Phases of a Photographer’s Development

Joe Farace in 1955While learning and refining their skills, most photographers progress through three distinct phases in their development.

The first phase occurs immediately after they get their first “good” camera and discover the medium’s potential for fun and creativity. During this time, novice shooters enthusiastically photographically explore their world and every memory card is chock full of files that contains images that look so much better than they could have ever imagined. That’s me at left in 1955, a Brownie Hawkeye in my camera bag while climbing the steps of the Washington Monument in DC.

homage to Traffaut

Unfortunately, this blissful period doesn’t last long and is quickly replaced by the next and much longer phase. During phase two, the photographer’s level of enthusiasm is still high but is somewhat diminished when reviewing their latest images only to discover that these new photographs are much worse than they expected. Part of dealing with this phase has to do with managing expectations. One of the biggest influences on my photography is the movies. One of my earliest available light portraits was this (above) homage to François Truffaut’s 1971 film Two English Girls. It was made in a friend’s back yard using a Contax 137 MD Quartz with a Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 lens and Kodak color negative film, exposure unrecorded. In those days, one of my reasons for using the Contax system was those superb Carl Zeiss lenses and their delightful bokeh effect they produce when used wide open.

Unfortunately, this phase can last a long time but as the photographer continues to improve their skills by reading magazines and books, and—most important of all—practicing their art, they eventually reach the third and final phase. At this point, the images the photographer sees in their viewfinder and what they actually capture is exactly what they expected. There are no surprises. While reaching this phase can be fulfilling, some of the magic is understandably lost.

Sometimes that right combination of lighting, subject, and photographer’s mood and inspiration will capture a magic moment and that’s why I like working with available light; you remove all the headaches of dealing with lighting equipment to focus on the subject. If you would like to experience some of that same thrill of discovery that occurred during that first phase of your photographic education, I’d like to suggest that you make a few photographs of your own when the available light may not be so available.

Author: Joe Farace

Share This Post On