How To Not Drop a Camera

How To Learn Photography

How to Learn Photography

Feedback Loops

This book does not aim to teach you how to become a photographer. Not directly. Rather, it aims to teach you the tools of photography. This book wants to arm you with the knowledge and skills that let you teach yourself photography.

I want to give you insight that allows you to analyze an image, and think "hmm, xyz isn't working... what if I tried abc". There are two things happening there. The xyz-understanding of how images work, what makes a good image, and so on; and the *abc-*understanding how cameras work, and what adjustments might affect the image in what way. With that knowledge, plus not dropping the dang things, you have a feedback loop.

  1. Take a photo.
  2. Look at it, think about it.
  3. Change something.
  4. Take another photo.

Call it the scientific method, call it the creative process, or just call it a feedback loop. You can start identifying the knowledge you need to experiment, play, practice, learn, and engage with photography without relying on luck.

Getting better at photography involves not needing to iterate so many times the creative process can happen in your head before you take the picture. This is a skill called “visualization”.

Fall Into the Pit of Success

"Not Dropping Cameras" is not just good advice. It's an approach to photography, it's about what programmers call the Pit of Success. Have a workflow that makes it really hard to mess up. Your workflow should be focused at preventing the bad stuff, not focused directly on just getting the good stuff. It should be trivial to not mess up.

🚗 It should be conceptually impossible to not mess up, in the same way that I would never drive my car with my driver’s door open. I never have to actively remember to close it, so much as I’m never in a situation where I could forget to close it?

The most basic goal, then, is to simply not drop the camera. If you go out, and take photos, and come back with your gear un-dropped, you have succeeded at photography. Congratulations! You're a photographer. Now... consider raising your standards. You don't have to, however. Your goals for yourself are yours, and sometimes just getting out there is enough.

📷 If you do drop the camera, you are still a photographer. I’m disappointed in you, yes, but you can still be a photographer. It’s okay.

Focus on raising your skill floor, not your skill ceiling.

I believe that being a photographer isn't about capturing those once-in-a-lifetime images. It's about taking pretty-good, half-decent, gets-the-job-done photos every single time you pick up a camera.

Leave the shoot with something nice - even when you're tired, unfocused, nothing is working right, the lighting is awful, and the client won't stop badgering you.

Have an extra battery

Have an extra battery. Having an extra battery means being able to swap to a juiced-up one when your camera dies and charge the dead one while you continue shooting. Never wait for a camera to charge again.

"But Batteries!" is one of the most valid criticisms of mobile phones as cameras.

Know when not to trust your gear

The following sentence is something that I think most photographers disagree with literally but agree with on principle: You should know your equipment inside and out, as much as possible.

For example, you should know how your autofocus works. This lets you understand when it will likely work well, and when it will likely not get the job done. Knowing your camera's limitations will keep you from being frustrated and annoyed when shooting. Less surprises means a happier photographer.

Counter-intuitively, gear-knowledge doesn’t lead to gear-purchases. In fact, it can help prevent you from trying to drop too much money on the empty-promises of the latest-and-greatest gear, because you can parse through marketing hype, and have a more realistic expectation of what any piece of gear can do.

💬 When professional photographers talk to each other about their gear, they are almost always talking about where it falls short. It doesn’t sound like it, but this is how they express their pleasure with the equipment.

Further Reading: