How to get better at photography

(This is an excerpt from the introduction to the companion exercise book for the 9th edition of Complete Digital Photography. It can be downloaded free from the CDP 9 support page on the website.) 

Throughout your life you have probably been told to practice one thing or another—musical instruments, sports, handwriting, whatever. If you’re like me, you were never thrilled with the idea of practicing, and though you understood that the exhortation to practice was true and important, you also didn’t really believe it. Maybe you clung to some of the popular cultural myths that we share—the myth of the “natural” athlete or the “gifted” musician—and so skipped practicing with the hope that you would turn out to be one of those natural, gifted individuals. The truth is that, while there are people that start with a skill level above the normal baseline, those people only achieve greatness because of their extreme dedication to practicing. The same is true with photography.

It can be difficult to understand how important practice is to the discipline of photography because the camera takes care of so much of the craftsmanship of making an image. There is, of course, plenty of theory to understand, as well as technical considerations to weigh when making a photo, and learning those things takes practice. What can be less obvious is that visualizing and seeing as a photographer also requires practice. The good news is that the process of seeing is something that you can learn and improve at.

Because we are constantly looking at things during the normal course of being alive, we don’t always think of “seeing” as a skill that can be learned, but I can offer two proofs that your ability to see changes with practice:

First, in addition to seeing, most of us are also constantly hearing things. If you’ve ever learned to play a musical instrument then you know that, through practice, you can train your ear to hear pitch, intervals and rhythm. Similarly, your eyes can be trained to recognize form, light, and many compositional ideas. 

The second proof is something that might sound familiar: you spend an afternoon wandering about with your camera, searching for things to shoot, only to end up frustrated because you feel like you’re repeating yourself. All of the compositions you come up with are similar to other compositions you’ve made before, and all of the subject matter that you notice is similar to other things you frequently photograph. While this kind of photographic rut can be very frustrating, it’s also evidence that seeing is a skill that can be learned, because what has led you to this rut is repetition, and while feeling like you’re in a rut can be demoralizing, it’s also a valuable step toward developing something that all photographers need.

More about how to build a photograph

In Chapter 9 of Complete Digital Photography I wrote about how an aesthetic for light is critical to the photographic process and how all photographs begin with an impulse, sometimes slight, which the photographer must tune into and explore to make the best photo. No matter how you do it, occasionally, you will “solve” a photograph in a very satisfying, successful way. Perhaps that compositional solution also requires specific exposure ideas—dropping shadows into black, for example, or depending on shallow depth of field for subject isolation. When you find those satisfying solutions you will remember them and, because they were successful, you will probably find yourself deploying the same solutions in other situations.

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Complete Digital Photography ebook is now available

The ebook version of Complete Digital Photography is now available on both the Apple and Amazon bookstores for $34.99, which is $30 off the print price.

The following is from the “about this ebook” section:

The ebook version of Complete Digital Photography is identical to the contents of the printed version, including that version’s fonts, and was designed for optimal readability on most iOS and Android tablets that support either Apple’s or Amazon’s book files. While this ebook is readable on most modern Kindle e-ink readers, we don’t recommend this solution as a primary reading platform for the book, given that those readers lack color screens.

The images, graphics and charts found in the book are high-resolution, and double-tapping on any image will let you view it full-screen. Due to the large number of images and other graphics, some readers might find that turning on their app’s continuous-scrolling feature will be helpful in preserving the continuity of the text.

CDP ebook update

It’s been a long road, but I’m happy to report that the ebook version of Complete Digital Photography is almost here.  Today, I finished the final merge of the ebook: text and images are in their proper location, and the book passed its first validation test. It will take a week or two of device testing, CSS tweaking, and image checking to finish up.

One of the things that has made this process so labor-intensive is that an ebook doesn’t really have the same concept of a ‘page’ as found in a printed book; it’s closer in design to a web page. For a book largely made up of text, this isn’t too big a deal, but CDP’s volume of images meant that nearly every image had to be formatted for the ebook.

We feel good about what we’ve created. CDP9 uses the book’s fonts, and, like any other reflowable ebook, you can resize the text or change it to one of your preferred fonts. Tapping an image will open it full-screen, and it should look good at that size. And, the index in the back of the book is fully linked to the text, helpful for digging into into a subject that is referenced in different places throughout the book.

Blah, blah, blah–when will it be available?

We are hoping to upload the final version to Amazon and Apple for distribution in early May (we’ll be looking at alternative choices after launch). We’re still working on pricing, and won’t be able to announce that until we’ve worked through the specifics of different online stores. (I can tell you that it will be under $40.)

Below are some screen shots of current pages in the book, from an iPad and from Apple’s Books app; just click on one of them to see the gallery. We’ll have more information in a couple of weeks, after we’ve submitted the final book.

Lightroom & Photoshop intro videos

The postproduction tutorials for the 9th edition of Complete Digital Photography use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, but if you don’t have a lot of experience with either app, or need a refresher, we’ve posted a page with introductory videos from Ben Long.

