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4 Lessons Learned

Published by Diana Tula · August 23rd 2013

We love guest blog posts! Today’s awesome article on 4 photography lessons is by Jason Groepper. Jason is a great photographer from Maple Valley, USA and we are huge fans of his tilt-shift work. Do you want to write a guest post for our blog? Get in touch!



Thank you to Diana Tula and the 500px community for this amazing opportunity to share with you all. I am daily humbled and inspired by this amazing and talented community of photographers and creatives. I wanted to share with you all 4 lessons that have been important and transformative to me up to this point in my photographic journey.

#1 Forget About Natural Talent

We live in a society with a misconception that either you are born with artistic talent or you are not, and if you are not then you have no hope of being an artist. All of us are born with inherent strengths and challenges, and we most likely naturally tend towards our strengths. However, anyone can pursue any endeavour it just takes time and extra effort on your part.

I remember I was very offended a couple of years ago. When I was just starting out in photography my wife gave me “John Shaw’s Nature Photography Field Guide” as a gift. I thought I had a ‘good eye’ already and I wondered - Can’t she see my natural ability? Can’t she recognize my talent? Years down the road I’m glad that I swallowed my pride back then and actually opened the book. Shortly after I have purchased and read many books on photography, written by great instructors and photographers such as Scott Kelby, David DuChemin, Steve Simon, Chris Orwig and many others.

If I have improved at all during my photographic journey I owe it all to reading dozens of books on photography, shooting (constantly) tens of thousands of photos, and looking at millions of great photographs.

Getting better takes time and learning. If it were easy it would not be worth it. Jay Maisel once said that your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term “the 10,000 hour rule” that refers to putting 10,000 hours into your craft to be a standout or outlier in your field. So don’t wait up, pick up a photography book in a book store or your local library, read it and take tons of photos. Thank goodness we live in a time where so much knowledge is readily available and most of it is free.


#2 Be Intentional About Everything

I started out in photography using my father’s Olympus OM-1. Every time I loaded a roll of film I had to set the ISO and for every exposure I had to manually decide which aperture and shutter speed I had to use. How I longed for a newer camera with autofocus and auto exposure! Yet, this was the greatest way to learn photography because I had to slow down and make deliberate choices on how I wanted my image to look.

Every modern digital camera comes with a [P]-mode (professional). This mode takes all the decisions out of the photographer’s hands and leaves it up to the camera to make all the artistic choices about your image. The problem is that you are smarter than your camera.

Your camera has no idea the mood or aesthetic that you want to achieve with your image. Only you do. What shutter speed do you need to freeze a race car? What if you want to pan to show movement? What aperture do you use to shoot a portrait so only the eyes are in focus? The answer is simple, your camera has no idea.

It doesn’t know which of these choices is the most important to you and it only strives for an accurate exposure which is currently in focus. If you haven’t already, take your camera off the [P]-mode and instead shoot in [M]-mode (manual).

Sure you will miss some shots, but what you’ll learn will vastly improve your future shots. John Shaw talks about a discipline in photography that “for every single one of your shots you should be able to say why you chose the particular lens, ISO, f-stop, shutter speed, framing etc.” Learn how all of those variables affect your image, practice that principle and see how your photography improves.


#3 Take Your Time

I am not a professional photographer. I have a “real job”, wife and kids so the time I can dedicate to photography is limited. In the past, when I went out shooting for myself I found that I was running all over the place trying to get as many keepers as possible during the short amount of time that I had. As you can guess, the results were a lot of mediocre images.

Now when I go out shooting for myself at least once a month, I try to take my time and invest this time into creating a few good images. I don’t rush as much because I know that I will go out again soon.

Shifting my focus to one or two really good images (instead hoping to get a 100 amazing ones in one go), I am more intentional about: the choices that I am making photographically, my framing and the moment that I release the shutter. Trying to “work my subject” as Steve Simon would say, which pretty much means shooting one main subject from multiple angles and in different ways over time. Taking your time and trying out different perspectives can result in getting great unexpected results versus image hopping from one subject to the next, and getting very similar photos.

I may come away from my photo shoots with fewer images then before, but if I have at least one or two that are great, they are worth far more than a dozen of OK ones. Choose one subject and spend your time photographing it from different angles, with different focal lengths and in different light. You will see the results and progress yourself.


