Crowell Photography & writing | How do you do that?

How do you do that?

November 26, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I love that photo! How do you do that?

Double RainbowDouble Rainbow It’s a common question. People look at the photos I post and send me private messages. “What equipment are you using? Did you do something to that in Photoshop? I love your work, have you been doing this for a long time?”

First, let me say I probably had a head start, but it was only that. I grew up in a family of artists and had beautiful images hanging in my childhood room. Just like reading great writing can lead to better use of language, I believe looking at great images can improve one’s personal ‘vision.’ But, I also believe it’s something that can be learned – at any age and at any stage of photography. I have friends who now shoot amazing photos with their iPhones and iPads –and what they shoot has changed as they studied what they liked about my photos. I love that! Imitation is most definitely the sincerest form of flattery.

The most important piece of equipment – is you.

Second, regarding equipment. As I noted above, a great image does not require expensive equipment. I believe the most important piece of capturing a great image is behind the camera. It’s you. Your vision. Your composition. Your unique perspective.

Okay, so maybe you see things that you think you’re capturing, but they don’t turn out the way you see them in your “mind’s eye.”  That’s where technical knowledge does come into play. Perhaps you’ve used too wide a lens, or you didn’t use the right exposure, or you just need to crop a bit to get the image you want. These things come with training and experimentation. Do some reading about the ‘rule of thirds’ and the golden ratio. Try experimenting with different framing. Study images you love. Follow photographers you love on Facebook. You will start to see what it is you like.

From Analog to Digital –with the help of a friend.

It’s true I have been taking photos since I was a child and I would sneak out with my grandmother’s Brownie box camera. I learned to develop and print film when I was a teenager. I have had the privilege of knowing many great and successful photographers and have edited images for some of them. I have looked at a lot of photos. A lot. But when digital cameras first emerged, I was hesitant.

I stayed away from still photography while I pursued cinematography for a few years. Then I moved, started working for a large tech company in Redmond, Washington, and suppressed my creative side.

I was intimidated about making the switch to digital, but I got lucky. I had a lovely neighbor and friend who was studying photography at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana, and she offered to help me transition to digital. In fact, when she got a new digital camera, she lent me hers for almost a year. We would go out and shoot together, share images, talk about what we saw. It was a blast and I am forever grateful to her for jump-starting my return to photography. Check out her work at Dirtie Dog Photography.

Be generous with your own creativity – share ideas and enthusiasm with folks. It can be really fun to go out on a photo shoot with someone else. You will be surprised at how much you learn.

Gaining confidence through learning

Great, you say, but I don’t have a friend like that. I just bought a camera and I want to take good photos! 

There is an astonishing amount of free training available on the internet. There are also some courses that are very reasonably priced. I’ll give you an idea of the things I have done and would recommend to anyone just starting out.

  1. I took a weekend course through RMSP. So much learning packed into two days! It was a great confidence builder.
  2. I watched and continue to watch many free courses on CreativeLive.
  3. I took a Kelby Training in-person course on Photoshop. I still don’t use Photoshop very much, but I know more than I did originally.
  4. I follow Laura Shoe for Lightroom tutorials. I do almost all my work in Lightroom and have found it to be a fantastic tool for organizing and simple editing.
  5. I read and watch tutorials by Julieanne Kost from Adobe. I also follow her on Facebook.
  6. I also find courses on
  7. I shoot. A lot.
  8. Worth repeating. I shoot. A lot. Tons. All the time.
  9. When I had a big sale, I used the money to travel to Italy for a landscape photography course with Jim Nilsen’s Photography Travel Tours.
  10. I talk to lots of other photographers. Ask questions, share ideas, get tips, share tips.
  11. I shoot. A lot.
  12. I never, ever stop learning or looking for learning opportunities. There is so much out there that I haven’t even mentioned.
  13. I look at a lot of photos. I love looking at the work of other photographers! One place to see lots of great work is 500px.  Follow photographers you like and be inspired - not intimidated!
  14. Shoot more pictures.
  15. Shoot more pictures.

And here’s what I don’t do.

I never invite other photographers to critique my work. I find it much more useful to discuss how an image was shot than to listen to some blowhard explain to me what’s wrong with my images. Frankly, I don’t care. If I wanted to shoot like someone else, I study their work –or, if I’m lucky, I study with them to learn new techniques. But, my vision is my own. Some of my work is good, some is lousy. I usually have a pretty good idea which is which. And some of my work speaks to people in ways I never imagined, so I don’t let anyone else dictate what is good or bad about what I do. That's not to say I don't enjoy brainstorming with other photographers. And I've certainly asked for help when I had a vision I wasn't sure how to execute. But I'm not a fan of the forums and groups where people say "here's my photo, what's your feedback."

I consider myself a student of photography. I’m still learning. I don’t want restrictions on what I do or where I go with my work. I will fail often and I learn from failing. You should too. Get a little bit of knowledge, then try new things. You will be amazed at what you can pull out of your own imagination. And don’t let anyone else shape your vision. It is unique.


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