Spending some time thinking about the five questions I will be asking in the next few posts can help you decide many questions including what type of photographic training you want to take, what you want to spend your photography time doing and what equipment you want to invest in.
These questions can be helpful whether you are a casual photographer, an enthusiastic amateur a beginning photography student or an aspiring professional. more dedicated photographers may have more complex and extensive answers to these questions but I think they are useful to consider whether your answers are simple or complex.
1. What do you like to photograph?
One of the great luxuries that amateur photographers have and professionals usually don't is that you are perfectly free to photograph only those subject that interest you. If what you really love to photograph is birds or sports or model railroads, there is nothing to stop you from spending all of your photographic time devoted to that one subject.
Professional photographers need to be ready to photograph whatever type of subject their clients need so they often need to own or have access to a wide range of expensive equipment and they need to make sure they have the training and practice that is required for all of the types of photography that they may be called on to do.
As an amateur, you do not necessarily need to invest as heavily to get what you really want out of photography. Whether you need to invest in expensive equipment at all is dependent to some extent on what you want to photograph. If you most enjoy photographing birds in the wild you will need to invest in at least one good long lens and a single lens reflex camera of some sort, but if you most enjoy travel and landscape photography, it is possible to get great enjoyment out of photographing with much less expensive equipment (depending on your answers to some of the other upcoming questions). And if you know for sure that you will only ever want to make pictures of buildings, you can devote the time you have available to training in architectural photography and forgo classes on portraiture, candid photography, nature photography, etc.
Of course many people who love photography simply for its own sake (as I do) may want to take a wide variety of classes but even so, they will probably reach a point where they will want to take more classes in the types of photography that most interest them and scale back on the types that interest them less.
In future posts I will be discussing the requirements of specific types of photography in greater detail but for now, take some time to think about what types of subjects you most like to photograph and what the probable needs of those subjects might be. Are they things that are very fast and far away such as birds, wild animals or most sports? Then long lenses and tripods may be warranted. Are they very tiny things such as insects, coins or jewelry? Then macro photography gear would be useful. Are you interested in candid photography or photographing musicians performing? Fast lenses and a camera that performs well in low light might be what you need. But to get a full picture of what will work best for you will depend also on your answers to the other four questions including the next one
2. What aspects of photography do you most enjoy?
I personally enjoy going out and capturing new images more than just about any other aspect of photography, but if you enjoy working in the darkroom or sitting in front of your computer manipulating your images to make them exactly the way you want them to be, by all means spend more of your time doing that.
Do you like looking at other photographers' work, reading about the history of photography or going out with shooting with other photographers? Think about which of these or any other aspects of photography you enjoy most and devote more of your time, money and energy to the parts of the photographic experience that you enjoy most.
Do you enjoy collecting and/or using old cameras? Do you enjoy playing with new gadgets? It is up to you if you want to invest your time or money in those things. But if gadget lust is one of the things you enjoy, be honest with yourself about it and decide how much you want to spend on it as an end in itself. The money you spend on new and expensive gear probably will not make you a better photographer but if you enjoy using it and feel that enjoyment is worth the expenditure (and can convince your spouse that it is), by all means go for it.
3. Who is your photography for?
Do you make photographs solely for your own enjoyment? Do you make them to share with your friends and family? Or do you make them to share with the whole world?
Do your answers to these questions affect the level of artistic and technical perfection you want hold your photographs to? If you want to enter your images into competitions or exhibit them in galleries, you may find that you want to invest more time, thought and money into that then you would if you were only making photos for yourself. And you may find that those you produce for friends and family fall somewhere in the middle.
I find that the knowledge that I will never show some of my photos to anyone else allows me to be much freer artistically with those images than I ever would otherwise. Some of my personal favorites of my images may be too blurry, overexposed or oddly composed for me to ever show them to others, but I still get personal enjoyment out of them and am glad that I produced them.
When you do decide to share some of your photos with others, whether they be friends and relative or a larger group, one of the best things you can do for them is to edit your photos heavily. Don't share every single photo that you took with them. Choose the best ten or twenty and just share those. And the further afield you go, the more you want to edit them. Your relatives may enjoy a slightly less than perfect image just because it is of their favorite niece or grandson, but people who don't know you from Adam will be less willing to look through a mix of good and not so good pictures.
4. Why do you photograph?
What about photography excites and interests you?
It would take me longer than I would ever want to write to list all of the many reasons why I photograph, but here are two to start you thinking about it.
I love that photography helps me to see the world in many different ways. Seeing the world through the eyes of another photographer, knowing what they choose to focus on and what is important to them, how they experience the world, helps to make my experience of the world greater and richer than it would be without their help.
And seeing the world through the lens of my own camera, from all the different angles and perspectives that it affords, helps me to appreciate all of the things that I see, both everyday objects and monumental scenes in ways that would never occur to me otherwise. The ability to see things that are very small or very far away, to isolate just one component of a scene or to juxtapose several items which would not be apparent to the naked eye, or to see things from much lower or higher than my eyes would usually be, affect the way I see things and experience the world even when I am not looking through my viewfinder.
I am also fascinated by the camera's ability to capture a moment in time; to bring me back in an instant to a place and time I was in many years ago; to put me back in the frame of mind I was in taking my first photographs with my parent's box camera or exploring the world through my first SLR during high school and college.
It can also take me back to places and times I never knew; to my Grandfather's experience of his newborn daughter or a stranger's view of 1890's Paris.
5. How much do you want to invest in your photography?
How much time do you want to spend on your photography? How much thought, effort and energy do you want to put into it? How much money do you want to spend on it?
For everything you do in life, you have to choose not to do other things. What are you willing to give up and how much of it in order to go to photo workshops and classes, spend time out photographing or inside adjusting and producing images? How important a part of your life is photography? What is more important or as important? What is the proper balance for you between photography and everything else you want to do?
Would you rather spend all of the time you have for travel going on photography excursions or would you prefer to balance your time between that and family vacations?
When you are on vacation, how much effort are you willing to put into carrying around and keeping track of camera gear? Is one pocket camera all you want to carry or are you willing to carry a bag full of cameras, lenses and tripods if that is necessary for the photographs you want to make?
How much of your time to you want to spend studying photography, contemplating your photographs and how to improve them and enjoying the work of other photographers?
What other purchases are you willing to forgo in order to go to the photography classes and buy the gear that you want?