My Weakest Area of Photography

My Weakest Link

In my “What Should I Write About” poll, Neil Creek asked me what my weakest area of photography is and how I plan to improve it. That’s a pretty deep question, and it really made me think about my photos and what I’m trying to convey.

Picking out your own strong points may be a difficult task, but picking out your own weak points is near impossible. I would expect people to fall into one of two camps on this: too self critical, or not critical enough. I’m actually having a hard time narrowing my weak spots down to one, so I’ll break this discussion into two parts: technical and artistic.

TECHNICAL WEAKNESS

This one is actually easy for me to identify because every time I encounter it I dread having to deal with it. I’m talking about the dreaded off camera artificial lighting (flashes, strobes, studio lights, etc). I’m very much a natural light photographer, but I encounter situations that could benefit from a better understanding of lighting techniques and equipment.

Part of what’s holding me back is the fact that off camera lighting requires equipment. Buying that equipment requires knowledge and understanding of how it works and what it can do. Using that equipment requires an even deeper understanding of how it works and how to control it.

HOW I PLAN TO IMPROVE

First of all, I need some equipment. Right now I have one slave flash, but I’d like to get something that offers a little more control and flexibility. I’d like to have a one or two light setup that can be taken out in the field if needed. I like the idea of things like soft boxes, umbrellas, reflectors, etc, but I’m not sure which ones would be most useful in a wider array of applications. I’m open to taking suggestions from those of you who know more about this stuff than I do.

While I save up some money for that equipment (which means I’ll have to stop buying new film cameras), I suppose I could brush up on my Strobist education. I’ve also been following Jim Talkington and his lighting videos lately, which are actually getting me more interested in the concept of off-camera lighting.

Once I’ve done my research and acquired my equipment, it’s just a matter of practice practice practice.

ARTISTIC WEAKNESS

This one is a little harder to define for me. I think the biggest thing I’d like to improve upon is my ability to capture and convey the emotion of a scene. Do you ever come across those photos that strike you emotionally? You know, the stuff that really hits you, makes you ponder life, stirs your emotions, and conveys a message.

In looking back at my own work, I can see little bits and pieces of this sort of thing, but not on a consistent basis and not at full force. Many times, I attribute these types of shots to dumb luck. Often times, while viewing a particular scene, I can feel a certain emotion due to my surroundings. I have a mental vision of how I’d like to capture that scene, but I often fall short of telling the whole story the way I saw it with my eyes. Am I making any sense here?

HOW I PLAN TO IMPROVE

I think this sort of thing is something that comes with lots of time and even more practice. I’ve been heavy into photography for a relatively short time when compared to the old masters. I’m sure that their ability to convey emotion was something that had to develop over time. So I guess I’ll just keep shooting and see what happens.

One other thing I’ve noticed is that my photos of people seem to have a stronger emotional connection than those without. Not that it’s impossible to create a striking image without the presence of people, but I think we naturally have a stronger connection to people shots. Including people in my photos (whether it’s portraits, candids, or street photography) is something I’ve been trying to do more of lately. I’m at a stage where I’m getting comfortable with candids and street photography, but I’d like to progress to a point of getting a little more intimate with the subjects and making a connection with the camera.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

What is your weakest aspect of photography? Is it something technical? Or is it something more artistic? And what do you plan to do to improve yourself in this area? Please do share your thoughts on this one — I’m sure many of us have the same weaknesses and aspirations as photographers.

11 thoughts on “My Weakest Area of Photography

  1. Ed Z

    I am a huge fan of off camera strobe. I drank the strobist kool-aid, and it was tasty :-)

    Personally in terms of modifiers I would recommend a few basic things
    -umbrella: for super cheap and super portable, the westcott 43″ shoot-through. 20 bucks and fold down small enough to stick in a camera bag. If you want to go slightly more expensive and cumbersome (still very portable) I can’t say enough good things about the Photek Softliter brollies – these things are like the swiss army knives of light modifiers. they can be used as:
    - softbox
    - bounced white/black brolly
    -bounced silver brolly
    - shoot through white brolly
    additionally it sets up in seconds (just pops open), and works on both studio lights and speedlights with no special hardware required.

    - stands: for on location stuff the manfrotto 001b. super light, super compact. about 50 bucks but worth it. cheaper but sturdier (air cushioned) “house brand” stands for my studio strobes.

    - snoots, grids, – make your own! cardboard and straws. Plenty of details on the strobist :-)
    - triggers: sync cables, or ebay triggers are the cheapest. I’m eagerly anticipating the radiopopper JRs.

    That’s really about it. I generally roll with 2 strobes, 2 001b’s, a westcott 43″ satin and a snoot/grid. that’s about it. Often even just 1 strobe/stand and a cable when I want to go superlight.

  2. Brian Auer Post author

    Wow Ed! Thanks for all the pointers on the Strobist equipment! One question I still have is about the actual strobes. I hear people talk about those SB600′s and SB800′s, but is that even something that would work with a non-Nikon camera? I’d probably opt for using a sync cable rather than wireless technology, but will that tie me to my own brand?

  3. D. T. North

    Technical Weakness: I consider my technical weakness to be low-light photography. This goes beyond flash and what-not. I think part of my problem was my ignorance when I got my new camera (the first camera that wasn’t a hand-me-down). Or, more specifically, I got a kit lens that had a good focal range (18-135mm) which isn’t set up for low light situations. Honestly, I was a bit spoiled by my old film camera as I had a really nice set of lenses for it. So step one to resolving this weakness is to buy a different lens. I want to get a 50mm prime lens with a wider aperture. But beyond the equipment deficiencies, I think working with a prime lens will help me to learn more about low-light situations by taking a number of factors out of each photograph.

