It’s quite common for me to say that if I take a good photograph, it’s by accident. The main reason is that taking a good shot doesn’t come naturally to me, and I haven’t the interest in putting in the time required to become better at it. That’s the key to becoming good at something, devoting yourself to it completely when everyone else around you gives up. Many people will tell me that they ‘can’t even draw a stick man,’ which of course is an exaggeration because everybody can draw a stick man, but I get what they’re saying. The truth is that if a person really does want to become a better artist, they have to be willing to do what it takes to get there. So it’s not about being willing to draw one stick man, it’s about being willing to draw thousands of them in pursuit of the perfect stick man.
It’s obvious that I’m never going to be a really good at taking photos. Sure, I’d like to take better snapshots, and over the past few years hanging out with a lot of photographers, I am doing that, but I have no illusion that I’ll ever have any real skill. My heart just isn’t in it, and truth be told, learning the technical aspects of cameras, lights and equipment just seems like studying for a math final to me, and I hated math.
Thankfully, I’ve already found my passion elsewhere, but there is still a lot I can learn from photographers.
I love looking at beautiful images and the artistry that photographers put into their work is not lost on me. Some of my best friends and many of my favorite artists are photographers. I don’t need to understand how Andrew Zuckerman does what he does to know that I love his images. Same applies to the work of Jill Greenberg, Joe McNally, and Moose Peterson. I know that if you click on any of these links right now, I’ve probably lost you, and I can’t fault you for that.
As a painter, I have learned a lot from photographers. Images are images, and often, many of the things that contribute to making a great photograph will apply to illustration and painting. Composition, lighting, texture, atmosphere, and the things done in post processing, all of these important elements directly translate to the work I do.
With that in mind, I’ll often buy books written by photographers, especially if they’re more about how to take a good photograph, rather than how to use the equipment. Additionally, I’ll buy books about the business of photography as it is very much like the business of illustration and painting. We show our work in galleries, we work on commission for clients, we deal with the same copyright, licensing issues and agreements. The talent and skills required may be different, but the disciplines are similar.
What I often learn most from these books is how much more I’ve yet to learn, and I expect that will always be the case. What I find most fascinating is that the philosophy and dedication required to be a successful photographer is the same as any other creative and artistic profession. There’s a lot to learn from other creative professionals, especially if they’re working in an entirely different field, because it forces you to consider another perspective. A musician will have something to teach an actor, an actor will have something to teach a photographer, and a photographer will have something to teach a painter.
I’m currently reading two books on photography right now, and am enjoying them very much. I’ve had the pleasure of taking a couple of classes from Scott Bourne at Photoshop World, and recently did some caricature work for Moose Peterson, so I was eager to get their books. Not only is there valuable insight and information in both of them, but as expected, some beautiful images, too.