When first starting out in photography, it can be quite refreshing to find out that there are rules and guidelines.
Composition rules help you frame your images. Exposure rules teach you how to use your camera’s settings.
All of these guidelines serve as useful training wheels to the beginner. Only after you get past this newbie phase do you realize the truth…
Learning photography is not easy.
One source of training will tell you to do things one way. Another will say something completely different.
As you continually explore other resources – books, seminars, video courses – advice becomes more tangled and conflicting.
It’s at this point in your journey when you face the photographer’s paradox.
Whose advice should you follow?
Many who reach this point end up stunted, unsure which path is right and which path is wrong.
Photography, you see, is unlike other disciplines like math or science.
There is no one right answer.
One photographer could disagree with 95% of other photographers ideas and concepts. This one photographer, however, could be a legend in the fine art world. Or an instagram sensation.
Who is right – the one photographer or the majority of others?
This question is like many others that eager photographers think about time and time again. And it’s questions like these that actually are the very root of the problem…
The Way of Learning
If you’re struggling with photography, not sure whose advice you should follow – or wonder if you’re doing things the ‘right way’, then I have something to tell you.
Your problem likely has more to do with the way you were taught to learn than with the actual art of photography.
Photography is a creative process.
Creativity, however, isn’t something we are really training to be great at in school.
Sure, you might have dabbled in the arts in preschool or kindergarten.
Fast forward to regular schooling and the focus changes dramatically.
The very foundation of our western culture is built on rationality.
The education system trains us that there is a right answer and a wrong answer. Get the right answer and you’ll be rewarded with A’s and a ‘bright future’.
Fail to get these highly regarded right answers, however, and the consequences are very real.
You will be held back, publicly ridiculed, and labeled as a ‘failure’, ‘idiot,’ ‘loser’, or a number of other descriptions.
Of course this sort of approach towards the ‘right’ answer has its purpose in our world. It’s what makes advances in technology possible. Right answers pile upon right answers.One discover leads to the next.
But the fact is that this type of educational system dominates the thinking of most people for over a decade.
Consequently, it’s almost impossible to not let this mindset taint our approach as we move into a more creative discipline.
Photography Is Not Like Grade School
There are no right answers 100% of the time.
When one photo expert tells you do do one thing – they may be right. They may also be wrong.
Whether they are right or wrong will be determined by the person you ask.
If you’ve had any experience getting to know artists, then you know how different preferences range. Some are conservative, others liberal, and others something entirely different.
The point is that when you get advice, take it as a lesson.
You just discovered a suggestion. Within that suggestion is a nugget of value.
It’s up to you what you want to do with that.
All propositions, you see, contain with them their own opposition.
This is what I refer to as the photographer’s paradox.
Every piece of wisdom you receive from someone else has some truth to it. It also has contradictions that others will likely voice.
Just look at any photography blog with comments and feedback.
You’ll find several people agree with an author while several criticize the ideas.
This makes it quite confusing when you’re fishing for advice.
Rather than look for an absolute truth, accept the paradox.
In fact, look for the paradox.
Challenge What You Know
When you assume something as absolutely true, you stop questioning the concept. As a result, you likely will never try things that go against the truth.
For example, when I first learned the rule of thirds I always followed it. I became blinded to composing without this rule.
Only later did I start to experiment with composing based on what I see and what looks most visually interesting.
The concept of rule of thirds is still alive. And I still use it from time to time. Yet it does not have complete control over my output.
It’s no longer an absolute truth.
Instead, like all concepts, it has its truths and its fallacies.
Finding a Balance
The more you learn and experiment with photography, the more you will discover. You will likely find several ideas you agree with and several that you don’t.
It’s these ideas that have the power to fuel (or dampen) your creativity and growth as an artist.
Treat these ideas with great care.
Challenge the ideas that you readily accept and use. Ask yourself, is there another way? What can I do differently?
Embrace those ideas that you immediately dismiss. Try them on. See how they influence your output.
You might be disappointed – but what if you’re not? What if you stumble upon an entirely new method of sharing your vision with the world?
As with all things, finding a balance is key.
What I love most about photography is that there is no right or wrong answer.
You as the artist are in control of what you want to create.
As long as you love the work you create – and feel that it depicts your vision how you want it – then you’re on the right path.