If your main point of reference for quality photography is in places like online photo-sharing groups, you might be short-changing yourself creatively. There is a whole world of good photography to learn from, to be inspired by, outside of the typical Facebook group. The true masters of photography probably aren’t posting photos on your forum or message board.
Praise for Mediocrity
Go to your average photography-oriented online group, and you’ll find lots of kudos for things like extreme background blur, skillful use of presets and Photoshop, and even proper focus! Yup, I came across a comment the other day where a photographer was congratulated for “nailing the focus” in a portrait. When we’ve come to the point where we’re taking a pat on the back for properly focusing our lenses, we might need to reevaluate our standards.
My worry is that too many photographers, especially beginners, are limiting themselves to peer-level instruction and encouragement. Immersing yourself in a small universe of photography like a Facebook photo group can mess with your perceptions and understanding of what good, artistic photography actually looks like. After awhile, the exposure to the same types of imagery can lead you to believe that what you’re viewing and sharing IS good work, when most of it is actually mediocre at best.
The Real Masters of Photography
I suggest that you turn to the true masters of the art. You’re not going to find them where your peers post the same types of photos over and over again. An impressive use of Photoshop also shouldn’t be confused with great photography skills. No, the real masters are the people who came way before us and quite literally defined photography as an art form.
When I started my journey into serious photography, I consulted the masters through library books. My first, and still favorites, were the Time Life Books, Life Library of Photography. This is an amazing set of high-quality books that helped me develop an eye for tone, composition, and generally good art. If you study the masters, you’ll find examples of everything from straight photography to darkroom manipulated images. All requiring not only exceptional skill, but a good eye and unique vision.
I think that’s what we might forget about when spending too much time trying to impress our online groups with our latest “shoots” and “captures.” Almost anyone can do a photo someone else has done. Certainly, with today’s cameras, anyone can point-and-shoot their way through a set of properly exposed images. But let’s push beyond all that. Let’s look to the masters of photography for real inspiration. Make good photographs with an effort to express your own unique vision.