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WARNING: negative feedback ahead.

Disclaimer: I'm a pro photographer (as in I get paid for taking photos), and I had a few exhibitions.

A few important points, if you want to become a good photographer:

1) My philosophy with most art teachers/book writers is - unless your art makes me say "wow", you can't teach me much. There are many truly great photographers out there. Dan Nguyen is not one of them.

I look at his photos, and most of them are properly exposed, somewhat properly framed, sometimes they have something interesting, but most of the time they are mind-numbingly boring and mediocre.

2) His idea of posting technical details next to a photo is not new, but, most importantly, it's completely useless. I remember when I just got into photography, I was looking at all the cool photos and I really wanted to know the f-stop, the exposure, the ISO that the author used. It took me about a year to figure out it didn't matter. Main reason being - you will never encounter that exact scene with that exact lighting.

Even if you magically come to that same exact spot, same time, same date of the year, magically frame the shot the same way, set all the exact settings, you will NOT end up with the same picture.

3) Photography is art - don't be a fucking robot. Play with the camera settings, they are really trivial. It shouldn't take you more than a day to figure out how aperture, exposure and ISO work.

4) Trying to replicate some cool photo online is a good learning technique, but you don't simply do it by replicating the camera settings.

5) Now the most important point of learning how to photograph well: STOP READING TECHNICAL GARBAGE. Sites like dpreview are full of "photographers" who endlessly discuss their gear, their camera settings, and then you look at their photographs, and they are fucking boring and lack any taste (just to be fair, there are good photographers on dpreview).

Stop it, and look at photos instead. You should look at hundreds of photos a day, that's the only way to develop your photographic taste. And try not to get stuck on user-submitted websites like photo.net or flickr, there's a ton of crap there. Instead seek the best photographers in whatever area interests you - street, portraiture, landscape, etc.

Go to your local store and look at the photo books (not the technical ones, art ones). You will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of photos.




(you're getting an upvote for this; great points)

1) I disagree with your first statement, just because some work that really "wows" me is so beyond my comprehension that it's difficult to learn from it; sometimes, that's a core element of being "wowed": the astonished person doesn't quite know why he's astonished. How can he learn from example?

As far as my photos being boring, not going to contest that. You just have to remember that, at this point, expediency is the main factor. I rigged up a system to pull selected files from my public Flickr account, which consist almost entirely of photos I do in my own time...which means there's a high proportion of wide lenses, as opposed to shots at 200mm...because I don't casually carry around the 200mm.

2) Also no contest...the technical details are trivial to include or exclude (once you've written a script that gathers photos from Flickr and reads the metadata). For now, I find them more useful than writing out as narrative, "For this photo, I used my f2.8 lens wide open"...More can be done with the data design but I want readers to know at a glance what's going on before they read the caption of the photo. I'm hoping this leads to more active reading, because the reader has to ask himself "This photo is shot at f8.0 and yet the background is so blurred, how is that?"

> I was looking at all the cool photos and I really wanted to know the f-stop, the exposure, the ISO that the author used. It took me about a year to figure out it didn't matter. Main reason being - you will never encounter that exact scene with that exact lighting.

I say that exact sentiment: don't worry about the numbers or the math. Maybe I didn't say it strong enough but I'm happy that someone on HN agrees and I'm not just dumbing down the math. I think memorization of numbers is silly.

What I want readers to be able to do is approach each photographic situation with a problem-solving mindset:

"This scene is dark. I want the photo to show my friend's face clearly, how do I balance the three settings and which flaw am I most willing to introduce into my photo to prevent other more critical flaws?"

3 and 4) Yep, no argument. And nowhere do I say, "copy these numbers down"

5) Now the most important point of learning how to photograph well: STOP READING TECHNICAL GARBAGE.

I agree, that's why I wrote this book in the first place. Obviously I haven't done it in the same way that you would but I don't think we disagree at all.


I loved the photo of the Hudson River sunset.

But generally, maybe you can swap out "mediocre photos" with "better" ones either by yourself, or by others who gave you permission? Not because your photos are so bad, but because there are sweeet photos out there, from photographers who would love to help / show off - and photos that "say something" would help drawing people in, and keeping them reading.

I'm thinking of the Luminous Landscape (google it, explore it, wear it like a funny hat) here, which tends to have articles that explain something, and then a photo that illustrates the technique -- but without talking a whole lot about that specific photo. Maybe you can draw some inspiration from that, and try to "decouple" the photos and the articles if you will?

I'm saying this because I LOVE the general idea of the site, and that it's without clutter (though personally I think the font sizes are a bit huge). It's bookmarked to help out newbies when I run into them; now if you kindly could turn it into the best there could possibly be? Thanks :) I like what you're trying to do, and wish you all the best doing it.

Oh, and I think the whole point about art is a bit, uhm, besides the point. Yes, if you want to make great photos you don't read about shutter speed -- at the same time, if you want to learn about shutter speed a book of art photographs is perfectly useless, too :P


Thanks Marten, I definitely have more decoupling ideas in mind...I think my general strategy (and this will annoy people who already think the material is too brief) is to continue to break the topics apart, even if some articles are just a few pictures with thorough explanations.

As for using others' photos...there's a couple reasons, and they don't have to deal with personal pride. 1) Distribution /copyright issues, 2) I would spend waaaay too long if I felt I had to pick the best of the best out there (even among just the Wikicommons material)...plus, I'd have almost no expertise to share about them, so I'd feel a little guilty about using them mostly as eye candy.

