Get the Numbers Up
Episode #1 of the course The best photography hacks by Tom Ang
Welcome to my course of photography hacks that will raise the standard of your photography! A big claim? Yes, but I know these hacks work. I’ve shared them with workshops and students for over 30 years. Each person finds one or two particularly suitable for themselves, but you’ll find every hack will have its use some time or other.
So, let’s get started!
Today’s hack is about shooting more—lots more. Seem obvious? It is, but let me give you a few ways to get the most out of it.
The big mistake most people make is that they think the work is in the exposure, in tripping the shutter to make lots of photos. Actually, it’s in the looking. What making an exposure does is force you to look in a particular way: with attention, with mindful consciousness, with a will to create. And it makes you use your “camera muscles.”
Not Numbers Alone
The Americans, by Swiss photographer Robert Frank, is one of the key photo books of the 20th century. In just 63 images, Frank sketched a portrait of America that influenced—and continues to influence—generations of photographers since its publication in 1958. Can you guess how many photos he made before thinning the selection out to 63? 26,000. Yes, 26,000 over two years.
I once watched a LIFE magazine photographer covering the same event as me in the days of film. He seemed to be exposing roll after roll. I learned later that he had run through over 100 rolls—that’s 3,600 exposures—that day. And today, digital photographers think nothing of making 2,500 exposures for a single wedding.
Numbers alone, of course, don’t guarantee anything apart from a great deal of editing work afterward. But if, as an exercise, you use your camera to photograph everything around you, what happens is that you train your eyes. And you burn muscle memory into your hands.
It’s that training that makes professionals seem to move so effortlessly when working. I can go on an amble with friends, chatting away at times, falling back at others, and seem not to do very much at all. Yet at the end of the walk, I have four or five publishable images, and I’ve just had three accepted by my agency.
So, here are a few takeaways for you today:
• Practice makes perfect because it changes your brain when you repeat an action again and again. Repeatedly framing shots, focusing, and adjusting your position literally alters your mind. The process is neuroplasticity.
• Practice also makes perfect because it trains muscle memory. You know which way to turn your front door key without thinking. Do you need to think where to put your hand when you reach for your wallet? With practice, you’ll use your camera without having to think which way to turn a dial to get the setting you want.
• Look and photograph things that you’ve ignored all these years. The corridor to the lifts. The ramp up to the supermarket. The tree in the neighbor’s garden. Look at them again. And again with fresh eyes. Open your mind and your eyes will open. Make a shot of them—even the boring corridor, the worn ramp. Then look at the images. What you see may surprise you!
• Start with lowest-hanging fruit. Find things near to hand: at the office desk, on the dining room table. Look at them carefully; photograph them carefully. You’ll be amazed how much that’s right within arm’s reach can be turned into arresting images.
• Once you made all these images, don’t forget to look at them . . . and look at them closely. Try to find something interesting: a small detail that attracts you or a splash of color that’s pleasing.
Remember: “Camera in hand, photography in mind.” Tomorrow, I share a tip that’s even more fun to do!
May the light be with you!
The Photographer’s Playbook: 307 Assignments and Ideas by Jason Fulford, Gregory Halpern, Mike Slack
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