Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tools To Improve

[Note: Click the pics to see larger versions! ]

Practice is the best way to improve at an endeavour whether it is basketball, poker, or photography. I had no problem taking pictures right after I got my camera -- during the honeymoon period with my Rebel XT I took pictures of pretty much everything that moved (and many things that didn't move). If you look in the archives, you can see the results of much of my early shooting.

After a few weeks, the novelty wore off and I was taking a lot less pictures. Luckily, I stumbled upon DPChallenge and Strobist during that period. DPC helped me to take more pictures by providing a topic or challenge to shoot for; Strobist opened my eyes to the many methods of viewing and controlling light.

Whether you are a professional photographer or a complete hobbiest who stumbled upon this site by accident, the best thing you can do for your own photographic art is to find resources that teach you new techniques AND give yourself an outlet to use the new techniques creatively. Learning photography, by necessity, requires more practice than theory.

With that in mind, I'd like to describe DPC and Strobist in a little more detail, and point you towards some useful resources and reasons to photograph.


DPC is one of many photography web sites based on contests. I've looked into a few others, but DPC is my favorite simply because it is the first I found, the site is easy to navigate, and the members are very friendly and helpful. Membership is $25 per year (well worth it), but you can participate in some challenges for free.

Every week non-members can enter one of two open challenges based on a certain topic or technique, usually very broad. In addition, non-members have access to most areas of the forums and other useful areas of the site such as photographer reviews, tutorials, etc. The advantages of membership include access to a second challenge each week, no ads, and extra forums areas that are members-only.

The real power of DPC is the community of photographers. You can ask almost any question and you'll get helpful answers. More than that, since everyone deals with the same challenges every week, they all know what you are going through. Finally, the challenges allow you to try new techniques and then get immediate feedback, whether it is comments on your images or critiques in the forums.

For example, take a look at my profile page. Clicking on one of my photographs will allow you to see the image submitted to the challenge, any details about how I took it, and comments from other members of the site. Getting immediate feedback on my photographs in a public forum is a great way to learn what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong.

Even better is the new DPChallenge Photography League (DPL). The DPL is a team-based league built on top of DPC challenges. Each team has 7 players and the top 4 people with the highest single scores are used compete head-to-head with other teams. The best part is that your teammates are allowed to help you with your challenge submissions; while you have to take and edit the picture yourself, your team can give advice, critique your work, and/or help you select which image to submit. In the five weeks I've participated in the DPL, I've learned a ton from my team and my average DPC entry has improved a great deal. In the process, I've met people from Iceland, Australia, and elsewhere!

Also, while DPL 1 is winding down into playoffs (it is unclear if my team, Light, will make it because a lot of stuff has to go our way) in a month or so DPL 2 will start up. That means there is plenty of time to enter a few challenges, learn about the site, and get on a team for the next DPL. I highly recommend it, so far it has been my most rewarding experience in photography.

Of note: every image in this post is an outtake of a DPC challenge. Yes, that means it was rejected by me as not good enough. But on every one of them, I've learned new techniques for taking pictures, lighting, and editing. And the DPL has given me a lot of reason to go out and take pictures!


Strobist is, without a doubt, a huge repository for off-camera lighting information. But Strobist is more than that, and while I have spent most of my time over at DPC, Strobist also has very helpful forums over at the Flickr Strobist Group.

More importantly, Lighting 102 has now officially started with the first section, Unit 1.1 Position (Angle). This marks the first Lighting 102 post with actual assignments in it. Assignments are exercises you can do at home to understand what David Hobby is trying to teach you. Did I mention something about practice earlier?

I can summarize the first Lighting 102 post in a sentence:

To see the light, you need to be the light.

Very zen-like, huh. But read the post, and you'll see what I mean. Simple idea, but until you actually try it, you won't really understand it. Since Lighting 102 just started, it would be a piece of cake to catch up and follow along.

Personally, I'm planning on completing the whole series of Lighting 102 posts, like it is a class. A free class. A free class I can do at home in my underwear (well, except for the pictures). For the record, I am wearing pants right now. But I digress...

There are a lot of parallels between Lighting 102 and DPC:
  1. Group of photographers interested in learning... Check!
  2. Well implemented method of sharing and commenting on photos... Check!
  3. Structured subject and technique for taking pictures each week... Check!
  4. Gives you a reason to learn and practice photography... Check!
Both DPC and Lighting 102 will help you improve photography skills. Or one of the other online sites focused on photography. The main thing is to get out there, make some connections, find a reason to shoot, and then practice making pictures!

PS. If anyone wants an Anatomy of a Photo entry for any of the images on this page, leave a comment, and I'll move it to the top of my list of things to blog about.

1 comment:

Mandibal said...

Nicely written post. I'm off to check out the DPChallenge site.