Jean-François Cléroux | Flâneur & Lens Creative
Different Lens, Different Story!

March 2022

How do we evolve as photographers or artists?

We learn from others via meetups, coffee with peers, clubs, magazines, books, classes, and workshops (online or in-person) and even by looking at many images. We take bits and snippets of all that knowledge that we deem to be true to what we do or want to do as artists. When we take a workshop and listen for two or three days, we hear a lot we already know, we hear things we do not think are good or valid for what we do or how we shoot or we may just not even want to try it. We will hear new things that make sense and based on our success when we try it, we will keep doing it or we will toss it aside.

Over time it is a culmination of all these things we learn, and the decisions we make as to which we will implement or toss aside, that fashion who we are as photographers and artists. They are what will guide our path to ‘our’ style. But, are we making the right decisions as to what we choose to accept as photographic truths that we implement in how we photograph?

“Crow” – Francois Cleroux 2012

New photographers that have just picked up a new camera are excited. They want to be photographers and will go around and shoot whatever they can. Cats, dogs, fire hydrants (because it’s not running away). They try to take in as much as they can as quickly as they can usually from the internet which is filled with many sites that frankly give bad advice; often, incorrect advice. As they progress, they often turn to clubs that then guide their hands and eyes into specific paths that are led by the club organizers and ultimately by the associations the clubs are members of.

Through the club, they will do outings or evening workshops and they will try many new things and new genres. Flowers one day, landscapes another, and long exposures on yet another day. They often only get a general gloss over on how to do these things. Then, based on what they have learned, how they did in their first few attempts, and even on how good the presenter was, they make a decision on whether they like the new skill or genre or not.

This is a bad way of learning new things and a bad way of making decisions on whether you like something or not. How can you decide something when you do not know how to do it, or how to do it well, or correctly?

When I returned to photography after an 18 year absence, I used something that at the time I called “Forced Learning” to help me learn new skills (technical or artistic). The first Forced Learning tasks I gave myself were Flower Photography and Digital Editing. Flower Photography because we were entering the rainy winter season and what I was going to shoot were flowers in a Studio setting so I could get back to working with Portable Flash units and Lighting. Flowers are also very difficult to photograph and decided to take on the challenge of creating good flower photos. Digital Editing was because I knew nothing about it and knew that I needed to learn it.

“Great White” – Francois Cleroux 2012

The important part was not my decision to just ‘try’ something, but rather to master these things. To learn it very well to the point I could teach it if asked. Well enough to win some awards with my photos, even if only at club level.

Both of these things made me a better photographer. I learned an awful lot by mastering these two skills. The following season I tackled Bird Photography and D.A.M. (Digital Asset Management.) and then the following year, B&W Photography and Printing.

B&W Photography and Printing so much so that I decided to take some darkroom classes to get back into the darkroom so that I could learn to make my Digital B&W Prints look more like classic Darkroom Prints. This helped tremendously. The point is that learning these things to the point of mastering them, is not only what helps you become a better photographer, but after spending months working and learning a new skill, you are in a much better position to decide whether you like that genre or not.

For me, the realization was getting into Street Photography. This was one of my Forced Learning skills. I had chosen it because it was going to take me out of my comfort zone. Because I knew nothing about it. And, because I dreaded even going out and shooting strangers on the streets.

I ended up taking a three-hour evening Introduction to Street Photography class, then read a few books while I forced myself to go out and shoot. And here we are, years later, and Street Photography is now my favorite genre; all because I chose to master a new skill.

Forced Learning is your friend. It WILL make you a better photographer. You can use ut to learn new Genres like Street Photography, new Skills like B&W Conversion from Color, or even new Techniques like Zone Focusing. Think about your weaknesses and choose some Forced Learning challenges that will improve your weaknesses or skills you need.

It’s time to become a better photographer! See you on the streets!

Learning to be a better shooter

We all look at newer and better cameras, and we as photographers spend a ton of money on them. Why? We want to take better photos. By buying a new camera what we are doing in essence is blaming our existing gear. Is it a gear problem?

Clearly not. Most of us turn to the masters, whether they be Street Photographers or Landscape Photographers, we all aspire and strive to be like them. Often, people will study these masters haphazardly, will learn what gear they used, and will most of the time not learn ‘how’ these photographers worked. Often, it is the ‘how’ that is most important.

