Are You Taking Yourself Serious?

Now there’s a question you probably haven’t heard since junior high school! I remember my mother asking that question (in so many words) just after she read my teacher’s note on the back of my report card… “Herby is a smart young man and could really do well if he would just apply himself.” I’ll bet your teacher said something to that effect at some point in your past too. I think we’ve all heard it!

Well, I’m not your mother or your teacher, but I have to ask that question just to make you think about it. Step back and take an honest look at your photos. This isn’t a contest where you have to compete with other photographers, but this is a contest. You are competing with yourself. When you bought your camera, you (quietly) justified the purchase with a promise that you’d take this stuff serious. This was the hobby that wouldn’t end up in the back of the closet.

How you doin? Are you serious enough to turn off the “Auto” functions and take control?

I’d be willing to bet that at some point perhaps years ago, your interest in photography bloomed and now you’ve purchased a camera that has more settings and controls than you understand, and you probably haven’t even seen them all yet. Do I dare ask if you actually got past page 3 of the instruction book? You read photography articles and watch YouTube videos presented by kids who know more about photography than you do. You may have even joined a local camera club and now attend the meetings every month.

But if you are like the majority of photo buffs, you’re kind of stuck in no man’s land; good enough to take decent pictures and get “likes” on Facebook, but not good enough to really use the technology in your camera and on your computer. You may be more dependent on your camera’s automatic settings and someone else’s editing presets than you want to be. You can get past the trial-and-error stage and make good on your promise to yourself, and you know it! So, when is it going to happen?

You are a logical person with a good head on your shoulders. You know you can do this if you found a systematic, practical way to learn the process. But there is more to photography than learning the controls. You must understand the why of photo science, not just the how of the camera buttons. Many people learn the controls of the camera and never understand the key principle in photography… light. Light is the only thing you can control in the photographic process. Until you grasp how light behaves, you’ll never really understand how to capture it properly.

But once you get it, the controls and settings on your camera will make perfect logical sense. Virtually every control on your camera, from lens to shutter, concerns the control and shaping of light. Controlling color is all about controlling light. As a matter of fact, without light, there is no color. The more you know about what makes photography work the better you will become as a photographer.

The Trend. I speak to photography clubs all the time and there is an uncanny similarity to the groups. 1) Most of the members (and visitors) are over 40 years old. 2) Women outnumber men. 3) One quarter of the attendees shoot with their smart phone. 4) One quarter have very expensive DSLRs. 5) There is always one resident Photoshop Diva. 6) Most attendees use Lightroom and some other special post-production software to add personality to their shots (ON1 Photo Raw, Alien Skin Exposure3, Luminar, Topaz, Affinity Photo, etc.).

You can learn a lot about photography from online sources and courses, but this will take a commitment.

1) pick up your camera and shoot something each day. Pick a specific time each day that you can dedicate 15 minutes to the task. Shoot the same subject under the same lighting conditions with various different vantage points and angles. Take notes on how you set your camera up for a specific scene and then examine the results of that effort and learn from what you observe.

2) commit to learn something new about light every day. Learn about the differences in color during different times during the day. Observe how lighting conditions change the contrast and drama of the scene, and how to adapt your settings to capture the light during those periods.

Commitment and personal discipline will deliver results that you (and others) will begin to notice. I bet the “likes” you get on Facebook will start to include personal comments.

That’s the way I sees it. Why not sign up (above right) to get personal notices of future posts. Let’s commit to grow together. Your Mom would be proud.

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If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light!


About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook Digital Color Photography from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color video series at Gotta Know
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