From Newbie to Newbie...Just When I thought I knew.
A Journey of Learning Photography to Learning Photographic Equipment
For 20 years, I worked in the field of Radiology. Learning everything from Radiation Physics to Human Anatomy, and during that time as I learned all that I could, I became an expert in my field. While most X-ray techs perfected areas of Radiology like the Barium Enema or Barium Swallow exams, I was more curious about the unconventional Emergency and Operating room procedures, and I excelled in areas where getting the shot meant figuring it out on my own, since the book didn’t cover every situation.
It is very important to understand this before we proceed; while each tech may approach the patient and/or situation from a different knowledge or experience base, the final result in x-ray must be a standardize image or series of images that the Radiologist or other Physicians can read.
Similarly to Photography, we have our own Exposure Triangle (using Kilovolts, Milliamps, and Seconds); but, Radiology follows strict rules of acquisition and display standards. But from about 5-7 years into my career, I knew just about all there was to know in that field and I was at the top of my game. I was a pro—or in the terms we affectionately used--I was a Super Tech.
My experience started from my days in the Military. I was in the medical field, in the mode of specialty assigned as 91P—X-ray Tech. I was assigned to Ft. Bragg, NC, at Womack Army Hospital. There I excelled in Radiology, learning not only the required information to be good, but I also learned those unconventional views that no one really wanted to do and that were also rarely used. I also volunteered to go where no one wanted to go—like the Emergency Room, the Operating Room, and the Morgue.
I was fearless and I was good. I was a Super Tech.
In 2009, I picked up a Camera and that started my journey into Photography. My first camera, of which I still use, was a Fuji XS1. It is a digital camera, but it has a mounted, non-detachable lens. I was proud of this camera and shot very good images; at least that’s what I thought at the time. And, of course, I was shooting everything in Auto.
Now, let’s just stop right there for a moment and let the dichotomy of my journey settle in.
In an instant, I went from being a Super Tech in Radiology to a Newbie in Photography. This is significant to this blog as that process will be continually repeated throughout our journey.
With so many similarities between Radiology and Photography, I mistakenly thought that I could just jump right in and apply the sciences. Oh, how wrong I was. But, all was not lost. I started shooting sports primarily for my kid’s school; and, as you would guess, other parents were there too shooting with whatever cameras they had also, (from Point and Shoot to full DSLRs.) Yet, there was this one guy who stood out—he was not a parent but he asked to shoot the games. He shot with a Canon and he had a very long, very big 70-200m, 2.8 lens; and, his images were far superior to mine. But, honestly, besides his images being superior to mine, I began to feel inferior in lens comparisons. And so, as you would guess, I went out and bought a new camera and a big ole lens (Sigma 150-500mm) myself and I committed to learning more about Photography than I had already known. And, that is where we begin.
Even after 7 years of shooting and learning, I am still a Newbie (of sorts)—not a novice but a newbie nonetheless.
But, that begs the question and will probably spark controversy, so let me explain. The term “newbie” is subjective. It could mean “new to Photography” in general (as in a novice) or it could mean an “amateur without a comprehensive knowledge of photography” as in an Enthusiast still honing her skills; or an old photographer on a new journey. Regardless of how we define it, the term is affectionate. I mean, I don’t think Webster limits its definition exclusively to the field of photography.
So, now let’s talk about your possible journey! You have just bought your new camera. It’s a Point and Shoot, with a bunch of bells and whistles and you are extremely excited to embark on this photographic journey. You've been hearing so much about how once you learn your camera you will move from full Auto to full Manual. And then, since you will be controlling everything, you will be a much better and more respected photographer. (You can laugh here!)
That sounds exciting because it means you will learn how to take pictures.
“How to take pictures;” that is probably an oxymoronic phrase; because photography's lesson is a journey without an end.
But, just when you were getting good at taking pictures with your point and shoot, someone suggests moving out of automatic and learning how to shoot in manual. Well, ok, you thought you had an “eye” for photography because your images were really good but you listen to this person anyhow. And then, because someone said that since you shoot in "Auto" that you are not a real photographer and as a result, you almost peed in your pants over the fear of learning something new. You think, whatever happen to just taking the picture…now, you have to learn how to set up the camera, too. And, we know that this is just as scary as settings on the DVD and trying to get the clock to stop flashing.
The anxiety builds because all you wanted to do is to learn “how to take pictures.” So, you think to yourself that you never really! wanted to learn about the intricate details of the camera; if so, you would have gone to school to study Photography. But, and that is the nature of the beast, you begin to read books on Mastering your Nikon (any camera), ask questions, and learn. And, soon, soon you have moved out of the realm of auto and you have mastered the Exposure Triangle. You understand the relation between the settings and you have now begun to shoot in full manual (assuming your P&S can accommodate).
As a gift to yourself, you venture out and buy the latest and best camera on the market that the sales person at Best Buy told you was a good deal for your skill level…it’s a Nikon D3200 with a few kit lenses. (No hate mail on the D3200 being the latest and best; it’s a hypothetical folks) And, you’re excited. After spending a little time reading the manual, you fire off your first fully Manual shot with your first full blown DSLR. Wow! You've arrived and feel like you are a real photographer. In some perspectives, you are no longer a “Newbie;” because, you now shoot your DSLR in full manual. (A little sarcasm there!)
Then it happens!
You buy a new prime and a telephoto lens, because someone across the world told you how these lenses did wonders for his photography. So, yep, you run out and buy these lenses...on that advice. Then as you are honing your skills on the Exposure Triangle with your new camera and pro-feeling-like lenses, you begin to notice a few anomalies. On your 50mm, 1.8 prime lens, you notice that when you shot wide open the sharpness is slightly different than when you shoot your 70-200mm, 2.8 wide open. So, you begin to inquire and you learn that “wide open” just means that the lens it at its maximum aperture and the depth of field from being wide open at the different focal lengths produces small variances in the image quality comparison. And, for that you say, “What?”
Then some guru begins to explain to you that the various lenses that you have will produce slight variances in image quality at different focal lengths and that you will need to understand those differences within the lenses themselves. “OoooK.” You rationalize that this means, in short, that 2.8 on your 50m is very different from 2.8 on your 70m-200m. So then, you adjust your thinking in terms of the Exposure Triangle and conclude that while the exposure triangle is true to form, that the type of lens you use can require a different approach to photographing the subject matter. And, as complicated as it sounds, you understand it a little. But still, it makes you a little nervous because it means that the limitations or variations in your lenses will cause you to think differently about the Exposure Triangle settings…whereas each lens treats light a little differently than the next and each aperture is relative to its focal length. And, yep this is starting to get scientific and all you want to do is to learn “how to take pictures.”
Pressing on because you understand the lenses that you need for different scenes, you take a few images with the various lenses and post your best pictures to favorite Photography Group on Facebook. Within minutes, someone begins to ask you questions about Diffraction, Chromatic Aberration, Vignetting, Focal Length, Hyper-focal lengths, Back Focusing, Focus Points, Metering, Noise, Shadows, Rule of Thirds, RAW vs Jpeg, Vibration Reduction and a few other things that only the photo-geeks can muster. You feel the anxiety rushing and boiling up in your loins. There is no way you are going to answer; more than likely, you are going to delete the post and vow never to post again.
Besides, all you wanted to do was to learn “how to take pictures.” What the hell is Diffraction anyway?
But, you plow through anyhow. You manage to ignore the jargon, focus on your own photography, use what you understand and not worry about the rest. After a few months of shooting, you begin posting your images to your favorite group again, and you are more than comfortable with your new-found toy. You feel you have arrived and are no longer a newbie in the field of photography. You don’t shoot in Auto anymore, you have mastered your D3200 and very satisfied with the images you produce.
As you continue to familiarize yourself with your camera, you notice another little anomaly with your Exposure Meter in your viewfinder. You begin to see variances as you switch between Spot Metering, Center Weighted and Matrix Metering. Getting up courage, you ask your (by now familiar) Photo-geek and the onslaught of posts pour in. You try your best to decipher what seems to you like a Secret Language the Photo-geeks speak. But, it nags at you that if your exposure meter setting is reading Zero, giving you a correct exposure on Spot metering, than why does switching to Center-weighted give you a plus or minus by a stop or two without your changing the composition or shifting focus. That seems to baffle you, because you are shooting in Manual and you are attempting to control the Exposure Triangle like a good little photographer is supposed to do. But, this darn camera keeps changing things on you.
Now you are utterly disappointed in having to adjust your understanding of metering when you switch between the meter settings, you conclude to leave it on one setting all the time, only to have another photo-geek in a group post, chide you on not fully utilizing the metering features on your camera. He becomes irate enough to express to you how you need to fully read your manual before embarking on taking pictures and if you don’t understand what you’re doing then don’t post pictures. After you recoup from using every profane word and making every equivalent gesture known to man, while standing up and yelling at your computer, you quietly resolve to study more. Your epiphany is quiet and personal; but, you admit somewhere in your core that there is so much more to learn and ponder on, and whatever happened to just learning “how to take a picture!”
Now, you begin to realize that there is really a Science behind the Art.
Months go by and you are really starting to understand the intricate workings of your camera (without the photo-geeks)…you learn where everything is, how it relates to what you want, and you get comfortable with how your camera fits in your hand. You feel you are ready to upgrade and decide you want a new camera. That Full Frame Nikon D700 is priced relatively favorably for you, so you go get it. Expecting it was going be somewhat similar to the D3200 that you have, you are astonished at all the differences. Having just gotten used to the D3200’s features and functions, the D700 puts many of those things in new places and opens you up to a wider range of options. The Menu option has more features and settings than you knew you were possible to change. For you, this just means more stuff to learn. And, with more stuff to learn, you feel like a newbie all over again. But, you have a little excitement too, especially in seeing all the possibilities of how you can assign features that you don’t what they do to buttons that you didn't know you had. It’s a new experience; a new dawn, and you’re committed to learning this new camera.
But, before you can really understand it, another photo-geek tells you that your D3200 was a cropped sensor and your D700 is a full sensor, and after chiding you, really chiding you, for not knowing that, he then proceeds to explain something about multiplying your focal length by 1.5 to see the real focal length in terms of 35mm comparisons…which just sounds like Greek. When he is finished, you are just staring at his post, with a Deer-in-the-headlights expression, uttering…”What the [front door] have I gotten myself into? You mean I can’t just take a [darn] picture, I have to learn Algebra now too?”
Your utter confusion doesn’t really stop there, because the Photo-geeks and the Techno-geeks start a highly controversial debate (btw in your post) about some photographic settings versus manufacturer developments and debate some seemingly useless jargon about hyper-focal lengths...ultimately arguing over some minutiae of details in which you don’t give hollering-hoot about anyhow.
So now, you are dismayed that you have might have bought both DX and FX lenses (on the advice of someone on the other side of the world) and both a DX and an FX camera; and you might not fully understand the interchangeability of them at all, possibly confusing which lens goes with which camera or their inter-dynamic exchangeability. And, since, you really only wanted to learn “how to take pictures;” in your mind, you rationalize that you were doing quite well when you only had the Point & Shoot. Seems now with the “better” camera, you have to go back to school to learn a whole bunch of other stuff that you didn’t know that you really needed to know. And, the dichotomy of Photography, its Science and Art, really starts to annoy you.
But…you plow through, only to discover that per the comparison of what you see on Facebook, your images lack that special touch. And as is now customary, someone then “advises” you that you ought to get a Flash and they explain how that will make your images pop. You've been a natural light photographer, so with that new suggestion, your anxiety level rises again. You have no idea what type of flash you need and exactly how to use it. But, after a test shot you post your image and, once again, the photo-geeks start up with questions of Hard light, diffused light, bounce light, Catch light, Key Light, Main Light, Light Meters, Camera Meting, Ambient Light, Balanced Light, Off-camera Flash, On-camera Flash, TTL, power settings, Moon Lights, Studio Lights, Rim Lights, Soft-boxes, Remote Triggers, Battery Powered Lights, Constant Lights, GN numbers, and just when your head was about to explode, they tell you that to use Flash effectively you MUST learn the Inverse Square Law.
