.
Every time you learn about a new photographic technique, you need to practice it. Just reading a tutorial or watching a video is not enough. You need to practice. Get your camera and follow the steps, even if it’s as simple as holding your camera. If you don’t practice it, you don’t acquire the skill. I may know everything about the Decisive moment, but if I don’t practice it, I will never acquire the skill of capturing it.
Deliberate practice is often neglected when it comes to photography. It’s all because of that magical button. We become lazy, and we feel that “knowing” is the same as “doing”. But it’s not.
How does the Awesome Photographer practice?
I am not a food photographer. I have never done food photography. But I watched this video and I’ve read some blogs on food photography. I liked the skill set I wanted to learn the basics of making something look tasty. After reading the blogs and the videos I had the necessary information. I just needed to practice what I learned.
It was Sunday morning and while my toast was getting ready, I set-up my gear in my
living room/studio. After I made my sandwiches, I spent the next 15 minutes taking photos. The goal wasn’t to produce an award winning photograph, the goal was to practice all the things I’ve read about. So I’ve played with the lights, the camera angles and with the food styling. I didn’t use a fancy dish, I used my breakfast. For the purpose of practice, it doesn’t matter.
This didn’t magically turn me into a master food photographer, but It did help me to acquire a skill I didn’t have before. This little practice has turned all that information I read on the internet into a usable skill. I call that a productive breakfast.