Learning From Mistakes

At age 14 I really started to practice the craft of photography with a vigor that bordered on the obsessive. I read the popular photo magazines cover to cover along with every “how to” book in the public library.

I’d practice shooting as much as my modest budget would allow and I also spent some time in any darkroom that I could find.

The most difficult concept that I came across pertained to depth of field.

In a nutshell, that’s the relationship between the foreground and the background controlled by the aperture (f/stop) ring on the camera. No matter what I read and no matter how much I experimented, I couldn’t comprehend how this worked in either theory or practice.

To make matters more confusing, every focal length on a fixed or zoom lens created a unique relationship between how elements of foreground and background relate to each other. In short, f/8 on a wide angle lens has a different depth quality than a telephoto lens with the same f/stop.

As with a lot of practical crafts, the realization of a technique or concept comes about when reviewing mistakes rather than viewing positive outcomes.

Try as I might, I can’t remember the exact “a-ha” moment when I finally figured out depth of field but I suspect it was from a picture that was a bit like this cameraphone photograph of a moth on my window.

All of those mistakes from the early days were valuable in the long run, but were costly in time and materials. Today, mistakes like this are essentially free. So is the abundance of online education like this video that explains in 90 seconds what took me about 90 weeks to understand.

About the author: I am Stephen Kennedy, an experienced photographer with more than 2300 completed sessions in all 50 US states.

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