How much technical knowledge do you need to become a professional photographer? It varies.
I have a friend who is a great photographer but hates Photoshop and post-production. He shoots primarily public relations and corporate photography with a small bag of photo equipment. After an assignment he burns a disk of high-res jpegs and hands them to his client. The clients are perfectly happy with this. His greatest strength is the way he interacts with people, eliciting responses and capturing them. Keeping the technical aspects simple helps him concentrate fully on his living, breathing subjects.
Contrast that to my studio, Daylight Photo, where we may be using multiple studio strobes to light a 60 foot long printing press on location. We most always shoot tethered to the computer, constantly checking focus, histograms, highlights, shadows and critical color balance as we shoot. Afterward the RAW files will be processed and every detail will be tended to in Photoshop so that the perfect image for an ad or brochure may be supplied to client specifications.
Both ways of working are equally valid and suit the strengths of the individual photographers. One just happens to require more technical knowledge than the other. The important thing is that we all keep learning and improving as our careers progress.
Where does all technical knowledge begin?
This may sound obvious but the place to start, in my opinion, is by reading your camera manual from cover to cover. It’s amazing the number of young photographers that ask questions easily answered by their camera manual. Want to control the look of your images? Want to know when the exposure is perfect? Whether you’re holding a first digital SLR in your hand or you’re a seasoned veteran, fully understanding your camera’s controls is necessary to truly control the image.
Is photo school a necessity to become a professional?
Photographic education should be ongoing, maybe through a photo school, maybe through self-taught methods. I started out in my high school photo class, learning to develop black and white film. From there I jumped straight into photo assisting and photo lab jobs. I never went to college or trade school to learn my craft, it was all done through on the job experience and my insatiable appetite for learning all things photographic.
So do I tout the “learning on the job” method? Yes…and no. I think photo schools are now more important than ever. With all of the hardware and software knowledge necessary to be a photographer today, it’s nice to attend a school with the latest of everything. Plus schools provide networking and job opportunities. My path probably would have been easier had I gone to photo school…and I think the journey now might be more crowded and demanding than it was then.
Regardless of which path you choose it ultimately comes down to “how bad you want it” and how hard you’re willing to work to achieve your goals. Sorry if that last statement spoils the fantasy of professional photography as a freewheeling, fun career without no responsibilities or pressures. Yes, photography can be real work. The really good news is that even the worst day of being a photographer is probably better than 95% of the other jobs out there. That’s my opinion.
Without a doubt you will find abundant technical information on a number of photo websites. One of my favorites is Digital Photography Review (www.dpreview.com). Spend a few hours searching their forums and you’ll surely find whatever technical answer it is you’re looking for. And though I love my local library, it’s kind of hard to find the very latest technical information on their shelves. The technology surrounding photo hardware and software changes by the minute. For technical info the internet reigns supreme.
I enjoy the technical aspects of photography and look forward to diving into specific issues on this blog in the future.