I'm an avid blog reader.
I never studied photography, but fortunately we live in a day and age where it's possible to teach yourself anything, if you're willing to put in the time to find credible sources online, and follow along for those nuggets of info which will take you to the next level.
I recently did a photography day with a group of friends here in London. We hired a studio for the day between the four of us and then set about trying to fill slots with potential clients.
It promised to be an interesting mix of people coming through.
At one point I was shooting a local band named "Shawn Sanderson and the Charm Offensive". With four people standing in front of me waiting for me to tell them what to do I found myself immediately accessing countless shots and tutorials from Zack Arias, who is a Photographer based out of Atlanta, and has a ton of experience with Band Photography. It was then that I realised that his blogs (and many other besides) are slowly providing me an arsenal of solutions for different situations. It's very hard come up with a brand new shot from scratch so it often helps to have a catalogue of set ups in your head so you at least have a starting point. I threw up two lights to blow the background white, trying to remember my exposure numbers as I was dialing it in. I then used a 1m Octa as my key light; something I have seen Zack do on a tutorial before. I didn't have a nice reflective polyboard for the floor, but swapping a drop shadow for his nice reflective touch, I found I was pretty close to something I liked and could just tweak from there.
Here is one of my shots of Shawn Sanderson and co:
...and this is one of Zack's shots which I had in mind while shooting:
Later on in the day I had booked an up and coming Lawyer who was looking for some corporate headshots. This time my mind went into 'Peter Hurley' mode. I tried to mimmick the clean look of his white background lighting. I remembered that he lights his female subjects with flat even light, but uses side light for his male headshots to accentuate shape. I also remembered his 'kicker' light on the jawline to give a bit of separation.
I tried to coach the subject through different expressions leading him to something which would be flattering but natural. I had Peter's voice in my head reminding me about "eyes, eye brows, mouth". I used his 'suction cup' technique to move the head, and even spoke about 'the squint'; all things you'd be familiar with if you follow his work. The only thing I lacked was his bullet prood self confidence, but I think that takes more time to master.
Here is one of mine from the day:
...and here is one of Peter's shot which I had in mind:
I posted the image on Twitter and tagged Peter, who was kind enough to respond with:
I'll take the compliment, and he's absolutely right about the expression (unsurprisingly), so I'll have to work on it more next time.
My point is: don't feel bad about using techinques you learn from others as a spring board. It sounds strange but I had a moment that day where I wondered if I was cheating by using all this knowledge I had learned from others so blatantly, but then I realised that you're never going to begin your career in photography with a fully formed identity and style. You have to start by imitating those you admire and learning skills from them which you can apply to your own work and create your own voice over time.
Obviously it's important to develop your own voice, but there is nothing wrong with 'transcending and including' as you go along. Start by building an RSS feed of voices you trust and people you want to learn from, and then read regularly, and build in time to experiment with the techniques so they are hidden in your mental bag of tricks when you need them most. If you want to track what I'm reading follow me on Twitter (@seantuck) because I make a point of sharing links which I have found interesting.
Good luck with your own learning.
Stick with it.
Follow the gurus.
Steal like an artist.
...and remember to be generous to those who have just started their own journey. Give them all the info you can. If they become a better photographer than you, it was likely always going to happen, and at least your will be credited as a generous contributor, rather than an insecure competitor.