#4 Most importantly play, make mistakes and have fun

Just do what the title says. Your best photos, your signature style, or your next favourite preset can come from an accident or what you first deem a mistake. So feel free to experiment and play, and don’t delete those “mistake” images until you import and see them on your computer. Have fun experimenting!


Thanks for reading!

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Fernando Martín  10 months ago
so inspiring ^^
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Johan Lundin  10 months ago
Good points. Thanks!
Chris Works  10 months ago
Great post! Thanks for the tips. Keep up the good work!
Amresh Mishra  11 months ago
Nice one Sir and inspiring to do better and better..Good Luck..!
Robson Peixoto  11 months ago
Great text
dan goebel  11 months ago
I am forever grateful to my father for introducing me to photography with the Pentax K1000 - all manual, all the time. Can't tell you how many rolls of Ectachrome I wasted on macro shots of the tube amplifier I fixed. but I learned over and under exposing and pushing the ISO to 1600 and enjoying the grain. Now 35 years later I'm getting back into it and learning through books, videos, art shows, etc what I like and what other people like, hopefully to marry the two and make people happy with my form of art.
dr. d  11 months ago
Great article. My friend an accomplished photographer who teaches at the college level, a colleague, told me to take 10,000 film shots on manual, then 5,000 more on digital to get ready to begin. Lots of those images went straight to the garbage adn I could only afford to shoot about 7,000 film before I had to make the switch, but it was the best advice ever. When we last met, she looked at my work (12 years later) and said, you should charge and just be a professional. You've arrived! I guess I was a slow learner.
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jeremy beasley  11 months ago
Very practical lessons. Thanks for sharing, Jason!
Sandra Daniels  11 months ago
Great lessons. Thanks!
Joani C  11 months ago
Time well spent reading this article. Thank you for sharing it.
Steven Selby  11 months ago
I recently went out for a night shoot and came home with two frames .. it was during the taking of these two frames (ten minutes per frame at two locations) that I realised most of what you've voiced here. I'm coming home happier with a couple of frames now than I was with a card full previously - a lot of the time the frames may not even be of the subject I set out to shoot but rather of a shot produced whilst working the subject that wasn't initially obvious.

I read voluminously, studied the exif's of shots I admired on flickr etc and joined camera clubs - in the end I left the clubs realising that the formulaic structure was stifling me. I work to my strengths and on my weaknesses and always try to remember to enjoy the moment of just 'being there'. My favourite lenses are old Nikon's that I converted to K mount so they're manual all the way.

Great article - thanks for posting ! :-)

Suzaidee (Dee)  11 months ago
Great article... :)
Nancy Pasel  11 months ago
Great advice!
Normand Richard  11 months ago
An excellent post all the way. There is one thing I felt was not mentioned. You must really pinpoint your kind of shooting, than read and learn as much on that particular topic if you want to get good at your kind of shots. You can only learn what you practice. As Diana said, go out and play and shot lots of pictures that you like to take and you will get very good in that field. Than as your interest grows in different kinds of photography, it will be very easy for you to bring all your experience with you to that new field and add the new knowledge needed!!!!!
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Emile Abbott  11 months ago
Nice article and advise. Read, Learn, practice, slow down see the small stuff as well as the big picture, have fun and be yourself.
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Garth Bishop  11 months ago
Great article... I think one of the unsaid things here is be yourself and find your own way. I recently read a blog post or listened to a podcast that said "forget about books - you need to practice." I thought that was a really arrogant thing to say, because everyone learns differently. Personally, I've learned a ton from books, but also from practicing, from listening to podcasts and from looking at other images online and in print.
Dario Ricardo  11 months ago
thanks,great insight
Anocha Yimsiriwattana  11 months ago
Thanks for sharing ... good read :)
Anocha Yimsiriwattana  11 months ago
and also great photos! :D
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Cormac O'Connell  11 months ago
Great article!
Rahul Jain  11 months ago
Very good to read...will surely implement
Subir Majumdar  11 months ago
thanks a lot ... :)
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Mark Postal  11 months ago
a great read...thanks for sharing...inspirational.
Patrick Horgan  11 months ago
Very good read! Thanks!
Nick Davies  11 months ago
Great article and very inspirational!
Paul Silvagni  11 months ago
Yeah, great article, I totally agree as I discovered the "all-manual" way of taking pictures, by putting M42 old manual lenses on my digital Canon, then by using more and more film cameras. Taking time and thinking about what I wanna see and how is very important.
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Josef Danielsson  11 months ago
Good article! Will follow some of your advice and not rush trying to take as many pictures as possible and also enjoy the fact that I am actually have time to take pictures.
Joriya Fannoush  11 months ago
thank you for sharing
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Mariana Savarese  11 months ago
Thank you for share this excellent reading!!!!
Thomas Tapio  11 months ago
Thank you Diana for excellent reading. sometimes it is difficult to give yourself the time required to become a good photographer. I am mindful of your thoughts, thank you.
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George Bloise  11 months ago
Very nice article ! Excellent work.
Avik Saha  11 months ago
Nice article for the amature photographers trying to establish themselves...
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Shelby Kyle  11 months ago
This information is very valuable. I appreciate every word & have absorbed it like a dry field on a rainy day. Thank you!
Krystof Litomisky  11 months ago
I think you make great point in saying not to delete "mistake" photos before looking at them on the computer. When I stopped doing deleting shots before importing them, I started discovering hidden gems, which ultimately lead me to try new things when taking photos. Good call.
Rob Wilson  11 months ago
Excellent! Thanks for the helpful post. and keep up the good work!!
Khaled Monsoor  11 months ago
nice read
Mieke Schepens  11 months ago
Thanks for sharing !
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Amalia Jonas  11 months ago
Very nice article
Cris Palmeş  11 months ago
I agree with everybody here, really good article. I kinda identify myself with you, and I know now that i'm on the good path when it comes to photography :)
Matteo Romellini  11 months ago
About Lesson #2 (AKA "Shoot in Manual mode")

