Don’t let your knowledge keep you from shooting. Shoot anyway.
Why we learn
We all are try to improve, don’t we. We read, we watch, we learn, we try, all in the name of improving, progressing and developing. We don’t want to make the same mistake twice. In fact, we don’t even want to make it once. And if we can avoid making other people’s mistakes, then this is a good thing. Through learning, we know how (not) to compose a shot, how to set up our camera, which settings are right, how to assess the light and use it to our advantage, how to organize our images and how to process them according to our unique creative vision that we have nurtured by getting inspired from other people’s images. Knowledge is good. Isn’t this the reason why we engage in online communities. Could there be a better place to learn than the wonderful Internet with all its networks, communities and forums where everybody altruistically and philanthropically shares knowledge to help others in their relentless pursuit of knowledge without any marketing interests whatsoever? For those who sense a hint of sarcasm here, you are right. But let me tell you that I have indeed found joined such a community. This, however, shall be the topic of another blog post in the future.
However, despite all the benefits, knowledge can also be dangerous. It can remove the playful aspect from photography thus suffocating creativity. If we constantly us the our knowledge and brain while shooting, we might easily end up seeing problems that keep us from shooting. The light may be too harsh or coming from the wrong direction. The background may be too busy, the clouds not beautiful enough. People might be in the frame or they might be missing or looking in the wrong direction. Take this image of a Northern Carmine Bee-eater:
I was at the zoo with a friend who wielded a 5D Mark don’t-know-what and a 300mm prime lens from Canon. He was constantly talking like this. Before he even considered to lift his camera, everything had to be perfect. In the case of this shot, he was worried about the wire mesh they used for the bird cage here. He knew he could shoot through it but argued that it would be leaving an ugly pattern in the bokeh. I took the shot anyway and sure enough there was the pattern. But I could figure out to remove it using several layers of skin smoothing in Apple Aperture and super strong noise reduction in the greens and yellows in Nik Define. By the time he decided to at least try and before he was finished setting up his tripod the bird had flown away. Lesson learned here: Knowledge should never keep you from trying. Experimentation, failure and retrying are as good a way of learning as reading and watching tutorials. Knowledge from books is only as good as the practical experience you gain by doing it yourself. So, despite all your knowledge: Shoot anyway.
With this lesson in mind, I gave in to the relentless begging of my wife to shoot that lighthouse with my iPhone 6+ in that night when I had decided to leave my camera at home and enjoy the experience of a walk in the dark with my family. The odds were bad. The shot would be noisy as hell and probably quite shaky and blurry, too. I decided to shoot anyway and sure enough, there was noise and the shot was not exactly tack sharp. And to my utter surprise, when I applied the strongest noise reduction available in Lightroom Mobile, the shot turned out quite usable. Not perfect, but usable. It gained a distinct painterly feel that I find very appealing. I might not be able to fix every problem right now, but I never know what the future might bring. There are ome weird artifacts remain that were generated by the compression, noise reduction or both. I might learn about a technique to remove it tomorrow, or there might by a new noise reduction routine in Lightroom that helps me to get rid of them.
Knowledge is good when it comes to setting up a shot. It can help you to prevent mistakes and get the best possible results. However, knowledge is a bad advisor for whether a shot should be tried at all. It will lead to countless reasons why the chances are slim and the odds are bad. Don’t listen! Shoot anyway. And learn from the experiment and its failure… or success.