It's that time of year. Even though I'm a street photographer at heart, even I can't help but be moved by the crispness in the air and the colors of fall. That's what I wanted to express in this photograph. In this case, capturing it was more a matter of composition than technique.
I recently had a friend mention that she had bought a digital camera and wanted to learn how to use it. It was a point-and-shoot, so I asked what she meant by "how to use it." Its operation didn't seem particularly complicated. She replied that she wanted to learn how to use it to take pictures that were better than just snapshots. It was her impression that this required a more intimate knowledge of how to use a camera than she possessed. She wondered what suggestions I had to help her.
I have to admit I was stumped. It's not as if I know nothing about photography. The problem was where to begin. Should I explain apertures, shutter speeds and ISOs? Do I explain focal length, angle of view and depth-of-field? Would understanding all of this really improve her abilities? As important as technical knowledge may be, it's only a means to an end, and not necessarily the only means either.
On a whim, I tried a metaphor: "It's sort of like learning to play an instrument," I said. "The learning gets a lot easier when you know what style of music you're trying to play. If you're familiar with the style then you can concentrate one learning the technique it takes to play it."
This idea seemed to make sense to her, but whether it will help her improve her photography neither of can say for now. Knowledge, even if useful, still has to be applied. Still, it seems to me that the most important way to improve your skill as a photographer is to have some sense of what you're trying to achieve or say; a sense, even if vague, of how you'd like a picture to look and how to get your camera to produce what you want. Without this you're basically just snapping the shutter and hoping for the best.
So that's what I consider the most valuable thing to learn. What about you? What, other than this incredibly thought-provoking blog*, has been the most important factor in your own growth as a photographer? What's the most valuable tip you would pass on to a friend of yours who wants to get better?
*I'm being ironic and self-deprecating here.