  4. boris

    Lucky one!! I´m not yet in the position to ask myself about weak areas. Too many of them and still too much to learn. But it´s good to see that the guys with a much longer experience and a portfolio of pictures inspiring others still find themselves weak in some points.
    Personally I celebrate every little step and success and motivate myself in looking back and see my development – without focusing too much at what I still have to learn ;-)

  5. Ed Z

    If you have the money for strobes, I would stick with on-brand, simply for the added ttl/camera communication features in addition to their manual uses. (which are useful even for the most die-hard manual flashers) If you are on a tight budget or want to go exclusively manual go with a cheap 3rd party manual flash (eg vivitar 285hv or sunpak 383 – both about 80 bucks new). There is really no point in going with something like a sb800 or 600 if you are a canon user.

    the whole thing with triggering the flashes is probably the most confusing thing about the whole deal – basically there are 2 ways to do it, either using some kind of wireless TTL technology where the camera “talks” to the flash using superfast pulses of light and does automatic metering, or manual. each manufacturer has their own protocols for this and they are not interchangeable.

    when you talk about manual triggering, both cables (pc, HH, whatever) or wireless transmitters – all they are doing is physically completing a circuit in the flash that allows the capacitor to discharge and the strobe goes off. You could do the same thing with a paperclip by touching the center pin of the flash to the outside of the foot (although I wouldn’t recommend it!) so there is no “brand specificity” – all that happens is when the shutter is pressed, a pulse is sent that “closes the circuit” and pop goes the flash. You have to set the power output on the flash itself etc, since there is nothing from the camera telling it how much power to put out (like in ttl)

    The whole point to this is that you can use any flash with any camera in manual mode (barring older flashes which use high voltages that can fry newer electronics) but using something like an sb800 with a canon camera is simply a waste – why? because you are paying all that money for the TTL features of the flash that will only work with nikon’s ttl system. sure you can still use it in manual mode, but you aren’t *gaining* anything over an $80 fully manual flash. (other than optical slave mode, but that’s a separate issue)

    So anyway, in summation –
    - if you’ve got plenty of budget go with all “on brand” flashes (580exII for canon)
    - if you’ve got medium budget, go with at least one brand flash for when you want on camera ttl functionality (it happens :-) and the rest cheap manual flashes (vivitar, sunpak or one of the older SBs, like the sb-26 or 2b-28, which are essentially just manual flashes for all practical purposes anyway)
    - if you are really on a shoestring just go straight up cheap manual flashes, probably with ebay triggers, since plenty of people seem to be using them with no problems ( I think I just had some bad luck myself with ‘em)

  6. his4ever

    I am still trying to learn the whole lighting thing. I am accomplishing this by reading books, blogs, and practicing. My goal this year is to do a photo shoot or some sort of photo journalistic picture(s) every week. I have only missed a few weeks to have a baby :D. Week by week I am learning new things and I think I am growing. Slowly but surely.

  7. Royston

    I think my main weakness is that I don’t shoot enough. I need to be less timid in certain situations and just shoot. Lately, I have been getting better at this, but still have a long way to go.

  8. Travis Campbell

    This got me thinking about self improvement. Thanks Brian!

    I think my two biggest issues are half technical and half creative. Over the last year, I’ve learned a lot about working with light thanks to David Hobby. That’s great. I’ve been shooting more and more people because of it (something that, a year ago, I absolutely hated to do). But, with that minor part tackled, I’m starting to realize that I have real problems with posing people and, like you, capturing the emotion in a scene. I’m not a very outgoing fellow, so sometimes it’s difficult to tell people, “Look, just do this” or to know what positions look best for a person in a particular scene. I’m getting a little better at it (and I’ve started cutting photos out of magazines to use as reference and idea) but I still have a long way to go.

    Second, I’m getting to the point where I want to create scenes instead of just capturing ones already in play. And I’m realizing just how hard it is to come up with good ideas that look good on screen or in print. I’ve started writing some of these down and letting them percolate, adding new bits to each one when a brainstorm comes around. It’s a slow process, but I’m definitely getting a better feel for it.

  9. Richard Wong

    What I am working on is getting closer to people in candid situations. Approaching people you know is hard, approaching strangers is even harder. Then add the fact that you need to come up with good images.

  10. Brian Auer Post author

    I hear ya, Richard. I’m fine at a reasonable distance, but when I approach the range of “personal space” I get camera shy and pass up the opportunity to shoot.

  11. Gordon McGregor

    Found this via a post from Travis. I think it is a great question. I’ve been working on the people/ strangers aspect a lot in the last 18 months, going from being too fearful to talk to them, to doing a book of up close and personal street portraits last month.

    A big part of it is just recognising that most of the fears and concerns are things you are projecting on other people and they aren’t often or normally true. Easier said than done – a friend of mine, Craig Tanner, teaches some great workshops on just these topics, out of the Radiant Vista (http://www.radiantvista.com) on Street Portraiture and also the ‘Next Step’ workshop, which has a similar sort of theme (but more so)

    My biggest weakness is trying to work more in projects. All my more successful images are one of a kind, disconnected greatest hits. I’d really rather move towards more consistent bodies of work that actually hang together and make a bigger point than each individual shot. My bigger weakness is coming up with the ideas and perhaps the underlying real problem is that I never stick with them long enough, always moving on to something new.

    My main technical weakness is not taking my tripod with me often enough and not archiving/ tagging/ tracking images carefully or backing up regularly. I do the NAS thing and throw everything on to a RAID array, but offsite or DVD storage doesn’t happen frequently enough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>