Taking It To Next Level – What does that actually mean? How do you get there? Shoot Raw – Teaching and Learning – Goals – Beyond Exceptional

Taking It To Next Level? What does that actually mean?  How do you get there?  Teaching and Learning – Goals

What exactly does that mean?   Teachers, including myself always talk about “Taking you to the next level.” This is pretty hard to define because only you can define what your next level should be and in most cases you are not going to know that either.

Photography is an art and if we were to compare our art form to those who make images on canvas or paper with paint and brushes, pencils, charcoal and the like then our tools for our art are our cameras, lenses, and software. For those still using film then your software is your darkroom tool set. Darkroom tools and software tools are what give you the final image on paper and some of the approach to that is similar and in the case of software, so very much expanded.

So does a field trip, workshop or class take you to the next level? Maybe and there again, maybe not. I’ll ask again, what is your next level.

Next levels can only be achieved if you have really mastered the level below the next level. When I say mastered I mean do you understand the basics of exposure, depth of field, color of light, and the elements of a proper composition.

If you have not mastered all those elements above then your next level would probably be to do so. Do so ever day, or several days a week. Practice the fundamentals. What does shutter speed do? What does F-stops/aperture settings do? How can changing your iso speed get you to making the shutter speed and aperture settings you need to work at? And finally, what are the rules of composition and for that matter most art on paper or screen?

These are all elements of the art of photography that can be taught. I consider all of them as getting to one of the first levels. Notice I said first l e v e l s. If however, you do not practice, practice and practice some more you will not retain those things you need to know how to use on a spontaneous basis.

I think of beginning and reinforcing at each turn, three first levels. The first one is mastering of your hardware and second is mastering the basic components of an excellent image.

1. First come cameras, lenses, flash, and accessories, including a tripod when needed.

2. Second your understanding and ability to apply proper use of the exposure triangle, consisting of Iso, Aperture, Shutter speed. Within that triangle I am going to add WHITE BALANCE.

3. Composition is the third component.  This involves learning how to SEE.  Those of us that can see, may take it for granted because that is what we do all day.  But what we see through our eyes is not necessarily what we see through the camera.  Learning to see through a camera, edge to edge in most viewfinders is crucial to the first step of getting the image perceived as the image recorded.  Not all cameras are FULL FRAME and not all cameras have accurate view finders and learning the limitations is crucial to a properly composed photograph.

This brings me to what may be the most important thing to learn and teach. That is your own personal camera equipment.

Do you know what each menu item in your cameras software and firmware does? Do you know what each button and wheel on the back of your camera does? Do you know what each wheel and button and lever on the front of your camera does? Do you know why your camera has several metering systems? Do you know how to quickly change your iso, shutter speed, and aperture? Do you know to what percentage your viewfinder is inaccurate?

Do you clean your sensors in your cameras so that dust spots and pollens to not impair the image? Do you know how to clean your sensors?

Do you clean your lenses whether you think they need it or not? Do you know that pollution in the air and dust and dirt can invisibly settle on your filters or lenses? Do you know how to REALLY clean your lenses and filters?

Do you double check that any last settings you made for the last image taken have been returned to a normal / neutral position? In other words is the iso, mode selection, metering selection, +/- selection been brought back to norm or are you going to take pictures all day long at the wrong settings?

Do you know that before you think about working in your software to enhance your image, that it was important to GET IT RIGHT IN YOUR camera first?

Do you know what the real capability of your lenses is? How wide is wide? How tele is your tele? What is a normal lens? Is there things about your lenses, i.e. distortion that you think are normal but they are not? Do you understand how not keeping lenses level can change the perspective that the lens and camera will produce? Have you mastered your lenses?

When you are going to go out and shoot are all of your batteries charged?

When you are going to go out and shoot are all your memory cards formatted and perhaps I should ask do you format your cards or simply erase the images you do not want at the end of a shooting day?

If you are going to use a tripod, do you have a cable release? Do you know what a cable release does?

Explaining, teaching, and applying the basic fundamentals is an ongoing process because so many people, even with that knowledge get so wrapped up in GETTING the image that they lose sight of the controls that will make that image beyond exceptional.  Have a plan.  Take your time.

Suddenly shutter speed, apertures, and the other exposure components “go out the window” because the composition has become “front and center” and everything else “goes to hell in a hand basket.”  Have a plan.  Take your time.

I like to feel that when I am teaching in the field with either a field trip, workshop or a one on one up close and personal class that all of the above fundamentals get covered in a normal days work.


If I and many others did not work at this on a steady basis one can lose touch with it.  One can forget some of the many variables that go into setting up an image before it gets taken.  As they say, “use it or lose it.”  Always be learning and always work at it.  Try to have a plan.  Always take your time.

The very last stage of the beyond exceptional image is how it will be processed in the multitude of options that are out there.  I use a variety of products.  Adobe Lightroom 5.0 is the latest incarnation of Adobe’s image processing software.  When I was young I worked in a darkroom.

Today I work in a Lightroom so the product is properly named.  The difference between the darkroom and the lightroom is not so much where you are processing an image, but how.  While experts could produce exceptional prints in a darkroom, most others could not.  The digital possibilities Lightroom offers above and beyond the old darkroom is insane and highly more creative.  It is also 100 percent repeatable from image to image.  That makes life a lot easier.

Read more on having your own Lightroom and find out why this last creative step is a must for everyone.  Is it hard to learn.  No!

Elliotpaulstern April 12, 2014 ©























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