I often ask myself if there was one thing I would tell a promising new photographer if I could only tell them one thing what would it be? If I could tell them only one thing, could I narrow it down to just one thing? Is that even possible? (1) If I could only tell them one thing would it be to shoot so much and so often that your eye begins to see a photo the way the camera sees it? There was a time I was shooting so much and so often that I could look at a scene and see in my head how the camera would see that scene. I could see the photo in my head the way it would look in the camera. Your eye interprets the light differently than the camera does. For example when the moon first appears over the horizon and it looks huge, so you run and get your camera and take a picture, and it looks nothing like what you saw with your eyes. You may see rich colour and great detail with your eye and then the photo you take is washed out and details are lost in the shadows. There are obvious differences but one obvious difference between the camera and our eyes is that we have two eyes and the camera only has one lens, so we see in 3D and the camera in 2D. (2) If I could only tell them one thing would it be to pick a genre? When most photographers first start they shoot whatever they see in front of them, your Aunt, the cat, a tree, that abandoned house around the corner, some junk at the neighbours' yard sale, someone mattress surfing behind a truck down by the lake (actual things I used to shoot)… if you want your work to be recognizable you need to pick a genre and not just shoot anything that comes along. (3) If I could only tell them one thing would it be to shoot RAW and in manual? There are many reasons to shoot in RAW format but the top reason is the extra flexibility you will have in post-processing. Since RAW files contain a larger amount of data within each RAW file there is simply a larger degree of latitude and adjusting you can do while post-processing that you couldn't achieve with JPEGs (4) If I could only tell them one thing would it be to not obsess about gear? A good photographer should be able to make a good photo with any gear. Now there are exceptions like if you are shooting wildlife you do need a massive lens like the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM for example, but don't think you would be a better photographer if you only had better gear once you have something good enough to work with. I have 5 lenses, and two of those are my go-to lenses, both primes (85mm & 50mm). I prefer primes and I will zoom with my feet as long as I can. Of course, there will come a day when I cannot zoom back and forth and get up and down like I want to and then I will likely use zoom lenses. I use the 85mm whenever I can, and if I can't get back far enough to compose the shot I want with the 85mm I will use the 50mm. I am at the point in my life where I cannot afford any more photography gear unless it is going to make me money, which at this time it does not. So that is freeing actually because I don't have to sit around looking at gear videos on Youtube wishing I had something else since I wouldn't be able to buy it anyway. The only thing I wish I had is a Canon 200mm f2, which at around CAD 7,000.00 will never happen. (5) If I could only tell them one thing would it be that likes on social media don't matter? It took me a long time to realize that likes don't matter. After years of experience, I know when I have a good photograph to share, and if it only gets seven likes, that doesn't tell me that it was not a good photograph. That could tell you several things, for example, people hate you, people don't know what a good photograph is, people just click like if it is a photo of something they like, which I discovered. I took a photo of a car and at that time I felt it was the best photo I had ever taken and it got less than 10 likes. Then someone told me that if it was another make of car they would have liked the photo, and I asked them if they only click like on a photo if it is of something they like and they said yes. This taught me a lot and was the exact point in time I stopped caring about likes. Shoot what excites you, what you love, what you are passionate about, and do not even look at the likes. (6) If I could only tell them one thing would it be there's no crying in photography? There will be someone who is not as good at photography as you that will win a photo contest. There will be someone that is not as good a photographer as you that will have a photography show. Don't worry about it. If you want to win a photo contest there are lot's of videos and posts on hacks to winning a photo contest, so go look at those and try harder, and in the end, it still could be someone that knows the judges who wins, and that's life, move on. And having a photo show is more about what circles you swing in than how good a photographer you are. I am a Wolf Pack of one and couldn't care less what circles I swing in. (7) If I could only tell them one thing would it be to be recognizable? The number one thing I care about at this point in my photography journey is to be recognizable and that seems to be happening for me now. I don't read newspapers, I don't have time, but someone messaged me and asked me if that was my photo in the paper and sent me a screenshot, and yup, it was my photo (with no credit given). They said they knew it was mine as soon as they saw it and that is my goal. It means I have developed my style, even though many have criticized it along the way and I have ignored them and kept going. You need to develop your style if you want to be recognizable. Anybody who hires a photographer doesn't care what camera you have, what settings you use, what focal length you are using, they want your style. Develop it. (8) If I could only tell them one thing would it be to never stop learning? Self-explanatory, there will always be new software, new actions, new filters, new techniques, and you need to be aware of them and decide to learn them or not depending on what you are doing. If you stop learning then your photos will look the same 10 years from now as they do now and you will not have improved any, which may be fine for what you are doing. (9) If I could only tell them one thing would it be to pick a setting and rock that setting until you have it down. For example, pick aperture, shoot in aperture priority mode and go nuts with that aperture, open it up, shut it down, see what it does. Shoot lots of bad photos, and that's how you learn. Once you have the aperture down, pick the shutter speed and rock that bitch. Take your time with each, I think I spent a year on aperture priority mode, then I was shooting to the left all the time (underexpose to not lose any details) and now I don't even think about it, it just comes naturally. (10) If I could only tell them one thing would it be to be ready. When I was shooting landscapes I had a notebook with locations, times of day, times of year etc. For example, this location would be good to shoot a sunrise, this location is good to shoot a sunset, this location would work for a foggy sunrise etc. Now that I prefer to shoot staged, themed shoots with models, I have a sample folder filled with sample photos. Any time I see a photo I love I save it in my sample folder to use as a starting point for a photoshoot (it never turns out exactly the same as the sample). Now I am using MS OneNote to keep ideas, with sample photos, my photos of the location and things to build up the idea until the shoot happens. So I could not narrow it down to that one thing, but this is my top ten list. Keep in mind these are my ideas and my opinions and you may not agree with any of them and that's OK. I do hope you get an idea or two out of this post and maybe you will write your own "That One Thing" post and I would love to read yours.
Reg Smith is a Lifestyle & Portrait Photographer in Prince Edward County, Ontario.