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Never Stop Learning - a Guide to Experimenting to Improve Your Photography

Updated on July 2, 2020
Glavind Strachan profile image

I've been taking photographs for over 40 years and I'm always learning new techniques or re-discovering unique ways to use old ones.

Weird Bokeh

Fern Hex - Shot with an electronic TV lens hot glued to an adaptor on an old Lumix G2. The weird bokeh is due to the aperture, which was "controlled" by running 9 volts across the loose terminals.
Fern Hex - Shot with an electronic TV lens hot glued to an adaptor on an old Lumix G2. The weird bokeh is due to the aperture, which was "controlled" by running 9 volts across the loose terminals.

Just because something seems like a bad idea, doesn't mean it will be!

Of course, there's also just as much chance that it will be an unmitigated disaster. My point here is that if you don't try something, you will never know one way or the other.

Some of the favourite images that I've created have only happened because of the mistakes I've made along the way.

"A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." George Bernard Shaw

All the Hipsters Stole My Lenses

It's has become an unfortunate truth that the analogue lens market is fast becoming a victim of it's own success. I used to buy old lenses and tinker around, or spot an image on Flickr that had some amazing bokeh and then google the lens to see where I might be able to find one.

I never spent very much and even if the results weren't as good as I might have hoped for, it wasn't like I was going without food in the pursuit of a hobby.

Today it appears that certain vintage lenses can cost you more than a better than average digital camera.

Which would be fine if the number of amazing images was increasing at the same rate as the sales of funky lenses.

It isn't.

A Dandelion Seedhead captured using a Westagon 50mm f1.9 that I paid about £25 for several years ago ... now on eBay for over £300
A Dandelion Seedhead captured using a Westagon 50mm f1.9 that I paid about £25 for several years ago ... now on eBay for over £300

What To Do?

When I worked in a camera store, we had the expression "All the gear, no idea" ... with anything reduced to a stereotype to make a point, there is only a kernel of truth in this statement, but a kernel can be enough.

To be fair, I've all but given up on collecting 'new' lenses for my work, I tend to use the same lenses over and over. However, I still (on occasion) find ways to experiment without breaking the bank.

It's time to think creatively to get creative!

Does anybody remember when it was de rigueur to pop that tilt-shift filter on your Insta posts? Well, I'd always quite fancied properly shooting a little tilt-shift myself, but I wasn't keen on spending any money on trying it out.

So, using nothing more than some gaffer tape and the usual adaptor for my Super Takumar 50mm ... I created my own tilt-shift lens.


Images Captured Using a Makeshift Tilt-Shift Lens

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Some Thistles - It's difficult to hold, as the lens is pretty much hanging off the adaptor!Tractor & Farm Dog - focus is pretty much a matter of moving the lens backwards and forwards!Horse - I loved the bokeh and the unexpected blurry bits!
Some Thistles - It's difficult to hold, as the lens is pretty much hanging off the adaptor!
Some Thistles - It's difficult to hold, as the lens is pretty much hanging off the adaptor!
Tractor & Farm Dog - focus is pretty much a matter of moving the lens backwards and forwards!
Tractor & Farm Dog - focus is pretty much a matter of moving the lens backwards and forwards!
Horse - I loved the bokeh and the unexpected blurry bits!
Horse - I loved the bokeh and the unexpected blurry bits!

Cheap & Cheerful

The results are quite frankly, fine.

It is rather fiddly carrying a camera and having to hold the lens at the same time, but the alternative would have required a visit to at least one online retailer and then a 4 to 5 day wait.

For the cost of a few centimetres of gaffer tape, I got my answer.

The best camera for the job is the one you have with you

This is so true.

I remember being told by a young chap who came into the camera store once, that he didn't need anything but his iPhone. He was mostly right.

I had a look at his photographs, they were amazing. He had composition off to a fine art, and more importantly, he was happy with the results.

Personally (and not purely because I've never been able to afford an iPhone) I suggested he would eventually want a camera that gave him more options to be creative.

iPhones are wonderful at knowing you are taking a photograph of a sunset, so you get to take a marvellous sunset photograph, but what if you wanted to take a 'bad' photograph of a sunset?

What then?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Nobody can please everybody all of the time, and to believe you will is the biggest obstacle to creativity.

So long as "you" are happy with the things you manage to cobble together with ingenuity, a modicum of talent and a little blind luck, you are more than halfway to true enlightenment (or at least making people smile).

During my research for this article, I was pleased to discover the 25mm CCTV lens I bought from eBay maybe six years ago is still only around the £13 mark

Images Captured Using a Generic 25mm CCTV Lens

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fae - Shot in Wistmans Wood on Dartmoor. The distortion of the lens only adds to the magical feel of the imageSteampunk - chromatic aberrations abounding. Not a perfect shot by any means. But a rather splendid one. Cracked - a recent idea with some clay. I shot this with a standard lens and the CCTV lens, I really couldn't say which I prefer.Odd - the weirdness of the shot is boosted by the lensSelfie - that's me ... shot in my back garden using a timer and a hat I found at the tip. The water, I tipped onto my own head from a small pink watering can!
Fae - Shot in Wistmans Wood on Dartmoor. The distortion of the lens only adds to the magical feel of the image
Fae - Shot in Wistmans Wood on Dartmoor. The distortion of the lens only adds to the magical feel of the image
Steampunk - chromatic aberrations abounding. Not a perfect shot by any means. But a rather splendid one.
Steampunk - chromatic aberrations abounding. Not a perfect shot by any means. But a rather splendid one.
Cracked - a recent idea with some clay. I shot this with a standard lens and the CCTV lens, I really couldn't say which I prefer.
Cracked - a recent idea with some clay. I shot this with a standard lens and the CCTV lens, I really couldn't say which I prefer.
Odd - the weirdness of the shot is boosted by the lens
Odd - the weirdness of the shot is boosted by the lens
Selfie - that's me ... shot in my back garden using a timer and a hat I found at the tip. The water, I tipped onto my own head from a small pink watering can!
Selfie - that's me ... shot in my back garden using a timer and a hat I found at the tip. The water, I tipped onto my own head from a small pink watering can!

Don't Let Others Stifle You

My approach to most things is fairly slapdash, I would rather try something and fail than to languish in ignorance. I don't pretend to be the greatest photographer ever, nor do I pretend to have all the answers to how you can improve your photography.

What I do know is only you hold the key to your creativity, so go and have some fun, make blunders, try things, learn from your mistakes.

If you're interested in seeing more of my mistakes please take a look at the links on my profile.

© 2020 Glavind Strachan

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    • Anupam Mitu profile image

      Anupam Mitu 

      3 weeks ago from MUMBAI

      I loved your last para the most. As I too believe in the same. No one else can tell you or teach you how to bring out the best out of you but you can just learn from the experiences of yours and your own understandings. Your photography is just amazing. I have never had any interest in photography but now getting inspired by people like you and Denise.

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