I totally agree with substance of the lesson, to be "Intentional" about what you shoot.
I don't agree to shoot everything in Manual mode, as this can be deceptive in my opinion.

The APERTURE/SHUTTER-Priority mode, are there for a reason. The OVEREXPOSURE/UNDEREXPOSURE options, are there for a reason. The second one, especially, is fundamental. You have to understand what your camera is seeing, and what is trying to expose as 70% GREY.

You have to understand that many shots can be LOST, when setting must change quickly, and that these "shortcuts" let you control the exact parameter for the situation you are in.

I usually shoot in manual mode, my point is: "There it does not exist THE GODLY MANUAL mode".

DOMINIQUE B  11 months ago
Interesting, I don't have 10 000 shots made so I keep a lot of hope. I don't count those I made 30 years ago.
Have fun and experiment is a good approach.
I'll take now more shots with M mode.
Thanks for sharing
Johan Lambrix  11 months ago
Good article! Could it be Cartier-Bresson who made the quote about your first 10,000 pictures?
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Abe Yoffe  11 months ago
I think you're right about that
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Seweryn Cieślik  11 months ago
fundamentals !!!
Hamid SHS  11 months ago
Thanks for sharing ...
Peter Jarvis  11 months ago
Very good and interesting article, but "P" stands for "Program" not Professional.
juice imaging  11 months ago
Ah, well, there you go...
Lynton Haggett  11 months ago
I think that was a pun. Nice article! Thanks for sharing, Jason.
Jason Groepper  11 months ago
Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment on this entry, I really appreciate it.
Niclas Larsson  11 months ago
A set of really nice advice, thank you. I have always done M setting ever since I bought my first DSLR, because control over the outcome was the reason I bought one in the first place, so why go auto? And while at first some shots came out looking pretty bad, it has paid off in the fact that I've learned the hard way what settings to use at certain situations (but I am still learning!).

I do, however, probably need to slow down a bit. I have a tendency to take long walks and only stop and shoot something from one angle and move on. I could probably do some "let's experiment with angles" work.

And you're spot on about not always deleting "failed" shots until you get to your computer. Seeing the results on a real screen has helped teach me a lot. And analyzed what exactly failed in the photo. Not to mention the fact that a small screen on a camera doesn't always tell you the truth. As I've come home before and seen a "failed" shot looking best out of a set.

Again, thank you for the advice!

Thomas Schattan  11 months ago
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and giving us insight to the journey you already made! Very interesting and inspiring!
Vorakorn Kanokpipat  11 months ago
very useful lessons... Thank you.
Eric Lozada  11 months ago
We are all born artists then at some point most of us are told we are not because we don't meet a set criteria of what talent is.
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Alexander Lamm  11 months ago
Great read, very inspiring.

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