The Photographic Journey: Evaluating Your Progress

Excerpt from PHOTO DESIGN: Image Design and Composition for Photographers


This is a very difficult bird to expose well. I’d like to think that any beginner would like to have it in their files, or be proud of it. The photo’s beauty is simple and subtle, as is the bird’s: the shy expression on the face; the soft light; the perfect exposure. It’s no doubt a very good shot of a tough bird to photograph well.

But the experienced, well trained eye can see one huge glaring improvement that it could use. I’ll give you one second to study the photo and guess what that is — time’s up. It desperately needed a take the glare off the water and reveal the gorgeous glowing hues beneath the surface of the water. My polarizer sunk through the boardwalk slats and it’s now at the bottom of Wak and I had no choice with this one. The beginner me would not have seen this big glaring mistake and would have lived happily with this image. But the experienced me flinches every time I see it (and because of the memory of how my polarizer spun a little bit before it went through the deck. I swear that sucker even danced a little first before it finally fell through).

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For those who wish to excel in any creative field, the easiest thing to do is be hard on ourselves. It is important to remember that photography is a blend of science and art, together with subject matter that we sometimes cannot control or predict. While digital technology has increased the number of technically sound photographs we are taking home, there are many parts of the photographic process that need to be learned, understood and practiced in order to best take advantage of the camera’s unique characteristics.

The process of learning photography is not about how fast you progress, but about the journey. There is great satisfaction in immersing yourself in your subject and learning to photograph it well (before racing off to achieve perfection). The learning process can be the most meaningful part of your photographic journey, and making mistakes is one of the most effective ways of making progress. The steepness of the learning curve should be embraced and enjoyed, not dreaded.

Go easy on yourself and enjoy the ride. My best photography memories are of when I was learning the ropes. As you mature as an artist your technique will improve. You will become more efficient. You will become more creative. You will be able to consistently design pleasing and dynamic images, and you will become more critical when evaluating your work. You will find your photographic voice. Great photography is about mastering your gear and experience. Give yourself time for that and have a blast doing it! If you are out there learning, experimenting, and growing, you will improve.

Excerpt from PHOTO DESIGN: Image Design and Composition for Photographers

American Coot, Green Cay Wetlands, Boynton Beach, FL, Canon10D
Image and text ©Gloria Hopkins, All Rights Reserved