A Free Photography Lesson

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I get asked fairly often if I give photography lessons. No, not really. But in this post is my primary method and you can have it for free. It is my gift to you.

But first, a discussion of the lessons that are out there. Photography lessons fall into only a few categories, in my opinion. They are as follows:

  1. None — Point and shoot. (Not really a lesson at all.)
  2. Basic — Think, point, then shoot.
  3. Advanced — Plan, think, point, then shoot.
  4. Ultimate — Plan, think, point, shoot, then finish (post-process).

Maybe these can be marginally useful to the novice. But these are, in reality, of no use in the grand scheme of photography. They are certainly not helpful to any serious photographer.

Introducing, the Python

Here is what I call my “python approach” to photography:

  1. Have a vision of how you want the end photo to appear. What does it look like in your head? Do this for many, many photos you may have running around in your head. Do it now. You don’t need to have a camera. Anyone can do this and every photographer should.
  2. Assemble the gear necessary to accomplish the getting and then the post-processing of the photos you want. Have money or get a job to be able to buy the equipment you will need. Don’t over buy, but don’t under buy either.
  3. Practice with the gear. Take a hundred dozen horrible photos. Take more than that. With each, get better. Get faster. Your gear should be an extension of your body. It must be natural, instinctual. This is part of the preparation phase. Experiment. Adjust and readjust until it is basic to your being. This means the software too. Practice a lot with that.
  4. Be aware of where you would need to be to take the photos you envision. Think. Go to that vision of the scene you have in your head. Where is that? From where is that picture born? You must know where it’s birthplace is in the real world. Do this now. You don’t need to go somewhere or have something. Just think of it in your head.
  5. Put yourself in a position to take the photo you want. Go to the location. Get out at the hour you need. Watch the light for the right moment. Go to the place. See the people. Watch. Wait. This is the patience game. Waiting. Ever waiting for the right time, place, moment. Positioning yourself for the moment. This is not luck. It sounds simple. It is not. This is maybe the hardest step.
  6. Take the shot. Make it quickly and smoothly. Taking the photo should be as easy as pointing and shooting. You’re already where you need to be. You already know in your mind how the result will look. You’ve already practiced until the camera is an extension of your body. The photo is there for the taking now. Take it. Take several. Surround this opportunity with additional shots before, after, higher, lower, different angles, focus, lighting. Take as many as possible. Increase your chances of success. Expand your possibility for new visions.
  7. Move on. If you got the shot, then great. If not then forget it. Try again or move on. Either way, you’ll be moving on, on to the next opportunity. On to that next photo you envision in your head. Repeat the process. New prey. Keep moving.
  8. Take your capture home. Save it. It is precious. It is your photo now. Groom it in post processing software. Take it out again and again, for years and years, and keep improving it. Make it into what you saw; what you envisioned in your head. Apply new post-processing skills you’ve learned. Keep growing. Keep modifying your approach and keep improving the photo. Do this for all your photos you’ve captured. They’re yours now.

Why do I call this the “python approach” or “python strategy?” A python is patient. It prepares. It waits for the right time to strike. It lies and waits for the right moment to strike. Sometimes years. It is a patient predator. Pythons can go a year without eating. Preparation and patience are its modes of operation.

I emulate this approach in my photography process and you can too. Whether you shoot landscapes, nature, the stars, people, cities, portraits, or weddings, you can use this method.

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What does a python do in its down time? It studies.

But first, a word about “the rest.”

I see a lot of photos by others. Online. In books. I buy books. I study other’s photos. There are so many. And in many ways, they’re mostly all the same. Good at best. Luck is always seeming to play some role. They’re mostly noise.

But, some are better than others. These are the great ones. But they could have been lucky. Nobody knows. Consistently excellent and there’s something there. A string of good luck, I don’t think so. That photographer knows something. At least I think he or she does. Those are the photographers worth studying. I study them and learn what I need from them.

The rest are noise. Once you’re tuned into them, you barely notice them anymore.

The python strategy will separate a photographer from the noise.

I’m always studying photographers and photos in my spare time. I buy books, magazines, and photo books that other photographers publish.

When I see a photo I like, I sketch out the composition with a quick line drawing and save it on the page with the photo with a sticky note. I think about what makes that photo better than the others, and I write down what I learn.

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A photo book with my hand-sketch of the photo’s composition.

I read books and magazines about photography and get what I can from them. I write down what I learn from them. Sometimes this is not much or sometimes I will find a great nugget of wisdom that can help me.

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A Maxfield Parrish book with my hand-sketched composition drawing.

The point is that I never stop studying photography in my spare time.

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My note on aspect ratios used in this photo book. I measured each photo with a ruler and figured out the aspect ratios.

I write what I know in my notebooks and post most of it on this blog.

Origins of the Python Strategy

While I do take full credit for the python strategy for photography, I can’t take credit for the name of it. I was living the python approach in my photography well before I had a name for it. It was natural, but without a name. Then, I watched Mr. Robot. This television show on the USA network gave me the idea for the name.

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FBI Evidence Board from Mr. Robot

In that show, the FBI investigator detailed their python strategy. I noticed that it fit tightly with my strategy for photography. So, I adopted it and adapted it to fit my existing strategy. That is what a python would do.

Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it!
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