Links to all of our support material can be found on the Complete Digital Photography 9th edition support page. If you’re still using an earlier version of the book, we also have dedicated support pages for the 8th edition and the 7th edition.

 

Ben Talks Photography on PhotoActive Podcast

Ben was recently a guest on the PhotoActive photography podcast, hosted by Kirk McElhearn and Jeff Carlson. Ben spoke a little bit about the release of the new book; things to think about when learning composition; photographers he likes (and why that changes over time); and why instructing beginners to start with their camera’s Auto mode is one of the best teaching tools out there. At a mere 36 minutes, it’s a great listen.

Episode 34: Ben Long and Complete Digital Photography

(I was on the podcast in November, discussing the state of photo printing; as I noted at the time, Kirk and Jeff have created a well-focused, engaging show with a wide-ranging pool of guests. It’s worth subscribing to if you’ve got a interest in photography and want a podcast that spends less time on gear, and more on thoughtful topics of interest. They also keep the segments short, which is a big plus for me.)

Complete Digital Photography 9 back on Amazon

We’re happy to report that an updated version of Complete Digital Photography 9, with higher print quality, is now in stock on Amazon. Since our previous message, we’ve pored over proof copies from the two largest print-on-demand companies, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and IngramSpark. (We had been printing using IngramSpark’s basic color process for the original release, and tried out their higher-end print service for this test.) 

Ben and I ultimately chose to go with KDP to print and distribute the book on Amazon. The quality of the photos was clearly better than either of IngramSpark’s two color printing processes, and KDP’s binding seemed to be better than the occasional (and slipshod) binding issues we were seeing with IngramSpark.

Because we had to move to a higher print level, we had to price the new version at $64.99. With the higher printing cost, and with KDP taking a bigger cut of the proceeds, it was impossible to keep the book at the old price.

Amazon still has a few copies of the original version in stock, but the new version has a different ISBN identifier (978-1-7326369-2-7), and there is a note about the update in the description. You can find the new book’s page here. (Once the inventory of the old version has been depleted, any confusion between the two versions should fall away.)

Ebook status

We are also working on the ebook version of Complete Digital Photography. The text is in very good shape, but the images need some HTML/CSS love to get them to be displayed optimally on both Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks platforms. It’s a bit tedious, but we’re on it, and we’ll let you know when we have firmer dates.

If you have any questions, the best way to start the conversation is to send us an email.

Thanks!

Rick

Update on CDP 9

We’ve hit a snag with the ninth edition of Complete Digital Photography, and as a result have pulled the book from distribution while we work through the issues. This is not something we wanted to do, but it is clear that the print quality of the book isn’t at an acceptable level for some readers. We are looking at alternatives to the company that handled the printing and distribution, and once we have determined a path forward, we’ll make the book available again. (The ebook version is underway on a separate track, and we’re still targeting next month for the release of the ebook for Amazon and Apple’s stores.) Read more »

Complete Digital Photography 9th Edition sample chapter

Ben and I are in the midst of our final push to get the 9th edition of Complete Digital Photography out the door (the final cover is on the left). My office is littered with page proofs — each chapter gets read a minimum of eight times — and my ever-patient wife is wondering if we’ll ever get this darn book out, but we’re feeling confident overall.

[UPDATE (December 2018): The ninth edition of Ben’s Complete Digital Photography is now available. You can find out more on our CDP9 book page, or, you can order the book directly from Amazon.]

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Ben Long: Practice the Art of Seeing

Ben would really, really like you to buy the upcoming 9th edition of Complete Digital Photography, but he adds that there’s nothing that will help make you a better photographer than to practice. Specifically, to practice the art of seeing.

Get out there and practice, practice, practice!

Sign up today for our email list, and we’ll send you information on the 9th edition as we have it, including sample chapters, discounts and more.

First proofs of Complete Digital Photography 9 have arrived!

We hit an important milestone this week with the 9th edition of Complete Digital Photography: we received the first proof copy of the book from our printer, and it looks great!

In the last couple of weeks, we prepared the first half of the book to be printed as a test. We wanted to check the general layout, making sure the margins were correct and the fonts readable. We also wanted to get a sense of the look and feel of the book in its new, slightly larger, format. Plus, since it is a book about photography, we also wanted to make sure that the images looked good when printed on our chosen paper type.

Overall, we’re very pleased. The cover looks awesome, and the feedback we’ve gotten from others is that it’s clean and readable inside, with a good balance of images and text. It’s a great feeling to see the physical fruits of something that you’ve worked on for so long, and know that you’re getting closer to the finish line.

We should have the 9th chapter of the upcoming book available as a free download in the next few weeks. If you’re a subscriber to the blog, we’ll let you know as soon as it’s ready. If you’re not a subscriber, it’s quick and easy to sign up for our low-volume mailing list. (You’ll also get the first shot at the book when it’s released in December.)

Complete Digital Photography proof copy is inFor more information about the book, check out the Complete Digital Photography 9 video update from Ben Long.