I think my direction will be to improve the quality of the photos, but more importantly, improve the relevance of the photos to the topic at hand...I don't think I'll ever satisfy everyone's idea of what a great picture is, but at least I can put up educational ones.


Sorry, I don't think the chaps over at Luminous Landscape take very good pictures. I can't remember a single picture by them that I have been OMGWOW.

Instead, I think LL tends to pander more to the pixelpeeping crowd. Just my opinion. There are much better sources to learn to take better pictures.


I wonder if your ability to not think about the technical details of photography comes from the fact that in the beginning, you did think about them, and now you have a completely intuitive understanding of them.


I agree that equipment and settings do not make the photographer.

But I will point out that, back in the film age -- and more so in the pre-automated-settings age -- being able to manually set them and get them right was much more important.

- You had (stock 35 mm film rolls) 12, 24, or 36 shots to a roll of film. Particularly as a amateur photographer, developing and printing that film was a significant expense.

- Unless you had a dark room -- or, more recently, "quickie" development shops and kiosks -- you typically had at least a day between the shot and visual feedback of what you'd accomplished with it. (In "yea olden days", perhaps more like a week if you didn't want to pay "rush" fees.)

And... I guess much instruction has carried forward with a lot of inertia from those earlier times.

It seems a lot like much computer and programming instruction, when I think about it. Starting off with a lot of minutia that can be very offsetting and demotivating to many attempting to learn the art (and thereby, but for them -- thinking again of photographers -- actually secondary, the craft).

The digital age has changed this significantly. In my own circle of friends, I've observed at least two people develop from "average" snapshooters (well, one had from the start a very good natural eye) into very good amateur photographers. I don't think they would have done so starting from the perspective of shutter speed, f-stops, and tweaking exposure. But as they've learned to see and frame, they've added some of this in order to further accomplish and replicate aspects of their successes.

In the digital age, they can first "accomplish shots" and then "learn to refine". One could do that pre-digital (optionally including digital metering and exposure control), but the feedback loop was a lot slower and perhaps more circumspect.


You may be right, but most "photographers" get stuck at that phase forever. Photo companies convinced most people that buying an expensive DSLR will make them a good photographer. Or if you carry a tripod, that automatically makes you a pro.

While knowing your technical side is nice, it is completely unnecessary to take good photos. I know of a brilliant wedding photographer who shoots with cheap disposable cameras from your local gas station. He is booked months ahead.


But most people never become good at most things they try. I don't know enough about photography to comment much more on it, but that phase may be a necessary part of the learning process.


Spoken like a boss. Look up an awesome photographer, like Sam Abell from Natgeo. Until recently he used 2 olympus film cameras, and 2 fixed lenses. No zooms. Which btw cost around 150 bucks on ebay each.

Some dig into the "technical" details like it was a computer, forgetting It's about making an image that looks good and people like.

I'd recommend 1x.com instead for tutorials.


Can you show us your photos?


Sorry, I'm trying to remain anonymous.

I don't even consider myself great. I have a couple of shots that I've made in the last 10 years that I think are OK.

Most of this advice doesn't really come from me, it's mostly passed generation-to-generation. I was told pretty much this when I started learning photography, and it got reiterated by a few professionals that I respect.


your opinions would be easier to take if you supplied evidence that you know what you talk about.


You can assume I'm just making shit up.


Just want to say, for the record, I agree; you shouldn't have to show your photos. Your points stand on their own and shouldn't have to appeal to authority...so my disagreements with you aren't based on "well let's see what you can do.


And that's the problem. Dan has put this book out there and you have been rude about it and him without giving us any evidence that YOU know what you are talking about. Just another plausible sounding internet windbag.


I agree with looking at photographs, especially curated collections (published books, exhibitions).

"It shouldn't take you more than a day to figure out how aperture, exposure and ISO work."

I disagree with this from the perspective of teaching this stuff to teenagers (some decades ago now I admit). Probably easier with digital cameras.


The stellar thing about manual controls on digital cameras is that you can get a "feel" for the compromises and advantages of various combinations of settings very quickly. What took a big chunk of every project during semester with a K1000, limited exposures, and darkroom time (where you had yet another chance to make a dog's breakfast of your photo) can now be "taught" in a day and internalized in a week or two of appropriate exercises with fast feedback loops.

Sure, almost all of the work will be boring, derivative, and pedestrian, but the teacher's job (and how they will be judged) then becomes one of improving the quality of the artwork.


Yes, certainly. I've seen the Photoshop 'curves' tool used to explain film characteristic curves and shadow placement before now - and it saves time when still using the K1000s! Students in UK Colleges learn film as well as digital.


If you don't mind me asking, who are a few of your favorite photographers?

Also, what do you think of Vivian Maier?

http://www.vivianmaier.com/


She's a good classical street photographer. I'm sure her photos look way better in print than the tiny versions on her website.

I wouldn't say she is my favorite, but pretty solid.

There are truly many photographers that I like (and many that I only remember by the images, I'm horrible at remembering names).

Classic street photographers: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt

Modern street photographers: Joseph Koudelka

There are tons of good ones at magnumphotos.com


Thanks for your recommendations!


Totally agree with you. While the technical side may be interesting and somewhat important i've seen good photographers take far better pictures with an iPhone then Joe Average with a Canon 5D MKII. Nguyen is one of them.




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