by Jim Zuckerman
This past week one of the students in my Perfect Digital Exposure course, Jay Nordstrom, asked me a great question. I thought other students in the various Betterphoto courses as well as visitors to the site would be interested in Jay’s insightful question and my answer which comes from decades of teaching photography.
Question: “I want to know if the way you see things (symmetrical, should be brighter, should be darker) is a talent I can acquire or is it a talent you are born with? I would like very much to get really good at photography, but I’m wondering if it’s like music where you have to have talent that you are born with. Please be brutally honest. I can take it.”
My answer: “I appreciate your question and your invitation to be honest. You are asking a great question, and I've thought about this a lot.
I think photography is like music, but not 100%. I have a niece who, when she was 3 years old (she's now 22), could carry a tune so perfectly that everyone who heard her was utterly captivated. Today she's truly an incredible performer. My mother could sing and so can my sisters. When I try, I can hit the correct note about one in twenty tries. I've known that no matter how much money I might spend on lessons, it wasn't going to happen for me. Not even close. I have no clue how someone can open their mouth and out comes middle C.
With photography, the skills involved in seeing things can be developed. People can improve their picture taking. I've seen it, and I've helped many people do this. Noticing shadows and highlights and distracting backgrounds is really just a matter of being shown these flaws and then focusing your attention on them. That's not the same as forming your lips, tongue, palette, vocal cords, and diaphragm and hitting A sharp. As far as I'm concerned, you can't teach that. It can be developed, honed, and it can mature. But it's ultimately an inherent gift. Seeing a tree trunk sticking up from behind someone's head, on the other hand, is a no-brainer once it's pointed out.
The hard part with photography is composition. It has to do with making sense out of all the elements and coming up with an attractive photograph. For example, let's take landscape photography. You've got trees, bushes, clouds, rocks, dirt, bodies of water, stuff sticking up out of the water, etc. etc. How do you make sense out of that? That's the challenge.
My Eight Steps course and the Developing Your Own Personal Vision course are both designed to address this problem. I try to do so from different perspectives, but ultimately that's what I'm trying to help people do -- make sense of the visual chaos -- and to recognize what is good and not-so-good in compositional design. From the very positive feedback I get from students, I think I succeed at least in many cases.
That's about as close as I can come to answering your insightful question.
MAKING SENSE OUT OF THE VISUAL CHAOS: