Practicing for Perfection

When I was at WPPI this year, I heard Roberto Valenzuela speak at the PWD Labs booth. To say I was inspired would be a gross understatement. While I don’t photograph weddings, the principles he taught were applicable across all genres of photography and his philosophy regarding practicing your art was, for me, game-changing.

Roberto talked about how he was a classical guitarist for ten years and that, in an effort to have a mistake-free performance, he would practice guitar continuously. He mentioned that the digital age has allowed mistakes to become the norm in photography. We shoot, make a mistake, see it on the backs of our cameras, make an adjustment, and shoot again. When everything is said and done, we throw away the mistakes and just keep the ones we finally arrived at through trial-and-error.

Roberto believes that photographers should practice their craft in the same way that musicians and other performers practice theirs. After listening to him speak, I have adopted the same principle. I want to know that my photography is strong in-camera. I want to place my lights and my subject and know what image I am creating before it appears on my LCD screen. Just as a guitarist will practice and experiment when the stakes are low (i.e. in their room vs. on-stage), I should work on improving my techniques when I have nothing to lose.

Starting today, I am committing myself to learning several new techniques this year and practicing those techniques with family, friends, and casting-call subjects until I am confident I have mastered them. I know I will, in turn, be able to photograph more meaningful, creative and beautiful imagery for my clients and for my portfolio.

What new technique do you want to master?

March 7, 2012 - 11:59 am

Patsy J Lander - I want to master and feel comfortable with shooting in manual mode…for some reason it does not come easy for me.

March 7, 2012 - 12:18 pm

Emily - Good for you Patsy – that’s a great goal!!

March 7, 2012 - 12:55 pm

Lisa - I am taking on a 366 project this year, but really need to read some books I’ve got on hand to really improve too. I am trying to improve composition, so that images are visually interesting. And also the use of light, both natural and artificial, to create sharp interesting images.

March 7, 2012 - 3:30 pm

Andrea - I love the idea of trying to get things right in-camera. So many times I probably take way more shots than I need so I end up with enough “good” or “great” ones. I’d rather get things right so I don’t have to take (and later sort through) so many, and can spend less time in Photoshop trying to correct what I should have fixed before or during taking the images!

March 7, 2012 - 3:33 pm

Andrea - I’ll add that the main things I am working on are lighting and posing/composition. I also want to get more shots out of one composition by moving around or trying different angles. That way I can get 3-4 images without reposing, which makes things easier for me (less work but more images) and saves time!

March 8, 2012 - 7:32 am

Susan Richardson - I am still trying to master studio lighting. My background, up until now, has been natural, day lighting. Since making the decision to open my own studio, I have been studying studio lighting feverishly (about 9 months now). I have read several books (Kevin Kubota, Bill Hurter, Edward Lilley,Joe McNally) and I am addicted to watching Mark on Adorama TV!! I also took a studio lighting class from PPSOP which was very helpful, so I am getting there. In the end, my goal is the same as you Emily, to get it RIGHT, in camera, and to know how to set up the light correctly, by sight (or pretty close) just verifying with my light meter, and then shoot a frame or two and go! I want that level of confidence.

March 8, 2012 - 12:29 pm

Shayna - Saw him at Skip’s Summer School, it was great, I think about his message often. I just got his book and cant wait to delve in! Did he talk about bananas? I am working on posing, an awkard one for me, not a natural thing for me.

March 8, 2012 - 2:43 pm

Jenny Gilman - This was great, thanks for sharing. I have several techniques I want to practice but my issue is how to acquire willing participants for “practice”. How do you send out your casting call? Or any ideas for a fun way to get people on board for such?

March 15, 2012 - 2:31 pm

Meg Wright - @Jenny– Offer them images in exchange for practice. That is what I do, & I have had no problems getting willing participants. In fact, I usually have the opposite problem– too many to choose from & not enough time!

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