By Roger (27 September 2015)
Experimentation is a great way to enhance your photographic knowledge. If you find yourself in a rut, experiments can help pull you out and lead you to try something completely out of the norm. There are many different aspects of the photography experience you can explore to help you move forward: subject matter; equipment; techniques; or post-processing.
Subject matter is, probably, the easiest area to experiment. I prefer to photograph people, so I usuallyswitch to some other subject for experiments. You may think you photograph everything, but do a search of your best photos, and you'll see that the majority of your best are of one or two subjects. Don't cheat yourself on this. Find something that is a truly difficult subject for you. You can gain the most from working on your weakest area.
As we've preached over and over, tons of equipment is not necessary to making good photographs. But playing with a new piece of kit can be a blast. You always seem more inspired and motivated when you have a new toy to play with. Keep in mind, though, you do not need to own it – maybe you can rent or borrow it.
Renting gear is my preferred way to determine whether I really want to buy that piece of equipment. For a few dollars (much less than buying), you can rent the newest lens or try out that smaller, lighter mirrorless camera you've been hearing about. My favorite rental place is lensrentals.com (link). I've used them several times, and it has always been a good experience. I've also heard good things about Borrowlenses.com (link).
One of our easiest answers to the “What camera should I buy?” question is to find out what your friends use. If you have the same brand of camera, you can learn from them AND borrow a lens or two.
For example, I don't own a very wide angle lens. The best ones cost a pretty penny, and I have already have a reasonably wide lens. However, Mark has the fancy one. I had something I wanted to try, this weekend, and conned him into loaning it to me. His lens produces a much wider field of view than I am accustomed. I enjoyed using it, but, since I rarely need that kind of lens, I don't plan to buy it. We have loaned each other lighting equipment, and I once “borrowed” his light tent for about six months.
These days, our digital cameras allow us to experiment, without the expense and delay of processing film, and try all kinds of different techniques. You can try something new and see the results on the back of your camera, instantly. (Although, one experiment you may want to try is going back to film for a couple of rolls.)
You can put your camera through its paces and teach yourself the effects of small changes you want to try. What are the effects of changing your aperture, ISO, or shutter speed?
If you were given the challenge of making a photo of the groom, with no flash or reflectors, where would you position him for a pre-ceremony portrait?
Where would you focus the camera to get the reflection of yourself, through a window, to make it appear that you were standing at the ticket booth of a train station? These and many other truly important questions are waiting for you to get out there and try some experiments, so you can answer that challenge. ;-)
We've written hundreds of blogs over the last seven years about experimenting with post-processing. This is an area so open you can never run out of things to try.
Using the software tools of the digital lightroom can be daunting. Experiments will help you learn how they can affect your final image. You can learn while keeping your original photo safe from harm. You can learn in the comfort of your home. You can begin to appreciate that snapping the shutter may be only the beginning of making the photograph.
How much manipulation is too much? That is up to you, but your experimental manipulations will help you define where you draw that line. And answer much more.
How can you remove that sign post from behind your model's head – you know, the one you should have seen before you pressed the shutter? What are the effects of cropping a 4x6 photo to the 8x10 ratio your grandmother wants? How do I show that I've changed the color of the background, without changing the other colors in the sign, so I can have contrasting colors?
You can be sure that some of your experiments will be less than successful. Let me go Zen on you, and say, “The journey can be more fulfilling than the destination.”
I had this great idea to show motion blur with two trains traveling in opposite directions. The tracks would be sharp, but the competing directional blurs of the trains would make an eye-catching photograph. And it would all be caught in the camera, with no post-processing tricks.
It looked good on paper, but would it work in practice? Not so much, but how would I know if I hadn't tried? Have fun out there.
Don't forget to sign up for the Culpeper Worldwide Photowalk. Mark and I will be looking for you. We'll meet at 9 a.m., this Saturday, 3 October, at the Amtrak Station. We'll end at a nice pub, The Beer Hound Brewery. You can join us by signing up HERE.