While I was stumbling through the basics of photography, armed with my hand-me-down camera that just barely worked, I took a lot of awful photos. Well, that much hasn’t changed. Even those with decades of experience still take crappy photos, especially when our hearts aren’t in it. But when you’re just learning, it’s fair to say that you take more bad photos than good. But I remember one occasion where I was capturing students playing cards in study hall. With one of my photos, I got the settings just right, the exposure perfect and the composition fell into place. I had produced a great photo – and I knew it because even a rookie shooter knows a good photo when he sees one. So I matted the photo and turned it in for my assignment. A few days later was when my instructor would bring me back down to earth with a simple message scrawled upon the grade sheet stuck to the mat: “Great Photo. Now do it again!”
Could I do it again? That was a good question, especially since I had no clue how I got the shot in the first place.
Those who have been following me for a while may already be aware of the (admittedly) unnatural attachment I have to my Journal. It was this assignment, in fact, that my instructor advised me to carry one – to take notes on every single photo and every setup that I used for every single shot. And so I carry one today, even though Digital and EXIF data has eliminated the need to write everything down (shutter speed, aperture, etc). I still need to jot down other data like time of day, angles, tools, filters and so on. There is, of course, a reason for this: Being able to “Do it Again”.
Taking or creating great photos isn’t in and of itself enough to call oneself a photographer. One needs to be able to repeatedly be able to create the same moods, capture the same tension and develop the same compositions time and time again. Such repetition is essential to your development, to your style. A particular photograph required a certain amount of know how – tools if you will – based on your own experiences. A photographer will be able to visualize the outcome of a photograph long before he changes a setting or places a filter. He knows only because of his set of tools: Knowing exactly how he created similar images in the past. And how is one going to know? By doing it again. And again. And again….ad nauseum.
So you have a photograph that you’ve taken. One you love and cherish, possibly one of your best works and it’s one of your favorites as well. Perhaps you don’t know – don’t remember – exactly how you created the photograph. Maybe you never wrote down the essential data. I would encourage you to duplicate the image as best as you can. Recreate it, then write down exactly what you did. Write down exactly how you composed or set up every shot – or at least as often as time will allow. Be like a scientist and duplicate your works to be sure. You should always be struggling to build your tool set. The more tools you have, the more you can do. Try not to think of it as repeating a process. Think of it as alchemy. A little of this, a dash of that – and lets maybe tweak this one detail – and perhaps you’ve created something new. This is the way the mind of an experienced photographer works.
That’s a really great photo you took. Now go do it again.