Tonight like many other nights we had a heated debate in one of my photography forums (of which I belong to many…) But it made me think. I know I have a lot of photographers that follow my blog, especially if they are working at getting into the business. So one little piece of advice that if you look at with every shot and every decision it may help you along the way. This piece of wisdom isn’t new. I actually learned it YEARS ago at a corporation I have long since forgotten the name but the concept has always stuck with me.

There are four stages to professional development.

1)UNCONSCIOUSLY UNAWARE When you first enter a job or field you enter what we call the unconsciously unaware phase. What that means simply is that you just don’t know what you don’t know. You are in this beautiful place where you appreciate the beauty in EVERY picture. It is a beautiful place to be but not really a good place professionally. I will poke fun at myself here. This picture was taken at my unconsciously unaware phase. I saw the beauty of the sand, water, shadows and nature. Now, if I was going through my pictures, I would kill it IMMEDIATELY. Who wants the picture of a birds butt?! TRUE. Yes, the lighting is beautiful and the reflection amazing but back to the basics “who wants a picture of a birds butt?” Ok, I think you get my point there. Also it isn’t near as sharp or vibrant as my pictures now.  Oh and I still crack up at this shot because my mother loved it too. Love and friendship are blind my friends. Compare your work to known artists. Be your own critic. I know I am my WORST critic now but it makes me better every day.

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Just what you want… A picture of a bird’s behind. I thought it was SO GREAT but really? Who’s going to put that on their wall?

2)CONSCIOUSLY UNAWARE Ah now you are starting to realize you actually don’t know anything about photography. What is shutter speed? Why do my pictures turn out blurry sometimes? How do I get that cool dreamy effect and WHOA my pictures don’t look ANYTHING like that person’s picture. How do I get the eyes sharp like that? How does the color pop like that? So basically now you know you don’t know anything and the learning begins! A long road but totally worth it!

3)CONSCIOUSLY AWARE YAY! Stage 3! You’ve taken some classes, now know what all those terms mean and what they do and when to do it.  Now you KNOW what you are supposed to know BUT it isn’t automatic. You have to think about it all the time. Now what aperture do I need to shoot at when I am shooting a family four rows deep so it isn’t blurry in the front or back? How fast must the shutter speed be so it isn’t blurry when they are walking back down the aisle? You know this because you have learned it but it takes real concentration to remember it all.  And under pressure you can’t quite get the information fast enough and mistakes happen. This is why mentoring under a professional is SO important. That way you aren’t practicing on clients. It will come… Don’t worry but do it right.

4) CONSCIOUSLY UNAWARE Ah… Nirvana! Now I don’t think ANY of us have achieved this 100% but what this means is you have been doing it now long it enough that most of the time you no longer need to think about it. I know if I am about 4 feet away from someone taking a picture of a couple I want to be at about 8.0 aperture so they are both in focus if one is leaning closer to the camera and so I don’t blow them out with my flash. But at about 8 feet more like 5.6. I just know this instinctively now. Now take me out of the wedding or portrait world where I work all the time and throw me into sports photography. Then make it worse a nighttime sports shoot and guess what? I am at the consciously aware stage again. I have the knowledge but I really don’t have the practice and haven’t made the valuable learning mistakes to be really good.  The little tricks.   For instance in wedding photography I know before the wedding procession I ALWAYS look at my card in my camera to make sure I have space for at least 40 shots.  Yes, beginner mistake. Card full and only half the wedding party has walked down the aisle! FREAKING OUT!!  Trying to change cards before they get to the end of the aisle.  NOT FUN MY FRIENDS! But a valuable lesson I learned…

So just think about where you are in your development. That should guide you on whether you need classes first, then maybe find a good mentor.  Then have the confidence to shoot on your own without worrying if you will blow a job and have an angry client or just really mad at yourself.

I hope this helps some of you and HAPPY SHOOTING!   Never be afraid to ask questions in the comments section or even privately on email. I am always happy to help. I might take a day or two to get back to you if I have lots of clients clamoring for my attention first but I will answer. : )