Okay that did it. Before, it was just a little anxiety and you felt like you wanted to vomit. But now it is much worse, your stomach is in such a knot, that not only do you say it, but you actually run to the bathroom and do it—yelling all the way, “For God’s sake! I just want to learn ‘how to take pictures!’”
Well, on to my point with all humor aside. Photography is both a Science and an Art… and they work in tandem and are inseparable.
So, as I start to end this visual journey, I will say that I completely empathize with your experience and I hope you empathize with mine. I was an Expert in Radiography. I knew it all and was at the top of my game. But, now I have to learn Photography from the beginning and learn my equipment too along the way…and sometimes there is a feeling of inadequacy. And yet, while I was able to transfer some of the knowledge of Radiography to Photography, my Super Tech status did not. I am again a Newbie—albeit not a novice.
I am a newbie for many reasons like just when I thought I understood how to buy a 50mm, 1.8, I was introduced to whether it is D, or G or some other initial that represented something foreign to me. Or, that when I bought the Tamron 70-200mm, 2.8 for $780, which I thought was a good deal; then someone said that is not the one with Vibration Control. Somehow I am supposed to know that I need the VC or don’t need the VC, even though I am not sure what type of photography I will be using this for. And, I am also supposed to “know” that if I get the VC make sure I turn it off when I use a Mono- or Tripod when using it. WTH.
Just when I thought I knew something, I realize I don’t know that much. There is so much more to learn. There are so many areas of photography to focus on and each area of photography requires different equipment and different skill sets. So, yes, I am a newbie—albeit not a novice.
Worst, after I thought I knew “how to take a picture,” I discovered that it might be of no consequence if I don’t know “how to post-process a picture.” Because, as soon as I post an image to my favorite photography group, some photo-geek critiques my image and tells me that horizon is slightly off, the shadows are too strong, the dynamic range of the clouds makes the image too bland, and that I should or could have corrected all that in Photoshop. My mental-want-to-scream-out-loud comment is: “Why the [heaven] didn’t they tell me that I needed to learn post-processing when they sold me that camera?”
I just want to learn “how to take pictures,” that’s all…nobody said anything about a lesson in Photoshop.
So, what’s my point? Well, the point is that having experience in Photography is also subjective.
You may take horrible pictures but you are an expert in Post-processing to veil the fact that you are a horrible photographer. Or, you may take technically correct images, but do not have a lick of knowledge on how to enhance the dynamic range, smoothing out the overall look of the image. Either way, the assessment of the end product doesn’t tell me anything new or overly accomplished about your photographic skills. To the contrary, it actually tells me less. Without standards, like we have in Radiology, then unless I was there, I have no clue on how you obtained the image. Just because it is beautiful, gorgeous or award-winning, doesn’t mean I know anything about your skill-level and the thoughts that went into producing it or the expertise behind the shot. For all I know, you could have a book out while testing a shot and you got lucky, or you could have had a mentor with you who guided you through every step of your shoot. Your final results tell me little about what you know and more about how well you know how to post an image to Facebook.
You have may even have experienced "anxiety" shaking all over the place just taking the shot or you may exude the greatest confidence, who knows?
The point is that we all experience some sort of new feelings of anxiety or excitement about some aspect of Photography that is new to us. And, and, and, that some aspect of Photography “IS” indeed, new to us all…each of us…regardless of your experience.
The Science of Photography is dynamic and evolving and the Art of it is creative and subjective. No one can bottle that up without having new experiences.
At, some point, regardless of what you know there is still a photographic experience and some equipment that will be new to you…thus making you a Newbie. And, if you are newbie to that experience, be kind to a Newbie of a different experience. Because, just when you thought you knew what you thought you knew--there came something new!
We are all Newbies…albeit not all Novices.
Nice article. In our club we have alot of newbies and this is something they should read. Don't beat yourself up over taking photos that are not up-to-the-level that others are taking. That is the key. It is a learning process not unlike driving a car, using keyword, getting on the internet/FB or almost everything else in life. It takes time and effort in the beginning.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
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