“Searching For The Right Word” – Gerry Hiebert 2016

Most of today’s cameras far surpass in quality the cameras of yesteryears master. Yet, most photographers still think they need better cameras. Case in point, are those that look to Ansel Adams as their ‘master’. They love the images, they aspire to do the same, yet they are too lazy to hike their gear to the majestic scenes and too lazy to even use a tripod as Ansel Adams did. So, what do they do when their images are still not the same as the masters and a little blurry? The look for another lens or new camera.

Your camera can do it. As long as you purchased the right camera for the right job, i.e. Not an old 8×10 View Camera for candid street photography, you are probably good. Most Phone, Pocket, Rangefinders,  and DSLR digital or film cameras will do the job. All of these technologies can create amazing images. I have created award-winning images that have been published from a camera I purchased many years ago, a Canon 40D with only 10.1 megapixels.

New gear is NOT the answer. Venders and salespeople will tell you it is. Oh, shiny new objects they will put into your hands. Don’t do it. Don’t get caught in the trap.

So, if it’s not the new gear, what should you do to become a better photographer? Well, you can turn to podcasts, magazines, books, classes, workshops (DIY or Expensive varieties) but the most useful way of learning is by going out and shooting. I know photographers that purchased studio lights, read several books on lighting, took three workshops on lighting, upgraded their lights to newer shinny ones, and would not go out and work with a model because; their words, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Get out, shoot, make mistakes, learn from them. There is NO BETTER WAY to learn, than by doing. Doing, shooting, is the absolute best way to learn and get better.

”Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Books, classes, and workshops can help give you better insights and can show you different ways of doing things, and can help with some tips and tricks. Remember however those different ways are not always the best for you. These other ways may not suit your style or your personality. Or, they may. Without trying different ways, how can you know which way is best? You need to invest in these different ways. By invest I mean, time. Don’t try a new skill or technique for an hour or a day and decide it’s not for you. Some techniques, like Zone Focus shooting from the hip, need many outings to master. The rewards however are great. Many skills and techniques are like that. Spend the time, shoot lots, you will be rewarded.

I have had students that have been stuck because they were taught one way to do something and were very reluctant to try different methods or techniques. Many would rather buy new gear (yet again) than change what or how they do things.

Seriously, Podcasts, Books, Classes, and Workshops are for the most part ALL better ways of learning to create better images than getting a new camera and capturing crappy images with more pixels. Get out and shoot.

In the next few posts, I will talk about ways of Self Learning based on a class I teach and will discuss workshops. How to choose workshops, how to prepare, and how to get the most out of them.

See you on the streets.  

COVID Break is over!

Finding motivation, let alone inspiration during these extreme weather, lockdown, potential war, COVID times, can be very difficult for some. Add to that a spouse that gets a brain aneurism followed by a stroke, followed by a nasty long to deal with CDIF infection, three surgeries, and COVID-19. That made for difficult times for me. In the past, I was able to turn to photography to rest my mind. But, with everything going on and with work so extremely busy, it has been nearly impossible. I have not picked up a camera in 2 years and a bit.

“At Work” – Jean-Francois Cleroux

Things are turning. My life is settling down after a difficult move. Things are settling in. In the last two months, I have judged/critiqued for clubs and in the next week, I will do one more remote session and will for the first time, judge/critique in person!! I am so looking forward to that.

I have dusted off my cameras and lenses and I am eager to get back out shooting. My first foray out will be this Saturday in an easy-to-shoot neighborhood. A camera, a friend, coffee, and a Camera Store. The makings of a perfect day provided the weather holds.

During my COVID break, as I call it, I did very little except for reading some photography books, working on the conceptual aspects and planning of several projects I am working on, and listening to a whole lot of podcasts.

A great street photographer, Valerie Jardin, whom I am sure you are all familiar with (if not, you should be) has been podcasting for 8 years. She finished her show with her final Episode of “Hit the Streets” (https://valeriejardinphotography.com/podcast), Episode number 192 on September 2, 2021.

In that series, there are some excellent episodes and interviews. I tend to listen to them in the car, rather than listening to depressing news when I’m not listening to music. All part of my dealing with the COVID Break. It has been fantastic. There are other Street Photography podcasts I will mention that are also very good, but I wanted to mention this one now as I heard that Valerie Jardin may not keep them available on-line much longer. She suggested they may be gone by the fall or sooner.

All the episodes are available to download for free on her site (link above). I do suggest you grab them while you can. For now, my break is over. I will share some images, even bad ones if they are all I have, after my outing!! Time to get back to work! See you on the streets!

Eifel Tower from Trocadero Square

Eifel Tower from Trocadero Square

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