Lessons I’ve Learned, Part 1

Mother's Love (Zalophus californianus) ©Mike Spinak

[Editorial Note: I’m posting the picture, above, Mother’s Love, for Mother’s Day. This picture is for all mothers. Thank you. This picture is especially dedicated to three special mothers in my life: my own Ma, Renée, and my beloved friends, Kasia and Jennifer.]


Today, I’m going to share with you a hodgepodge of things I’ve learned about photography, over the years. I hope you find some of this useful. If you like this post, perhaps I’ll make it a regular series.

1 ) The basics of photography (apertures, shutter speed, depth of field, etc.) are simple, and can be learned and understood quickly.

2 )  Mastering the technical aspects of photography, and mastering your photographic equipment, are the easiest parts of photography.

3 ) Technical competence is a start, not an end. Technical competence helps you articulate what you want to say. The prerequisite is having something to say.

4 ) The quality of the results is all that matters. It doesn’t matter how hard it was to get the shot. Photography is not a weightlifting competition.

5 ) Gimmicks ≠ Significance.

6 ) Anything can be interesting, if approached from the right point of view. All subjects have the potential to be great; it’s up to you to find the greatness.

7 ) It’s you, Photographer! It’s not your secret location, not your phat photo gear, not your mad Photoshop skillz. It’s the vision from inside you.

8 ) Seeing is an activity, not a passivity.

9 ) Photography is the same as all other art forms, at the most fundamental level. Such things as the great themes of art (life affirmation, growth of character, etc.), the methods of inspiration and maturation of ideas, the kinds of foibles which make artistic efforts fail (sentimentality, frigidity, and so on), and the qualities that make art lasting (communication, emotional and intellectual significance, originality of perception, self-consistency, and the like) – are the same as for poetry, sculpture, music, and whatever else. Knowledge and experience in making other arts are applicable and transferable to photography.

10) While there is always some newer, better, less expensive camera/lens/computer/whatever about to be released: you’re almost always better off buying the gear you need, now, and getting the value of using it more, than waiting for the better alternative to be released.

11) You have to have empathy for your subject to make your most worthwhile picture of your subject.

12) Intimate knowledge of your intended subject is the difference between accidental photo opportunities and purposeful ones.

13) The most common difference between good photographers and mediocre photographers is that the good photographers put in more effort. You get out of it what you put into it. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but effort may.

Thanks for reading this.


Mother’s Love (Zalophus californianus), Monterey Bay, California

All pictures and text are © Mike Spinak, unless otherwise noted. All pictures shown are available for purchase as fine art prints, and are available for licensed stock use. Telephone: (831) 325-6917. For workshops, please go to http://www.hteiw.com/