It seems that every photographer goes through several stages as they develop their skills. As we learn and become better at the art, we look back on the earlier stages, often wondering what the hell we were thinking. It seems laughable to us, but really, at the time we thought we were doing so well. And perhaps we were. After all, isn't the true measure of our skill not what we know and understand, but how well we are developing and progressing?
Stage One: Adding Instagram filters
Yes, it's great that everyone's phone has a camera in it, since it means that we can always snap a shot off and share it with the world. And often, this is a good thing. I'm doing a Photo of the Day project, posting at least one image a day in an effort to help develop my artistic eye. And it's working well, since I have little technical control over the camera, I'm forced to rely on using good composition and colours and lines, and limited post production abilities. But no, taking a photo of your feet in sand and adding a filter on it to make it look like an old picture is not artistic. It just means that you have a smartphone and an Instagram account.
Stage Two: Now I have a REAL camera!
Well done, you've gone out and purchased a dSLR. But that doesn't mean you are a photographer yet. It just means you have a fancy camera. If you leave it in automatic mode, you're still not much better than using your smartphone. And no, the "P" on the mode dial does not stand for "Professional." Still, the fact that you have actually spent the money on a dSLR means that you are taking it seriously and want to actually develop your skills. Hopefully.
Stage Three: I've got G.A.S (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)
So you've got a fancy camera, but you're finding that your images still aren't quite capturing what you want them to. And unfortunately, many people think that the solution to this is to go and buy more gear. This body has more megapixels! This lens has higher resolution! This flash has a bounce card! The only time you really need to upgrade is when your current kit is unable to do what you need it to. Other than that, you won't get much benefit.
Stage Four: Technical Know-How
Now that you have a camera, you read up online about how to use all the new settings that your dSLR has (and maybe even go to the library to check out a few real books). And soon, you learn about shutter speed, or aperture, or maybe even both. This is good. Knowing how to use your camera's functions is going to give you the skills you need to take some great pictures. But, by itself, it is not enough just yet.
Stage Five: Truly an Artist.
At this stage, you have the gear you need to get the photos you want, and you have a thorough knowledge of the gear to allow you to get those photos. But you've also developed the most important thing of all. You've got the artistic talent to create images that are evocative and thought provoking. You understand that photography isn't about making sure that the subject is sharp. You know how to use composition to lead the eye. You know how to use colour to create interest and mood. You've truly become an artist.