Learning a new technique can be a lot of fun. Things like working out how to create photos with creamy bokeh or long exposure shots are fun techniques to learn but if you don’t consider the purpose of the effect then they can become over or misused. It’s much better to learn photography techniques for a reason.
Creating rich bokeh photos one of the primary reasons I picked up a mirrorless camera in the first place (as opposed to sticking to a mobile phone). Although some phones have come up with interesting attempts to create artificial bokeh, it’s still not the real thing. Shallow depth of field allows you to have one object in focus and everything else blurred. This helps to draw your eye to the in focus area and the subject of the image. However, shooting wide open (the lowest F number your camera can manage) is likely to result in other objects not being in focus and with a really fast lens this can even result in not all of a person being in focus. It can also loose context for the photo. When only the subject is in focus, you can barely make out where they are or anything around them. What’s the point in taking a picture outside when you can’t make out any of the details around them?
Furthermore, using something like shallow depth of field isn’t the only way to isolate your subject and focus on them in a photo, using good lighting, using leading lines or frame and other tools can all help to isolate your subject as well. Having more than one method to cause the same result is very useful especially as the situation may demand you to use a different technique. If you simply focus on the techniques then you can end up misusing them (such as the first example), becoming reliant on them and not using an alternative method that would suit a situation better in this situation.
Focus on the goal, then the skill
When you focus on a goal (such as isolating a subject) you have a few major advantages. Firstly you can compare and contrast a few different techniques and choose the best for the situation you are in. This means you won’t misuse your effects or you can work out how to overcome some negative side effects.
Secondly, you will remember the techniques better. It is easier to remember a fact, skill or technique when you can see the direct purpose for it. Admittedly this is always clearer in photography (you have the visual proof of what the technique did) but it is even stronger when you have a clear goal to pursue. Furthermore, when you are seeking that goal again, you will think of the technique or techniques.
Finally, you will also be able to make the most of the other characteristics of a technique. So when Bokeh is appropriate and useful to create a surreal background, that’s great. When using leading lines to draw attention to a specific point is better, you can use that. Best of all, you can combine a few techniques and avoid becoming a one trick pony.
All these points make it better to learn photography techniques for a reason, and not just learn techniques.
A tale of two challenges
I want to tell you about two photo challenges I had and you can compare how useful they were.
- use leading lines in a photo.
- draw attention to a subject in a photo.
The first was a great way to think about a technique and try to notice the lines around me. The second made me use that technique and others to create a great photo.
Both were useful challenges and the first was definitely the right challenge when I was just starting out and didn’t know about the compositional ideas that would help me. The second was right for me later on as it allowed me to consider why I should use different techniques.