Above: Australian entertainer Red Symons, photo by Gina Milicia
I’ve got a mate called Dave (name changed to protect the innocent). Dave is all about the shortcut. Whenever we go anywhere together, he always has a quicker way to get there.
Daves shortcuts always involve cutting across car parks, doubling back through a maze of one-way streets and various detours.
I’ll admit we usually save a few minutes, but I’m not a fan. The quick option involves intense concentration, and there have been more than a few occasions when the alternative ended up being a “long” cut because of roadblocks, or we got lost in the maze of “turn left, go right, double back and turn right.”
I like my travel to be in a straight line with minimal detours. I want to enjoy my trip and not have to focus on the next left turn. What’s the point of saving a few minutes if you arrive at the destination frazzled and exhausted?
When I was first learning about photography, I was more like Dave. I wanted to know the quickest way to get to the other side. I didn’t care how many detours, left turns and double backs I took as long as I got there. Fast.
The problem with taking shortcuts when you’re learning a new skill is you miss out on the most important part of the lesson. It’s the boring stretches of road where nothing appears to be happening that hold the most valuable lessons.
When I first learned how to light a portrait, I discovered a “painting by numbers” shortcut. I used a cookie cutter formula for the camera settings, light settings, and light position. At the time I thought this was awesome. I’d discovered the shortcut to taking great photos. *Cue heroic soundtrack.
The problem with this shortcut is I knew the basic way to do something, but I hadn’t taken the time to understand why I was doing it in the first place.
A great photo is much more than great lighting or perfect exposures. It’s all the extra details like how shifting a light slightly closer or further away from a subject can change the entire look and feel of a shot. Or the way your model looks into the lens can make them look friendly and engaged or cold and aloof.
There are no shortcuts to great work. Some people may stumble on a painting by numbers formula and get lucky for a while, but if you study the work of the great Masters of Photography, you will notice they all have one thing in common. Their journey never ended, and they all took the long road home.