The Greatest Photography Advice

I wouldn’t want to change my 15(ish) year photography adventure, or do things differently, but if I was giving three pieces of advice based on what I’d learned, they might look like this –

1. Any 50mm lens will do.

The number of 50 or 55 or 58mm lenses I’ve owned numbers dozens, perhaps over a hundred.

The main reason for purchasing 95% of them them was to find that perfect lens.

In some ways, I’ve still not found it and never will, a perfect anything doesn’t exist.

In other ways, I’ve found it dozens of times over though because nearly all of those 50mm lenses I’ve used have been able to deliver a decent picture without too much fuss.

Some have cost literally a few pounds, like the Pentax-M 50mm f/2 or Rikenon 50mm f/2, have produced excellent results, and been great to use.

For little more money, the likes of the Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7, and Super Takumar 55mm f/1.8 have been even better, and as good as any 50mm I could hope for.

The most I’ve spent on a 50mm lens is £110 for a Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.8 in Contax/Yashica mount, and it utterly underwhelmed me.

The build was lower quality than a Pentax-M, and certainly a Super Takumar, and the final image was only equal to them at best, but that was likely just me trying very hard to believe the images were better than they were, to justify that eye-watering (to me) outlay.

I didn’t have it all that long, and at least I sold it for a small profit. Then just used the 50/1.7 Yashica ML I already had, was just as good, and cost about a fifth of the price.

Anyway, the moral is there is very little difference between 50mm lenses, and most vintage 50/1.7 or 50/1.8s can be had for £25 max, and usually less than £20.

Get one of those and save your money for something more useful to your photography career.

2. Shoot what you enjoy shooting, not what you think will be most popular and receive most attention on social media.

One of the big dangers with sharing your photographs online is when, sooner or later, you post a photo that gets a larger than typical amount of views, or likes, or favourites.

That kind of attention buzz makes most of us wonder what it was about that particular image that gained so much more attention, especially as it was far from one of our own personal favourites.

Which in turn often leads us to try to duplicate that “magic” formula, to try to garner further interest and praise, like a commercial pop hit factory analysing the essential requirements for a number one song, then churning them out cookie cutter style time and time again.

The main problem with this approach is we end up creating to someone else’s preferences and likes, not our own.

Ultimately it’s far more important to follow your own path with photography, find the specific equipment and subjects and styles that bring you most enjoyment and pursue those.

However popular (or not) they are.

3. The experience is at least as important as the final image.

This is probably more controversial, but I know for me that the end photograph is not the main aim of photography for me.

Yes, of course, it’s very satisfying when everything aligns and we create a photograph we love, are proud of, and want to share.

But if the process we go through is too long, complex, frustrating and demotivating, then is it worth it?

I would say no, it’s not.

A far better approach for me is to see the final image as a cherry on top of a simple yet delicious cake.

A cake that you greatly enjoyed baking, from a handful of natural ingredients, and didn’t need to spend four hours decorating afterwards.

Personally I like cameras I can set up to give me photos I love the look of straight out of camera, because I find post-processing laborious, packed with too many decisions, and in fact almost torturous.

I also dislike cameras that don’t feel comfortable to use, or are so unintuitive that I’m left scratching my head wondering how to do something basic like change ISO or exposure compensation.

If your camera and associated gear is simply not enjoyable to use, and gets in the way of your love of shooting pictures, something isn’t right.

So those are the three most valuable pieces of advice I think I’ve picked up over the last 15 years or so.

I think they’re as relevant for me today as ever.

How about you? What’s the best photography you can give – or have been given?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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9 thoughts on “The Greatest Photography Advice”

  1. I agree on all 3!
    And I have another few to add…
    4. Just shoot as much as you can. Even the shots you don’t keep make you a better photographer.
    5. Simplify. A while ago I realized I have far more than I need, so I sold some things, and determined that any new purchase would have to be something that would substitute and improve what I already have. Of course when I found a bag full of manual lenses for really cheap last year that rule went out of the window for a day, but I did sell at least a couple things as a result.
    6. Have a “why not?” attitude. Some of my best shots were taken in less than idea, conditions, and some where the result of me just taking a picture of something I thought was never going to be a keeper…
    7. Keep shooting until you get “in the zone”. Taking a picture a day doesn’t work for me. I have to take a few pictures before my mind gets in the photography mood and I start seeing the pictures better before actually shooting.
    8. Make it easy to always have a camera with you. A small camera like your K-m or my K-S1, along with something really light (and good!) like the DA 35 2.4, is really easy to have on hand.

    1. Chris, thanks for all of your additions!

      Simplify is a great rule in all parts of life!

      The “why not?” attitude has resulted in a few unexpected keepers for me over the years too. I remember a day maybe six or seven years ago when I was out with a film camera and suddenly the heavens opened and it poured down. I took shelter under a shop canopy, and watched people go by – on foot and by car – in the relentless rain, thinking that was the end of my photography for the day. Then I though what if I just try and take a picture, steady myself against the wall and dropped the shutter speed? It results in a small series of black and white light trail shots that I had never planned, which was an interesting new direction for me.

      The zone thing I’m not like so much with photography, but often am with writing. I just need to write something on the page to get the juices flowing, then see where it leads, even if then in editing I scrap the first few lines. With digital photography of course this is much easier.

      With film I always wanted to make every shot count (as it cost so much!) so would sometimes not take any pictures and then felt frustrated. Yeh with digital you can fire off a few warm up shots of anything, just to get you going, with zero cost.

      Ha, funny you talking about those cameras as small, though they are for DSLRs. When I think small I think my Pentax Q, Ricoh GRD III or even smaller, a Lumix XS1, which is smaller than most phones and can disappear in your hand or pocket.

      1. Good points and a good story!
        Yeah, I only use DSLRs these days, so it is funny considering the size of an XS-1…

  2. I was out and about taking pictures in Nottingham with a camera I’ve used for 45 years! A Pentax S1a. A guy with a Leica asked me if I’d used film for very long. I replied since I was 12-13 and I’m now 62. He asked me if I had a favourite camera, and if I’d owned a Leica. My reply was ‘Yes, I’ve owned a few Leica’s and my favourite camera is anything! We spoke for a while and he asked ‘What would be the best advice to a photographer?’ My answer is always the same ‘A good camera – 50mm lens and hundreds of cassettes or rolls of film, without film, a camera is a piece of metal, glass and plastic and understanding film, exposure and light are more important than any camera’.

    1. Thanks Ian. I’ve had a couple of S1as, beautiful cameras, especially combined with a Takumar. There is certainly great wisdom in using one camera with a 50mm and getting to know it inside out, rather than constantly switching cameras and lenses.

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